The route up I-89 was another beautiful drive. We passed through Montpelier and Burlington, but never really saw any buildings along the highway. In Texas, when an Interstate passes through a city, the commercial establishments in that community are located right along the feeder road adjacent to the highway. Up here in the Northeast, the exits lead away from the highway and the businesses are not visible to passing traffic. These roads were here first, so why didn’t the traffic engineers down south take this clue when they designed corridors like I-45, I-35 and I-10? The roadway designs up here contribute to a much more pleasant travel experience… that is for sure!
Our second campground in Vermont was located in Fairfax, which is about 25 miles north of Burlington. When I inquired about the roads coming into Fairfax, the campground owner said there were two ways to get there. We could take Exit 18 off of I-89 and go north to our destination, or we could take Exit 19 and double-back to go south toward Maple Grove Campground. The route via Exit 19 was longer, but the road was better, so that was the route we selected. I am usually good with directions, but this trip got me all turned around. We exited #19, but turned the wrong way when we got to the next intersection. Pretty soon we were traveling down a VERY skinny shoulder-less two-lane road toward some town I had not heard of as we researched the drive on this leg of the trip. Don’t forget: there is no backing up in this rig. Every road we came to had weight restrictions of no more than 24,000 lbs. With all of our 44,000 pounds beneath us, we had to keep driving. We were getting nervous. Finally, Mike spotted a patch of gravel at the edge of a field and quickly turned in. We pulled up maps on the iPad AND our phones to see where we had gone wrong. I was still directionally challenged at this moment, but Mike figured it out and made a big u-turn through the muddy gravel to get us pointed in the right direction. The farm owner was sitting on his front porch across the street watching the whole thing. He waived at us with a big smile as we drove off, and I sheepishly returned the greeting. We did eventually find the campground, and got situated that afternoon without any more confusion.
The small town of Fairfax had one roadside market, two bakeries, two gas stations, a hardware store, a post office, a pharmacy and a restaurant. St. Albans was the next largest community about 10 miles to the north of us, and this is where we had to go for groceries and other errands. It was time to re-stock the pantry and refrigerator, so we drove into town the next day to scope things out and get the items on our list. As we were exploring the area we found a State Park called Kill Kare on the shore of Lake Champlain at St. Albans Bay. It was already 4:30 by the time we stumbled upon the area, so we made a note to return on another day earlier in the afternoon.
On our third day at Maple Grove, the weather was incredibly beautiful and we wanted to enjoy the sunshine for as long as possible. We made our way back down to Burlington (primarily because there was a Petsmart located there) for a quick errand and some sight-seeing. After we bought the dog food in the suburbs, we headed to downtown to see how the locals lived. I didn’t realize Burlington is a waterfront community. Their downtown sits right on the banks of Lake Champlain with parks, walking trails, marinas and other attractions all facing the water. We walked the dogs along a hike-and-bike trail to wear them out a bit, and then we found a waterfront restaurant that would allow them to sit with us on the patio. We had a drink and worshipped the sun as we watched passengers board water ferries that carried travelers to the Champlain Islands or Upstate New York.
After that stop we left the water’s edge and headed uphill into the thick of downtown. Church Street is a four-block pedestrian mall that has been blocked to automobiles. It is a bustling corridor crowded with retail establishments, sidewalk entertainers (i.e.: homeless people with guitars), and outdoor cafés. We made our way down the length of the street and stopped into a couple of spots for al fresco drinks and appetizers. It was all a very charming atmosphere until I watched one of the street performers ruffle through a sidewalk trash can, pull a Styrofoam food container from the rubble, and eat the remainder of its contents. Gross. The charm factor was immediately decreased by several notches.
