What a wonderful three days.
It started slowly, with an unfulfilled promise of good weather. It was 35 deg last night and overcast mid-morning. We felt no urgency in getting moving. Morning cappuccino was great, some local news featuring presidential candidates was amusing, and we finished working on our blog for the day. We set off late as usual, thinking today would be a bust. With overcast skies and flat light, photography was out. We had hoped to take the gondola to the top of Mt Mansfield, but with the weather and cold we decided not to.
We turned onto the business loop through Morrisville from SR 100 and just had to stop for photos. In the hour we spend waking fields to find that “perfect shot”, the sun started to peak out and some of the overcast burned off. When we got back in “the Beast” it was clear, we’d continue on to the gondola for a “look see”.
I forgot to take the spur that avoids “downtown” Stowe. We wasted about twenty minutes creeping through town, and enjoying the sites, before we turned right onto SR 108 and resumed a normal clip of 40 mph. By now the weather was warming and the sun was on and off as clouds drifted by overhead.
Climbing toward the notch, we saw signs for the “Scenic Toll Road”. We both though that would be cool and we took the turnoff to the left for the toll road. We were greeted by a footman who explained that the road was extremely narrow and curvy and that we could not make it up the road with “this traffic”. Not wanting to be crass nor wanting to find myself in an untenable situation, I agreed that it would be best not to take the “Scenic Route”. We turned around (an accomplishment in itself) and continued up SR 108.
Seinic Toll Road, Smuggler’s Notchch
Sometime later we saw gondolas running overhead and turned right toward their source. WRONG. We turned into the Stowe Mountain Resort, a posh inn with valet parking and their own gondola to the base of Mt Mansfield. I wondered if anyone thought we’d valet park “the Beast”. Again we were back on SR 108, but this time we simply drove through the circular dive.
The third time is the charm. The next entryway to the left from Stowe Mountain Resort is the entrance to Mt Mansfield’s gondola and is the main entrance to the ski resort in-season. The entry way faces the gondola lift to the top of the mountain. Again we were greeted by a footman who asked if we were her for the gondola ride. “Yes”, we answered and we were told that the gondola had failed and was not in operation. The diesel generator was running the gondolas at slow speed to bring passengers down the mountain. Nobody was going up. We saw groups walking down the mountain. Strike Two!
We made the most of it. We walked the lower ski slopes and took some “OK” photos.
We continued up SR 108 toward the notch. Some time later we saw two granite cliffs facing each other. This is “the notch”. SR 108 runs up between these two escarpments. A short time after we had our first dramatic view of the notch, a glaring flashing sign notified us that no trailers are allowed beyond this point. Well, we are not a trailer so we’re good to go. On we went. The road continued upwards with a 40 mps speed limit, that decreased to 30, and then lower. The road narrowed, became extremely twisty, with the added joy of parked cars lining both sides of the street, some not entirely off the street. There were more than a few places where two cars could not pass, one had to wait for the other to go. The Beast is narrow for an RV and could easily negotiate the road, but it was a challenge with other drivers on the road. In two instances I near panicked as oncoming drivers apparently did not now where the side of their car was. More than a few couples walking the roadside watched me pass with a dumbfounded look. Ours was the only RV I saw today past the “no trailers allowed” sign. The Smuggler’s Notch drive is not to be taken lightly. There are more than a few places where the road is a single lane hair-pin steep up-hill 180 degree turn. An inattentive or inadequate driver would be disastrous on this road as would an over-confident driver of an 18 wheeler.
As we approached the pass, it became clear that we would not find a place to park along the road or in the small trail head parking at the top. We continued past the pass and down into the next valley. The road was steep, I selected a low gear using the brakes as little as I could. Cars backed up behind. I selected a turnout to stop and let them by. This was not a scenic overlook, but a small turnout. Surprisingly, the SUV immediately behind me turned in with me. After about a dozen cars passed by, my follower turned out too and I followed. No less than 200 feet down the road, there was a dirt road to the right and I took it. My thought was, maybe this road opens onto great views. It was the entrance into parking lot 1 for the Smuggler’s Notch Ski resort.
