LD Ride Day 4: Monuments & Merriment September 6, 2009Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
Tags: ABCs of Touring, Bennington, biker, Harley, Inn, motorcycle, Rides, Vermont
I woke reasonably early and went outside to wipe the dew off the bike. I half thought to get underway, but the Colonial House Inn breakfast was scheduled to start at 9:01. While I was eager to make efficient mileage to make it home that night, I was not eager to leave the friendly comfort of the inn. I sat in the common room for a while, intending to work on the blog, but instead entered a conversation with a woman who is a “regular” there, who dressed in sweats and slippers, looked like she was comfortably at home. I made my way to the dining room shortly after 9:01 and sat at a table with two couples.
For breakfast, I enjoyed a delicious bowl of Scottish oats with maple syrup and a uniquely New England egg dish similar to eggs benedict. Breakfast conversation was lively and entertaining, with each of us sharing the experiences of our travels and of New England. I made a few notes for possible future scenic rides in Vermont and Alabama from their recommendations. Somehow or another the conversation drifted into genealogy, as I guess it often does in New England with who descended from whom on the Mayflower, when the older woman mentioned that her family was “only” known for a woman who massacred Indians.
I was taken aback and asked “Are you talking about Hannah Duston?!?”. I don’t know who was more surprised, me at meeting a descendent of the famed heroine or her at my knowing of the story. In 1697, Hannah, her 6-day-old baby, and her nurse were taken in an Indian raid in Haverill, MA and marched with other captives toward Canada. Early in the march, the Indians killed the infant, crushing her against a tree. When the group camped on a river island in what is now Penacook, New Hampshire, Hannah with the help of her nurse and a 14 year old boy prisoner, attacked the band of their 12 captors in their sleep with tomahawks, slaying and scalping 10 of them. They slowly returned home under cover of night, bringing the scalps as proof to collect a bounty for their deeds. Hannah Duston is believed to be the first woman in America to be honored with a statue, erected in 1861 in Haverill, and another erected in 1874 in Penacook.
After a hearty breakfast and interesting conversation, I found Jeff, the innkeeper, to pay for my stay. We chatted a little while about my ride, and he mentioned that if (when) I come back he’ll get his bike out and take me through some of his favorite country rides. I packed the bike slowly in the cool foggy morn, wishing I could stay longer. I saddled up and headed done the road continuing south on SR100 toward Londonderry.
SR100 continued to be an enjoyable ride, tempting me to explore the countryside, but my objective was to get home to leave me a day of “collection” before getting back to work Tuesday. I picked up SR11 west at Londonderry to make some time on US7 south.
Even US7 was a delightfully scenic ride and traffic was moving very well. I was thinking about how spectacular the forested vista would be when the leaves changed, when I noticed something odd ahead in the distance. A shaft of gray stone emerging straight up from the forest lay ahead west of the highway. I was perplexed as to what it could be. I was quite a distance off, but this monolith conspicuously rising far above the trees looked enormous. As US7 took me closer, I contemplated taking an exit that looked like it may take me toward the obelisk, but “practicality” pushed me southward to avoid the “distraction” from my trek home.
US7 put me right into the middle of Bennington where I saw signs for the “Battle Monument”… no idea what battle, but I was guessing that’s my obelisk. Being this close, I had to see it. I hung a right onto SR9 and pulled into a station for gas, bio-break, coffee, and to re-assess my route and schedule.
Following the signs for the battle monument, I rode through a quaint residential area up a hill to the enormous stone spire. It was quite impressive to approach. The park grounds were quite small, magnifying the presence of the structure. I parked the bike a walked to the visitors center. Tours $2: “Huh, can’t beat that.” It seems rare to find tourist attactions in that cost-void between “free” and “over-priced”. The attraction was one of those local oddities that didn’t draw the hordes of tourists like the monuments in DC, making it more pleasant and relaxing. There were maybe five families milling about. The victors center was tiny, staffed with elderly cheerful volunteers who enjoyed talking with the youngsters, or at least the well-behaved ones.
I purused the gift shop finding a bottle of late season dark amber maple syrup (a favorite), and was approached by a loquacious fellow who was there with visiting family. He asked about my bike and my trip, pausing only long enough for me to start to answer before telling me about the bike he used to have, and about how he is afraid of heights so he never goes up into the monument, but that his brother’s (holy terror) kids would get a kick out it. I got into line to pay for my syrup and tour admission, standing behind that family. As the curator counted heads for admission, I again heard the fear-of-heights story explaining that he would not be going up. Eventually getting my wristband for the tour, I walked out to the grounds to drop off my syrup at the bike before perambulating the grounds.
