The Mountains And A Dog Chapel

Our route has changed numerous times since we started this trip to adjust for weather, weekend tourist traffic, or because we simply changed our minds.  Much pre-planning has proven less practical than we expected, especially since we, technically, have to move our entire house each time we head to a new destination.  It’s not always easy to rush from place to place and can be tiresome and frustrating.  So, that was our long way of saying we went to Vermont instead of spending more time in Massachusetts (…I almost had that spelled correctly on the first try – so close!).  After a couple of days at October Mountain State Park and the deluge of rain behind us, we headed off on an incredibly scenic drive through the Berkshires, so we could ultimately make our way north to Vermont, then east into New Hampshire.  Our plans for these two states were pretty laid back.  We wanted time to drive through the mountains and take in the scenery, and it didn’t take long before the landscape filled with plush green hills.  If you’ve never been through this part of the U.S., know this – both of these states are so pretty!  Even the larger towns are still really quaint, well-kept and wonderfully geared for both the locals and the tourists.  And the people have been some of the nicest we’ve encountered so far, incredibly welcoming and so very friendly.   This is an absolutely beautiful area to explore in the summer…and if we were ‘winter people’ I’m sure it would be amazing then too…but for now we still like the idea of no snow for a while.

The Route:

The Berkshire Mountains, MA

Waterbury & Stowe, VT

Greensboro, VT

St. Johnsbury, VT

Franconia Notch, NH

Epsom Valley, NH

 

The Berkshires:

If you follow our Instagram accounts (@thenotsolonelyroad, @twohappyrabbits), you know we like food and go out of our way to find it. We had originally heard about the Berkshire Mountain Bakery through Michael Pollan’s Netflix documentary Cooked.  In the episode entitled ‘Air’, they discussed artisan baking, specifically the fermentation process for grains in breads like sour dough and how it affects the leavening and structure of the final loaf.  This is where Graeme’s frustratingly good memory comes in very handy.  This mental bookmark led us to some of the most delicious baked goods we’ve had in a while.  We actually stopped at both their locations (Husatonic and Pittsfield, MA) because the bread was so good!  We tried their San Francisco Sour Dough, Chocolate Ciabattas, Cherry-Pecan bread and their ‘Bread + Chocolate’ (which is exactly what you’d think and so incredibly delicious)

Growing up in southern Ontario, Canada, we don’t get to see mountains, at least not at the same scale as the Berkshires, so a scenic drive through the hills was a must. Part of the northeastern Appalachian range, they meander up the western side of Massachusetts, becoming the Green Mountains once across the Vermont boarder. Our route took us north to the Mohawk Trail scenic byway, a section of route 2 that crosses the northern portion of the state. This is a fantastic drive, alternating between beautiful views and small towns, chalk full of history and charm. From there, we followed the Connecticut River Parkway north into Vermont, ending the day near Waterbury.

 

Waterbury & Stowe, Vermont:

After spending a restful night at the Groton Campground (a quiet little RV park we found through Passport America), we planned a day of exploring some Vermont’s larger towns.  We usually start by finding a Visitors or Welcome center, as they are normally great one-stop-shops for information and advice. The one in Waterbury, our first stop, also happens to be the information centre for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, so you can get all the tourism information you need and have a pretty tasty cup of coffee too.  They are set up as a mini coffee museum with displays showing how they grow, harvest and roast their coffee and the differences between the varieties of bean and the regions they import from.  From there we sat in the park next door and planned the rest of our day – with the help of free wifi available in the town center.   Vermont is home to some incredible craft brewers and since we wouldn’t have enough time to seek out as many as we would like, we found a local shop that has a reputation for a pretty incredible selection of fine local and imported beers.  It is called the Craft Beer Cellars, and it certainly lived up to the hype.  Be sure to ask the staff for recommendations.  The guy we spoke with was incredibly knowledgeable and after just a couple of questions about what we liked, he made some amazing suggestions and we ended up with some definite new favorites.

Craft Beer Cellars

Stowe was our next stop, but since the Ben & Jerry’s Factory happened to be on our route, we thought a snack might be in order…and really, it’s never too early for ice cream.  We emailed ahead to see if their Scoop Shack served any of their dairy-free options, since we hadn’t managed to track any down before we left Ontario.  So after loading up on a scoop of their vegan-friendly Peanut Butter and Cookies and Almond Caramel Brittle, we had enough of a sugar-high for some more exploring.  Stowe is absolutely beautiful.  It almost makes us wish we liked snow…almost.  It was still too hot to leave the dogs and cat for any length of time to do any of the really cool adventure stuff (zip-lining, mountain-biking, etc.), so we opted instead to stretch everyone’s legs along the great recreational trail that runs throughout the town.  It seemed to go for miles and was surrounded by pretty little streams and gorgeous views of the mountains.  On our way out of town, we stopped at a fun little market to get some local produce for dinner.

