Bicycling: Day Trips To Paradise

July 24, 2011 – Off we go!

Although the week-long heat wave of triple digit temperatures had finally broken, the day dawned hot and muggy as my husband Steve and I packed the car and left for our cycling trip in Canada. The skies grew darker and rain greeted us as we left NJ and made our way north on the NY State Thruway. This did not bode well for the outdoor nature of our trip, but by the time we approached Lake George, the rain had stopped and the sky had turned a brilliant, clear blue. The Adirondacks were majestic and beautiful, providing breathtaking scenery as we continued on our journey. We turned east just before reaching the Canadian border, and meandered along country roads through northern Vermont, enjoying the beautiful landscape and quaint New England towns on our way to Glen Sutton, PQ in Canada.

The Outdoor Lodge Glen Sutton is such a hidden gem that we actually went right past it (not trusting our navigation system’s insistence that we’d reached our destination). The lodge is so secluded, there is not even a sign out front announcing its existence. Finally we figured things out and ventured inside, a little earlier than the designated check-in time. We ran into our host, Stephen, who was busily taking care of last minute details before the arrival of this week’s group of cyclists. He showed us to our room, which was lovely, spacious and comfortable. The lodge is a beautifully restored village school house, built in 1900. On so many levels, we felt we were turning back the clock, returning to yesteryear and an earlier, slower pace of life (while still enjoying many modern comforts). This trip meant going off the grid (cell phone access was spotty, and internet access was quite limited), so it was a nice escape from the hectic pace and digitally driven routine of our daily lives.

The Outdoor Lodge Glen Sutton

After getting settled in our room, Steve & I relaxed on the front porch and chatted with other guests as they began to trickle in. We spent the next couple of hours getting acquainted with one another, which included lots of joking and repetition of names. Everyone had arrived by dinner time, and we were treated to the first of many gourmet meals designed by Stephen’s wife, Joy, and prepared by her amazing kitchen staff.

Post dinner activity involved more formal introductions, and wearing our name tags certainly helped us connect names and faces. Stephen gave us an overview of the procedures and plans for the week, after which guests dispersed to their rooms for the night. Steve & I went out on the 2nd floor deck for a little while to enjoy the spectacular display of stars that one only sees in remote, rural locations, far from the ambient light of cities and suburbs. The night sky was so clear, we were even able to see the Milky Way! Catching sight of a shooting star was the icing on the cake.

July 25, 2011 – Ride Day 1, The Winery Tour (26 miles)

The sag wagon was loaded with our bicycles, and after a hearty breakfast and an explanation of the day’s route by Stephen, we piled into the 2 vans and began our adventure.

Joy and the sag wagon

Today’s ride was the winery tour. We were driven to the start point of the ride in Berkshire, Vermont. We then bicycled back into Canada. Having crossed the Canadian border numerous times by car, I found crossing by bike to be a novel experience. We still had to go through the same process the cars did…having to wait at the stop sign and proceeding one by one to show our passports and answer the usual questions. But it just felt a tad unusual pedaling up to the customs officer rather than driving up.

We cycled to Frelighsburg for our first rest stop where there was a cafe for refreshments and shops for us to explore before pedaling onward. Several of us stopped in at the paper maker’s studio where he showed us his paper presses and displayed some of his beautiful paper artwork.

We resumed our cycling tour, enjoying the beautiful rolling countryside dotted with farms and vineyards. We were impressed by the fancy log cabin homes (not an oxymoron) as we pedaled along Chemin Ross. Our lunch stop was at the winery, l’Orpailleur. We ate our bag lunches outside and then Steve & I sampled some wine in the shop, purchasing a bottle that we knew we’d enjoy with dinner back at the lodge.

Steve in the vineyard at l’Orpailleur

We continued on to another winery, Cote d’Ardoise, where we tasted and bought more wine. When we got to Durham, we stopped at the cheese shop and purchased some cheese, of course. We just can’t pass a shop without buying something. Thank goodness the sag wagon was available to haul our loot back to the lodge!

