• Adam Shutes

Vermont Tour de Cheese Day Four



In retrospect, and I did know better, but the teenage park ranger’s advice was completely the wrong thing to do: don’t keep your smelly and food things in your tent with you. I mean, do that is you want to meet a bear. But otherwise hang your stuff in a tree or a bear canister. Stupid me. I’ve backpacked Yellowstone, Yosemite and Kings Canyon. I should have known better.

But I was lucky for the night - Boo Boo was out of town. The sky was overcast in the morning, just going to show that you may be camped by some beautiful mountains, by a beautiful lake, surrounded by layers of green treetops - but the weather can still soil your morning.

Coffee, 6 fresh scrambled eggs, and daily ablutions and the wheels started moving again. The campsite had been on the north east side of Lake Dunmore. I had been hoping to drop in to Blue Ledge Farms, one of my favorite goat cheese makers - but with the early 8 am start, and the farm being well on the southwest of the lake adding at least 20 km to a 140 km ride, I had to make the decision to cut them out.

Shelburne Farms would be my only stop for the day - I hoped it would be a good one.

Starting northwards, I took US7. A typical state road where the ‘bike lane’ is actually the emergency lane, with extra grit and nails thrown in. If you’re super lucky it’s an actual lane, but too often highway desingers think that a couple of feet will suffice.

The couple of feet of overgrown weeds reaching into the line agree, a couple of feet was fine.


Thankfully a quick dive off to the right, and I was headed into the fields of Vermont. Many red barns, many tall silos, and many cows in large large cow sheds. The ones with big fans in the walls.

These upset me because I know what’s going on here - it’s locally based intensive cow farming.

A quick peak in the sheds and you’ll see the black and white of the Holstein Friesian breed. The ‘white water’ producers. Keep the food balance right and enough protein etc, and the cows will produce a shit load of milk.

I know of one in New Hampshire who sell their raw milk. It’s as bland as the pasteurized version.

Why? Because as I’ve said before it’s about the ingredients. Start with feeding hay and protein pills, add a volume-centric breed, and you will end with a product that could only be placed on a child’s cereal if that.

To be in the middle of Vermont, to be keeping your cows inside and not roaming the fields, to produce something of quality, tells us exactly where we have gone wrong. It cannot be all about cost. And when it is, don’t expect quality to get a look in- industrialization will elbow it out.

I passed through a couple of really quaint towns, with old Victorian houses in great condition, to which I would definitely return: Middlebury and Vergonnes were two which stand out, as of course is Shelburne of Shelburne Farms fame.

I had seen Lake Champlain from the tops of the hills as I rode in to the town, but now I was shoreline level and could see nothing more than the fresh tarmac. And as I approached although the site was busy, it wasn’t quite right. All traffic to the main buildings was stopped, with access to the car park only and their curb side shop.

No Brown Swiss cows for me today. I would have to make to with 1 lb of their wonderful clothbound cheddar, a loaf of bread and some local kombucha, while perched on a fallen tree overlooking their fields. Shelburne Farms do things right. They are stewards of the land and animals, they let the cheese make itself, and just are the hands guided by the environment. The pace is slow, because that’s what their cheese and agriculture require.

And their clothbound cheddar is the best in the USA, because of this.

Lots of people strolling own the grounds with babies, not a lot of people buying, I noticed.

Slightly disappointed, but rested, I turned back to the bike. 70 km down, 60 km to go. I was to clip Burlington before turning East and riding along the Woonski River to my site for the night- Little River State park, uphill (of course) from Waterbury.

I wasn’t ready for the extent of the ride along the river- approaching a metal bridge I nipped off to the right, onto a hard packed gravel road, and for the next 30 km, until I crossed the Woonski again, I would wind myself around its meanders on this surface.

Little traffic, views of the broad, slow curves of the river, which matched my pace, and threw the hustling cars into an obvious contrast.

Just slow down. Just wait. Just look.

Waterbury was full of construction and impatience - rather sad for such a small, and potentially lively town. Flag men held rows of cars in line, and were non-plussed when a slow cyclist came, stopped, went, returned, went the other way, returned.

I was looking for somewhere to eat, and eventually found it - the Prohibition Pig. I had decided to feed well now, so I didn’t need to cook dinner at camp. A brown ale, a starter, and main course and I got out just in time before the number of tattoos outnumbered th people in the place.

I should say, that masks were being worn, social distancing was in effect, and I was impressed by everyone’s efforts.

Belly full, I now felt ready to take on the construction followed by the 5 km uphill climb to the camp site.

Spinning slowly uphill, I felt that this had been a good day of reflection on the process of motion and meaning of travel.

If all our journeys become dominated by their haste and speed, is it any wonder we don’t appreciate substance and quality, and what it takes to make something with care and that is _right_.

Is it any wonder that this takes over our lives, so that all aspects are dominated by faster, less expensive, and more?