It was mid-week by now and the sun was still going strong, so we packed up our chairs and Mike’s fishing gear for an afternoon at Kill Kare. This state park is located on a peninsula and used to be a summer camp for boys back in the day. They don’t allow dogs on the beaches or in any of the “day use” areas of this park, so we were very restricted on where we could go with Piper and Cessna. We were basically allowed to walk them around the parking lot. The main attraction at Kill Kare is a ferry that shuttles visitors to another State Park on Burton Island. Burton Island State Park has fishing, camping, walking trails, a marina, a restaurant, and no cars. Campers and visitors park at Kill Kare to catch the ferry with all of their gear and make their way to the next tiny island. We got there at 1:00 in the afternoon, but the next ferry did not leave until 2:30. The park ranger- lady was very nice and must have felt sorry for us. She let us occupy a picnic spot that was located near the edge of the ferry landing. The area was away from the other picnic tables, and the dogs promised to be on their best behavior. Mike fished for small-mouth bass while the dogs napped and I soaked up the sunshine. We spent a few hours enjoying the weather and scenery before making our way back to our own camp late in the afternoon. Game 7 of the NBA Championships was that evening and we wanted to be home in time to root for the Spurs.
The Maple Grove Campground was very small with only about 30 spots. Most of the other campers were “seasonals”, there to enjoy the entire summer. Lucky for us, they had camped here before and knew the area. When our neighbor, Bill, spotted Mike’s fishing gear he was happy to guide him to a great fishing hole just down the road. With Bill’s advice, Mike found his way to some falls beneath a dam that happened to be a hot spot for trout fishing. Mike went down a couple of times and got lucky with a few catches. We were able to have “brownies” for dinner one night… but they were pan fried in butter and olive oil as opposed to being baked in the oven. He gave the other trout to Bill and his wife as thanks for pointing him in the right direction.
Our only other “field trip” on this stop was to Stowe. We took a 45-minute drive through the mountains one morning because we planned to find a place to eat breakfast in this resort area. We arrived in town and kept driving up the mountain toward the ski resorts looking for a place we could eat outside. The weather was beautiful again, and we were hoping we could find somewhere that allowed dogs on the patio. The search took up most of our morning because very few places were open for breakfast, and the ones that were did not even allow us to tie the dogs to a fence anywhere near their establishments. It was also warm that day, so we couldn’t leave the dogs in the car and let them wait for us. We did find an outdoor café right on Main Street where we could eat, but by the time we placed our orders breakfast was over. We settled for soup and sandwiches. After lunch, we walked the length of the central business district – which took about 20 minutes. We made our way back to camp along another route down the mountain, and spent the rest of the day relaxing with a campfire.
The last three days of our stay at Maple Grove were rain outs. No grilling dinner outside. Our usual routine is to cook outside when at all possible. On our last night I had run out of ideas for menus that could be cooked on the stove-top. We decided to go into town and eat at the Country Pantry. One of my favorite parts of this trip is visiting mom-and-pop establishments that embody the American entrepreneurial spirit. This restaurant was a great example of that. It was owned by a couple from Bosnia who had immigrated to the United States. Upon arriving, they first landed jobs washing dishes and doing other odd jobs. They briefly moved to Florida but returned to Vermont because they liked it better. (I’m guessing the weather and terrain in Vermont more closely resemble their homeland than does Florida). With help from a mentor who was also in the restaurant business, they opened their restaurant in Fairfax and found success. The charming restaurant was meticulously clean, the service was attentive, and the food was fresh and delicious. I had salmon and Mike had bacon wrapped meatloaf. He even splurged and ordered bread pudding with maple syrup and vanilla ice cream for dessert. It was obvious that everything was made from scratch with fresh ingredients. By the time we finished our dinner, the sun was trying to make a brief appearance through breaks in the clouds before it set. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful 10-day stay in the northwestern corner of the Green Mountain State.
The next morning we packed up early in an attempt to get away before the forecasted rain started up again. After bidding farewell to our wonderful neighbors, we pulled out of Maple Grove and drove east through Vermont and most of New Hampshire. Our next campground was located near the border of New Hampshire and Maine. Although our trek was only 116 miles, we knew it would take us about 3.5 hours to make the drive through the mountains. If we could make the trip on dry roads, the experience was guaranteed to be much less stressful.