Monday, August 22, 2011

Ideal idyll for cyclists

Ethan Rouen pedals past fields in the Champlain Valley. Photo by Kim Martineau.

By Ethan Rouen

 

 

When the snow and rain and then more snow finally disappeared this spring, my wife, Kim, and I were desperate to get on our bikes, so a thirty-mile loop around Moriah sounded like a perfect way to spend Memorial Day weekend.

The loop is described in Charles Hansen’s outstanding 25 Bicycle Tours in the Lake Champlain Region. Ordinarily, the tour starts in Moriah Center, but we upped the ante by starting at our favorite bakery, Dogwood Bread Company in Wadhams, doubling the length to sixty miles.

After a late lunch of cheese and pesto sandwiches at Dogwood, we headed south on Route 22. The snowmelt and rains had raised Lake Champlain and the basin’s rivers to record levels. As we pedaled, we watched the usually placid Boquet River froth and churn. Passing through the historic lakefront community of Westport, we were astonished to find the state boat launch completely flooded.

Westport is a good place to grab food, because the ride grows increasingly remote. The next ten miles are a long, punishing climb. With the humidity soaring and raindrops taunting us, Kim and I contemplated turning around several times. Chanting, “We’ve got to hit a downhill soon,” we turned onto Pelfershire Road for the final (and most grueling) three miles of uphill, knowing that this section would be a lot more fun on the way home.

The swollen Boquet River. Photo by Kim Martineau.

At the end of Pelfershire, we turned left onto County Route 7, which is where the loop described in the book begins. A brief downhill led us to Moriah Center, a crossroads featuring a convenience store and an old-timey gas station called Mineville Oil Co., a name that evokes the region’s history as an iron-mining center in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

After crossing a short bridge, we turned right onto County 4 and instantly knew why this route had been selected for publication. Cyclists tend to seek out lonely country roads. We’re so often bullied by cars, pedestrians, and dogs that it often seems we have no place to call our own. Less than a hundred yards outside of Moriah Center, we found that place.

Maybe it was the sign that warned motorists a bridge was out down the road (possibly placed there by other cyclists), but as we ambled along County 4 for the next thirteen miles, we did not see a car, person, or dog. And the bridge wasn’t really out!

The Moriah loop is ideal for anyone with a bike. The hills are kind, and while there isn’t much in the way of wide vistas, we were surrounded by lush forests.

Despite the thundering downpour, we had smiles on our faces as we took over both lanes of the road, marveling at our blessed solitude. Toward the end of County 4 we passed the parking area for a trail that leads through forest and past wetlands and exits about three miles later on Route 9. Too late, we thought it would be fun to walk our bikes on the trail and resume cycling at the other end.

Cyclists will pass beaver meadows, wetlands, and ponds along County Route 6. Photo by Phil Brown.

At the end of County 4, we turned right onto Route 9, which is slightly busier (we saw about five cars). After six miles, we turned right again onto County 6, just before the Interstate 87 entrance, and again were surrounded by wildness. We stopped by Stump Pond, part of the Hammond Pond Wild Forest, to scarf down some peanuts and raisins before the mosquitoes swarmed.

County 6 was a bit more scenic, with views of the mountains, overflowing rivers, and lakes. The rain had stopped, and we were in good spirits. Unfortunately, we blew past the turn for Belfrey Road. We had wanted to see the Belfry Mountain fire tower, which can be reached by a very short hike from the road. Not long afterward—about nine miles along County 6—we came to a Veterans of Foreign Wars Post with a huge rocket outside and two gentlemen inside preparing for the Memorial Day weekend celebrations.

The post was inside an old schoolhouse (which many of the VFW members had once attended). There was a bowling alley downstairs (closed for the summer) and a bar upstairs where you could have a beer and pretzels. After a brief tour, we politely declined a drink and continued on. About a hundred yards down the road we reached an abandoned mine shaft, now fenced in and flooded, that has become an ice cave, according to our guidebook. Fog drifted across the street, evoking a creepy feeling, and when the temperature dropped about twenty degrees along a fifty-foot stretch of road, I almost became convinced that the place was haunted.

Map by Nancy Bernstein.

The moment we exited the fog we were back in the humidity, with less than a mile of the loop to go. In that mile, we passed a small park with rusted mining equipment and signs explaining the area’s past as an iron capital. We also pedaled along Roe Pond, a “children’s fishing pond” where anglers older than sixteen risk fines of $100 or more.

We were tempted to fill our water bottles at McConley Spring across the street, but a sign warned that the water was untreated and potentially unsafe to drink.

County 6 ended at County 7 near the Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility, which runs a “scared straight” program for young offenders. We turned right and pedaled past suburban houses and vacant stores for another mile before returning to Pelfershire and our heavenly reward, eleven miles of downhill with almost no pedaling.

When we got back to our car, Dogwood co-owner Courtney Fair was closing shop but invited us in for a piece of cake to cap a day that, even with the rain, was simply delightful.

 

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