A Winter Trip to Vermont

Sunrise in the Green Mountains

Sunrise in the Green Mountains

Our family took a nice break from work and headed north to Vermont. There are plenty of big, industrial northern cities, in the US, Europe, Russia, and Asia where they deal with cold and snow very well. Take Minneapolis, for example. Subzero temperatures, cold fronts, snow drifts, and frozen lakes and rivers just means you use an electric warmer for your car’s engine block, you have a snow blower, the streets are regularly cleared, and the tough UPS guys still wear shorts, although they wear snow boots. Russians almost don’t know what warm weather is like. Swedes and Norwegians, and particularly Finns act completely nonplussed going about their lives in the cold north. But in Vermont, snow, ice and a long, protracted winter are somehow different, in my mind, probably because I go there to enjoy myself, not to work.

There are more dairy cows per people in Vermont than any other state. So, naturally, milk, cream, butter, cheese and of course, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream taste wonderful. We once visited a dairy farm in northern Vermont in February. The farmer’s son showed us around, taking great pride in pointing out how happy the cows were in the long dairy barn, how clean the milking equipment was, and how equally clean the cows were. And he was quite right. His cows’ milk was used to make Cabot cheese, produced in Cabot, VT, as you might have guessed.  One of the pleasures of visiting Vermont is enjoying the local products such as artisinal cheeses which are hard to get outside the state.  Each year we go to Vermont, we are sure to bring home a gallon of Vermont maple syrup.  Kept in our basement, it lasts for a year, and is very tasty.  It is fun, knowing it came from the trees in the woods where we were staying.

Interior of condo in Okemo.

Warm and comfortable condo high up Okemo Mountain.

We stayed in a lovely four bedroom condo high up Okemo Mountain, along the Sachem Trail. Two of our three grown children, a friend of ours, Lynn, from Philadelphia, and my college friend Keith and his wife Lisa stayed with my wife and me. We made some truly great meals, had some very nice Vermont beers, some excellent wines we brought with us, and thoroughly enjoyed the condo, especially the fireplace.

Eating area and kitchen.

Lynn, who cooked the first dinner, a delicious chicken stew, observes breakfast in the making.

Carrying wood in for the fire.

To be fair, my son did offer to carry the wood. On the other hand, my wife does Brazilian Jiujitsu, so this was her opportunity to get a little lifting in.

This year, fortunately, the snow gods smiled on Vermont, and laid down some real snow. It’s just not the same skiing on the man-made snow, although it will do if necessary. Recognizing that it is not, perhaps, as eco-friendly as one would like, to make snow so skiers can ski on it, the resorts do their best to adhere to ecologically sound practices. Without snow to ski on, the skiers would stay away, which would seriously affect the economy of the communities who rely on the ski resorts for their livelihoods.

Getting out to the ski slopes was very convenient.  We walked about one hundred yards, climbed up a little hill, clipped in and skied.  My kids, Craig and Katie, snowboarded.  While conditions were not the greatest, they were far from the worst, and we were able to get in several days of fine shushing and carving.

At the top of Sachem Trail.

Craig and Katie pose at the top of Sachem trail, were we got on the slopes from our condo.

Something that made this trip particularly special was getting to ski with Keith, my friend from college.  Keith introduced me to skiing about forty years ago, when we were at UCSD.  We went on a long bus ride from San Diego, to UCLA to pick up their ski club members, then on to Telluride, Colorado.  It was a memorable trip, not least for being able to learn how to ski.  My one prior experience was a weekend at Heavenly, at Lake Tahoe.  With too few funds to pay for lessons, and not knowing what I was doing, that was a big challenge.  But at Telluride, I was able to pick up some pointers from Keith, and with the fact of being young and able, I managed to learn to ski.  Since then, while never achieving the kind of graceful and skilled skiing of someone who learns as a child, I have become a devoted skier.  Keith and I don’t get to ski together too often, the last time being some time in the 1980’s.

Frank and his friend Keith at Okemo.

Keith and Frank at Okemo, Feb. 2013.

Skiing is an activity that the whole family can enjoy, no matter one’s age.  It is a little tough at first with young children, carrying their skis, supplying them with mittens, scarves and face protectors, and dealing with the frequent wintertime illnesses which always seem to hit the day one leaves for the mountains.  But, once they learn and become more independent, they love it.  Since they are grown, the family ski trip continues to be a way for us to get together and enjoy each others company.  My oldest daughter, away at graduate school, could not join us for this trip, but would have in a flash had her schedule allowed.

At the Waffle Cabin on the slopes at Okemo

Craig, awaiting a bit of sustenance in the form of a Belgian waffle.

Skiing is a way to embrace the cold and snowy days of winter, get outside and revel in it and work up an appetite for good winter food.  The dark comes quickly in the winter in the mountains, and that means gathering around the fire, reading, playing Scrabble, and even playing a little music, with chords and lyrics courtesy of the internet.