Ice Cream Break

Walking trail near Stowe

Berlin, Vermont:

After a day of driving, we had planned an overnight stay at a spot we found through Harvest Hosts.  Just outside of Montpelier in the town of Berlin, and kind of in the middle of nowhere, was Fresh Tracks Farm and Winery.  Surrounded by the vineyard and apple orchards, this pretty little winery had an outdoor fireplace and umbrella shaded picnic areas.  Inside there was a tasting room, bar and store, as well as couches and a dining area.  We did a sample tasting and chatted with Nate, who gave us the rundown on each of their wines.  The region has its own varieties of grapes and apples which they worked to cultivate with the local university.  It made for some very delicious and unique vintages.  He also and told us about their ‘Wine-Down Wednesdays’ which just happened to be the night we were there.  They offer $5 glasses of any of their wines and encourage people to bring their own dinner in to enjoy them with.  So after getting settled for the evening and whipping up some food we headed back in for a really great night.  The place filled up quick, with couples on date night and a birthday party celebration.  We thought this was such a cool concept and a great way for them to increase business on what would likely be a quiet mid-week night.

Greensboro, Vermont:

You’ll notice a recurring theme with us, which is ‘Will Stop for Good Beer.’  So, following that motto we headed off early to Greensboro.  While it is mainly a farming area, only surrounded by tiny hamlets, it is also home to one of the top 20 craft brewers in the worldHill Farmstead Brewing has created a cult-like following, with people willing to travel from all over for their brews.  We were told to arrive early and be prepared to wait.  We arrived around 11 am (they don’t usually open until noon) and there was already nearly 25 people in line, waiting for the doors to open.  We have to give Hill Farmstead credit, they do what they can to make the waiting fun.  They have a taco truck, beanbag games, outdoor seating and restrooms, so that lining up becomes more of a social event than a hassle.  We chatted with a couple from Quebec who were car-camping their way across Vermont, hitting all the best breweries along the way – which sounded like a pretty good way to spend an extended weekend!  More and more people started arriving, so we bought a nice selection and decided to take off before the place got even busier.

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Hill Farmstead Brewery

Hill Farmstead Brewery

St. Johnsbury, Vermont:

St. Johnsbury was kind of a pilgrimage for us.  On Atlas Obscura (a fun website that lists all the odd and quirky things to check out when travelling) we came across a place that seemed like it was tailor-made for us – Dog Mountain.  Dog Mountain is the creation of the late folk-artist Stephen Huneck that was created in tribute to his dog, Sally, and as a place to celebrate the bond between people and their dogs.  Just before we left on this trip, we lost our sweet little Schnoodle, Quigley, unexpectedly to leukemia.  He was such a huge part of our lives and so much of this trip was planned around his idiosyncrasies and challenges (he was a broken little dog with behavioral issues, but we adored him). We’ve been struggling to adjust to life without him these last couple of months and after reading about Dog Mountain, we knew we had to make the trip.  This place is a haven for dog lovers and their pets.  The entire place, all 150 acres is leash-free and dogs are welcomed inside all the buildings.  There are swimming ponds, hiking trails and tons of open-running space for dogs to explore, wander and meet other dogs.  And then there’s the Dog Chapel, a cute little white building with a dog-shaped weather-vane perched atop it.  When you walk in, it’s impossible not to feel completely overwhelmed by the spirit of the place.  The walls are lined thick with tributes, pictures, memorials and poems hung by people for dogs they have lost.  Every inch is covered, floor to ceiling and layers deep.  We picked out a corner inside the main part of the chapel and hung Quigley’s picture, along with the thousands of other tributes, and took a little comfort in knowing we weren’t alone in our grief.  This is an incredible place, and as much as it can warm your heart and break it at the same time, we’re so very grateful it exists.

