Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A Mad Dash Through Vermont

I boarded the train in Claremont, NH and found Evan on board. He's a buddy of mine from NYU, and he's joining the trip for a week. It was a short two hour ride to Burlington, Vermont. We pulled into the station as the sun was setting and were met by Steve and Jeanie. I hopped on the back of Steve's motorcycle, while Evan got in a car with Jeanie and we went for a quick tour around town. We walked along Lake Champlain and checked out Church Street- a busy pedestrian mall in the middle of town. There were a lot of people out enjoying the Burlington Jazz Festival and we walked by a few performances, before heading back to Steve's house for the night.


The next morning we woke up early for a day full of new vehicles. We also had a lot of distance to cover, as Evan and I had to catch a train across the lake in Plattsburgh, NY at 3:20PM. We started on bike as Steve led us down the rail trail along Lake Champlain. We kept an eye out for Champ, the Lochness Monster's American cousin, who's had some recent sightings, but we didn't see anything suspicious. Steve was riding a Geometric Bike, one his own inventions that he first came up with thirty years ago. A few years ago, he decided to finally build it.


Instead of pedaling in a circular motion like most bikes, the Geometric Bike has a reciprocal pedal system where you simply press down on the pedals in whatever pattern you like.


I took it for a spin around the parking lot, and it was a really unique riding experience. It seemed like a smoother pedal, without the tough spot you sometimes encounter while pedaling a normal bike. I could also feel it using a totally different set of muscles. Steve's already making a list of changes he wants to make the current prototype, and hopefully he'll have a final version soon.

I also met up with Brooke, who builds bikes for use on snow. He calls them Sikes.


He started playing with the idea in high school, when he took the front wheel off a bike and replaced it with a ski. Now he's on the thirteenth version of the Sike and he's hoping to start manufacturing them soon. For our purposes, he put a wheel attachment onto the ski so we could test it out on the pavement.


It's a pretty cool idea, and it certainly comes in handy when living in a place that's covered in snow for most of the year. He's taken it down big slopes at speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour, and he's building a version that replaces both wheels with skis for the thrill-seekers out there.

Then we were joined by Jason of Paddlesurf Champlain. He's a longtime skier who started getting curious about the different surfaces he could ski on. So he started toying with the idea of skiing over waves without a boat pulling him. Now he's come up with a set of floating skis, (almost like mini surfboards), that allow him to do something like cross-country ski over water. I wasn't quite ready for those so Jason set me up on a paddle board for some "stand-up paddle surfing."


Standing on the board was a little disorienting, and every small wave seemed ready to topple me over. As we headed into a bay of Lake Champlain I decided to stuck to "kneal-down paddle surfing" for a bit.


In addition to paddling with Jason, we were followed by Jon who was riding his bike along the nearby causeway. Jon helped coordinate a lot of my Burlington stop, and put me in touch with many of the guys I met up with. He was riding along, snapping the photos you see here and ready to call for help if Champ came up for an attack. Eventually I got a little more comfortable with the paddle board and with Jason and Jon's encouragement I finally stood up for the proper experience. Standing also made it much easier to paddle with stronger strokes.


Even with my improved stance, it was still pretty slow going and Jon biked ahead to see if he could get in contact with the people I was supposed to meet on the other side of the bay. A few minutes later, we saw a boat approaching. I immediately got a little nervous about what it's wake might do to my comparatively petite paddle board. As I looked closer, I saw that Jon was on the boat. And it wasn't just any boat- it was Local Motion's bike ferry. Local Motion is the local bike advocacy group in town, and I had talked with them about meeting up before coming to town. They also run a bike ferry in the summer to connect two long stretches of the bike trail. It had looked like they would be using their ferry upriver, but apparently their schedule opened up at the last minute so they decided to swing by to lend a hand. Jason and I paddled over and boarded the hybrid ferry.


It took us no time to get across to the other side of the causeway, where I met up with Josh and Phelps. Josh was one of my first contacts in Burlington, and put me in touch with Jon and some other folks. I had only been in touch with Phelps since the day before when he volunteered to meet us on this side of the bay and let us borrow some bikes. I was also reunited with Evan, who had reached this side using non Un-Road Trip means. Evan and I hopped on bikes with Phelps and rode towards the ferry that would take us across the river and into New York. It was a pleasant cycle through farmland and the occasional forest, and Phelps had a lot of interesting stories to tell. He seems to have done it all, and he's currently making paddles for canoes and kayaks. We talked about his summer plans which include getting a friend to dive Lake Champlain to rescue one his bike that broke through the ice last winter. He broke through the ice too, but he had "never taught the bike to swim," he explained.


Evan and I bid farewell to Phelps at the ferry landing, and we were on our way across Lake Champlain. Our train was leaving in about an hour, and the ferry only took fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, the ferry landed six miles from the train station and we had no way to get there. We had originally planed on having bikes to ride there, but that fell through do to some miscommunication. We noticed two guys on a motorboat fishing near the dock. I yelled out to them, but they couldn't hear. They brought the boat a few feet closer and I tried again. They listened, but the station was out of their way and they seemed pretty content fishing. Evan called a cab and headed over, and I would try to find a motorcyclist and convince him/her to give me a ride. I started walking towards the station and kept scanning the road for any non-car vehicles driving by. Suddenly I saw a motorcyclist coming towards me and I started waving wildly. I yelled out as the motorcycle zoomed past. This wasn't going to be easy when I was on a 50 MPH road. A few more motorcycles passed, but they either ignored or didn't notice my pleas. I kept checking in with Evan by phone as he got into a cab, made his way to the station, and eventually watched our train leave for Canada without us. He headed over to a hotel to get a reservation for the night, (my third night paying for accommodations), as I walked the remaining four miles to downtown Plattsburgh.

It was frustrating being so close yet so far from making that train, but after some quick emailing and phone calls I was able to reschedule the itinerary for the coming days. I'm meeting up with some people in Ontario, and luckily their schedules seem to be pretty flexible this week. Hopefully they won't resent me before I even arrive...

And Evan and I ended up with a bonus day in Plattsburgh, NY which we used to catch up on emails and editing and to check out the surprisingly quaint downtown area. We got to the train station extra early this afternoon and happily headed towards Canada.

Now I'm sitting on my bed at Le Petit Prince, a fun bed and breakfast in Montreal. There's art on every wall, an adorable ivy-edged balcony, and a huge jacuzzi in the corner of the room. We took a quick stroll through the center of town tonight. Although we're not that far from the US border, all the French signs make it seem miles away. Though most people in the street are still speaking English. Hopefully we'll get to see some more of the city tomorrow morning before we catch the train to Kitchener, Ontario.

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