Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Wilderness Ride

I had hoped that I would be able to ride to the VermontFest educational conference in Killington, as I did once in the past, but the early November weather did not cooperate, yielding instead a cold rain, Thursday morning.  I took the Gunnar with me, planning to get in an evening ride or two, after the rain stopped.  Thursday evening, I headed down steep East Mountain Rd and then to West Bridgewater, to check out some dirt roads that have long intrigued me.  The climb on Bridgewater Hill Rd was quite steep, but I turned around after two miles, as it was getting pretty dark by then and I had the tough climb back to the hotel ahead of me. I'll have to leave those roads for a future expedition.

After the second and final day of the conference, I parked at the bottom of East Mountain Rd in the parking lot of the lower gondola station for the ski area and struck out on a loop I had planned.  I headed down VT-100 toward Plymouth, until I got to the old CCC road that heads up into the Coolidge State Forest. The single-lane road was closed for the winter, but quite smooth, and I had it all to myself, winding around the switchbacks as it climbed out of the valley.

At the very top, I came upon what I thought was a monument, but which turned out to be a chimney, likely left from a cabin that had burned.  It was in pretty rough shape.

 After the top of the climb, I came on another gate and the road at this point was open to vehicles, but since it was effectively a dead-end, I saw no one.  With the leaves gone, I had some nice views of the wilderness through the trees and I could imagine what this area might have been like when it was settled, as evidenced by the many stone walls and empty fieldstone foundations.  It was very peaceful.

Soon, the road dropped down the other side of the ridge and houses started appearing.  The dirt turned to pavement as I reached North Shrewsbury, where I stopped to get a few photos of the old church.  This is one of those really short, classic churches, although it doesn't show in the photo.  It's quite similar to the one in East Braintree, except it still has the two entrances common to many of the churches built in the early 1800s, when there were separate doors for men and women.  This is locally known as the Northam Church and the plaque on the front indicates a date of 1823.  The Men's door on the right had been retrofitted with a wheelchair ramp and, with typical Yankee ingenuity, they simply shortened the door by cutting off the bottom.  After all, a wheelchair user doesn't need the extra headroom!

The road soon turned back to dirt, and I made the turn onto Upper Cold River Road, where I soon stopped to take a photo looking up the valley in the setting sun.  I should have brought a real camera with me, as the quality of the one in my Motorola cell phone isn't that great, especially in low light.

Soon, I passed this beautifully restored building that bore a plaque indicating that it had been built as a cheese factory in the 1800s.

The road wound past more stone walls and eventually started a long, steep downward pitch until reaching the recently restored Brown Covered Bridge, built using the Town Lattice truss design in 1880 by Vermont bridge builder Nicholas Powers.

There are two unusual features of this bridge.  First, it is believed to be the only covered bridge in the US that retains its original slate roof.  Second, at one end the bridge abutment is built into a large boulder.  The location of the bridge obviously was chosen to utilize this boulder and this proved quite fortuitous, as it likely saved the bridge from destruction during Hurricane Irene in 2011, when the roadway on the other side of this boulder was completely washed away.  Powers was also the builder of the famous Blenheim Covered Bridge in Schoharie, NY, which was carried off to its destruction by Irene.

The bridge is also considered unusually well-preserved, having received no major reconstruction beyond the replacement of its siding since it was built over 130 years ago. Even so, it remains in extremely sound condition. There wasn't much light left when I shot the last photo, looking down the side of the rebuilt roadway as I climbed back out of the brook's ravine.

I was soon back on pavement and enjoyed a nice descent into Rutland.  I had toyed with the idea of taking another unfamiliar road that headed back into the wilderness, instead of riding busy US-4 over the mountain, but had pretty much decided it was getting too dark when I came on the turn and talked myself into taking the gamble. I soon found myself climbing the exceptionally steep Notch Road, eventually turning onto Wheelerville Rd and was deep in the woods, again. There is nothing left of Wheelerville--and there are only a few houses at the beginning and end of the eight-mile, single lane dirt road.  I found the road deserted, as it wound through the Rutland City Forest.  The road surface was light colored and I took advantage of the partial moon to leave my headlight off and follow the white ribbon through the trees.  It was magical, and the road was almost completely free of potholes, so I enjoyed the dark solitude.  The sounds of animals fighting in the forest kept me moving, though!

Mary Provost's Grave, from
Later, when I was looking for information about the area, I found that I had ridden right by a cemetery that dated back to the mid-1800s, when the area hosted a small settlement.  The cemetery is tiny, with only seven unmaintained graves, and I wondered about the story that must be behind those of three children who died over a fifteen year interval, at ages ranging from 5 months to six years.  I tried to imagine what it must have been like for their mother; how many others in the family may have survived, and did the family give up trying to scratch out a life in the wilderness?  Is that why the parents are not buried there?  Did they move to Rutland, or go to find a better life out west?  The cemetery also contains the headstone of "Indian Joe," who reportedly saved a settlement of whites from impending massacre, and then escaped to Vermont where he hid out from members of his tribe until he died in 1810.  I will definitely head back to the area sometime in the daylight to check out this small patch of Vermont history.

I turned on my headlight when I approached Rte. 4 and took advantage of its wide shoulder as I climbed the mountain alongside a steady flow of traffic.  Four miles later, I reached Pico Ski area, where the road pitched down and the traffic thinned out to a trickle as I enjoyed the long descent past Killington town.  One final, short detour onto Mission Farm Rd, which was almost certainly once part of US-4, and I was back to my car.  It was only 42 miles, but over 4,000' of sometimes extremely steep climbing.  Definitely a great capstone on a good year of cycling.  It will be a fond memory as I slog through the winter months on studded tires, under multiple layers of clothes.