 

Franconia Notch, New Hampshire:

After St. Johnsbury, we made our way into New Hampshire and tried our first overnight in a Walmart parking lot in Littleton.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a bad stay and it was pretty fun to see about 25 other RV’s parked there by the time 11 pm rolled around.  We stayed there to be close to Franconia Notch State Park, since none of the park campgrounds allowed dogs.  Actually, dogs were not allowed in most areas of the park.  So this being the case, we were limited on what we could do within the park since we weren’t willing to leave everyone in the van for hours.  We were dealing with another rainy morning, so bundled in our rain gear we began driving to the first of the two sites we decided to visit.  The drive through the park is quite pretty, with towering hills all around you. On a sunny day it is no doubt spectacular, but today, with the rain, it was largely covered in a thick layer of fog. It gave everything a dark and brooding quality that was really striking. We felt for the hikers on the Appalachian Trail which passes through the mountains of the park, watching them gear up and disappear into the mist. Our first stop was the site of the ‘Old Man on the Mountain’, a rock formation high on a mountain that has a profile of a face. Overnight on May 3, 2003 the rock face fell away, lost forever. In response, they created one of the most creative memorials we’ve ever seen. A lookout point with a series stacked sculptured designed to be viewed along your line of sight to the mountain that allows you to, once again, see the profile. It was really well designed and a neat way to envision the original.  The rain wasn’t letting up, so we headed to the Basin, hoping the short hiking trail might provide a bit of coverage.  The Basin is a naturally formed ‘pot-hole’ that was created from years of flowing water carving through stone.  To reach it, the trail weaves through the woods alongside a channel of fast running water, forming numerous small waterfalls and shallow pools before everything comes crashing into the Basin itself.  This was relatively short hike, but very pretty and didn’t require an entrance fee.  Franconia Notch had another trail called the Flume Gorge, which looked incredibly similar to the Basin, but with covered boardwalk trails and lookout areas, and they charged $12 per person.  So we opted for free and still felt we got a good feel for what the park had to offer.

Epsom Valley, New Hampshire:

We haven’t really gone into much detail about the campgrounds or places we’ve stayed overnight, unless they’ve been really interesting in some way.  Epsom Valley Family Campground wasn’t really remarkable in and of itself, but it has been one of our favourite places we’ve stayed so far.  About an hour away from Franconia Notch, this was a little campground we came across through Passport America (a discount service for campgrounds and RV parks).  We were only planning on staying for one night before heading to Maine, but we had such a great day and we were totally exhausted, we decided to stay an extra night.  All of their campsites have full service (electricity, water and sewer hookups).  You don’t have a lot of privacy (pretty much none where we were), but this is probably one of the few campgrounds you really won’t care.  The people here were so friendly!  Many hold seasonal sites and are there every weekend, while others just pass through or stay for a week or two.  Everyone waves or says hello, many asked us about our dogs, our van or where we were from.  We chatted with a very gracious couple who were also RV ‘full-timers’ that were just finishing an 11 month trip in their custom converted van.  We compared notes, they shared advice and helpful tips they had learned and even gave us a tour of their van.  They were thrilled to chat with a younger couple that was just getting started on a similar journey, saying it made them feel a little nostalgic.  For us, it was so wonderful to hear what they had learned in their traveling and to know that our ‘growing-pains’ adjusting to this lifestyle were totally normal and would get easier with time.

The week we spent in Vermont and New Hampshire went by quickly and may not have been the most eventful legs of the journey, but we have a feeling the scenery and the people will probably make it one of the most memorable.

 

The Joy-Rides

Building our Sticker Collection

Since we’re limited on space, we don’t have the luxury of picking up souvenirs of our adventures along the way.  We wanted something besides pictures to remember our travels and our favourite stops, so we’ve decided on decorating Hrudy with stickers.  Unfortunately we’ve missed stickers for New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, so we’ll add those in the fall, but our little collection is growing fast and we love adding a little colour to an otherwise very big, very beige campervan.

 

The Speed Bumps

The Search for Good Wifi

Okay, yes, this is very much a ‘first-world problem’, but when you’re trying to blog, consistent wifi is essential.  We do have wireless hub, but unfortunately we can’t use it in the U.S. until it’s unlocked in another three months.  We did pay for an upgraded travel plan for my phone, but it was pretty expensive and only gives us 1GB of data usage, which disappears fast when you’re trying to upload pictures or video.  We’ve sought out campgrounds with wifi, but as we’re finding it’s still not reliable and tends to limit both uploads and downloads.  Even some of the Harvest Hosts that offer wifi end up shutting everything off when they close their shops, so by the time you settle down to work in the evening, its disconnected.  We’re really hoping that once we’re back in Canada we’ll have better access, but until then we’ll just be at the mercy of any wifi we can get our hands on.

 

The Stuff that’s Keeping Us Sane or Things We’re Enjoying:

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats – Sort of a combination of folk and blues –it been some great new driving music.

Hill Farm Stead’s ‘Brother Soigne’ – This is their farmer’s ale brewed with lime and blood orange.  It was a little hoppy and a little sour and totally delicious.  Everything we’ve tried from Hill Farmstead has been amazing.  Now all we have to do is try to figure out how to work them into our fall travel route!

 

WHERE TO NEXT:  Maine

 

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