R
North America


Yankee Pedaling

Some of the world's best cycling is right here at your front door, America.

by Rod Lopez-Fabrega & Mary Ashcraft
The old expression, "Yankee Peddler" takes on a new meaning and a new spelling when one considers that the best organized and most extensive bicycling network in North America exists in New England around Lake Champlain in Vermont, New York and into Canada. It includes a fully developed bicycling infrastructure, spectacular scenery, fine accommodations, history, history, history, and a fascinating, friendly and much underrated foreign country where almost everyone speaks English. On September 28, 1999, an unbroken cycling link was inaugurated between Lake Champlain Bikeways and La Route Verte, officially connecting superlative cycling pathways in Vermont, New York and Quebec province of Canada. Avid cyclists know all about the well organized bicycling opportunities that exist in Western Europe, but those are an ocean away.
"The old expression,
'Yankee Peddler'
takes on a new
meaning and a
new spelling..."
Lake Champlain Bikeways, the American portion of this extensive network of cycling pathways, is around Lake Champlain and is centered in the splendid lakeside city of Burlington in Vermont. This is a city so committed to pedal power as an ecologically sound alternative to the gasoline engine that Mayor Peter Clavelle has been known to bicycle to work; and most of the young people responsible for organizing the Lake Champlain Bikeways Clearinghouse are volunteers. This group of committed young people is responsible, in large part, for the enormous task of creating and organizing hundreds of miles of bikeways.

Lake Champlain itself is 120 miles long, 12 miles wide, has a 580-mile-long shoreline and is breathtakingly framed east to west by the Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains and north to south by the Richelieu River and the Taconic Mountains. This lake has been described as the most historic body of fresh water in North America. Once home of the Mohawk and the Abenaki Native Americans, its strategic importance as a transport waterway led to a struggle (a.k.a. the French and Indian War) for control by colonial European powers and their Indian allies. The area also figured prominently in the American Revolutionary War, and historic sites, museums, reconstructions, and still-lived-in homes and bed & breakfasts of those early periods are everywhere.

La Route Verte, the Canadian portion of the network, is in Quebec Province and is centered in the lovely city of Montreal, the cycling capital of Canada. Linked to the U.S. by a newly inaugurated pathway from Plattsburgh, NY to Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Chambly, and on to Montreal itself, La Route Verte eventually will provide cyclists access to 2,500 miles of linked bikeways extending all the way along the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the end of the Gaspé peninsula.
"...the American
portion of this
extensive network
of cycling pathways,
is around Lake
Champlain and
is centered in the
splendid lakeside
city of Burlington
in Vermont."
"La Route Verte,
the Canadian
portion of the
network, is in
Quebec Province
and is centered
in the lovely city
of Montreal..."
The pathways

Cycling pathways have been planned to take full advantage of the scenic attractions, following lake shores, along rivers, green belts and historic towns. Most pathways are on level ground, and the few gently rolling hills that are inevitable are quite manageable. Some pathways are dedicated lanes on the shoulders of low-density highways. Others are paved, totally dedicated cycling pathways. Many pathways are specially paved in Wolllastinite, a surfacing material that provides excellent drainage and a good cycling surface.

Lake Champlain Bikeway Circuits

In addition to the 350-mile Champlain Bikeway around the entire lake , there are 24 shorter connecting theme loops ranging from five to 60 miles in length, with others under development. To name just a few: "Cycle the City" of Burlington, 10.5 miles; "Stone Castles," 13.4 miles; "Woman Suffrage Way," 30.8 miles; "Joe's Random Scoot," 38.1 miles; and so many more.

"In addition to the
350-mile Champlain
Bikeway around the
entire lake , there
are 24 shorter
connecting theme
loops ranging from
five to 60 miles
in length..."
Circuit for a long weekend

Beginning in Burlington, Vermont, a sampling of the entire network is possible during a long weekend. "Cycle the City" of Burlington is 10.5 level miles in length. Accommodations in Burlington are plentiful, and they include a choice of hotels and B&Bs at all price ranges. The best positioned is the Radisson Hotel Burlington, located lakefront in the center of town. It offers spectacular views of Lake Champlain and all the amenities of a major four-star hotel chain. Splurge and go for the corner rooms. The two out-facing corner walls of each of these rooms are huge glass windows, providing what very well may be the best views anywhere of the lake.
"The SkiRack's
co-owner
J. Zandy Wheeler
will match cycling
skill and head size
to the proper cycle
and helmet for
each cyclist."
Begin the cycling adventure with breakfast at Leunig's, a very European pub/coffee house and gathering place located in Burlington's charming pedestrian mall of boutiques and eateries. Then, walk to the nearby "SKIRACK" to be fitted for your bicycle. Co-owner J. Zandy Wheeler will match cycling skill and head size to the proper cycle and helmet for each cyclist. This shop also outfits for all sorts of outdoor adventures for all seasons.
"The
"Cycle the City" loop
itself is a short ride
along the lake,
passing six parks,
three colleges and
countless historic
and cultural sites..."
The "Cycle the City" loop itself is a short ride along the lake, passing six parks, three colleges and countless historic and cultural sites, including the interesting Ethan Allen homestead and museum.
Ethan Allen was a soldier and frontiersman and leader of the Green Mountain Boys, famed for capturing British Fort Ticonderoga during the U.S. War of Independence. It is unlikely that Mr. Allen could have foreseen that his homestead--a typical gentleman's farm of the period--would one day be invaded by bicyclists.