The monument was to the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Bennington. Like many such monuments, it commemorated a local “turning point” in the war. But the interesting thing about this monument is its dedication to neighboring New Hampshire militia troops that came in to defend the fledgling Republic of Vermont. The Brittish, with their victories at Ticonderoga and Mount Independence, were set on splitting off New England from the remainder of the American forces. However, losses in the following battle at Hubbardton left the Redcoats in need of supplies before they could advance to complete their Saratoga Campaign. Brittish General John Bergoyne sent a mixed dettachment of 700-800 Germans, Canadians, Loyalists, Regulars and Indians to capture the supply depot at Bennington thinking it was defended by only 500 men. However, the Vermont Republic, after the Brittish victory at Ticonderoga, had called for help from New Hampshire, who pulled together a force of 2000 militia under command of General John Stark to defend Bennington. In a series of two engagements including the addition of 550 reinforcements by the British and 350 Green Mountain Boys under the command of Seth Warner, the Americans held off the British killing 270 and taking 700 prisoner while only sustaining losses of 30 killed and 40 wounded. Burgoyne continued his campaign and still in dire need of supplies, and ended up surrendering his total force of 8000 in Stillwater, New York, following the Battle of Saratoga.
I walked the periphery of the small grounds noting the statues and memorials honoring Stark, Warner, and the New Hampshire militiamen. I walked up to the monument, again ending up behind the little clan from the gift shop, just in time to hear the acrophobic story one more time told to the ranger at the entrance. I packed into the elevator with the group watching as one particularly “instigating” youngster coerced another into sticking his tongue into a small battery-powered fan. The elevator operator was a very kindly yet rugged older man who quite obviously had not been a stranger to hard country work in his youth, and had been operating that elevator for quite some time. He gave snippets of his tourist patter in a relaxed cadance that felt authentic and unhurried.
Getting to the “top” , that being 2/3 of the way up, the elevator opened to a viewing platform overlooking the countryside of three states though its elongated windows. It was a nice view nice to see, but quick to take in, and a few minutes later I was back on the ground. Making one more pit stop before getting on the bike, I saw a flyer for the Bennington Garlic Festival. “Thats’ cool” I thought. I love garlic and really would have like to have gone to that….
I saddled up again and headed back down Monument Avenue picking up SR 9 west, immediately hitting a traffic back up. I got a bit anxious as I inched forward. I had lost time already, and now I was losing more. But the day was beautiful and I was on the bike in a charming New England town, so I relaxed a bit and settled in for the crawl. As it neared the Bennington fairgrounds I saw what it was: The Garlic Festival. However, being too focused on just getting through the traffic, when I got to the entrance, I flew ahead being the only vehicle not turning left into the event.
I think I made it a half mile before realizing the absolute stupidity of my action. When I was at the Monument, it didn’t even register that the festival was today, only that “I would have liked to have gone”. Now here I was on the open road, “living the dream” and riding right past what I was out to discover. A quick U-turn and I was back in traffic heading back east, but this time eager to make a right turn (literally and figuratively) into the festival grounds.
As I got to the front of the line the cop directing traffic gave me a look that I couldn’t quite tell if it was “Welcome back” or a “I saw you blow by here a minute ago, so keep it down buddy'”. Either way, I was ushered in and directed to the motorcycle only parking right up front by the gate. Squeezing my bike in into the line of about a dozen others, I dismounted and headed into the Garlic Festival.
I was pretty stoked by my decision to stop. Nothing puts local flavor on display like a small town festival. Funny that it doesn’t seem to work as well for larger communities — but there is a palpable familiarity with a small town festival. You get a sense that people actually know each other and are there to celebrate something, rather than just shuffling about in small herds as seems to happen in more “Metropolitan” festivals. Not that Bennington is “small”, but it is just small enough to carry that local feeling.
