Exploring Lake Champain: By Bike and Boat

This summer I didn’t have enough free time to do another long bike tour, I’ll have to wait until next summer for that. But that never stops me from planning a few fun getaway’s. My friend Leslie from Buffalo, NY came to visit last week and we spent a fabulous ten days exploring the Champlain Valley.  My trip ended up extending one day on either end of when Leslie was joining me and included 6 riding days (about 330 miles), 3 paddling days (about 28 miles), and a visit to my (other) friend Leslie in the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY.

Saturday, August 2nd: 60 Mile Ride from Calais to Burlington

I got off work Saturday morning and spent about an hour getting my gear together. I loaded up my Surly Disc Trucker, the almost new touring bike I bought off Craigslist this spring, and rode into Montpelier. I had a few last minute errands to run in town before setting off on Route 2, headed north. The ride to Burlington is relatively flat and route 2 is pleasant riding, at least until you get close to Burlington. I ate a leisurely lunch at Red Hen Bakery and still made it to the Burlington Waterfront by about 4:30. I met Leslie at the North Beach campground, we set up camp and headed to City Market for dinner and supplies.

We’d decided to do this trip “cold,” and not bring a stove and all the heavy, bulky necessities cooking involves. Luckily City Market has lots of good trail goodies and we found it fairly easy to find delicious meals that were easy to carry and didn’t need to be cooked.

Sunday, August 3rd: 56 Mile Ride from Burlington to Crown Point, NY

We ate cold cereal for breakfast (I brought Granola, she brought Cocoa Krispies!) and hit the bike path first thing Sunday morning.   She’d been having a little trouble with her brake cable coming loose so we stopped at Local Motion to borrow a few tools, and in the end a zip-tie was sufficient to fix the problem and lasted the entire trip.

In order to avoid riding on much of Route 7, the Lake Champlain Bikeways route we were following zig zags along smaller roads and bike paths, often giving glimpses of Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond. Leslie and I have a long standing and very important rule of not eating ice cream before we’ve ridden 20 miles. Otherwise we’d be in trouble and have ice cream for breakfast most days! Luckily, we found ice cream sandwiches at a small brick store in Charlotte (mile 25ish), and ice cream cones at Goodies (mile 45ish), a fabulous ice cream and snack shop near DAR state park south of Vergennes.

Crossing From VT to NY on the Crown Point Bridge

Crossing From VT to NY on the Crown Point Bridge

After this second day of riding my legs were a bit tired and sore, and I was very glad to see the Crown Point Bridge appear before us, knowing Crown Point State Park was right on the other side of the lake.

Exploring the Ruins in Crown Point State Park

Exploring the Ruins in Crown Point State Park

Monday, August 4th:  52 Mile Ride from Crown Point to Ausable Chasm

Today Leslie’s Bike Friday, her folding touring bike on which she was riding when I met her in a rain storm in Virginia riding across the country in 2010, officially hit 11,000 miles!! What a feat!  Even more impressively, that 11,000 miles is all on the Bike Friday, thus not including the thousands of other miles she’s put on her other various bikes in recent years. My Bike trip hero:-)

11,000 miles!! Heck Yeah!!

11,000 miles!!

Today’s ride on the New York side of the lake was far hillier than yesterday on the Vermont side.  We had a handful of long steady climbs, followed by fabulous descents enabling us to cruise along at over 40 miles per hour.  We once again had ice cream for both breakfast (after 20 miles of course!) and for lunch (after 20 more miles!).  Ice cream multiple times a day might be one of the biggest reasons Leslie and I are such good friends.

We arrived at Ausable Chasm just after the Chasm hiking trails closed for the day but there was plenty of space in the campground and we happily settled in for the night.  Cruising around the campground on “roads” that were root covered and sporting large patches of deep sand brought back fond memories of treacherous riding on the Divide.

Tuesday, August 5th:  76 Mile Ride from Ausable Chasm to Grand Isle State Park

We awoke this morning not having a plan for the rest of our trip.  We’d remembered from our initial calculations early in the spring that it would be about six days around the lake, averaging 50 miles per day. However, we must have calculated that based on traveling further south before crossing to New York, or riding up into Quebec.  Either way, we realized we were on track to be back in Burlington after only four days.  We contemplated extending the trip up into Quebec and riding to Richelieu or even to Montreal, but we hadn’t done research on camping or lodging and decided we’d rather save that for a different trip.  A rough plan involving biking back to my house and picking up kayaks began to emerge.

I'm all about tiny houses, but this is just taking it too far! (Also L and I both got poison Oak while tresspassing onto someones property to take this picture!)

I’m all about tiny houses, but this is just taking it too far! (Also L and I both got poison Oak while trespassing onto someones property to take this picture!)

About five miles before Rouses Point dark storm clouds blew in from over the Lake and we quickly found ourselves in the first downpour of the trip (other than at night while we slept in a lean to at Crown Point).  Luckily, we turned a corner and found a deserted looking building with a large overhanging roof in the front to duck under.  Ten minutes later the sun was out again and we continued on our way.

Crossing back into Vermont on the Rouses Point Causeway

Crossing back into Vermont on the Rouses Point Causeway

The storm was threatening to return in Rouses Point so we used it as an excuse (like we need one!) to stop for Pizza and Ice cream.  After a nice long break we rode across the Rouses Point bridge back into Vermont with blue sky overhead and thunder rumbling in the distance.  One of the (older) maps we were carrying listed the North Hero State Park as a camping possibility, so we stopped there first.  Sadly we were greeted by a “Day Use Only” sign and turned away by a ranger.  Another 20 miles of threatening skies and gorgeous Chaplain Island views and we were settled in at Grand Isle State Park in our second Lean-to of the trip just in time to go swimming in the pouring rain.

Wednesday, August 6th:  30 Mile Ride from Grand Isle to Burlington

Knowing we had a short day today we puttered a bit in camp and stopped for bagels at Wally’s Bakery on Grand Isle. We ate a bit there and decided to save a bagel for the bike ferry.  Our route took us on small coastal roads on the West side of Grand Isle.  Riding through the Champlain Islands is absolutely gorgeous and I highly recommend it to everyone, even just for a day ride.

At least they call it what it is!!!

At least they call it what it is!!!

We followed signs to the bike ferry, which we’d been looking forward to all week.  The signs took us off the road and on a Rail Trail which followed a causeway out into the lake.


Riding out onto Lake Champlain on the Causeway Rail Trail between Grand Isle and Burlington.

Riding out onto Lake Champlain on the Causeway Rail Trail between Grand Isle and Burlington.

When we got to the break in the causeway and saw the bike ferry’s crossing we both laughed, the ferry simply bypassed a small gap in the causeway created years ago when the steel rail road bridge was taken down and sold for scrap.  No time to eat our bagels aboard the three minute ferry crossing.  While not the extensive lake crossing I’d imagined it to be, the bike ferry is a great experience and a wonderful service.  I was impressed with how many people were riding it and so glad it exists because it opens up the Champlain Islands to day riders from the Burlington Area.

Loading the Bike Ferry

Loading the Bike Ferry

And I thought it would be a long ferry ride!! I could almost jump that!

And I thought it would be a long ferry ride!! I could almost jump that!

By lunch time we’d set up camp at North Beach Campground and decided to rent Paddle Boards for the afternoon.  Neither of us had ever tried them but it has become such a fast growing fad we’ve both been curious.  We spent about two hours paddling, playing in the waves, and swimming off our boards.  We both agreed it wasn’t love at first site and we aren’t about to go buy one, but we had a fabulous time and felt it was the perfect way to spend an afternoon on the lake.

Thursday, August 7th:  57 Mile Ride from Burlington to Calais

For our last riding day we headed back to my house in Calais.  We retraced my steps from earlier in the week, riding Route 2 back to Montpelier and even stopping for lunch at Red Hen.  We waited out a quick storm at Morse Farm (another excuse for ice-cream).  The real rain held off until we got to Random Road, just a few hundred feet from my front door when the skies opened up and soaked us to the bone.  In general I’d say we totally lucked out weather-wise and by and large almost never got caught in the rain without an escape option.  We had a great dinner with my Mom and Steve and took advantage of the spare bedroom in my house – so glad I built that little “Bump Out” to make having company easier and more comfortable.

Friday, August 8th:  3 mile Paddle, Button Bay State Park to Barn Rock Harbor

Since we had a few days left until I had to return to work and Leslie had to head back to Buffalo, we decided to trade in our bikes for Kayaks and explore a bit of the lake a little more up close and personal.  We spent much of the morning unpacking our bike panniers and repacking our gear in dry bags.  We loaded my 17 foot sea kayak and my parents 10 foot pond kayak on the roof of my car and put Leslie’s conveniently folding Bike Friday in my car along with all our gear.

Without a solid plan we spent most of the day puttering, putting together food, looking at maps, and figuring out where we wanted to go.  It was after four PM by the time we got our car parked at Button Bay State Park and our boats launched. Our goal for the day was just two miles north along the Vermont shore and then a one mile crossing to Barn Rock Harbor.  Barn Rock is one of 41 camp sites available for use by paddlers as part of the Lake Champlain Paddlers Trail. It took us both a few minutes to get our boats securely under us and get used to how they rocked in the waves, but then it was smooth sailing across the open water.  The wind was blowing and there were waves to contend with, but nothing that made us nervous.   Upon landing at Barn Rock I was swamped with fabulous memories from years past when I camped there as a Trip Leader for the amazing Champlain Discovery Kayak summer camp.

View from our Barn Rock Campsite

View from our Barn Rock Campsite

Cozy Barn Rock Harbor

Cozy Barn Rock Harbor

After camp was set up, we hiked up to the summit of Barn Rock to eat our dinner and watch a few people leap off into the lake and enjoy the sun setting behind the Adirondacks.  Around the time we headed to bed, we noticed the super moon, large and bright orange creeping out from behind Camels Hump in the distant horizon.  What a gorgeous site.

Relaxing as the sun begins to set.

Relaxing as the sun begins to set.

Saturday, August 9th:  12 Mile Paddle, Barn Rock to Kingsland Bay and back

Upon arising this morning we took stock of our food and water supplies and realized that we had become so accustomed to passing stores every hour or so to buy snacks and fill our water that we hadn’t actually planned food and water as well as we should have for a true camping trip.  We had enough food (but not extra) and while we had water purifying tablets to drink lake water, we were hoping to avoid it as it makes the water taste bad. I’d thought of bringing my SteriPen water purifier but for some reason had decided not to.  Since we wanted to spend the day paddling and then camp a second night at Barn Rock, we decided to head for Kingsland Bay, a state park about 5 miles up the lake on the Vermont side.

We paddled up the New York shore for about half a mile so we would have a chance to gawk at the enormous Palisades cliffs, which rise 200+ feet straight up out of the lakes edge.  They are visible from miles away in both directions and paddling directly under them is an experience not to miss. We paddled slowly past and decided to stop briefly on the northern end to explore a campsite that I’d never noticed but was listed in my Lake Champlain Paddlers Trail Guidebook.

It was a small but deep harbor full of big slippery boulders which made it challenging to get out of our boats without falling in.  Finally disembarked we heaved our boats fully out of the water and up onto the boulder ridden “beach” before hiking up to explore the sparse camp site.  We were glad we were camped at Barn Rock as it was much nicer.  Just as we were returning down the path to the harbor a large powerboat sped by slamming the harbor with giant waves which filled the gaps between the boulders and lifted our boats high above the rocky beach.  When the first wave receded my boat had rotated a bit but was heavy enough to mostly stay put.  Leslie’s however, being smaller and lighter, landed half way in the water.  As we scrambled down the rocky path a second wave came crashing towards us and as it left the shore, so did our little yellow kayak.  Not hesitating or caring that my shirt and shorts up to that point had remained dry, I followed the wave into the lake and grabbed the boat before it had time to wander out of the harbor.  If we’d been just seconds longer up at the campsite we may have spent much of the afternoon fishing for a kayak!

Safely back in our boats we continued north a bit before deciding cross to the Vermont shore where the lake was still shy of a mile in breadth.  The lake was quite a bit calmer than yesterday and the crossing was uneventful.  Following the Eastern shore we wound our way up the coast, watching sail boats cruising along in the gentle breeze.  While I have sailed a little bit I don’t know the first thing about sail boats.  Leslie, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about different kinds of boats and sail configurations.  It was really fun to learn what boats were what, why they had various sails up or down and other sailing tidbits.  It made me want to sail again.  Chatting about boats, sharing stories of former paddle trips, and reminiscing about bike trips we’ve done together, we easily spent the morning paddling lazily along the shoreline.  By the time we finally rounded the bend and entered Kingsland Bay we were both feeling hot and tired and ready for a break from the sun.

After a nice lunch in the shade and refilling our water supplies we re-boarded our vessels and headed back out into the now growing swells.  Luckily the wind that was building in intensity was coming from the North and blowing us back towards camp.  Even with the wind we were both feeling confident and comfortable in our kayaks and decided to cross the lake to the New York side sooner rather than later, even though the lake at Kingsland Bay is about 2 miles wide, twice as far a crossing as it is down near Barn Rock.  We crossed diagonally into the wind (pointing our bows North West even though we eventually needed to go south) and really enjoyed playing in the swells and occasional white-caps.

By the time we got back to the Palisades we knew we were nearly back at camp but decided to stay out a while longer to watch the two rock climbers who were making their way slowly up the cliff face.  Their third party, who had delivered them to the cliffs’ base in a small motor boat, was drifting in the bay watching his friends climb.  As the wind drove him to the southern end of the bay he would periodically start the engine to motor back to the northern end before gradually floating back down south.  We were drifting just as fast and having to paddle fairly continuously to avoid drifting out of site of the climbers.

It wasn’t until the power boat refused to start that we learned the boat actually belonged to one of the men climbing, not the one left in the boat.  Not knowing much about the boat he was captaining, he simply couldn’t get it going.  We watched him float further and further south struggling with his one canoe paddle to stay within site of his climbing friends.  Eventually we felt bad for him and decided to step in.  I had him tie his bow line onto the rear handle of my kayak and between my paddling and his canoe strokes we were able to drag him against the wind to the far north end of the bay.  We went through this cycle twice in the 45 minutes or so between his engine stalling and the rock climbers deciding to descend.

I really enjoyed watching the climbers making their way up the rock wall, but honestly it didn’t really make me miss my climbing days.  I guess I have enough adventurous sports to keep me occupied, and don’t think I’ll re-take up climbing.  Playing in the waves however, brought back very fond memories of white water kayaking!  Even though it makes me nervous, I could see doing some mild river paddling in the coming years!

The moon rising over the Green Mountains.

The moon rising over the Green Mountains.

Sunday Morning, August 10th:  3 Mile Paddle from Barn Rock to Button Bay

We awoke early and watched the sun come up over the green mountains while we ate our breakfast and re-crossed the lake for the final time.  In the early morning mist the lake was perfectly calm and peaceful.  The paddle back seemed fairly quick and we had our boats loaded back on my car and were headed for Burlington by just after 8 AM.

Sunrise from Barn Rock.

Sunday Afternoon, August 10th:  10 Miles Paddling around Cumberland Bay, NY

I dropped Leslie, her bike, and all her gear off at the Burlington Ferry Dock where we emptied our dry-bags and she repacked her Panniers on her bike.  We waved goodbye as she bought her boarding pass and I kept heading north, back up to Grand Isle.  I decided to take the Grand Isle Ferry (with my car) and get a campsite at the Cumberland Bay State Park.  I had camp set up by early afternoon and decided to paddle an 8 mile loop around the circumference of Cumberland Bay.  Not having my gear and not having any agenda, I was able to really just play in the waves and simply enjoy being on the water. Not a care in the world, no place to be, nobody to answer to.  Just my free spirit floating in the waves.

Sun Set from Cumberland Bay

Sun Set from Cumberland Bay

After a quick dinner, I decided to go back out on the bay to watch the sun set and the moon rise.  I paddled back out to the middle of the bay in time to watch the sun drop below the Adirondacks and the huge, orange moon poke its head up from behind the Green Mountains.  On the way back to the campground I heard music playing from the Plattsburg public beach so I paddled back down there to investigate.  I ended up spending an hour or so free floating in the bay, listening to whatever band was playing in the park and watching the moon rising higher into the sky.  As the music wound down I decided to call it a night and paddled back to camp by moonlight.

Funny how the super moon looks HUGE in person but I just couldn't get a picture where it looked like more than I tiny dot!

Funny how the super moon looks HUGE in person but I just couldn’t get a picture where it looked like more than I tiny dot!

Monday, August 11th:  Clinton Correctional Facility

Monday morning I awoke early and went for another quick paddle on the bay before the mist burned off.  I was only 45 minutes from the Clinton Correctional Facility where my (other) friend Leslie is imprisoned so I had time for a quick paddle and still arrived at the prison right at 9 AM when visiting hours begin.  I hadn’t planned on visiting Leslie at the end of my trip so I hadn’t brought clothing that was prison “appropriate.”  I had however thought ahead on Sunday and stopped at Goodwill on my way out of Burlington and bought a pair of shorts that I thought would be acceptable. I also had one tee-shirt with me that was not V-neck so I figured that would be fine.

High Prison Walls - all the coiled barbed wire is only visible from the inside!

High Prison Walls – all the coiled barbed wire is only visible from the inside! Somehow at the end of a fabulous 10 day trip, this is the least friendly place I could ever go!

The process of entering the prison is at this point familiar and repetitious.  The various metal detectors, hand stamps, forms to fill out, and guards to appease have become routine.  However, on this particular day each station was staffed by an unfamiliar face, most of whom didn’t seem to know the process themselves.  The first guard forgot to stamp my hand, couldn’t find the stamp pad when I asked to have my hand stamped, and didn’t know if I was allowed to wear my shoes through the metal detector.  The guard at the second guard station didn’t know there was usually a guest book out that we were supposed to sign, didn’t know if I was supposed to take the white or yellow form to the third guard station, and thought I was supposed to wait and leave money for Leslie’s commissary account after my visit (instead of on my way in), which for some unknown and arbitrary reason is strictly prohibited.  I was the first visitor of the day and more or less managed to get everyone straightened out.  The guard at that second check point jokingly asked if I wanted to stick around the desk for the day and run things.  I clearly spend to much time at this prison!

I got through the third check point just fine and all the way into the visiting room where the guard assigned me my usual seat in the first row so he can keep an eye on me – apparently Leslie, in her frail body and failing health, is very very dangerous. But before I could take my seat yet another guard, this time a short woman with shoulder length brown hair and a permanent grimace on her face came charging down from the far end of the hallway.

“What is your name?” she bellowed. I simply said Jamie.

“What makes you think you should be allowed in MY visiting room?  Dressed like THAT?” she yelled.  I had no reply.  I honestly had no idea what she was fishing for and I’m not sure she really did either.  I had the general feeling from the way she was eying me up and down that she simply was grumpy and wanted to harass someone.  Had they arbitrarily decided you could only enter with closed toed sneakers?  Did my new shorts not cover enough of my knee cap? Was my hair at the length it must be in a pony tail?  I thought hard but was befuddled.  We stood there, staring each other up and down, waiting.

Then suddenly she smiled sadistically as if she had just figured out how she could really embarrass me.  Her grin continued to broaden and she asked if I was wearing a bra.  Shit.  While I’d been so diligent about wearing an appropriate shirt and shorts and shoes and emptying my pockets and following every ludicrous little rule they could possibly throw at me, I hadn’t thought of a bra.  Well to be honest I HAD thought of it and decided to wear two tee-shirts since I didn’t have a bra with me, but in the end I had flat out forgotten.   Now anyone who knows me knows I, like my mother, am not particularly well endowed.  Wearing a tee shirt of relatively thick cotton, a bra is generally not all that relevant, and frankly, I’m quite sure by the way I looked and the way she asked, she couldn’t actually even tell for sure.  I probably could have said yes and fooled her, yet she would have demanded to see the strap.  Oh well. Lose Lose situation.

I lifted my hand to my shoulder feigning as if I couldn’t remember if I was or not and said I guessed I wasn’t.  “Come with me” she ordered.   I followed her back through the maze of hallways and check points I had entered through.  At every checkpoint and to every single guard we passed in the long hallways (and it was shift change so there were A LOT of guards roaming the hallways) she screamed, “LOOK AT THIS WOMAN.  SHE IS NOT WEARING A BRA.  WHO LET HER IN HERE WITHOUT A BRA ON”.  On and on all the way to the prison exit.  “CAN’T YOU TELL SHE’S NOT WEARING A BRA?”  “SHE HAS TO GO PUT ON A BRA,” “LET US THROUGH, THIS WOMAN NEEDS A BRA…” Like a broken record with it’s volume on high.  Everyone stared.

While the whole charade was clearly orchestrated to be completely mortifying, I am thick skinned and while I’m sure I was bright pink, I also thought it was fairly amusing. In fact, I think it was embarrassing many of the guards more than it was embarrassing me. Some of them snickered, but most looked away clearly knowing she was being an idiot. For me though, I guess it’s better to be pestered about my breasts than being called “Sir” repeatedly and intentionally which they often do specifically to harass me when they know I’m visiting Leslie.

Unfortunately this saga wasn’t quite over.  About the time she was delivering me to the main entrance and making sure the whole world knew why I was having to leave,  I realized we had forgotten to stop at check point #2 and swap my white visitors card with my yellow exit card – so I was not allowed to leave. Instead I had to be paraded all the way back to check point #2 to swap cards and all the way back to the main entrance where my oh so dedicated escort discovered my hand wasn’t properly stamped.  The stamp is only visible under a black light and is how they know the date and time you entered the facility to confirm you are allowed to exit.  Once again this meant I technically wasn’t allowed to exit the grounds.  Luckily the guard at the gate recognized me as a visitor and not an inmate and let me go anyway.  But not until after I got a long lecture on following proper protocol for visitation (funny the guard who hadn’t been able to FIND the stamp pad didn’t get lectured).  Free-flowing verbal diarrhea finally over, I was at last expelled out of the heavy iron door to go out into the free world to find a bra.

Of course, I didn’t have a bra with me – I was on a camping trip. I had a fleece jacket but it was very hot in the visiting room with no air circulation and I wasn’t about to spend 6 hours in that room in a jacket.   I rummaged through my clothing bag to see what I had that would work and found the tank top that I had slept in on my trip.  It would have to do as a bottom layer.  Upon Re-Entry into the prison, now properly attired, I got sympathetic looks from some of the guards and obvious stares at my chest and smirks from others.  Ah yes, the joys of prison – and I come in here on my own free will…. what is wrong with me!

Once my initial hour of attempted humiliation was up I was seated in the visiting room and in pops Leslie.  “What on Earth was that all about?”  Apparently, she had been brought down the first time around and simply told that I had been asked to leave the premises to “make an adjustment” but that I would be back in once I was “better adjusted.” After we rolled our eyes at the evil woman (Leslie knew just who it was once I described her), we were able to spend a lovely day visiting.  Unfortunately Leslie’s health is declining, her heart is weak, and her mood is low.  We spent the day trying to be cheerful, playing cards and eating overpriced junk food out of the vending machines.  She is being transferred any day (week, month, or year) now to another facility near Buffalo NY.  While she theoretically will get much needed better health care there, she’s been there before and is skeptical.  Even so, it will be a much needed change in scenery.  It also means she will be way further away and I won’t be able to visit nearly as often.

After five hours on the inside, fresh air never smelled so good.  I hopped in my car and headed back to Vermont.  I took the ferry back across the lake, re-crossed the Champlain Islands, and got home with twenty minutes to spare before I was due at the Calais Select Board Meeting – story of my life.




One thought on “Exploring Lake Champain: By Bike and Boat

  1. Pingback: Prepping – Saturday – 8_16_2014 | Headline News

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