Essex, New York

From Burlington, it's a pleasant ferry ride across the lake to the port village of Essex in New York state. Cyclists too often bypass this picturesque colonial town on the way to Lake Placid. Essex has the distinction of being New York's most historic hamlet, with the largest intact collection of pre-Civil War architecture in America. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is well worth exploring. A few steps away from the ferry landing in Essex is outdoor adventure planner, Brian Delaney's High Peaks Cyclery. After being outfitted for a bicycle and helmet, the ride continues from Essex and is an 18.5-mile loop called the "Coon Mountain Circuit." There are just enough gently rolling hills to make this trek a challenge. Half-way is a parking area (where it's safe to leave your bicycle) and a hiking trailhead that leads to a lookout on Coon Mountain, with a splendid view of Lake Champlain.
"Accommodations
are in B&Bs, and
one that can
be highly
recommended is
"Champlain Vistas." This handsome
house sits on the Old
Owens Farm, dating
back to 1784."
Accommodations are in B&Bs, and one that can be highly recommended is "Champlain Vistas." This handsome house sits on the Old Owens Farm, dating back to 1784. Current owners, Barbara and Bob Hatch have converted their 12-room farmhouse, rebuilt during the Victorian era, into a comfortable and imaginatively furnished bed and breakfast that can accommodate as many as ten guests. Bob takes special pride in his mini-golf course and in his pocket-sized workout room installed in a shed next to the grape arbor. Barbara's creative touches are everywhere. Guests will appreciate preparing for a strenuous day of cycling or shopping fortified by Barbara's homemade jams and jellies, freshly baked breads and all the fixings of a hearty New England breakfast. Tired cyclists in need of a little country pampering are especially welcome.

Plattsburgh, New York

Moving on from Essex to Plattsburgh, cyclists will find gently undulating roadways and cycle-friendly motorists. The 20th Century seems to have by-passed this historic area with its apple orchards and rolling farm land, though it figured prominently in American history. The battle of Plattsburgh in 1814 may have been the final blow to England in the loss of its American colonies. The city is the site of a former military base, now being partially converted into exclusive condos, though it still serves as a key station in the Early Warning radar system. For touring cyclists, "Monuments, Mills and Music" is the most scenic loop in this area and is 48 miles in length, though shorter sections may be cycled easily. It departs from the Cumberland Head ferry dock in Plattsburgh and follows the lake and is recommended for intermediate cyclists.
"Bicycles may be
rented from Edison
and Maureen Gardner's
"Wooden Ski &
Wheel."
This excellently
well equipped sport
shop has everything
for your cycling
needs as well as
for cross
country skiing..."
Bicycles may be rented from Edison and Maureen Gardner's "Wooden Ski & Wheel." This excellently well equipped sport shop has everything for your cycling needs as well as for cross country skiing, snow boarding, snowshoeing, kayaking and camping. While warming your hands in front of the shop's big, black, wood-burning stove, Ed may treat you to stories and history of the area.

There is a geological attraction in the Plattsburgh area that is worth a visit, and that is Ausable Chasm, a spectacular, 150-foot deep gorge hundreds of millions of years old. It contains a series of impressive cataracts that may be viewed from the roadway bridge that crosses the chasm or from lookouts all around the surrounding cliffs. Flume trips on 12-person inflateable river rafts are available in summer for cruising the Ausable River, and individual tubing also is a possibility for the adventurous.

