Norman Rockwell’s home in West Arlington.
Outdoors in Motion is the only Victory dealership in Vermont. Owners Jan and Del were kind enough to let me use their personal Kingpin to tour the area.
At 7,000 acres, the Carthusian monks’ spread of land is as beautiful as it is vast.
Dating back nearly three centuries before Coca-Cola was even conceived, and coming in at a mouth-numbing 110-proof, it’s no wonder the monks keep their Chartreuse recipe so close to the cloth.
View from Rockwell’s main house.
Pauline Belle Adams, as pretty as a picture.
A glimpse of the ceilings in the Norman Rockwell Exhibition and Giftshop.
Modern life is business driven, demanding each second have some measurable meaning. Our workweek is packaged into days, divided by hours, sliced to minutes, and shredded again, with each frenetic second reflecting the metaphor “Time is Money.” Or is time relative as Albert Einstein professed: “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute and it feels like an hour. Spend an hour talking to a pretty girl and it feels like a minute. That’s relativity.”
Riding into Vermont you immediately sense that time has slowed relative to wherever you just came from. Not much has changed here in 200 years. Really! The population hasn’t even tripled since 1820. Vermont does not allow billboards on its roadways and it has the only capital city in America without a McDonalds. Vermont has no state nudity law and it’s legal to carry loaded weapons. Talk about packin’ naked heat.
Yes, the method of transportation has turned from one real horse into a high-octane 100 horsepower steel steed, but Vermont is still truly a different state of mind, offering some of the best motorcycling in the Northeast. Flatlanders always ask, “Where is a good place to go?” The answer is anywhere, just pick a direction. My direction was south on Rte. 7 from Rutland to Arlington, home to painter Norman Rockwell and the only Carthusian Monastery in the western hemisphere. I visited Bennington, burial place of poet Robert Frost, then headed north to Woodstock via renowned riding road Rte. 100.
Ground zero for my trip was Outdoors in Motion in Rutland, the only Victory motorcycle dealership in Vermont (there are only two Harley dealerships in Vermont). Owners Jan and Del Downing have been riders for more than 35 years and are active members of the Southwest Freedom Riders. I really wanted to ride a Victory in Vermont and called them from California about a possible rental. After chatting up a little local lore, Del said I should just take his own personal Kingpin. Now that’s hospitality and I jumped at the chance. Jan and Del gave me a tour of their town and escorted me to Rte. 7 for the first leg of the trek.
This southern part of Hwy. 7 (Ethan Allen Highway) is a sweeping, well-paved two-lane highway. Its very spacious here, there’s no sign of human habitation. Mountains and rolling hills undulate beneath you. This serene solitude begins to lull you into that Vermont state of mind. Arlington is only 45 miles from Rutland but you float forever on the endless asphalt ribbon through rolling, pine-green hills and an azure blue sky. Remember that relative time thing I mentioned earlier? You will note that Vermonters staunchly obey the speed limit, everywhere all the time. Although temptation for acceleration pulls at the throttle of every beautifully banked curve, don’t do it. Not because the Vermont State Police are lurking behind every billboard, they’re not (remember there are no billboards in Vermont). They drive the speed limit because they’re in no hurry and actually enjoy the pristine green panoramas that surround them … so should you.
Route 7A branches off into Arlington. The Carthusian monks own an enormous amount of land and allow visitor access via a paved road to the top of their hill. A massive granite hermitage lies hidden and inaccessible in Ethos Valley. “The Cross is steady while the world turns” is their motto, and for nine centuries (yes I said 900 years), the Carthusian way of life has changed very little. They are strictly cloistered monks who spend most of their time alone in their cells studying religious texts. When it comes to that relative time thing, Vermonters got nothing on the Carthusian monks. Equinox Mountain is the highest mountain in Southwestern Vermont (altitude 3,848 feet). Dr. Joseph George Davidson bought his first piece of land on the mountain in the 1950s. Wanting to preserve the property in its present state and having no children, he gave this property (7,000 acres) to the Carthusians. The monastery can be seen from the Saddle, west of Lake Madeleine.
Item of interest: The Carthusian monks make Chartreuse liqueur. With almost 400 years of history, the extremely complex secret formula is supposedly passed on to only three monks, and each monk holds one third of that recipe so the secret is kept safely. Chartreuse contains 130 different herbs and is 110 proof.
I was fortunate enough to meet Pauline Belle Adams. She posed for me next to a painting that she posed for Norman Rockwell some 50 years ago. His Main Street America series was done here and more than 200 local residents posed for his portraits.
You can actually stay in Norman Rockwell’s artist studio. The studio is privately situated on the Inn’s grounds and has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, and fireplace. The large open room with the 10-foot-square north light window where Mr. Rockwell painted is now comfortably furnished as a living room with a dining area where guests may gather around the wood-burning fireplace and watch movies from the private film library or enjoy a meal. A second-floor bedroom features a sun deck with panoramic views. How cool is that?!
In need of lunch, I pulled into the South Side Café. I was pleasantly surprised by a very extensive menu and ordered the soba noodles with ratatouille. It’s made with fresh tomatoes, eggplant, squash, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, herbs, and olive oil over buckwheat soba noodles. I had forgotten my map and the waitress gave me the best directions to my next destination that I have ever gotten from a Vermonter. Reflecting on this relative space and time thing, Vermonters are incredibly in tune with their landscape and “two turns right and up the hill past the four pines” is usually 18 miles away.
Famous Vermonter poet Robert Frost is buried in nearby Bennington. Summer nudity, though not illegal, is usually a newsworthy topic in both Bennington and Brattleborough. With such short summers, I say let them enjoy all the sun they can get anywhere they want it.
The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And milles to go before I sleep.
- Robert Frost
If you’re feeling adventurous, there is a dirt back road that’s closed in the winter that will take you to Rte. 100. In fact, 60 percent of Vermont’s roads are dirt and most are hard-packed and actually very well maintained. It’s a longer ride at 20 to 30 mph, but remember, we are in Vermont. With miles to go before I slept, I headed towards Bennington. Fifteen miles south on Rte. 7 to Bennington I headed east on Rte. 9 (Molly Stark trail) to Rte. 100 North.
I drifted between panoramic vistas and deep green sweeping valleys. Giant grain silos majestically rose above the lush green carpet like domed mosques surrounded by a thousand praying pines. I drifted between pillows of sun-warmed air pockets and cool shady shadows each claiming its own distinct scent. This is what motorcycle riding is all about!
Route 100 is considered to be one of the best motorcycling roads in Vermont. It’s all the sights, smells, twists, and turns you might expect. You will pass every photograph (or painting) you’ve ever seen of a small New England American town. This road looks like a long winding ride on the map, but you’re talking to Albert Einstein’s beautiful girl here and you’ll feel the exhilaration and excitement of the next turn, the next hill, and the next village when suddenly the road ends. How can this possibly be? This must be a mistake. But no, I T-boned Hwy. 4 and Woodstock was only 10 miles away. Woodstock is beautiful but I thought to myself, “Should I turn around? There’s another hour of light, I could ride this road again.” Now I was sitting on a hot stove. I settled for Pigs Ear Brown Ale at the Woodstock Inn steeped in my Vermont state of mind. Although this entire trip was only about 150 miles, it was a full day of relaxing riding in the right state of mind.
Somewhere between Einstein’s hot stoves and pretty girls, Vermont suspends time. She remains true to her heritage and there’s a quiet solace in the voluptuous curves of this green mountain state. Well-maintained roads snake through some of the most lush vistas a rider could request. Typically uncrowded roadways complete this motorcycling paradise. Relative to today’s high-speed digital download mentality; Vermont truly is a different state of mind.
**Outdoors In Motion
**Norman Rockwell Exhibition
** (802) 375-6423
Inn on Covered Bridge Green Clint & Julia Dickens, Innkeepers
(802) 375-9784 or (800) 726-9480