As we continued on our ride, some of the more ambitious cyclists opted to take on the “hill of the day,” but I decided not to face that challenge and chose the slightly longer, yet gentler, alternate route. My dear husband, Steve, who could have taken the hill without breaking a sweat, gallantly suppressed his inner climber to accompany me on the wimpy way.

We returned to Frelighsburg where the vans waited to drive us back to the lodge. Along the way, we stopped at an orchard that produces ice cider. The owner gave an interesting presentation of the process, followed by more tastings. Yum!  Naturally, Steve & I purchased 2 bottles of this delectable dessert drink.

Upon our return to the inn, we were greeted by the delicious aromas emanating from the kitchen. What a wonderful welcome for weary wheelsters! (Okay, I’ll try to put the brakes on my affection for alliteration). Oops!

Dinner was delicious, as expected, and the company was delightful. All of the participants on this tour came from such diverse backgrounds and have led such interesting lives. Everyone had fascinating stories to tell. The group clicked quite well and quickly developed a very nice rapport.

After dinner, we settled into the comfy sun room for a presentation on Quebec nationalism. The historian, Dr. Manson, is clearly brilliant in his field and possesses tremendous knowledge of his subject. However, many of us were exhausted from the day’s activities. Having had a little wine with dinner, it is not surprising that some of us were nodding off during his presentation. My favorite quote of the day was from Donna. As she exited the room promptly at 9 PM (an hour before the lecture finally ended), she declared, “I have to go, my lights are out!”

July 26, 2011 – Ride Day 2, Bridges of Franklin County (29 miles)

Like day 1, this ride started across the border in Vermont. It was so thoughtful of Stephen to design a ride that began at the top of a hill, saving us the climb to get to that point. We started with a HUGE downhill, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was both  thrilling and frightening. I’ve never gone so fast on a bicycle in my entire life. I checked the speed on my bike computer…40 mph! Glancing at the speed limit sign as I flew by, I realized that if a police car had been patrolling the road that day, I could have gotten a speeding ticket! I cannot believe I was actually over the speed limit on my bicycle. I shudder to think what might have happened if I (or any of us) had hit some some sort of road hazard. Taking a spill at that speed surely would have resulted in more than just a nasty road rash.

We continued along, looking for the bridges advertised in the title of the ride. Surprisingly, I only saw two. I guess one has to take a few detours to actually find the bridges. Still, the scenery was lovely and we were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, bridges or not. We did get one piece of bad news as we made our way along the route. Bob pulled over in the blue van/sag wagon and notified us that the white van had broken down, and that there might be some logistics problems in transporting the riders & bikes back to the inn, depending on what was wrong and how long the repairs would take. We passed the word on to those behind us, and continued on our way.

One of the bridges along the route

As we rode along, some menacing rain clouds began to loom in the distance.  Steve, Deb, Lou & I  arrived at the picnic shelter just as the rain began to fall, quickly turning from a light drizzle to a very heavy downpour. Unfortunately, the rest of the bunch were not as lucky with the timing, and straggled in, sopping wet, over the next 20 minutes. Luckily, it was a very large shelter with lots of picnic tables and plenty of room for all of the riders and their bikes to dry off and seek shelter from the storm.

Sag wagon in the rain outside the picnic shelter

We ate our lunch and waited for the rain to stop, which thankfully ended after about an hour. Suddenly, the sun was shining and the wet pavement was now steaming as the water evaporated from the roads. We headed out of the shelter and rode to Jeffersonville, which was the endpoint for some of the riders. Those wanting to do an additional 8 miles, continued on, while the rest of us meandered about town, visiting art galleries and shops, or simply looking for that very special ice cream cone. You know who you are! 😉

By the time the 6 riders who went the extra distance were ferried back to Jeffersonville in the blue van, Joy had arrived with the white van, which was now running again thanks to the installation of a brand new alternator, enabling all riders and bikes to be transported back to the lodge with ease.

