AND THEY’RE OFF!

My father loves horseracing. He doesn’t do the actually racing, of course. That would be unfair to the horse. But he’s a big fan, so much so that he recently achieved a lifelong dream by purchasing a small percentage (4 percent, actually) of a racehorse. Although Shanghai Red has a somewhat unfortunate tendency to finish second, he won a race last April by about nine lengths, meaning that even the part that my dad owns finished first. In May, my father became part-owner of another horse. This one’s a great-great-great grandson of Secretariat. Yup, no kidding. Sure, Big Red’s grandchildren aren’t all Big Reddish. But still.

But my father had never been able to tick off one thing on his lifelong to-do list—visit Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York.

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HEAVEN ON HIGHWAY SEVEN

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

“The Road Not Taken,” the classic poem penned by four-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Robert Frost nearly a century ago was likely meant as a gentle mocking of indecision. But, being that I’m immersed in an RV excursion in which myriad roads are worthy of the taking, I like to read it as an ode to options.

That’s what a house on wheels offers—choices, possibilities, roads that may lead to something unforgettable. Over the previous few days of our two-month Summer of Love 2.0 journey, we motored through the heart of Frost’s native Vermont along a pretty magical road—Highway 7 south from Burlington.

I would describe it as a stroll through Vermont. Because that’s mostly what we did.

We started with a stroll to the shore of Lake Champlain, just a few hundred  yards from where we had spent the night at Burlington’s North Beach Campground. Then we drove a couple miles into the center of town, found a nice parking spot, and walked around Burlington’s Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian mall where the eats are good and the vibe is laid-back-touristy.

The Marketplace’s shops range from Burlington Records (yes, an actual record store) to Blu-Bin (a 3D printing company). The businesses have quirky-hip names like Kiss the Cook, Dear Lucy, Frog Hollow, Lululemon, and Good Times Gallery. Our favorite was this little crepe cart:

Then, only a few blocks away, we hopped aboard Highway 7, which took us through Shelburne and Charlotte and finally into Middlebury, which is a quintessentially quaint hamlet—prime strolling grounds, dominated by a white steeple and waterfall.

 

Yes, Middlebury is that kind of place—charm and serenity, which might well describe the bulk of the state. And Middlebury College is much the same, so we strolled around the campus, too (more about that in an upcoming post) before stopping for dinner at a restaurant known as Fire & Ice. Why is that relevant? Well, because it was named for a poem penned by Robert Frost.

Amy and I often say that one of the great things about traveling via house on wheels is that you aren’t OBLIGATED to eat three meals a day in a restaurant. It is an OPTION instead, usually reserved for places that are worthy of the splurge.

Like Fire & Ice, a delightfully eclectic collection of themes and artifacts. If any reader has been lucky enough to visit Wisconsin’s quirky collection of collections known as House on the Rock, well, Fire & Ice is sort of a culinary version. The salad bar surrounds the speed boat as you walk in.

There is a College Room adorned in pennants, a Lake room (canoe paddles on the walls), a Copper Dome Room (eat under said dome), and a Library in which you can enjoy lunch surrounded by literature.

Amy and I wound up being seated in the Railway Club Car. The Chicken Borsin was delicious.

After dinner, we decided yet another stroll was in order, if only to work off the calories. So we drove another dozen or so miles south on Highway 7, then detoured a few miles, eventually arriving at—naturally–the Robert Frost Interpretive Trail. It is a loop of slightly over a mile through woods and fields lined here and there with, well, lines from several of Frost’s poems. Poetry and scenery—pretty great combination

After spending the night at a campground in Salisbury, we steered south again on Heavenly 7 to Danby, and this time we detoured three-and-a-half miles east for another hike. This decision allowed me to tick off a bit of a Bucket List item—hiking the Appalachian Trail (or at least, a smidge of it). Okay, I admit that Long Trail (as it is also called) was an easy, four-mile out-and-back stroll through a mixed hardwood forest to Little Rock Pond. But hey, I once paddled 100 yards on the Missouri River, and I envisioned myself as Meriwether Lewis. Granted, it was more like Jerry Lewis. So I’m counting this as hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Granted, we started to gripe a bit toward the end. “How long has it been? When did we leave the RV—about 2:30?” Then we came upon a group of scraggly-bearded hikers and started chatting, as so often happens on the trail (or on the road). And we asked them how long they had been hiking. The answer: “Since March 9.” They started in Georgia. They’re doing the whole dadgum thing.

We concluded the day by setting up camp at a lovely RV park near the town of Dorset.

Our final day along Highway 7 took us off road a bit—in the sense that we turned off onto Highway 7A. And we found yet another charming town—Manchester. Here, the Northshire Bookstore is a classic independent treasure. And here, there’s a Roundabout Fro-Yo, which sells (of course) frozen yogurt alongside one of the town’s roundabouts. And here, there are dozens of outlet stores—everything from Ann Taylor to Polo/Ralph Lauren to The Gap. But my favorite business was probably this one:

Finally, we ended our Highway Seven Serenade with a stop in Bennington, Vermont’s third largest city but also home to one of the nation’s smallest colleges. Fewer than 700 undergraduates attend Bennington College, which sits on a hill in an almost dreamlike setting.

They’re particularly dedicated to the arts at Bennington. The visual arts. The performing arts. But also, surely, somebody is studying Robert Frost, whose most famous lines sure seem to fit our Highway Seven experience:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

What’s the best road trip decision you ever made?

SERENITY

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Twelve steps to the near perfect day:

Wake up at an RV campground—in this case, the lovely Quechee/Pine Valley KOA in the breathtaking Upper Valley of Central Vermont, where mountains and meadows and lakes and rivers and forests battle for bragging rights, a place so picturesque that you think you’ve somehow been swallowed into a postcard while you slumbered.

Brew a cup of coffee. Inhale the peaceful surroundings.

Set off a couple of miles down the road toward Quechee (rhymes with “peachy”) Gorge Village, the kind of uber-charming hiccup where you find candle shops and antique malls and a toy and train museum—and where the establishments have names like the Vermont Spot Country Store and a brand new one called Maple Harvest Specialties, which sells everything from maple kettlecorn to maple cotton candy to maple pumpkin relish.

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MEETING THE MONSTER

I always insist that Wrigley Field is the ultimate sports cathedral. I gush about it. I ramble on about it. I even wrote a book about, a gorgeously-illustrated alphabet picture book called W is for Wrigley.

Because I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Yankee Stadium and Madison Square Garden and the Rose Bowl and Lambeau Field and Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Pebble Beach Golf Links and even the Field of Dreams—all of them pantheon-worthy places—I like to think I can tout the wonders of Wrigley without hesitation.

Except until now I had never been to Fenway Park.

I know, I know. One could argue that I’ve been doing the equivalent of shouting to the world that Robert DeNiro is our finest actor—and then admitting that I haven’t actually seen an Al Pacino film. So a trip to Fenway Park was at the top of my traveling to-do list (along with a visit to Glacier National Park).

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LOVE-LOVE NEWPORT R.I.

In the early 20th century, some of the nation’s wealthiest families summered in Newport, Rhode Island. They built mansions and called them cottages. The Astors. The Vanderbilts. Here, in the early 21st century, you can add the Herzogs to the list, only Amy and I did it in a house on wheels.

A note of caution: When visiting Newport RV-style, you want to plan ahead. Find a way to park outside the city center and make your way in via other transportation. The roads are narrow. The crowds are thick. The parking is tough. But the experience is unforgettable.

Our day in Newport consisted of a long lunch, a bit of tennis, and a stroll.

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