A few years ago The rider posted by mine article about riding the Vermont 100 track from south to north, ending with the Haskel Free Library and Opera House, located on the U.S.-Canada border. Someone wrote a letter to the editors asking how I got back. Route 5 of the U.S. runs along the east side of Vermont, and this turns out to be another one of my favorite trips. Here are all the elements of a beautiful motorcycle road: beautiful scenery, beautiful bends, easy traffic and nice places to stop along the way. For this trip I start again on the border with Massachusetts and head north, but it can also be reversed.
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I move from Massachusetts to Vermont south of Guilford, and the road almost immediately plunges into the woods, winding back and forth around the trees, anticipating what will happen. First I go through Brattleboro. With 12,000 residents, this is the largest city I will face today. The city center consists of about three blocks of century-old brick buildings. It’s a bit of a traffic jam here, but once I clear the roundabout at the intersection with State Route 9, things get easier and I head to rural Vermont in search of coffee.
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The Putney General Store accounts itself as Vermont’s oldest department store. It squeaks floors, good food and, most importantly, good coffee. Properly consumed caffeine, I’m on the road, and US 5 reveals its true nature: rising, falling and bending through the landscape. I get lost in her rhythm.
In Bellows Falls the waterfalls no longer roar. The river was blocked by a dam in 1802 to help upstream. A mysterious row of faces is carved into the rocks below the river. It is believed that petroglyphs were carved by Abenaki hundreds of years ago. Interestingly, a pair of faces have tendrils. Evidence of an extraterrestrial visit? I ponder the question when leaving the city.
US 5 resumes plaque, twisting and turning when it passes tunnels through trees. Nothing happens too tight or unexpected, just a great trip and I drink everything. Springfield has a zigzag and a zag before the fun continues at the American Museum of Accuracy in Windsor. It is housed in the Robins and Lawrence Armory, where they developed the concept of interchangeable parts in the 1840s. One of the exhibits in the museum is a machine with a belt drive, which rotates rifles. As the workpiece rotates, the cutters move gracefully and out. The accompanying video is mesmerizing. In addition to many machine tools, they also have the serial number of the Bridgeport milling machine 001 – if you are a reducer, you will understand its value.
Past Windsor the road resumes its rhythm, surrounding a golf course. All the way I pass small farms with their typical red barns. Some have stalls selling fresh vegetables, and I pick tomatoes and sweet corn.
The White River Junction, where the White River connects to Connecticut, has long been a transportation hub. The advent of the railroad in the 19th century cemented its status. Today, it is at the junction of Interstate 89 and 91, as well as Routes 4 and 5 of the United States. All amenities are close to the motorway junction and it’s easy to miss downtown, but with several restaurants to choose from, this is a great place to dine.
A sign in a window at Dan & Whit’s General Store in Norwich says, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!” Whether you’re looking for an alarm clock or a beer pong, they are. The paint department? It’s in the room behind the deli. Keep going and you will find a huge section of equipment. The variety of things stuffed into the space is amazing, and easy to get lost among ham, hammers and hammocks.
Leaving Norwich, changes are taking place. Hurry, and I effortlessly glide along the curves, passing narrow farms in the valley and through the villages of Thetford, Fairley, Bradford, Newbury, and Wells River. In Barnett there is another notable change when the US separates from the Connecticut River and starts on the smaller Pasumpsik River. The curves are denser, the hills closer, and at some point US 5 slides for a while between the north and south lanes of I-91.
In St. Johnsbury State Route 5A separates, past the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum and the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium. Both 19th-century buildings were built by the Fairbanks family. Their company Fairbanks Scales changed the way they traded, and the family spent most of their fortune locally. Here on both sides of the road is lined with exquisite Victorian architecture.
After Lindaneville, US 5 cuts through the landscape to West Burke, where I take State Route 5A to Lake Willaby. The lake is the pearl of this trip. Located between the Pisga Mountains and the Chorus Mountains, it resembles a Norwegian fjord. The road stretches from the east side, swaying between the lake and the ledge.
Behind Lake Willaby is the “Northern Country”. Rivers flow north toward the St. Lawrence River, the landscape is more open, and the trees seem shorter. Route 5A reconnects with U.S. 5 at the Derby Center and heads to the border with Canada on the Derby Line. There, within the view of the Free Library and the Haskell Opera House, near the border, there is a sign that reads “End 5”. Near Quebec and a large sign reading “Bonjour”. It’s time to go back. Maybe I’ll go route 100.