This is part two of a two-part series on the restorative splendors of Vermont. Read Part One Here.
Not much past The Long Trail Brewery, named after the 273-mile footpath that runs along the main ridge of the Green Mountains, paralleled for most of its length by Route 100, I trundle into the Vermonster, the “Beast of the East,” Killington, and check into the Killington Grand Resort Hotel, walking distance to the lifts and a rad tubing park across the street. I make a few runs, and then head down the hill to Killington Snowmobiling and Tours.
After a hokey two-minute video on how to use the throttle, kill switch and brakes, I mount my Polaris snowmobile at the trailhead. “Grip it, and rip it,” says Klaus Weirether, the owner. I clutch the throttle and thrust the machine forward, my head lurching back like an astronaut at take-off. For the first minutes riding in the cold open air, every muscle is taut. But as the trail curves, I loosen, tilting into turns and allowing myself to spring off the seat with the bumps. A snowmobile is fierce possibility uncaged.
We tool through the Calvin Coolidge State Forest and Park System, braking to drink in some of the most stupefying Green Mountain views in Vermont. As the sun drops below the tree line, we head back.
It’s been a gripping experience, and I could use some bodywork in the wake, so I check into the spa, an ecstatic place if ever one, at the Killington Grand Resort Hotel. I sprawl for the maple sugar scrub, the first farm-to-table massage I’ve encountered, and one that not only exfoliates my skin from the particulates of Los Angeles, but leaves me smelling like Vermont.
In the suffused aurorean light of the next day, before making the push north, I make a slight detour down Route 4 to Mendon and the fabled Sugar and Spice restaurant. Folks drive hundreds of miles to devour the powder sugar-sprinkled pancakes drenched with real Vermont maple syrup. There’s been a conspiracy of syrup in America. When I was a boy I relished every Sunday breakfast when I could smother my waffles or pancake stacks in 100% maple syrup, the original slow food. But somewhere along the way big manufacturers found that substituting high fructose corn syrup was a cheaper alternative, and today most syrup in restaurant chains and in homes across America is the fake stuff.
So, it is such a delight to once again taste the genuine article, the liquid gold of 100 % maple syrup, and I stuff myself with too many cakes, but feel sumptuous in the afterglow. Then I head outside for some roofless wandering, in a light snowfall, among the Hard Rock Maple trees, watching the leaves fall and examining the tap holes that will be employed in a few months to collect the syrup. Each tree tap should produce about 40 quarts of pure maple sap, which when boiled down, will make just one quart of pure maple syrup. At one point I reach into my pocket for my notebook, and as I pull it out, a napkin falls to the ground. A man rushes over to me, and picks up the napkin, and with a smile admonishes: “Don’t Jersey Vermont.”
Back inside I ask Lynn Manney if much has changed in the making of maple syrup since it was discovered by the early American Indians. “No,” she responds.
Is that an old sugar house behind the restaurant? “Yes.”
Lynn seems not unlike the famously taciturn Calvin Coolidge, another Vermont native, who when a socialite said to him “Someone bet me I couldn’t get you to say three words in a row,” he replied, “You lose.”
Once on the curved black back of the road again, I steer up past Granville, where the familiar Moss Glen Falls spills like a horsetail over an angled rock face. It’s familiar because it’s featured in nearly every photographic portrait of Vermont ever published.
Then I pinch another short detour to Montpelier, the capital, to catch up with Craig Whipple, the Director of Vermont State Parks. We meet up in the Vermont History Museum on State Street, in a wigwam in front of a mural of the Abenaki Indians, “The People of the Dawn,” circa 1650, living a seemingly simple, serene and satisfied life in the Vermont wilderness. Dave is a fierce believer that a denatured life is a dehumanized life, and sees merit in the pre-industrial existence.
“Humans are biological organisms… We’re animals, but with better brains. We’ve been able to use intelligence to modify our environment so that we’re comfortable and secure. But we’re still a part of nature. When we allow kids to go outdoors we see how the social relationships are different… They work together, they solve problems, they explore. They behave differently than when indoors.”
“We have recognized the finite capacity of the planet,” Whipple continues. “And the value of more primitive cultures and their connections with the land, living in balance with the land, and we know that’s a much more sustainable attitude. The temptation to keep ourselves secure and warm, and to manipulate our environment, builds walls between us and nature. You can’t do that at the expense of a total disconnect with nature.”