" This area is
interesting for its
farms and vineyards,
the outdoor activities
it offers, and its
historic sites
including Fort
Chambly, once an
Indian trading post
for the fur trade."
La Route Verte

Just into Canada is the Richelieu River Valley and Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu. This area is interesting for its farms and vineyards, the outdoor activities it offers, and its historic sites including Fort Chambly, once an Indian trading post for the fur trade. When visiting the Fort, you must not miss time out for lunch at Fourquet Fourchette, a unique tavern constructed to recall a monastic brewery. It features period furniture, costumed waitresses, music and entertainment from a time when the first beers were brewed in New France, and very special cuisine that includes Native American dishes such as their delicious Iroquois corn soup and smoked game. Best of all, they specialize in a marvelous variety of French Canadian beers, among them Blanche de Chambly, Maudite, La Fin Du Monde, Trois Pistoles, and many others.
"Another interesting
activity is to visit the
wineries in the area."
Another interesting activity is to visit the wineries in the area. One of particular interest is the small, family-owned Vignoble Le Royer St. Pierre in St. Cyprien de Napierville. Vintner, Robert Le Royer and his family will regale you with all the information you can absorb about their excellent wines--along with a generous offering of blancs and rouges (with bread and cheese to neutralize your taste buds between wines.) Ask about the Le Zambortois red. It's dry but gentle without that rawness of some reds. A special event much appreciated locally is the Autumn harvest celebration when locals and visitors gather the crop and celebrate "big-time" à la Française.
" ...the bicycle path
is a narrow
causeway
actually in the river
and just wide enough
for a bicycle..."
Cycling loops in the Richelieu Valley are well developed, and one particularly fascinating and unique section along the Richelieu River is a narrow causeway actually in the river and just wide enough for a bicycle path that is exclusively reserved for cyclists (and an occasional jogger.) With easy access to this path, a riverfront inn that can be highly recommended is the Auberge Harris, with 48 rooms and 29 suites, Sauna, exercise room, billiard room, swimming pool, bicycle rentals in-house, and the attentive care of inn keeper, Madame Françoise Boucher-Boutin who likes to fuss over her guests and has an eye on every detail. Cyclists and families are very welcome here and are guaranteed Madame's warm and personal attention. In summer, Auberge Harris is the site of a great balloon festival when as many as 100 hot-air balloons take flight from the hotel's ample grounds.

Montreal

The handsome city of Montreal is, without question, eastern Canada's cycling center--so much so that architectural codes for new buildings require bicycle parking and bicycle racks. If you don't already know about cycling in Montreal, you will discover that it has gone BIKE CRAZY with cycle paths on an equal par with pedestrian and motor thoroughfares. The bike lanes are not just paved road shoulders, but many are dedicated paths protected by concrete barriers. The city has 174 miles of bike paths and lanes and 58 more are funded for construction. Montreal's commitment to cycling may have its base in the makeup of much of its population with roots in France, Italy and Belgium where cycling is considered a natural and convenient mode of transportation and recreation.
"The handsome
city of Montreal is,
without question,
eastern Canada's
cycling center--
so much so that
architectural codes
for new buildings
require bicycle
parking and
bicycle racks."
On the first of June, during Montreal's week-long Bike Fest, the city hosts Le Tour de L'Île, the largest organized bicycle ride in the world. Last year the Fest began with the Tour des Enfants (Children's Tour). Ten thousand youngsters between the ages of six and twelve years pedaled the 24-kilometer race, with encouraging parents at the finish line to gather them up for a giant barbecue. The amazing ending of the Fest was when more than 45,000 cyclists met for Le Tour de L'Île to take part in the 66 kilometer spin around the isle. With so many cyclists doing the 40-mile loop through city streets, automobile traffic shuts down and all of the city is invited to join in the fun. Decorations are put up in neighborhoods and on store fronts and houses so that everyone participates in a paint-the-town contest to cheer on the cyclists. Bicycling magazine has called Montreal the best place to cycle in North America.
Those looking for a more leisurely ride can connect to the Route Verte and its 1,800 miles of paths and lanes. The place to plan trips and negotiate packages is the multi-service Les Voyages du Tour de L'Île based in La Maison des Cyclistes, an agency, centrally located in Montreal, that rents cycles and plans cycling adventures in Canada and overseas.

Finally, all of you cycling enthusiasts out there, southerners, mid-westerners, westerners, and even "down-Easters," it's time to become a Yankee Pedaler and visit the best bicycling area in North America.
"Finally, all of you
cycling enthusiasts
out there,
southerners,
mid-westerners,
westerners,
and even
'down-Easters,'
it's time to become
a Yankee Pedaler
and visit the best
bicycling area in
North America."
Getting there

U.S. Airlines that fly into Burlington's international airport are: USAir, United, Continental Express and Delta Connection. U.S. connecting cities are: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Chicago.

Burlington also is served by Amtrak (Amtrak's Adirondack, Ethan
Allen & Vermonter offer specially fitted bicycle racks. For bicycle
service, reservations are required.)

Amtrak:
800-USA-RAIL;




PHOTO CREDITS: Rod Lopez-Fabrega, Mary Ashcraft, Gary Randorf, Alden Pellett, Carolyn Bates, VT Tourism

© 1999 ROMAR TRAVEL GUIDES