Craig and Frank playing guitar

Playing some Velvet Underground, Craig and Frank.  Photo by Katie.

Relating this all to running, I did bring my running shoes, and had planned to get in a run or two in the later afternoon.  What I found, though, was the road to our condo was narrow and icy, so it would have been dangerous to try running along it.  Instead, I just relaxed, knowing I wouldn’t miss a few days running, and just enjoyed being in Vermont.

Two Weeks to Philly! And a little diversion over the bridge.

Ben Franklin Bridge

Photo from 2007 Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge.  Our race 11/4/12 was just as bright and sunny.

There has been a lot going on this past week.  The week started out with a storm unlike any we’ve seen for decades hitting the east coast.  Hurricane Sandy and it’s aftermath has been devastating for so many, particularly in New Jersey and New York.  It was a wide ranging storm, without terribly high winds, but the flooding, downed trees, loss of power, and then the difficulty of getting life back to normal has effected millions, and is still a major problem for many.  My son described watching transformers on telephone poles in New Brunswick creating an eerie light show Monday night as they blew up all over the city.  The New York City marathon, scheduled for Nov. 4, was initially planned to go as scheduled.  Then, it was cancelled, after 40,000 runners had already arrived in the city.  But, the fact that so many New Yorkers still had no power, were living in shelters, were lining up at gas stations to receive a ration of gasoline, and were huddled around power strips in order to charge their cell phones, plus many other hardships, made a compelling argument to cancel the marathon.  Brandon, a friend of mine who was planning to run New York, found an alternative marathon the same day, the Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Marathon, in Northampton, Pennsylvania, along the upper Lehigh River.  Apparently, they got a big influx of runners from New York, with their numbers swelling from 500 last year, their inaugural year, to 850 this year, before they closed registration.  Quite a difference from the 47,000 scheduled to run NYC.

In my town, fortunately, the hurricane left very few without power, and life got back to normal quickly.  There were some intense controversies.  Halloween was postponed by mandate from Governor Christie to Nov. 5.  But, our mayor decided to override the governor, and held Halloween on Friday, Nov. 2.  I admit to some surprise, driving home from work, expecting to be able to go to the grocery store and pick up some heavily discounted bags of M&M’s and mini Milky Ways in preparation for Monday, only to see droves of costumed kiddies and their into-it parents already making the house to house rounds.  In our two neighboring towns, Halloween was to be held Saturday and Monday respectively.  How confusing.

Meanwhile, my training for Philadelphia went on.  My second taper in six weeks, and I’m feeling fairly confident that I’ll at least finish the marathon.  The last two weeks were my last long runs, first a 22.8 miler two weeks ago, then last week, I joined up with about 30 other runners planning to do Philly for a 20 mile training run put on by CitySports in Philadelphia.  They organized us into pace groups, provided pace runners, had a water station set up at the Philadelphia Sports Club on 18th and Market, and provided water, Philadelphia pretzels (for the salt?)  and a bit of swag, with a nice CitySports bag and coupon.  It was fun getting together with other runners not part of my usual group, all training for the same race.

This past Sunday was the annual running of the Cooper Norcross Run the Bridge 10k, which starts on the Camden side of the Ben Franklin Bridge, goes across the bridge to Philadelphia and back, then runs through the streets of Camden, past the battleship USS New Jersey, then back along the Delaware to the finish line in Campbell’s Field, home of the Atlantic League Camden Riversharks.

Start of Run the Bridge

Among the early leaders heading uphill at the start, out of 4500 total runners, are Dave Stewart and Rich Wright of the SJAC.

The first mile of the race makes you humble as it heads up the bridge.  But then you head down the other side of the bridge, making the turn in front of the whimsical statue of a kite in the air and  a key on the string, an homage to Ben.  Then, it’s back up the bridge again then down, then finally, for the last 3 miles or so, the route is almost completely flat.

Dave Stewart, SJAC

Dave Stewart of SJAC, still way ahead of the pack, coming back from the Philadelphia side of the bridge.

My race was a bit less speedy than Dave (okay, a lot!), but still respectable.  I wasn’t sure how hard to push, given that I’m planning to run a marathon in two weeks.  I decided to just run it as I would any race, and let the chips fall as they may.

Frank caught in a surprisingly decent shot by Ed, on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Frank (yours truly) heading down the second leg of the Ben Franklin Bridge, and waving, naturally, to the camera.

It turned out to be a great day for a race.  While a little chilly at the start, especially waiting in the shaded part of Campbell’s Field before heading out to the start, once we started out, with the bright sun the 40 degree temperature wasn’t bad at all.  Just about everyone I spoke with after the race agreed that it was a great day for a 10K.  After the race, a group of us from the SJAC got together for breakfast at the British Chip Shop in Haddonfield.  Our initial intention was to watch the New York City Marathon, but after it was cancelled, we decided we could have breakfast anyway, and enjoy talking about our race, eat bubble and squeak or an Irish omelet, and have a spot of tea.

The SJACers have brunch after the Run the Bridge 10K at the British Chip Shop.