The festival was a celebration of that wonderful stinking rose, that ubiquitous aromatic bulb, the bane of vampires, the rustic’s theriac… garlic. I was immediately inundated with temptation — garlic loaves, garlic scones, garlic oils, garlic sauces, garlic chutneys…. I knew I had limited packing space and no refrigeration — so I knew I had a difficult triage ahead. I decided to walk the circuit first — then cycle back to make my purchases. A good strategy despite the fact that I broke my own rule upon reaching the Saxtons River Distillery exhibit. Marked by a long line, they were giving out free taste samples of Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur (or a “proper” taste for a nominal fee). I got in line and watched the expressions of the folks leaving having tried the libation. There were not a lot of people walking off with bottles, many grimacing from the potency of the potable. But it was the reaction of two elderly ladies that I latched on: the shocked facial surprise at the strength of the spirit, and the smiling astoundment at how good it was. I ordered my “proper taste” and immediately knew I was buying a bottle with its rich sweet maple aroma, a healthy burn, and smooth finish. For years I had thought maple would make a grand liqueur and was ecstatic to have found it.
I continued to wander the grounds sampling garlic dips, garlic salsas, garlic pretzels, and of course raw garlic. I ended up with quite a haul to load onto the bike: my maple liqueur, garlic peanuts, garlic scones, garlic braid, garlic aioli, and a big bag of garlic kettle corn. Am glad I was a minimalist packer at the start of this trip.
It was past noon when I left heading west on SR9 with no regrets on the time spent. I crossed into New York a short while later getting my final state ABC picture for the year. I continued on a nice ride on SR7 toward Troy, where I decided it was time to start picking up some miles. I hopped on I-787 south to pick up I-90 west to Schenectady, where I picked up I-88 west. Traffic was flowing well and I was making good time. I hopped off I-88 in Oneonta for gas, red bull, and my “O” city point. As interstates go, I-88 was not bad; widely snaking with decent scenery. I picked up I-81 south near Binghamton which led me back into the northeast corner of Pennsylvania.
I was due for a break by the first Pennsylvania rest stop where I was surprised and delighted to find the Free Masons providing free refreshments — hot dogs, chips, baked goods, coffee, soda, water… I’d seen free coffee charity stops before — but not full meals, and at this point, I needed it. It was getting to be late afternoon and I was faced (again) with the mileage decision: press on to get home very late, but sleep in my own bed…. or take my time and spend the night in PA. My next major town (not that that was a requirement) was Scranton.. With the theme song from “The Office” repeating in my head, I decided that would be my stop for the night.
I picked an exit which I believed to be centrally located and pulled into the first convenience store I found for a Red Bull and bar/lodging/event advice. My first attempt at getting information from a guy waiting in the passenger seat of a filthy beat up sedan turn up bubkes, with the extent of his help being: “There’s nuthin'”. “Really?” I asked. “Not a single bar or restaurant in all of Scranton worth setting foot into?” Such an uninspired, miserable man. I doubted his ability to enjoy anything, anywhere. The next guy was far more helpful — rattling off a half dozen places he figured someone looking like me would be interested in. I got the rough directions to two general areas and headed out.
Finding the first bar was easy, and the guy was right; I liked it. It was a neighborhood bar with a lot of local flavor, not a lot of class, and very friendly. The problem was a lack of lodging anywhere nearby. I ordered a beer and chatted with the barmaid to get refined directions to the downtown bar district with some hotels nearby. I’m not sure if people really “get” that I seek the little cheap motels on purpose, or if these types of accommodations are just too forgettable by the locals — but I ended up with directions to the downtown Hilton and was on my way.
Reaching downtown I was surprised to find streets blocked off — Another Festival! I had ridden right into Scranton’s annual Italian Festival, yet oddly no one I had spoken to thus far had mentioned it. The Hilton was well located a half block off from the main festivities. I checked in, unloaded the bike, had the bags sent to the room, and navigated the crowded street to get my bike parked in the Hilton garage.
I walked across the streetstraight from the garage into the festival, still wearing my leathers (a small tactical error). While appearance had one child convinced I was some sort of cowboy, I spent the better part of the evening drenched in sweat in the absence of a riding wind.
The festival was almost completely food vendors selling cheap Italian street fare (pizza slices, calzone, and the like), which was a bit disappointing. I did manage to find one place serving tortellini that wasn’t horrible. But what was more surprising was the fact that it was a dry festival… no wine! I shuffled along with the crowd about the square; seating was at a significant premium so people watching wasn’t even much fun without a perch. While the locals seemed to enjoy milling about in circles past food stands, I’d take a pass on the Scranton Italian festival. (While still not “metropolitan, it had just crossed into out of the small town festival flavor, and into the aimless milling-about genre.)
I made it a relatively early night stopping off in the deserted lobby bar of my hotel for a night cap, and headed up to my room to find my bags and helmet neatly stacked at the foot of the bed. Quite a day. Two festivals (one great and another not so much), a decent ride, a really cool monument, and predictably comfortable accommodations for the night.