Waterhouse Campground, Salisbury, VT

Years and years ago, either while Jack was still working, or just when he’d retired, we’d taken off for a special get-away in Middlebury, Vermont. We stayed at the posh and historic Middlebury Inn and rode our bikes around the backroads, which at the time were little used. We also visited a cheese-making facility and drove around the countryside admiring the quaint, New England flavor of the rock walls, covered bridges, stone houses, and rolling, verdant hills.

At the time, I was still riding horses, and we visited a high-end Morgan Horse Farm that was open to the public, and we bought a raffle ticket to win a Morgan horse. Didn’t win, of course, but it was a spectacular facility with gorgeous horses and a beautiful statue out front, on a stately lawn surrounded by training rings and paddocks.

Hoping to recapture some of that enchantment, late on July 6, we arrived at a private campground, marina, and tavern on the shores of Lake Dunmore between Salisbury and Middlebury. The actual campground (called Waterhouse) is across the marginally busy road from the marina, tavern, and beach—the signage was terrible for newcomers trying to figure out where to enter, and with whom to register. Across Lake Dunmore is Moosalamoo Mountain, and the prospect of the Lake and Mountain is very pretty.

Our site, #23 (with electric and water) was tucked down in a deep, sloping, shady spot next to the Leicester River (feeding Lake Dunmore) with a nice little beach-like access point. Overall (and amongst the permanent RV sites, which made up the majority of the campground’s métier) it was among the best possible site available to transient campers.

It was, however, nearly impossible to get Roomba into the site from the direction we approached. So with Jack guiding me, I pulled a 36-point about-face and when we came in from the opposite direction, were able to get the angle correct to back in without hitting any trees or the cars of the permanent RV across from us. We even managed to angle the awning to the water.

It had been a lovely but long drive to get there, along backroads all the way—during which we decided the roads were to narrow and twisty (and busy) for any serious consideration of riding our bikes out and about. And, we’d been able to discover zero rail-trails or other bicycle-friendly opportunities to which we could port our bikes. So we didn’t even take them off the rack during our stay.

Because we could find no “host” site amongst the campers, and since no one came by to register us or check-in, we walked across the road to the beach/marina/tavern, which was absolutely teeming with people, none of whom was wearing a mask. We tried to find the “office” but the “store” was locked and the doorway adjacent said it was not an access point to the tavern (even though the sign above the door said it was).

So, masked like the lone strangers, we wandered through a gate and around the deck (with several groups of people having drinks and a great good time at tables nowhere near 6 ft. apart) we found what looked like a room with glass windows where you rented water-fun equipment (oars, life jackets, volleyballs, etc.) 

That turned out to be the place to register, and the guy behind the glass also was un-masked. The only 2 masks we saw amongst all the various water-babies were: one on the waitress who emerged from the tavern to call her colleague, outside chatting with friends, whose mask (#2) was down around her neck.

Anyway, we secured our site and got the heck outta there. Asked for a map of the campsites, and got a teensy, elderly, unfocused reproduction of a map we could hardly read (and which did not match the online, color version, it was so old). The only time Jack returned was when we needed ice—expensive little five-pound sacks that were watery upon acquisition.

On July 7, we hopped into the car, thinking to go to the pretty burgh of Middlebury and wander about, finding a cafe or brewery for lunch, recalling our former visit. We also hoped to find a good, old-fashioned butcher shop to find excellent grillables. The good points of our day:

  • $1.99 fuel
  • Saw a marsh hawk
  • Drove around Button Bay State Park (need to go there one day—it had been closed when we’d tried to book a site)
  • A lovely covered bridge
  • Some fun, New-Englandy painted shutters on houses

The frustrating bits:

  • Most of Middlebury was under construction
  • Many country roads were closed for bridge work
  • Library: Closed (but we discovered robust wifi for a fee at the campground)
  • Butcher: Closed
  • Morgan Horse Farm: Closed
  • Otter Creek Brewery: Closed

It was a disappointing day abroad. But we laughed about our effort to “recapture” the past when 20+ years had passed and the world was in a pandemic. What were we thinking?