This restaurant shows live coverage of the English football matches,  but our crowd was oblivious to the TV, and had a great time chatting and talking of upcoming races.


one small regret

It was a great weekend. Unfortunately NOW I have my appetite back and I think of the tragedy of the missed meals with my fellow runners Frank, Steve, Bryan, Dan and Lisa. Also Frank’s wife Kathleen and Steve’s wife Caren who were so kind to a very beaten up runner (me). Ah Saturday night in downtown Clark’s Summit at the Italian restaurant and all I could eat was a side of ziti and lots of bread…are you kidding? And Sunday lunch at a great looking Mexican joint and I just stared at my Taco soup. The horror. Give me another chance and boy would I do my restaurant mates proud. But alas. The run was probably the best run I ever did (btw trust the taper). I wanted to do even splits the whole way. I didn’t but I wanted to. Target time was 3:40 and not a second over that to qualify for Boston. At 13.1 miles I was at 1:45 which is…hmmm…oh yea 3:30 for a full. I felt good but knew I would give some of that time back on the back half with the hills. Sure enough I started fading a bit by mile 16. That’s where the mental games kick in. “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and ” pain is temporary” and “just do it” and thinking about all the training that I’ve done with Frank, Steve, and Bryan. Head games man. Started fading but fighting it. Finally made the right hand turn onto the home stretch about a mile to go most up hill. My watch said 3:30 something… a runner next to me kicked it in and started sprinting up the hill. I thought “Goddamnit I can’t let this go” and started sprinting also. I was pissed. I needed that emotion. Kept at it and the clock said like 3:39:30. Talk about no margin of error. Of course I paid for it the rest of the day. I didn’t mind the sore muscles so  much as the upset stomach which prevented me from enjoying the meals with my friends but what can you do? Thanks guys for everything and Frank too as sort of the Godfather of the whole event.

Stratton to Manchester

Day one in my adventure in Vermont started on Stratton Mountain, a place with which I am ver familiar. I’ve been here dozens of times with my family for ski trips, but never in the summer. My group, Dan T., Dan B., Keith and I decided to stay in a condo In Stratton, and we wound up being assigned the very same unit my family stayed in back in February when we were here to ski. We were here for the inaugural edition of the Vermont Challenge, a four day point-to-point cycling tour in the Green Mountains. We got checked in to our condo easily enough. We then wandered the area of the Stratton Village, searching for signs of life and the registration area for the event. Finally, we located it in a building near the gondola. Looking up the mountain, the ski runs look very different, covered in green grass and surrounded by leafed-out trees. We signed in and were given a strap to be worn around our wrist the duration of the event, like the ones used at multi-day concerts. We got a large bag with a Vermont Challenge cycling jersey, very attractive, although Dan T. thought it was “hideous”. It also contained a bunch of Hammer gels, several tourist pamphlets, printed cue sheets, and a name badge. Upstairs in the bar, they had dinner waiting for us, buffet-style burgers, salad and brownies, plus we were given two tickets for beers from the bar. A live band of slightly past-their-prime rockers was playing, including one odd song “Take it like a man”. I wasn’t sure what kind of bar this was… Anyway, this was the send off party for the group, and we sat out on the deck, enjoyed the view of the mountain, and just relaxed. We got a speech by the director of the event, thanking all those who helped, naming all the sponsors, and giving instructions on how to proceed the next day.

The next morning we got up early, got our suitcases to the drop-off point, and got a barely adequate breakfast of raisin bran, yoghurt, bagels and coffee. After the obligatory speech, again thanking the sponsors, about fifty riders headed out for the first day’s ride. This number would grow with each day, as many more riders would be joining us for the three, two and one day options. The first part of the ride was a long, screaming downhill, part of which was through a road construction zone. The flag girl held traffic for us as our group rode through. Then the ride started into rolling hills, and a couple more long down hills before we got to the valley where Manchester is. This ride was a pretty benign ride, mostly down hill, with a long loop around Manchester, before winding up in a beautiful park outside of Manchester. The total miles for the day was 56. They had a catered lunch waiting for us under a large tent, music playing from speakers set up by our combination DJ and photographer, and we sat out enjoying the warm sun.

We checked into our inn, a very quaint old victorian house called Sutton’s Place, run by Frank Sutton for over thirty years. He’s a tall gent who lives with his wife in the inn, charges very reasonable rates, and is very accommodating. The inn is close to Northshire Bookstore, which I feel is the best independent bookstore in the country. We spent an hour browsing, and each of us buying a book or three. I bought “This is a book” by Demetri Martin. Very funny. After that, I had to get in a run. I did a five mile run out Barnumville Road 2.5 miles then back. I was able to manage an 8:50 average, with some significant hills in the run. I’m thinking of laying off the running the rest of the tour since the serious climbing is coming. Dinner was at “Ye Old Tavern” (for real) and it was delicious. Then it was back to the inn to get rested for the next day.


Uncorking Croatia



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