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Vermont Cheese Tour Day Three

As feared, the looming clouds brought thunder, then they brought lightening, and finally, begrudgingly came the lashings of rain. Experiencing a thunderstorm from inside a tent is quite thrilling, although thankfully this night’s show was one minus the wind. Wind and tents just don’t mix well.

The storm fully started at 4 am (alarm call!), and stopped at about 7 am (actual alarm call!). So this meant time to move - start the coffee, and break down camp. In less than an hour I was out on the road, riding along with my river companion for the last time.

Sprinkling rain introduced itself to the mix, which, given the warm temperature was actually quite pleasant. Like a mobile shower, with passengers in cars taking a good look.

I was heading north, and my first stop was at Springbrook Farm. An organisation is always admired as they value education, and help for children from the city, as much as making their cheese. And their cheese is wonderful. Since I was coming from the south, and coming on a bike, my routing software clearly wanted to make my trip interesting. This means more gravel roads, and more 15% gradients, as well as a road with a sign declaring it ‘grade 4’ use at your own risk.

But, to be fair, there was less traffic, and the scenery was stunning. The night of the storm I was actually pretty close to Mt Ascutney, and even riding early in the morning I was squished between my friend the river and the mountain. Some of the crazy climbs I ended up doing gave me some sensational views of the mountain.

Snippets of the area reminded me of my trip to Switzerland last year, where from rolling hills on one wide of a valley, you could see the Alps staring back. Ascutney was no Alps, but the angry, beautiful glare was the same.

I could tell I was getting closer on my ‘grade 4’ road because I started to see cows. First dotted individuals, before a whole group were looking at me, chewing the cud in the shade, and thinking what crazy person would be doing that.

Unfortunately for me, the facility was closed to the public, due to the public health emergency. I could hear banging around in the cheesemaking room - milking cows never stops, neither does making cheese.

But pausing before the long downhill ahead of me, taking in the scenery, it was clear why Springbrook’s cheese was so good. The environment makes it for them. To replicate some of the European greats (Tarentaise, Raclette) the starting point and every subsequent step has to be of the highest quality. That starting point is the grass, and the hills and valleys around here couldn’t be any better, and richer, or any in tune with their traditional cheesemaking process.

The next stop was Vermont Farmstead, which immediately had a different feel. Offices, and a large cow shed, as opposed to the earlier red barns and milking parlour.

This time I was scuppered by timing. The gentleman informed me that cheesemaking was Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Tuesday was just milking - and the ladies had already been milked (empty udders!) I spent some time with them, side stepping poop, because cows are incredibly characteristic animals. I found one, a small Jersey who was happy to have her nose scratched.

It’s hard to spend time with them and not become affected. Like many mammals.

My two cheese stops were complete and within 50 km, so now the remaining challenge of the day was to ride over the Green Mountains at Killington and navigate to my next campsite in Branbury state park.

The problem was the rain returned. Riding a bike in the rain is not something anyone would really choose to do , but I really had no choice. I had mountains to cross and places to be.

Zipping down to the little town of Woodstock, again mostly hard packed gravel, was my early lunch stop. Woodstock looked like a really next town, a brewery, some cafes, some green space. A cool vibe which I couldn’t stop to inhale, because it was pissing down. Eating my breakfast burrito and downing my cappuccino under an umbrella outside due to social distancing was not the lunch I had imagined.

Pressing on now meant uphill, and accompanied by warm, strong rain. As the day continued, I realized that the clouds were being blown over my head - dropping intermittent downpours on my head - some sort heavy that I had to pull over under a tree. But this southerly movement of the clouds and rain, meant I had the cyclists’ nemesis to deal with as well, a head wind.

All in all, getting up and over the mountains was actually fine, but as I zipped along the farming roads on the other side, where the sun had come out, and the clouds were shouting at me from the south, the continuous grind finally got to me, and I limped the last 15 kms to the State park.

Happily, the park was on the shores of Lake Dunmore, and I had had the foresight to pack swimming trunks. My first shower for a couple of days was a splash in the warm clean water of this mountain lake.

And with no storms forecast for the night, the only thing I need worry about is the bears.

Onward to Shelburne Farms tomorrow!

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