Salamandering up the road, I stop in Waterbury, at the Alchemist Brewery, which serves up the Indian Pale Ale they call Heady Topper. BeerAdvocate Magazine named it the best beer in the world. Henry David Thoreau said we need the tonic of wilderness; I say we need the tonic of beer, and Vermont has the highest number of breweries per capita in the U.S., so I’ve come to the right place.
John Kimmich, the hoydenish co-owner, along with wife Jennifer, gives me a little tour of the place, enlightening that Heady Topper only comes in cans. “Three reasons,” he offers. “First, sunlight, any UV light, can harm an IPA. Secondly, one of my all-time other big passions is swimming in the rivers in Vermont in the summer with my family, and the idea of coming across one of my bottles shattered in a river? I just can’t have that. And lastly, you can crush a can on your forehead when you’re done drinking.”
Yes, you can. As long as you recycle. On the top of every Heady Topper can is the directive: “Don’t be a D-bag. Recycle these cans.”
Could Heady Topper be a national brand?
“Absolutely,” says John. “I could be brewing a quarter million barrels a year and selling it all over the world. But why? It just makes life more complicated, and this way my employees have an amazing lifestyle, which is a big goal, to be happy on the job. If you want to get Heady Topper right now, your best bet is come right here to the brewery.”
In the cool cocoon of the blue evening light I follow the spirit line of Route 100 all the way to the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which boasts a 21,000 square-foot Wellness and Fitness Center, with an outdoor swimming pool and 18 private treatment rooms. But after the bath of morning, rather than an indoor workout, I don snowshoes and tramp about the pleasing snowscapes of Stowe. Emerging science suggests there are considerable benefits to outdoor exercising in Vermont, rather than on a Stairmaster or in a spinning class or on a climbing wall. Studies show that on subsequent psychological tests the outsiders scored significantly higher in vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem, and lower on tension, depression and fatigue. As a focus group of one, I agree.
When at one point I take a tumble into the snow, I stand and see that the impression I left looks like a spiral, just like the spiral of the Milky Way galaxy. I have a Saul of Tarsus moment; a “2001: A Space Odyssey” time-space linkage. John Muir put it this way: When you tug on a string in (Vermont), you find it is connected to everything else.”
Everything to this point has been a palette cleanser for the final feast. One of the most successful movie musicals of all time was “The Sound of Music,” and like millions I rubbed tears away as the von Trapps, in the final scene, escaped the Nazis by crossing the Alps out of Austria in 1938. But what happened next?
Well, who wouldn’t be stressed after leaving a beloved homeland as fugitives on the run? But the sequel has a happy ending. The family landed in Vermont, and started the 96-room Austrian-style Trapp Family Lodge on a 2,500-acre wooded spread. Today Sam von Trapp runs the lodge with his father Johannas, youngest child born to Maria and Captain Gehrig von Trapp.
I catch up with Sam, who suggests we go out for a cross country ski run just outside the lodge. “My father started the first commercial cross-country ski resort in the United States back in 1968. Now we have some 100 miles of Nordic trails, and snow making for longer seasons.”
Sam apparently inherited some good instincts from his grandmother, Maria, a former postulant at a Benedictine monastery in Salzburg, but by diligent hard work he overcame them, at least for a spell. He lit out after college and found himself ski instructing in Aspen, modeling for Ralph Lauren, surfing in Chile and even making People magazine’s America’s Top 50 Bachelors list in 2001. But, with prodigal pursuits sated, he came home and now lives on the compound, along with his sister Kristina and his dad. And they all seem preternaturally fit, happy and relaxed.
Scientists have determined that shushing about the backcountry of Vermont offers a state that transcends relaxation. New research supports the contention that spending time in The Green Mountain state helps control negative stress, obesity, perhaps even heart disease and dementia.
But most vitally, it evokes a feeling — one I’m enjoying now — a feeling larger than science can measure.Vis medicatrix Vermontae, it would be rendered in Latin.
Aging, I think, is bad policy. But the alternative is worse. And so while moving down the trail, all I have to do is make the unlimited refills that can be found in Vermont. The prescription never expires. And it is the sacrament and the miracle cure for that pernicious malady, Vermont Deficit Disorder.
For details about how to follow in my footsteps, go to www.orbtiz.com/vermont.