The group continued to get to know one another better and bond over another gourmet dinner at the lodge that evening. Afterward, we all walked a short distance down the road to a charming church that had been converted to a recital space by Maestro Miklos Takacs, billed as “one of Glen Sutton’s most illustrious residents.” We were treated to a performance by the lodge’s very own multi-talented chef, Ginette. She accompanied herself on the piano and sang a variety of traditional and popular tunes in an exquisite soprano voice. It was a delightful end to another wonderful day in paradise.

July 27, 2011 – Ride Day 3, Top of the Hill Tour (28 miles)

This ride began in Vermont and ended at the lodge for some of us, while others took the van back. More about that later. True to its name, this ride began with a long downhill (3 miles, to be exact). Unfortunately, the weather at the start of the ride was simply awful. We started our descent in misty rain and heavy fog…not an ideal situation for freewheeling downhill! Having large logging trucks lumbering by (sorry, I just couldn’t resist the pun or the alliteration) under those conditions was quite frightening. It was definitely a white-knuckler. Unlike the downhill speed I allowed myself to attain the previous day, it’s no surprise that I pretty much rode my brakes all the way down this time. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, the rain had stopped and the fog had lifted (or perhaps we left it at the top of the hill?). However, even under cloudy skies, the scenery along the ride was still beautiful. Our first point of interest on this ride was the quaint Jay Country Store, located in the shadow of Jay Peak. We stopped here to browse, shop, and enjoy some refreshments. On that chilly, raining morning, a nice cup of hot cocoa was just what the body needed.

Here I am by the Jay Country store, my natural fluffiness enhanced by several layers of rain gear.

After our rest stop, we continued on the ride, arriving at Paddie’s Snack Bar for lunch. Paddie is quite a colorful character. Anyone who has seen the Soup Man episode from Seinfeld needs no further explanation. Having been forewarned by Stephen about her personality, we were all on our best behavior at Paddie’s, making sure we knew exactly what we were having when placing our order. No hemming, hawing or asking questions! The food was phenomenal, well worth the effort of minding our p’s and q’s to stay on Paddie’s good side. The highlight of our visit to Paddie’s (in addition to the food) was hearing the talking moose head thank us for visiting. We learned that the moose head only talks when Paddy’s in a good mood, so I think our good behavior paid off big time.

Paddie’s Snack Bar

After lunch, several people in our group chose to take the van on a side trip to the Louis Garneau outlet store to shop for cycling clothing and accessories. The rest of us got on our bikes and rode across the border back into Canada once again, cycling the 11 miles from Paddie’s back to the inn. Just after I cycled past Nell, a few miles before we reached Glen Sutton, she called out to me that her chain had fallen off, and asked me to please send the sag wagon back to help her when I reached the inn. I turned around and pedaled back to her to see what I could do, and lo and behold, I put her chain back on her chain ring all by myself! I felt like such a pro! What a perfect segue into that evening’s post-dinner activity: Bike Mechanics with Stephen.

Speaking of bike mechanics (and other people named Stephen, coincidentally), my husband Steve happened to be having bike problems of his own. While Steve is normally quite proficient at performing his own minor bike repairs, the fraying of his rear derailleur cable necessitated finding someone with more expertise. He was lucky the cable held up until he reached the inn. Stephen and Joy directed him to the nearby shop of Stefan, a world-class Canadian racing pro, who fixed him up in a jiffy. Yay!

July 28, 2011 – Ride Day 4, Missisquoi Museum Tour (22 miles)

Sunshine at last! Hooray! The entirety of this ride was in Canada. We started at the Missisquoi Museum and rode through beautiful, gently rolling terrain, dotted with farms, vineyards and fields of wildflowers.

Wildflowers and in the distance, Jay Peak to the south in Vermont

Our first rest stop was at L’Oeuf, a delightful chocolate shop. I don’t know why a shop selling ice cream and sweets is named The Egg, but the refreshments were yummy nonetheless.

