Contemplating What's Next In the Heart of Vermont
Bright, beautiful, and impossibly green.
Zach Bowman has sold everything he owns, slapped a camper to his high-mileage 2003 Dodge Ram and has taken his family on the road. His clan numbers three, counting wife, Beth, and their infant daughter. They are touring America, working and discovering, and are sending The Drive periodic dispatches from the road.
There’s no preparing yourself for the simple beauty of Vermont. The state feels like some half-cousin of Norway and Virginia, bright and clean and impossibly green. Neat little houses and towering, double-bay barns sit back from the road looking buttoned up, their sides straight and proper. There are no frivolous columns or porches flaring out like laced hems. This is a place built to shoulder the burden of winter snow. We’re no further north than we have been for the past two weeks, but there’s no mistaking the change.
Summer here has the feel of a rare surprise. An unexpected visit from a friend, or an out-of-the-blue gift. The land is ecstatic with it. Weeds and bushes and flowers reach from the roadside in unchecked glory, stretching pedal and stem for any extra sip of sunlight. The shaggy roadsides look like celebrations, bouquets of wildness reaching out over the cracked asphalt.
As gorgeous as it is, we’re a long way from empty and open spaces. There’s no avoiding campgrounds on this end of the country, and over a month the fees can quickly total more than a fair mortgage. We skip them if we can, which is why we’re taking a gamble and running for a forgotten spot in the heart of the state, tucked in the folds of the Green Mountains.
The map is a fractured thing, the clean white paper mangled with crooked and careening secondaries, a forgotten town or village at the meeting of each and every one. Cyclists pedal along in the sunlight, suffering under unseasonable heat. When we stop at a small grocer for milk and necessaries, we meet a man pedaling across the continent. Misjudged his rations, he says. His clip-in shoes click their way across the linoleum as he hunts anything with noodles.
I ask him if he’s going or coming.
“I’m almost done,” he says. “Not quite all down hill from here, but close.”
He’s short. Tan from many days riding under a relentless sun. Thin, too, but solid, his legs rippling as he walks, his muscles coiling and releasing their stored potential. It’s clear this wasn’t an offhand trip. He trained for it, and he says his words without any threat of joy or relief. There’s disappointment in them, that a thing such as this could ever be over, perhaps. That the hard question of “Can I?” now seems so foolish, supplanted by something harder: What’s next?
It’s a question I know. I nod. Say the only thing I can say: ride safe.
“You too,” he says.
We drive out the rest of the afternoon. Course up Route 100 and follow my phone down an ever-shrinking gravel road. It constricts to a two-track path, a pair of bare stone-and-mud ruts separated by growing grass. If we meet another machine coming the other direction, one of us is going to have to back down the mountain. I haven’t had a rearview mirror for six months.
Traffic is the least of my worries. It’s getting late in the day, and if the campsite is occupied, filthy, or simply not there, we’ll have to come up with another solution on the quick. The closer we get to supper, the closer we are to a toddler meltdown. Kiddo’s already started up her fussing as the road quits its climbing and tumbles back down toward clear, quick water. What we’d call a creek back home the map calls a brook. It’s the kind of thing I’m accustomed to seeing rushing alongside the snaking roads that cut through the Smoky Mountains.
We find a site tucked into a wide oxbow, the low water rushing around us on three sides. Once camp’s set and dinner’s made, once kiddo’s tucked in and sleeping, I give in. I find a deep eddy. Strip down and wade to the waist, stepping on the tumbled granite stones that line the banks. The water is cold and clear as any winter night—cold enough to draw the breath from my lungs, and with it, the questions that won’t stop racking my mind.
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