If living on the road for nearly a decade has taught me anything, it’s to be open to, and as prepared as possible for whatever comes my way.
Yet, nothing could have prepared me for the past month of challenges and sorrows. When I arrived, I had a major auto issue to resolve, was pondering a home base in Vermont, and had a number of family gatherings on the calendar. With help in oh-so-many ways, the Element appears ready to go another 200,000 miles, and I am breathing an enormous sigh of relief.
However, it’s been a far more difficult Spring than I could have envisioned by the unexpected loss of two dear friends, topped off by unnecessary family abuse. Thankfully, I had committed to a two-month rental and have had time in a comfortable place to process, react, and rejuvenate.
The Original Plan
When I booked my Vermont stay, the thought was that I would be house hunting in the area for a place to call home for most of the year. Let me just admit that I was definitely naive about weather, population growth, and the cost-of-living here. Oddly enough, this is the third time I “almost moved to Vermont” in the past 35 years, but it just doesn’t seem to be the place for me to homestead.
Honestly, it’s been interesting for me to live the indoor life for this long a period of time, and being in a college town definitely has its benefits! Besides biking and trail hiking, I’ve enjoyed wonderful museums, incredible libraries, a welcoming meditation sangha, and impressive live music. It's also helped me generate a "what's important list" as I look to the near future.
In about two weeks, I’ll head out for a few more stops in New England states.
I’m almost ready.
If you've been with me a while, you may recall my visit to Addison County early last summer. It was 10 nights of "camping by Lake Champlain" that had me questioning how I'd never enjoyed this still semi-rural area between Vergennes, Vermont and Crown Point, New York. I'm now "boarding near Middlebury" while asking myself, "Could I live here 7 or 8 months of the year?". Yes, I already know that January through March is out of the question, and I'm certainly not through roaming elsewhere on the planet.
Culturally, Vermont is my #1 choice for an address in the States, and the easy access to Canada is quite appealing, too. So, I'm actually committed to testing out day-to-day life here with a two-month stint living in East Middlebury with a native Vermonter. The Village of East Middlebury's earliest settlement dates from 1775, as settlers were drawn here by its location at the west end of the trail over the Green Mountains and along the Middlebury River. Current population: 437.
With the college town of Middlebury just 4 miles west, there's much activity nearby. I'll save stories for another day, but I have been perusing small towns by bike and foot. Let me just say that 25 miles on the seat in Addison County is worth 50 at this point in time!
I Guess it's Spring
As the trek north continues, I’m attempting to adapt to temperature changes from 86 to 26 in a matter of 10 days. Yes, my first week in Whitehall, NY has been quite a rude awakening. Each day begins with my hand upon the window, then shaking my head.
This small town of nearly 2,500 residents initially attracted me for its affordability, as well as access to the Adirondacks, the Empire State Trail, and Western Vermont. Whitehall is in a valley at the southern end of Lake Champlain and has been declared the “Birthplace of the US Navy” based on Revolutionary War activity (though Philly may argue this point). So, mountains, a cycling trail, history, and spitting distance to my favorite New England state.
All of that said, I plead ignorance. Beyond my definition of “spring weather”, the hiking trails were far too icy and/or muddy to hike, and the Empire State Trail in this area is a death wish, as it’s busy roadway not canalway. This meant daily driving to destinations that I did enjoy. Bottom line – Whitehall is a pass-through town for me.
With trepidation, I began my journey from South Florida to Vermont plotting intentional drive times of less than five hours. Sanford, Florida is first on the itinerary, for just two nights, to hop the overnight auto train and leave the driving to Amtrak for 810 miles. My last visit to Sanford was in 2006 for the same purpose, but oh-what-a-surprise to see this town's transformation, and to enjoy a stay with a host that is chatty, cooks great fish and loves to read. Hon, you just never know.
Which brings me to my next stop, Winchester, Virginia -- a location chosen for its proximity to the station and an affordable bed. After a 4.5 hour train delay and a nearly 2-hour wait for my Element, it was grand to simply go west in less than two hours and be in place for four days. Yet, the best was still to come and Winchester requires more of my time in the future.
Onward, and in just 10 miles I cross into Maryland, then 20 more and it's West Virginia, before I hit the never-ending state of Pennsylvania to regroup in Avery for a few days. It's 29 miles to the New York border, and while I am certainly in good company; if this is spring, I'll never winter here.
April 2 is a cold, blustery day but I'm so close to the last big push that I can taste it. I'm now safely in Whitehall, New York, just east of the Adirondacks. As I write, I'm wearing a turtleneck and Woolie Boolie sox, while remaining optimistic that flowers will bloom during this two-week stay before I cross into Vermont.
For highlights along the "my engine is dying!" journey, see below. The driving is nerve-racking, but the people and places continue to surprise.
Perhaps you’ve read that the Earth's inner core recently reversed its rotation, which I guess occurs every 6 years. News to me, but I do believe this one must be different as it’s controlling my life pattern, too.
At year’s end 2022, I was quite pleased with my projection of what the first half of 2023 looked like. While I was still pondering my auto’s idle issue, I would be escaping Florida before March’s tourist stampede, and slowly moving my way through the Carolinas toward spring in Vermont. A few reservations were in place, including a lovely loft stay for two months in Middlebury to poke around the western region of the state. From here, perhaps Grand Manan Island and Newfoundland this summer. I was ready to roll again!
Fast-forward two weeks and the Vermont cancellation came in with just 17 minutes for me to cancel other reservations without a loss. Now that I was back to the drawing board, I decided to call the mechanic I adore and was told “the idle should have relearned by now”. Yes, the planet is reversing and so did I, thankfully. When you live in your car, it’s quite important that it learns good behavior.
So, in disbelief, I’ve been in South Florida for 3 weeks, but oh-so-happy to have a place to stay and a mechanic I trust. I’ve now redesigned my travel pattern with reservations from Virginia to Vermont as I’ll be hopping on the auto train soon. This cuts my driving miles in half as the new Element diagnosis is “you’ll need a new engine within 6 months”.
My inner core is definitely turning.
Cyclist, writer, teacher, avid reader, bike/ped advocate, nomad, pie lover