I will now digress briefly to mention that all hell was breaking loose in the world-wide economy (beyond what had already been going on for the past 3 years), particularly with the situation in Europe…especially in Greece at this moment in time. So despite being off the grid on this lovely vacation, we were sweating out the condition of the stock market, wondering if our retirement funds were about to go through the floor…again. After snacking on chocolate goodies at L’Oeuf, Steve noticed he had a strong cell signal outside, and took this opportunity to call our advisor in the US to determine whether or not to bail from the market. We decided to sit tight for the moment and readied ourselves for a wild ride…and not the bicycling kind. What a way to ruin a relaxing vacation!

Steve on the phone with the broker

After satisfying our chocolate fix, we rode on, having to make a last minute detour due to some construction on the road. Fortunately, Stephen had scoped out the route just ahead of us in the van and created a last minute route change for us on the fly.

The next leg of our ride took us to our lunch stop at the Domaine du Ridge winery. As usual, some of us partook of the products offered in the shop to complement the lunch we had brought with us from the lodge. After lunch we rode on, completing the ride where we began, at the Missisquoi Museum in East Stanbridge. Some of us visited the museum while others discovered a lovely art gallery across the street from the museum. There was a picturesque waterfall behind the museum which provided the perfect backdrop by which to enjoy our post-ride drinks on the patio of the Vieux Moulin Bar.

Waterfall behind the old mill

After another gourmet dinner at the inn, we were treated to an impromptu song by Ginette thanks to a request from one of the members of our group. Now that we knew she could sing, we couldn’t resist asking for an encore after Tuesday night’s concert. I tried to upload the video I took of Ginette singing for us, just the way I uploaded these photos, but it wouldn’t upload. Sorry! 😦  If anybody can give me any hints as to how to upload a video, I’ll be happy to post it.

Following dinner, most of us headed down the road to the Red Room at the Auberge Glen Sutton for half priced margaritas, lively Cuban music by a terrific local band, and dancing! It was a clear, starry night, so Steve & I concluded our evening doing some more star gazing on the upstairs porch of the inn, seeing a few more shooting stars!

July 29, 2011 – Ride Day 5, Abbreviated Memphremagog Tour (12 miles)

This was a short morning ride since it was, sadly, departure day. After starting out with a brief climb, we enjoyed a nice, leisurely cruise down to Masonville. There we stopped for a mid-morning snack at the Owl’s Bread pastry shop. This was an authentic boulangerie, with croissants the likes of which I have not tasted since my days as a college student in France, many decades ago. Just one bite brought memories of those days flooding back. Proust had his madeleines to invoke long forgotten memories; for me it was Owl’s Bread croissants. After savoring the moment, we reluctantly got back on our bikes and rode back to the lodge. At that point, it was time to clean up, pack up, and check out. We bade adieu to our gracious hosts and to our fellow road warriors. We were a very far flung, diverse group, but for those 5 days in July, we were one big, happy family. It was truly a memorable trip. The sign behind Stephen & Joy in the photo below expresses the sentiment perfectly.

Our gracious hosts, Stephen & Joy.

Heading Home

The weather turned cloudy as we departed, reflecting the sadness we felt leaving this little slice of paradise. The heavens opened up shortly after that, and it poured cats & dogs as we drove south through the Adirondacks. Thankfully we we were not cycling in this weather, and our bikes were safely ensconced inside the car, snug and dry. The sky cleared by the time time we hit Albany at dinnertime, where we met up with my college roommate, Judy, and her husband, Mike, for dinner. The clearing skies and time spent with dear old friends picked up our spirits and was a pleasant way to wind down from our trip. We arrived home several hours later, happy to find that after leaving our 26 year-old and 19 year-old sons holding down the fort at home, our house was still standing and no stories of what may (or may not) have transpired in our absence made it to the front page of our local paper. Whew! Looking forward to our next adventure…to be continued.

~ by unspecificfocus on December 2, 2011.

3 Responses to “Bicycling: Day Trips To Paradise”

  1. Great ride down memory lane!
    Donna

  2. Totally enjoyed reading your blog—kept me entertained while waiting in NYC. Your writing skills are amazing and I also loved your sense of humor. A few of the pictures, looked like paintings.
    Almost felt like I was on the trip with you.
    Looking forward to the next entry.
    Deb

  3. all of this looks so fun!

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