The parking lot was heavily rutted and slow going all the way in, but the views were spectacular. There was a standing map of ski routes ahead of us, a yurt to our right, and ski runs heading up-mountain to our right. We disembarked and separated camera in hand. While I was orienting myself, two woman hiked down a ski trail and into the parking lot. We exchanged “Hi’s”, and talked about hiking up-mountain. I had not gone far from Li’l Beast and one of the woman noticed our CA license plates and putting it together asked, “Are you from California?” That started another conversation about how beautiful Vermont is and what California is like. With their encouragement, Ellen and I headed up the ski trails in search of dramatic views. There were many.
It was late and we allowed ourselves 30 minutes to hike up-hill before turning back. The slope we walked was heavy with moisture. There were running streams and mud in some areas, firm ground in others. It was steep and slow going, but rewarding. I can only imagine what skiing would be like on these slopes. With the densely packed trees, tree-skiing would be out of the question here. It is amazing how slow we walk and how fast we can ski downhill. We returned to the Beast comfortably exhausted and happy to have left the crowds and found a peaceful retreat of our own.
I considered driving further down to the valley and trying to find a way to Morristown, but Ellen had talked to a woman in the parking lot who said there was no quick way around the mountains to get back to Morristown. The best way was back through the notch! Back through the notch we went. Traffic was less severe, though there were a few cars parked half way off the road making progress challenging. On one hair-pin turn I had to stop and wait for a long string of cars and motorcycles to pass before the path around the rocky outcropping was safe to turn past. A low gear by itself was insufficient, I had to brake repeatedly to be safe on the descent trading off brake wear and heat with engine braking when I could. It was fun for me and other drivers were not a problem in this direction.
We returned to the valley hungry. Should we head back to the Mountain View Campground and cook, or find something to eat “in town”. In town won out. I remembered the woman at the campground’s desk had recommended McCarthy’s Restaurant and remembered driving past it on the way out. Off we went to find that the restaurant is open from 6:30 Am to 2:00 Pm serving breakfast and lunch only. That didn’t work. We discussed what we would like to eat and kept coming back to sushi or Thai. The nearest Thai restaurant is in Montpelier, not happening. We remembered passing Sushi Yoshi on the way out and back. It was a sushi and Chinese restaurant, a strange mix. I thought we’d be risking it, going for sushi in Vermont, but we did.
We chose to sit at the sushi bar, we were the only ones at the bar. Talking with the sushi chefs, I tried to order Hamachi Sashimi, but they looked dumbly at me. Yellow Tail sashimi they understood and we settled on two orders of Hamachi, two spicy tuna rolls, a lobster roll, a unagi hand roll for Ellen, and avocado salad. All were amazing and some of the best sushi I’ve had. The lobster roll was very good, though the delicate flavor of the lobster got lost in the other flavors. There are six reviews for Sushi Yoshi online, some of them two star. My experience was so different that I wonder what the “two star” people ordered. The sushi and sashimi were fresh, excellently prepared, and scrumptious (if you like sushi).
Again we returned to Mountain View Campground well after sunset. It’s no problem setting up the water and electric connections. Tonight we’ll forego the sewer line. We setup, hoisted the Winegard antenna, turned on the local HD antenna, downloaded our video and photos, and settled in. I played guitar for a while as Ellen looked over today’s photos. Then as I looked over mine, Ellen grabbed my throw while watching a TV show, leaving me with a crummy blanket. We have been looking for comfortable throws that don’t shed lint or fabric for a while now. I found one I liked last week; Ellen is still looking. It was surprising to see Ellen wrapped in MY throw. Bummer, but I’m happy she’s happy. We’ll have to find a throw for her, and soon.
Tonight we watched the season opener of “the Good Wife” in off-air HD, and now “Homeland” on direcTv.