Smuggler’s Notch

This famed pass through the Green Mountains has a storied past. The Embargo Act of 1807 forbade trade with Canada and Great Britain. The Notch was a handy smuggling route for Vermonters trading with Montreal. It was later part of the Underground Railroad, providing enslaved people with an escape route to Canada. During Prohibition it was a route to smuggle liquor from Canada.

Now it is an iconic climb for local folk. From the west, there is a long and relentless approach in the sun, then you enter shade for the final steep pitches. The summit comes as a surprise without notice. When I reached the summit, I asked, “Are we there yet?” and someone coming up the other side pointed to a spot about ten feet ahead of me and said, “almost”. From the east it is a 16% grade with tight turns and bad pavement, so the descent requires extreme caution. Once down the steepest pitch, it straightens out and you fly at 30-40 mph for several miles. As we approached civilization there was a police car checking for speeders. The limit was 40 and I was only going 35, though a speeding ticket on a bike in a 40 mph zone I might happily pay and ask if I could save the ticket.

Smuggler’s Notch, starting down
It’s about to get steep
On the approach
Bears climbing a house on the approach

We spent the night at SUNY-Plattsburgh, the second worst night of sleep on the trip (an improvement from 2018, when it was the worst). The dorm rooms were hot and stuffy even with windows and door open for ventilation. It finally cooled down about 3 AM. The mattress was lumpy. I prefer sleeping on the ground, but at least my tent was dry in the morning. Speaking of tent, it is showing the effects of daily use for 9 weeks (18 weeks if you count 2018). The rain fly is clearly faded and feels a bit stiff from UV damage. Pinholes are in both the “footprint” (ground cloth) and tent floor. It should still be good for occasional weekend use (like the century I will ride in September), but would not survive another trip like this.

We left Plattsburgh for a leisurely ride down to the dock to catch the ferry halfway across Lake Champlain. The ferry lands at an island, which we then traversed by bike, then rode to the mainland of Vermont on a causeway. Thirty miles of up and down led to Smuggler’s Notch. After picnic there were only a dozen miles to ride into Stowe.

Vermont, dead ahead
Last view of New York

The sky was threatening and it was too early to check in at the campground, so we stopped for coffee and a chocolate-pistachio torte before continuing on to the campground. The gear trailer was not yet there and rain came while we waited. When the trailer arrived and the rain stopped we unloaded gear and set up camp. The rain did not clear the air, but left it hot and humid, a harbinger of more to come. The sky is darkening again. Dinner tonight will be in a Chinese restaurant 4 miles from here, so we will shuttle via vans. Tomorrow we are on our own for breakfast. I have found a couple of places, so it depends on how crowded each is when I get there. With 70 of us looking for places to eat, it could get wild. Plus, I don’t yet know which direction we head out. If we continue the direction we’re headed and not back to Stowe, only one of them is close enough to make sense. Otherwise we may be looking down the road.

If we’re playing Clue, my answer is “The skeleton, on the bike, with the rake.”

On to New Hampshire, four days to go. Sitting in the tent in a thunderstorm. My weather app says “light rain stopping in 16 minutes”. It is light rain, here in the tent. Outside it is coming down pretty hard. Rain is likely tomorrow afternoon in Littleton, it says.