They do have an excellent Hannaford’s grocery store on the edge of Middlebury, where we found a beautiful piece of wild-caught salmon, which Jack grilled to perfection on our final night in camp.

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We decided our site was the best thing about Waterhouse. Overall, the staff were lackadaisical (there was trash all over our site upon arrival, with half-burnt plastic and cardboard in the fire pit—all of which I cleaned up during our stay) the toilets were old and rather unkempt, there was no dump station at all, no one came by to speak with us or check whether we needed anything, and it was obvious the permanent residents were more important to them ($$) than we transients. In the shower house (also unkempt) many signs demanded that one should use the shower curtain to keep water off the floor, yet the shower curtain in my stall was hanging from just two hooks and was otherwise shredded and impossible to use properly because it was too short. In sum, the staff took no pride in the property, probably because they didn’t have to do so.

Nor did the guests. The seasonal and permanent site users were quite clique-ish, gathering for corn hole games and cocktails in the evenings (past quiet hours) swimming and boating in the day, and speeding around the campground in golf carts, packed in like brown, wrinkly sardines (without masks). A few even dissed us for using masks everywhere we went.

Our second full day at Waterhouse was a stay-in and relax day. I worked on the blog upload from our stay at Rbt. Moses (June 29 – July 5, uploaded in two parts) and we sat in our chairs positioned in the water’s edge, and dangled our feet in the shallows, watching the neighbors play in the water. 

The forecast was for rain, and when it came, it really poured. But we were snug and dry (even though it was hot) and ran the air conditioning to dry things off.

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So we won’t go back there and won’t recommend it to any of our friends. Next stop: Green Lakes State Park, New York.

Sugar Ridge CG, Vermont

June 25-28

This private campground, run by Kirk and his family (who are very nice people) is madly overpopulated. We’d been here before, however, and knew what to expect—Sugar Ridge was one of the stops we made on that same maiden voyage coming back from Canada and our trailer pickup in the spring of 2015. It was chosen this year because we were unable to book any stays in Maine due to Covid19.

Many of the Sugar Ridge sites are for seasonal folks who leave their rigs in place, with built-out platform/patios, fences, etc. The noise level is significant as there are many children on bikes screaming around the hills, and dogs who don’t like the looks of each other.

Our site (MO489—MO for Mohawk, the road we’re on) however, is nicely tucked away, although (oddly) the fire ring and the electric/water pedestal are on the ‘wrong’ sides of the site for normal backing-in. For the way we wanted Roomba to be situated near the back, we barely had enough electric cabling to go across the living space to hook up, and there was no possible way for the water hose to reach. Our left (driver’s side) trailer tire was right next to the fire ring.

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Happily, we have a Solo stove and ended up being just fine. We set up the Clam (screen house) behind the trailer, and that left a nice secluded, circular fire area. During the first day, we were heartily impressed with the small, quick red squirrels in the woods, who set up a call-and-response series that sounded like the percussion of a rap song when they got into sync. It was kind of amazing.

A huge maple, along with truly excellent water are easily the highlights of our site. The uphill couple are one of the seasonals, and sit a good 10-15 yards away, well-separated from us by trees. Downhill, however, is a narrow tent site (could conceivably be for an RV but for the incredibly steep grade down from the paved road) which is only thinly separated from us by greenery, including the magnificent maple.

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A significant downside of our site was the “bathhouse,” a VERY SMALL, old wooden structure that was not tidied very often. It had one toilet, one shower stall, and two sinks. A bathhouse we visited on our way out of the campground was significantly more modern, clean, and capacious. Also, hardly anyone anywhere on the grounds wore face masks, although we nearly always did so, especially when heading to the bathhouse.

We had to pay for wifi to be able to check for messages from the folks at Arvika about the bike rack part (cell service was marginal in camp). It was incredibly fiddly to switch devices without buying a second subscription, however, so Jack mostly had wifi and I mostly didn’t.

In any event, we finally reached the Arvika guy, and he reported that he had found the part in stock and had gotten it painted. He reminded us of their troubles with UPS crossing the border, but assured us he’d do his best to get it to our next stop in New York. Jack called Robert Moses State Park to get the address and see if they would accept the delivery, and when we got the “thumbs up” from them, he relayed the info to Arvika.

On our first full day, we rode the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail down to St. Johnsbury. Unusual for a rail bed, the trail was significantly downhill—perhaps a 3% grade—for the 8.5 miles between Sugar Ridge and StJ. 

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In StJ, we tootled around a while and found a tavern (Kingdom Taproom & Table) and got an excellent IPA and an enormous southwestern style salad—mine with chicken and Jack’s with beef; both delicious.

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It was while we were eating our lunch outside on Main Street in St. Johnsbury that Arvika called with the price and shipping details for the bike rack part. Jack gave him a credit card number, and he promised we’d get a tracking number when it was shipped.

Any thought that we’d do the entire Lamoille Valley Trail’s 32-ish round trip miles (with the Sugar Ridge accessway being kinda sorta midway) from StJ to West Danville and back evaporated after lunch. Despite the temps climbing into the high 80s, we killed it back to Sugar Ridge, totaling circa 18.75 miles including our in-town riding.

By the time we’d returned from our ride, a young family with a controlling dad, cowed kids, and overweight mom—with both adults being heavy smokers—were in the process of moving in, trying to set up an enormous tent they’d never erected before. Next door to them an RV arrived, and it became obvious they were all family or close friends. As their stay wore on, the smoking couple and their kids didn’t actually spend much time next door, thank goodness—just enough to make our air space unpleasant with second-hand smoke in the mornings and evenings—because there were several sites that all had some linkage, and most of our neighbors’ time was spent elsewhere.

We showered and left the campground to go visit the memorable gas-and-gourmet shop we had ridden our bikes to years ago: Marty’s First Stop. We fueled the truck and checked out the butcher shop and the vegetables, and came home with some delicious salmon, asparagus, and tabouli, prepared to a T and enjoyed around our fire with adult beverages.

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We got onto the trail early the next day and headed the opposite (uphill) direction, toward West Danville. When we’d gone to Marty’s First Stop back in 2015, we’d exited the campground onto the highway and pedaled down a huge hill, then carried our “take” in a backpack up the hill in a long, slow, hot slog up to the campground. 

Well, guess what we discovered 5 years later? There’s an easy access point to Marty’s off the West Danville end of the Lamoille Valley Trail. We also passed a notably vast area of mown lawn, on both sides of the trail, without a house in sight. It was like a state park’s picnic grounds with the trimmed lawn around stately old trees, but not a picnic table or charcoal grill in sight. 

Eventually, we came upon a huge yellow estate home with nearly as much mown lawn in front of it as that which we’d passed already. It must take “the help” 4 days to mow it all, and by the time they finish, they would have to begin all over again. It was an amazing sight.

We also spooked a Cooper’s hawk off the ground (possibly off a kill?) along the trail.

A couple of miles before the end of the trail, we saw a dam, a covered footbridge, and lots of blooming lilies in a pond identified as “Joe’s Pond.” Joe, evidently, was a native American (called “Indian Joe”) who lived 1745?-1819, but there was little more information to be found about him or the pond named in his memory. We crossed the road and the remainder of the ride was along one side of an enormous lake, which we were surprised to discover was also Joe’s Pond. It was a pretty setting at the end of the improved trail.

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The rail bed continues beyond the end we found, and there are plans to connect “our” part of the trail with another already-developed part, but we’ll have to return in a few more years to discover if the plan for the full Lamoille Valley Rail Trail has come to fruition. Happily, the return trip was all downhill, so we clocked an easy 17.5 miles for the day, with an average speed of nearly 12 MPH.

