Plans to cruise the scenic byways of Vermont in a Mustang coupé to see the fall colors got off to a bad start . . .
Tuesday, August 01, 2017
It didn’t start well. My dreams of a relaxing week cruising up-state New York back roads in rented Ford Mustang went off the rails right outside Newark International Airport. Gridlocked traffic was stalled on Interstates 95 all the way to the George Washington Bridge, through the Bronx, and even out onto the New England Thruway. What I had budgeted an hour to travel took four. My hopes of a quick escape out of New York City and into the Adirondack Mountains evaporated in toxic traffic fumes. Four weeks traveling the ‘Music Route’ from church halls on the Mississippi delta, through blues clubs in Memphis, to honkey-tonks in Nashville had taken their toll. Too many late nights in poky juke-joints, too many mixed-drinks, and too much loud music had left me feeling seedy and hungover. I desperately needed to stride out into sunlit open spaces to breathe fresh mountain air. Even Avis’s sleek silver Mustang coupé wants to cut loose and run, but crawling along the congested interstate its brooding motor is just a threatening murmur, and the twitchy rev-counter hardly edges above tick-over as I inch my way out of the city. Then it is a long drive into a dark night all the way to Boston. Next day, business done in Boston, I finally escape traffic snarls of east coast cities to head for the rolling hills of Vermont. The Mustang enacts a lolloping canter along Interstate 89, then, with a snort, kicks down a gear to gallop around sweeping curves up the lower slopes of Mount Mansfield heading for Stowe.
Lengthening shadows reach over the road as the car turns into a parking lot at the Trapp Family Lodge: an authentic Austrian Alpine Lodge transplanted in the hills of New England. The wood-panelled lobby chockfull of solid pine furniture, home-stitched embroidery, and chintz lace curtains looks like a film set for “The Sound of Music”: so much so I am expecting Julie Andrews to greet me at reception. In fact my hosts Johannes and Sam are descendants of the real von Trapp family who fled from the Nazis over the Alps and went on to become a successful singing group in America. In the morning, I awake to see a spectacular panorama of purple peaks silhouetted against a brightening blue sky, an eiderdown of cotton wool clouds covers a long, narrow valley, and sparkling dew drips from russet coloured leaves along an enticing trail leading into a dank forest. Thoughts of breakfast are put aside as I hurriedly pull on my boots to hike that trail before those ephemeral mists are dispersed by warming rays of the rising sun.
Outside, crisp leaves crunch under foot, something unseen scurries away rustling yellowing bracken while a tiny bird high on a bough sings a shrill chorus to the dawn. The first blush of fall colours tinges the trees. Red Spruce, white Birch, red Maple, and yellow Birch stand worthy of their colourful names shedding crinkled leaves of amber, copper, and bronze to stand naked and dormant through winter snows.Thoughts of congested city streets fade as I stride along a rough trail up a ridge, my lungs are purged by pure, pine scented air, and expanding vistas of forested hillsides and distant peaks shrink annoying traffic delays and constraining travel timetables into perspective. Re-energised with every step, I realize how much I needed to reconnect and commune with nature once more.However, after five miles a rumbling stomach reminds me of a missed breakfast. Reluctantly, I turn around to hike back to the lodge. Like the valley below me no longer snuggled under a comforting eiderdown of clouds, I too have to face a new day. Driving east I find my way to Charlotte and catch a vehicle ferry across Lake Champlain to leave Vermont for up-state New York. This half a mile wide strip of water seems to delineate where cultivated countryside ends and unspoilt wilderness begins. On the far shore, past Elizabethtown a narrow road winds up into Adirondack State Park where rugged peaks of Giant Mountain and Mount Marcy rise above thousands of square miles of dense pristine forests. I switch the Mustang to “Sport” mode raising gear-change points and adding weight and feel to the steering. The car responds by sharpening the steering response, holding higher rev’s, and delivering abundant power to hurtle up hills and speed around bends. Need of speed momentarily satisfied, I feel an urge to get out and explore the inviting country side. After checking a guide book I race through Keene and Upper Jay to hike High Falls Gorge where the Ansable River cascades down a narrow canyon. I scramble up a slippery stairway cut into a rock face and then slide over wet boulders out onto a scaffolding platform over the gorge. The slow moving river meandering across a meadow is transformed into a thundering torrent as it plunges down 50 feet into a fissure in the fractured rock. The foaming water reforms in a swirling pool, overflows down a cataract, then surges on down the gorge toppling over falls, twirling through pools, and churning over weirs.
I follow the course of foaming white-water along a walkway bolted into the cliff face, across a swaying rope bridge, onto a ledge to watch another graceful arc of water plunge in a shining stream that shatters into sparkling droplets filling a chasm with a cool, damp mist. Heart pumping and breathing harder I clamber over more rock outcrops and slide on muddy paths watching in awe as the unstoppable weight of water tumbles over yet more chutes, cataracts, and rapids on its torturous route through the gorge, out of the mountains, and on down hillsides to drain into Lake Champlain. Invigorated by exercise I switch drive mode to “Track” for the final sprint to Long Lake. The Mustang’s inner wild horse comes to life and it becomes a circuit-ready race car. I tear along twisty back roads flicking gear-change paddles, stomping hard on brakes, and yanking on the steering wheel drifting the coupé into bends with tyres squealing and gravel spraying as a widening smile spreads across my face. Steaming out of mountains near Saranac Lake I switch back to “Normal” mode to cruise along a scenic byway which weaves in and out of woodlands following the shoreline of a series of lakes. Tranquil scenery tempers my inner race-driver to slow down and take in the view. In places a still lake reflects russet leaves on trees lining a shore. Occasionally, a clearing reveals a curved beach of rounded white pebbles. Elsewhere, calm backwaters seep into swamps of yellow rushes and straw coloured reeds. Out on Tupper Lake two fishermen drift in an old style, raised-prow, canoe. No fish are biting, but the fishermen don’t seem bothered — clearly the pace of life is different here. It is late in the day when my Mustang freewheels across an iron-girder bridge, onto a narrow causeway, and into the hamlet of Long Lake. A place named for a stretch of the Raquette River flooding a narrow 14 mile glacial valley and lapping right up to the edge of town. The solid timber, four-storey Adirondack Hotel, which dates back to the 1850s, stands on the lake shore across from a wooden pontoon where a blue Cessna float plane is moored. Outside a shingle-roofed general store fishing tackle is on display; whip-like fly-fishing rods, cylindrical knotted string catch nets, and a pair of those comical high-waisted green rubber waders. A few humble cottages and a truck-stop diner complete this isolated settlement of 711 souls.Turning onto a gravel track at the edge of town I arrived at cluster of cabins half hidden amongst trees. After checking in, my mud-caked, bug-splattered Mustang finally comes to rest beside a cabin overlooking the lake. I hump in my bag, raid a fridge for a cold beer, then clump along loose boards out onto a rickety jetty over the lake to slump into a wooden chair and watch the setting sun tint wisps of clouds in a rosy glow. A damp chill creeps into the evening air; not a ripple disturbs the placid lake, not a rustle in the darkening woods, the tranquillity is tangible, as if the whole of nature is holding its breath. Residues from over-indulgences travelling the Music Route ebb away. My long sought dream of a relaxing escape realised; I stretch out, lean back, and savour the serenity of Long Lake. ©Stephen W StarlingYou too can enjoy the spectacular Adirondack Mountains and the restful atmosphere of Long Lake: for information and ideas visit these websites: - Visit Adirondacks - http://www.visitadirondacks.com/ and Motel Long Lake: https://www.motellonglake.com/
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