We Are Back, Baby! … Well, Almost

We are back in Vermont, we are vaccinated—twice—and May 18 is the official date that we are emancipated from the threat of COVID-19!

We have spent the last six months in Pennsylvania closing down Bob’s late mother’s condo while the kids finished their semesters of school. In the meantime Lisa has been working on the final edit of the Young Adult novel she began in late 2019, and both of us have been studying Spanish ardently.

We moved back up to our second home in Ludlow, VT, this past Sunday, and after months of cleaning out a lifetime’s worth of stuff, then packing up, moving out of one home, and moving back into another, we are frankly exhausted, physically and emotionally.

The trees are still brown on the mountains in Vermont and the weather is cool.

So of course, the first thing we did was relax in the hot tub with mimosas to celebrate the moment and toast the future.

Its good to be back. Bob really missed the hot tub.

There is so much to do here in Vermont—kayaking, hiking, birdwatching, visiting breweries, exploring New England towns, enjoying outdoor concerts, going to farmers markets, shopping, enjoying so much that Vermont has to offer. And we have started planning our next travels. Watch for that in the next Messy Suitcase blog!

Hasta La Vista!

Migrating Loons at First Snow

I kayaked Lake Rescue in 29 degrees this morning to see how it looked with its trees, some still fall-tinged, cloaked in soft early snow, and encountered an astonishing 25 loons swimming together back and forth in the south end.

I assume they were a migrating group that came from the Adirondack lakes and were gathering up others on their way migrating to the Atlantic coast. They made no sound, just swam together, occasionally craning their necks or ruffling their wings.

In the end, they took to the air, flying together in three or four glorious circles around the lake, sometimes, right over my head, before heading off to parts unknown.

Goodbye, loons. Safe travels. Thanks for the memories. See you next year!

Addendum: I have since learned that these birds are in fact not loons but white-winged scoters. Still stunning.

Easy Hikes to the Top of the World

Vermont has an endless bounty of hikes, from the challenging Appalachian/Long Trail that traverses the entire state, to short hikes with big rewards. All of them are steep, because these are the Green Mountains, after all!

Here a couple we enjoy that can be done with the kids, or with people in your party who aren’t used to long hikes. Both will reward you with outstanding views for not too much effort. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars or a camera!

Hike to the Top of Okemo

There’s a short hike to the top of the Okemo Mountain Road that gives you an awesome vantage point with less than a mile of hiking. You can hike through dense, magical woods up a steep, rocky trail, or you can hike up a relatively easy road. At the top you have a mountain-top view from the Okemo Peak that lets you gaze down upon the Village of Ludlow, Lake Rescue, and mountains all the way to New Hampshire. You’ll see the ski lift and can climb to the top of the Fire Tower (if you’re not afraid of heights). It’s less than a mile round trip. There are some pull-offs with scenic views on the way down. Learn more.

Directions to the Trailhead:

Turn left on Route 100, then left at the end. Make a right onto Okemo Mtn Rd. Drive up to the Okemo Lodge, continuing up the private road to its left (OPEN from late spring to late fall). This road will switchback straight up the mountain for about 4-5 miles until you reach the top. You’ll be able to park at the end and either walk on the road or go up the trail to the left.

Echo Lake Vista Trail

Children as young as five can successfully navigate the hike up the Echo Lake Vista Trail. It’s steep but not brutal, and the views of Echo Lake, okemo Mountain, and the whole area from the top are breathtaking. there’s a nice rock there where you can relax and enjoy a snack. It’s only 1.5 miles round-trip. Learn more.

Directions:

The trail is located at Camp Plymouth State Park Distance. Go north on Route 100 (turn right from Benson Point), North, then turn right onto Kingdom Road at the Echo Lake Inn, follow 1 mile to Boy Scout Camp Road, and turn left to Camp Plymouth State Park. Park for free in a parking lot on the right before the road crosses the creek. The trailhead is past the cabins on the right, or you can go farther on the road and access the trail by old wooden steps that take you through an ancient cemetery.

All Aboard the Green Mountain Flyer

Beto and I recently had the lucky opportunity to take a lovely, relaxing fall foliage ride on the Green Mountain Flyer, a scenic ride on a vintage train from Chester to Rockingham in southern Vermont. The train whistle blasted our eardrums to oblivion as the ancient train noisily announced its arrival at Chester Depot. The bright red engine was pulling about five dark green cars, each labeled Green Mountain Railroad.  

Inside the Train

The fall foliage expedition on the Green Mountain Railroad was a free event sponsored by the OkemoValley Regional Chamber of Commerce, based in Ludlow, of which I am a
new member. We checked in with Diane, the organizer, and got into line while waiting for the refreshments to be loaded on the train. Finally, a young woman from the Chamber climbed up on the stairs and called out, “All Aboard!” and we boarded the train. 
 

 
Bob and I grabbed a forward-facing seat in the first car, in an open booth with an enormous wood table and another double seat across from us. The windows were huge and the view was great, but after 20 minutes or so I got a hankering for some refreshment and set out to explore the train.

Discovering the Bar Car

I wobbled back on the jerkily moving train, holding on to seats for dear life to keep my feet under me, through three cars that featured plush leatherette high-backed bench seats facing each other. Just when I thought I was at the end, I found a car with a table covered with white paper bags, and a narrow hallway ahead on the right. I inched through, and discovered a sweet little bar car with about 20 seats (some occupied by Chamber staff) and a musician, Bill Brink, singing and playing guitar and kazoo. I hustled back get Beto, ordered us up a couple of surprisingly good glasses of Chardonnay, and we settled in to enjoy the rest of the ride in the Bar Car.
 
 
Directly in front of us was the bright red engine chugging away. The engineer would occasionally walk jauntily along the jerking engine and enter our car from the front. ()
 
I tried to digitally capture the roaming engineer and
musician Bill Brink, but you can see the jerking motion
of the train did not allow for quality pictures.
We relaxed with our wine, bag dinners provided by the Chamber (courtesy of Mr.
Darcy’s Restaurant) and enjoyed the ride.

What We Saw

We rode alongside a scenic, winding river, passing a stunning river gorge that was almost past before we could get the cameras out, and crossing a heavy red iron bridge.
 
River gorge photo taken from a moving train
Vermont is famous for its spectacular autumn foliage, but we are still about three weeks before peak colors, so the ride featured mostly green foliage, with occasional bursts of bright yellow, fiery orange or deep red in sections of trees that acted as a precursor of things to come. The shrubs along riverbeds seem to have gotten the memo early, though, and preened with deep burgundy and crusty golden leaves.
 
We passed a couple of covered bridges, a signature sight in Vermont that never loses its appeal. One’s identifying sign read, “Built in 2012,” a melancholy reminder of the devastating floods caused by Hurricane Irene that September that washed away or severely damaged many of these classic structures throughout the Green Mountain State.
 
 
We saw (and smelled) cows grazing in fields, and admired field after field of corn stalks.  Lisa, a fellow CHamber member with a cow farm, told us those fields would be turned into mash for its farms to eat, but hers are grass-fed. (Beto plans to visit her farm this fall to serenade her cows on saxophone.)

Take a Ride Yourself!

If you‘re interested in taking a ride on the Green Mountain Flyer, you can learn more here. To learn more about the Okemo Valley, which offers so much more than its world-class ski mountain Okemo Mountain Resort, visit the Chamber’s website, yourplaceinvermont.com.
 
 
By Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt