Rouge Rodeo Clowns

Site 17 Burke Cottages and Campground, West Burke, Vermont

The blue dot on my phone says the trail is right here, but we can’t find it. I turn in a slow circle, stymied. 

The Kingdom Trails Association (KTA) would not be possible without the hundred or so landowners who allow for the nearly one hundred miles of trails to be built on their land–the trails are used not only for biking, but also for hiking, trail running and horseback riding. Last fall KTA lost some large sections of these trails when some land owners revoked access to mountain bikers. I heard it was because while out horseback riding the owners were berated by some mountain bikers. Our society needs to get its act together, and relearn how to be kind and stop thinking that we are so entitled to everything and that we have the right to accost perfect strangers with our points of view, shouting them down and placing the blame on their shoulders. 

Societal rudeness and the loss of kindness is not the point of this essay though, and I told you that story only to say that though we had lost some of our favorite trails there were some that had recently been reopened and thus I found myself turning in circles in the middle of the woods trying to figure out where we were. Because they were recently opened the trails were not on the paper map I was carrying so I was forced to use the app Ondago to navigate.

It’s a good app, I just hate navigating with my phone when we ride, and clearly it is a bit off as we do not see the trail that is on the screen. We continue in the direction we were going, but decide that the family should turn around and wait at the bottom while I climb up to the top of this trail that is clearly made for going down rather than up and try to get my bearings. At the top I speak with a couple resulting only in more confusion. The only option it seems is to backtrack to the last intersection. 

When we get there Erin and Noah disappear down one trail while Luke and I debate which of the three trails to take. We take a different trail, wrongly assuming that the trail Erin took will link up with the one we take. When we reach another intersection Erin and Noah are not there and I realize the trail they took is not on any map. Leaving Luke munching on cashews and M&Ms I ride back to where we split up and ride down the trail they took, eventually coming to another intersection of three trails. Technology got us into this mess but it also gets us out when I call Erin and figure out where they are. Once we are reunited, the boys take us to their bike camp snack spot along the river. While we’re reclining on the smooth warm rocks listening to the river tumble past munching on our snacks, Luke nonchalantly says. “Sasquatch is just a rodeo clown gone rouge.” Then he goes back to eating his snack. 

By the middle of the week the heat comes back with a vengeance but ever the troupers and now astride new bikes that we luckily found at the Village Sports Shop, the boys are ready to ride. We start in town and ride along trails named Ware’s Davis, White School and Upper Pond Loop. As we ride through a field along the road a honey wagon passes us. These are trucks fitted with tanks that are filled with five hundred gallons of liquid manure that the farmers spread on the fields. The smell is noxious and it drifts through the woods as we ride. Noah and I want to try a trail called Nose Dive and another one called Farm Junk, but the heat has gotten to Luke and Erin so they decide to head back to town via a new trail called New School. A trail that is, I mistakenly tell them, all downhill. Nose Dive is ho-hum but Farm Junk is great and aptly named, given the variety of detritus that litters the sides of the trail. Somehow we miss New School but when I pull out my phone to check the map, I learn this is not such a bad thing. A text from Erin reads: New School Sucks! Flat and in the sun the whole way. The manure scent is growing stronger as the trail leads us into a field where at the far end we see the honey wagon rumbling toward us, spaying its dreadful payload in a several-meter-long arch over the field. I fell in a manure pile as a kid, after making the poor choice of believing I could walk across its crusted top to save time. I ended up sinking up to my waist and my mom made me strip and hose off on the back porch. I have no desire to repeat this especially with the extra potent liquid manure. 

“Pedal hard” I yell over the noise of the truck 

Noah puts the hammer down and we race around the edge of the field keeping one eye peeled for the trail back into the woods and the other on the honey wagon. We stop just inside the tree line breathless and manure free as the honey wagon rumbles past on its way to get another load. 

Reunited with Erin and Luke it is time to go swimming, though we can swim in the river right here in town we decide to drive thirty minutes north to Lake Willoughby. Flanked by two sheer cliffs that reach down to the water’s edge near the center, this five-mile-long lake resembles an Alaskan fjord more than the deepest lake within the borders of Vermont. The northern beach is by far the best, at a half mile long it provides plenty of space to spread out and play in the shallow swimming area. The southern beach, which we go to later in the week because I forgot to get gas for the car, is much smaller with pine trees close to the shore that cause the water to be darker and the lake bottom to be soft and mucky from the decaying pine cones and needles. A path at the far end of this beach leads into the trees and we learn later that it eventually takes you to the nude beach. 

“I am sure glad we did not follow the path all the way there.” Noah says. 

It is not illegal to be nude in public in Vermont; however, it is illegal to undress in public. Talking with Gail, the owner of Burke Cottages and Campground, later that evening, she tells us that she had gotten a call that day from someone asking if clothing was optional at the campground. 

“I’ve never gotten that question before, and I had to tell him no. Can you imagine,” she says with a laugh. 

By Thursday the boys tell us they are done camping. Erin and I are worn out too and ready to move on so we decide to pull up stakes a day early and drive halfway to our next destination. We will stop the Palmyra Golf Course and Campground in Palmyra, Maine for a day so that we can restock our provisions, the boys can swim in the pool and we can do a week’s worth of laundry. With both water and electric hook-ups, it will be pure luxury.