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We hadn’t been back and showered long when the first rains hit. So we prepared a quick dinner of Jon Beegle’s pulled pork heated with part of a can of mushroom soup, baked potatoes, and the last of zucchini grilled after the potatoes came off.

On our final whole day at Sugar Ridge, we decided to ride the entirety of the Lamoille Valley Trail, stem to stern. The question was whether to end the day easy or hard—we chose easy and went to the St. Johnsbury end first, clocking an amazing average speed of 16.75 MPH. We had a drink of water, then turned around and headed uphill for the entire 16-ish miles to West Danbury. It was Sunday and we’d gotten an early start (9am) so we didn’t share the trail with many folks.

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We had another encounter with the same? Cooper’s hawk. This time, after scaring it up off the ground, it did not completely leave the territory. Instead, it followed us. And I would swear that it was chasing me (being slower) along the path. It didn’t, however, vocalize at all, which I would have expected from a Cooper’s that was protecting its nest. Anyway, we saw it (or a pair of them?) at least 4 times along the short distance I would have expected to be a nest territory.

Just past the Joe’s Pond memorial footbridge (at the West Danville end) I wasn’t paying attention and hit a ridge of packed sand that turned my front wheel and I went down in the gravelly sand. I wasn’t going fast, and there wasn’t much gravel, but I still banged my knee and cut it open slightly, and landed pretty hard on my left side. 

But no irretrievable harm was done, and I got back on and we carried on to the end of the trail. We drank some more water and headed the opposite direction.

Shortly along our way back, we arrived at a food truck called Sambro’s, and we were glad they were serving on a Sunday because it was lunchtime and we were hungry. All of their service was to-go, so we got burgers, potato chips, and drinks and we carried our meals to a shady table in the little park at the swimming hole end of the pond, where there was a pavilion and parking, and where, yesterday, we’d seen a couple of kayaks launching. The burgers were enormous and juicy and messy and delicious. The meal went a long way to healing my scraped knee and bruised ego after the fall.

Then we rode back to the access point to Sugar Ridge, climbed the steep, loose gravel-and-sand roadway to the paved road to camp, and were delighted to see our Smoker family was gone.

Another group, however, was beginning to get into place next door. What at first appeared to be a group of about 3 or 4 20-something guys in three cars, offloaded a 10 x 10, some firewood, and an enormous tent. And then the rains began. We got the Clam closed up and under shelter just in time for the heavens to open up like we hadn’t seen to date on this trip. It was a true gully-washer—and we looked next door and realized that it was just one guy trying to put up the huge tent in the rain by himself. Everyone else had disappeared. 

Frankly, it was kind of like watching a car wreck as you pass by—we could barely take our eyes off him trying to get these long hoop-poles erected and set, only to have the hoop collapse when he went to another corner to get a pole to bend properly. Meanwhile, the bathtub style bottom of the tent was rapidly filling with water. And a gust of wind would come along and nearly knock down the 10 x 10, or alternately, its canopy would fill with a pool of water and pull it off the frame. 

If it weren’t for Covid19, we’d have gone over to help the poor guy out, even in the deluge.

Eventually, the downpour abated and we went off to take our showers—I had so much sand and grit on my left side from my spill, I was hard-pressed to find a way to sit that didn’t leave a filth smear behind. We had packed up much of the outdoors gear before the downpour, so we kept dinner simple and used leftovers for a pasta.

Next day, we left Vermont for New York, heading way north in the state and over to the St. Lawrence for seven nights (that would have been spent in Canada, if we’d been able to get there) at Robert Moses State Park—where we hoped to link up with the fix for our bike rack so we would not have to dis-assemble the bikes to pack them into the camper a third time. At least we have 5 good days in which we might take delivery.

