45.6 mi / 10.3 mph / 1765 ft. climbing
Home: Chez Poulet at Abigail and Hobart’s WarmShowers
It’s time to resume heading eastward. In 2016, we completely avoided the Green and White Mountains by skirting around them in Canada. This time, we still aren’t quite bold enough to take them head-on, so I worked hard to find the shallowest river valleys cutting through them. Unfortunately, the road-builders had long-ago discovered the same routes, and now US Highway 2 runs along that path. Though, often US Highways are actually close to optimal for safe and efficient cycling, because they have good shoulders, with the tradeoff of heavier traffic.
Unfortunately, we discovered that US 2 in Vermont is far worse than it is other parts of the country. The shoulder is constantly disappearing, is often crumbly when it’s there, and there were a surprising number of asshole drivers (maybe more of rural people feeling they’re at-war in a Democratic-controlled state?) I knew it wouldn’t be the idyllic country roads from our ride into Burlington, but it was worse than I’d hoped.
On top of that, there were multiple construction zones, some with pavement so bad (or completely absent) that we were forced to walk through them. Rett also hit a new phase of difficulty starting her bike, so any of the on/off stop/go stuff just heightened her fear and frustration, and led to her loudly proclaiming her hatred of Vermont and everyone in it.
So not a good morning. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that we had one more Burlington-area errand to run on our way out of town, stopping at REI (a new rear tire for me, a pressure gauge since my last tire wore out prematurely due to low pressure, and some treatments for the bugs we’ve been encountering with more regularity). Great that it was there, but its 10am opening meant we got a later start than we’d normally choose, and while the humidity of the past few days had broken, the 90+ temperatures had not.
We stopped at a Kinney Drugs in Waterbury for some cold drinks, and then walked over to the park to eat our packed sandwiches. I overheard a grandmother respond to a query about the cute grandson she was pushing in a red firetruck: “he turned ten months old today.” And suddenly I realized, it’s July 22nd, we became nomads on September 22nd, so this kid is precisely as old as our travels are! We’re usually quite-consciously aware of how long we’ve been out (since people ask all the time), but it’s quite something else to see the duration of our travel reflected in a human life, one that could watch us curiously and pose for a photo with us. In a further coincidence, the 10-month-old’s father (and grandmother’s son) had done a cross-country tour that ended in Bar Harbor (where his worried and proud mom had met him for his final pedal strokes to the sea).
Once that born-to-be-a-bike-tourer and his grandmother had moved on, the woman who had asked his age now had a question for us: “what kind of socks do you guys wear?” Haha, what?! Credit to asking a question no one has ever asked us before, and especially not as a cold-open like that! Once recovered, we answered “Well, merino wool of course, sometimes Smartwool, but now more often the Darn Toughs that Rett was wearing right now…”
That’s when Courtney let us know that her and Tressa were on their lunch break from working at Darn Tough Socks, and do we want a quick tour of the factory that’s right around the corner? Again, haha, what?! Well, sure, why the hell not?
We walked over, brought our bikes inside, and learned some about the marketing and sales aspects of the wool-sock business in addition to the manufacturing. Both Rett and I felt a surprisingly visceral reaction to our first time walking through an office cubicle farm in several years, and it was not a case of absence making the heart grow fonder (even though Darn Tough runs a pretty relaxed and chill cubicle farm)!
Once we reached the factory floor (yes, the socks are really made right there in Vermont!) our hosts were really disappointed to remember that the shop doesn’t run on Fridays, but for us, it was still really cool to see the massive variety of colored spools feeding into the rows of computer-controlled knitting machines. For the first time of this trip, it made me feel like I was Rick Steves or something, getting a behind-the-scenes look at a local business to color our travelogue.
On the way out, we even got some awesome parting gifts, which then made me wonder, if we hadn’t already been Darn Tough devotees, would they have been more or less likely to invite us over? Either way, they now turned two likely customers-for-life into two definite customers-for-life, which, in conjunction with Rett’s Terry Bike Shorts really has tiny Vermont punching well above its weight in awesome loyalty-inspiring products. Now, when is someone going to ask us what kind of syrup we use on our pancakes?
With the day’s mood now fully turned around, we pushed through our first state capital, Montpelier, and out to East Montpelier and up a steep gravel road to an incredible sweeping view of Vermont’s fields and hills and mountains. This was where Abigail and Hobart lived, our WarmShowers hosts for the night. They set us up in their chicken coop. But wait, this wasn’t the rude treatment it sounds like: the chickens were long gone, and they had converted it (Hobart was a home builder by trade) into an absolutely incredible tiny-house space. An outdoor shower felt similarly magical, cleansing, and restorative, and then we spent the rest of the gorgeous, now-cool evening with them as we made our own dinner on their grill’s propane burner and dined with them at their patio table.
We haven’t done a WarmShowers stay since California, but this was yet another case of a supremely generous welcome that we feel so lucky to receive, simply because we are a part of this weird subset of humanity that does this strange activity. Given Vermont’s small size and population, I’m pretty sure that half the state actually heard Rett’s frustrated morning scream “I hate Vermont and everyone in it!”, and thenceforth set out to change her mind. Well played Vermonters, well played.