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Sugar Ridge Campground, VT

Tuesday, August 18: Short day today, cruising through the beautiful Adirondack Recreational area with all the ponds and lakes, forests and rivers. Really lovely.

2 hours in, we got to ride the Cumberland Head/Grand Isle Ferry from near Plattsburg NY to South Hero on Grand Isle, VT, across half of Lake Champlain. It was a 14 minute $25.75 crossing and quite nice today at 11AM. 

   
 
Conducted another (abbreviated) Roomba tour on the ferry, to someone who has an RV but who’s looked at the R-pods and T@Bs for the smaller, lighter trailers. Grand Isle is truly an island, so we crossed it on VT 314 and 2, then took a bridge to cross the rest of the Lake.

  
I really love Vermont. Every time I’ve been, I’ve been enchanted with the small villages, the beautiful terrain, and the friendly folks. Besides, they have turtle crossing signs. It’s a great place.

   
    
   
Passed an entrance to the Cabot Creamery along the way and Jack and I almost turned down the road to explore. But remembered Roomba (who, by the way, is pulling so beautifully that we nearly forget he’s there), and decided to pass this time. Maybe next time, because Cabot Creamery is one of our fave places from whom to get our cheeses. 

We arrived at Sugar Ridge Campground around 2PM (there’s no easy, direct route to get through VT horizontally, although a couple of big interstates heading N/S) and it’s quite a pretty and well-kept private camping area. Although we did not take advantage, there is an access trail to a Rails to Trails conversion ride that we need to put on our “to do” list.

Downside: you have to buy any wi-fi you want to use. Upside: great cell service, which we’ve already paid for. 

There are lots of folks who live here — at least during the summers — as you can see their sites are permanent. This place is a destination that many folks would sign up for, and stay a week or more — there are two pools, and lots of recreation areas for families and kids (basketball, volleyball, playgrounds, a “bouncy house,” hiking trails, and more). Happily, we’re off the beaten track a bit and have a nice site with good privacy and a shower house quite nearby. 

I haven’t spoken much so far about our meals — often a major highlight of our camping trips. Well, so far, we’ve elected to go the “cold dinner” route — and it’s been quite good, frankly. Every day, in a town nearby right before we head into camp, we stop at a grocery store and get food supplies. As it turns out, nearly every night so far, we’ve had chicken salad in various incarnations and with various go-withs.

They’ve been really quite good, on a bed of lettuce, with different crackers and/or spices/sauces to complement them. Bonus: we use the leftovers for making sandwiches to eat during the drive the next day.

But we exhausted our stores at our late arrival yesterday, and, knowing we’d have a short drive (relatively speaking) today, didn’t make sandwiches. So we stopped at a cute little family-run easy-stop cum gas station cum deli/pizza place today and had a pair of “chicken burgers” for lunch. Jack’s was “cordon bleu” style and mine had bacon and cheddar on top. Bag of chips and a couple of cold drinks, plus a good picnic table, and Jack commented we might be close to turning into chickens — not a welcome prospect in my mind, unless I was the chicken wrangler.

Still, after that stop we felt the grocery-like places at which we might be able to buy our dinner, might not easily accommodate a hitched trailer, so we passed many options along the way, and suddenly, we were at the Sugar Ridge Campground. So we unpacked the bikes and rode out no more than a mile or three to a “market” that was a cross between Meadows of Dan Market and a pretty high-end Kroger store. 
We found some fresh ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, some “pesto” made with cashews and arugula, shaved parmesan cheese, a crusty loaf of bread (we picked up some crushed garlic to make garlic bread), and we had a wonderful repast. I also carried a bottle of nice red wine in my pannier back up a significant hill to our “home.”

Most stops on this trip, we have not been too interested in taking a great deal of time or effort on the meal front due to the one night stand effect. But today we got a bike ride in, and even did some laundry before dinner, and all was right with the world. First hot dinner we’d had in days and it was fun to fix and even more fun to eat. 

Life is good.