2019, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Killington, Vermont – March 21-25, 2019

I have been to Vermont many times. I have skied at Jay Peak something like six times. I have skied at Bolton Valley and Stowe and, once before this year, Killington. But I hadn’t been to Vermont since I was in University, so long ago now it makes me feel old. So it was nice to go back, even if the reason for going was a new one.

Thursday March 21, 2019

We left Toronto fairly early in the morning, because we had to drop off the dog. There was very little traffic, despite it being rush hour, in the city, but that changed when we got on the DVP, which was horrible. Fortunately, once we got on the 401, the traffic vanished (as you would expect, leaving the city in the morning) and we made great time, getting to the border crossing near Prescott in less than four hours.

The reason to cross at the Ogdensburg crossing is because nobody uses it. It’s directly connected to the 416 from Ottawa, but it basically goes nowhere, connected to no interstate in the US. (There is no interstate that goes directly where we were going, especially given the route we were taking.) Shockingly, we were basically the only car and were through the crossing in a minute or so.

We drove to Potsdam, a small town (with a large air force base, apparently) not far from Ogdensburg. There we went to a diner that Jenn found online. As we approached, I got a little worried, as at least one of the signs was missing a letter, and the place didn’t look like much. But there were cars, so we stopped.

It’s called Cheryl’s and the food was excellent American diner food. The kind of food for which Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives exists.

After Potsdam, we made the long, slow journey through the Adirondacks. As the terrain got more rolling, we saw more and more snow (though the temperature dropped only a bit). I was happy that it was just overcast and not snowing, as the roads got pretty windy at times. It’s a pretty drive but the views are fleeting and far between – often it’s just trees on hillsides.

We stopped in Saranac Lake for some snacks from a grocery store, as we were concerned that the prices would be higher in Lake Placid. I hadn’t been to Lake Place in over a decade but I was flooded with memories as we drove into town, from my very brief stay there to hike up Mount Algonquin one autumn. The town seemed to have become even more resorty but otherwise was as I remembered it.

We missed the turn off for our hotel (because we were busy looking around) but soon found our way back to a pretty new hotel with great views of the lake. Unfortunately, our room faced the other way, but we got a great deal – basically it’s the off-season now, so no complaints.

After checking in, we did a walk of the main drag, which is only five or six blocks (though there is more to the down, you just have to walk up or down some hills to get to it). We walked into a few stores and then found ourselves in the Saratoga Olive Oil Company, a store which has tens of different kinds of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and lets you taste any of them. And there’s a reason for that – because these are some tasty oils and vinegars and once you try one, you want to try many, and then you want to buy them. It’s expensive, but they’re really, really good. We bought three different ones.

Then we walked back through the town, trying to decide which of the three breweries to go to. (Turns out there are at least four but we couldn’t have walked to the fourth very easily.) We sided on Lake Placid because it was the oldest. It wasn’t the friendliest place I’ve ever been to but maybe the bartender was having a bad day. We had flights and both ended up liking their (regular) stout the most.

We went for dinner at a place called The Pickled Pig. Despite its name we thought it was just a bar and it turned out to be an excellent BBQ place. I had a “salad” which had so much meat in it that it was no longer a salad.

After dinner we got ice cream, despite the weather, because we went to a dessert place and the ice cream just overwhelmed me.

After dessert, we made use of the hot tub at the hotel, which had one crazy strong jet.

Through all of this I managed to watch a fair amount of the Madness. I knew that this trip would cause me to miss a lot of the first two rounds of the tournament this year but I managed a lot more than I would have guessed.

At night, we fell asleep really early – I was unable to stay up to watch the games. This would become a theme over the next few nights.

Friday March 22, 2019

The plan was to get up early and drive to Killington, so I could get 6 or so hours of skiing in. You know the saying “Man plans, God laughs”? Well, that’s what happened. There was an absolute ton of snow this morning, with some places in the mountains in New York and Vermont getting close to 2 feet. (2 feet!!!)

Riley brushing off snow in Lake Placid

There obviously wasn’t anywhere near that much when we set out, but there was enough that driving to Killington seemed like it might take a while. Fortunately, we had snow tires.

Other people didn’t seem to, however. The first car we got stuck behind was driving way, way below the speed limit, even on straight sections of the road. The visibility was only occasionally bad but this guy was driving as if he couldn’t see a thing. I worried we’d be getting there mid afternoon. Fortunately, one of us eventually turned the other way, and we we were able to drive at a more reasonable speed for most of the rest of the trip.

Though ostensibly raining in much of the state, we actually found that it was only raining at the very lowest point of the Champlain Valley, and pretty much everywhere else – in the Adirondacks, in the Green Mountains, in the hills around both of them – it was snowing. Some roads were closed, though none affecting us, but we took some silly back-roads (suggested by Google Maps!) that would have been bad had it been any colder. Fortunately the storm only added about an hour to the trip.

Still, it ended up being only a half day of skiing for me, by the time I got my lift “ticket” (an RFID card) and my rental equipment. That actually probably worked out okay, as I dislocated my knee in December, and this was the first serious exercise outside of physio and spinning that I’ve done since my accident.

I was worried it would be a pretty mediocre day, as the parking lots were all rammed. But Killington is so big as there were no lift lines and I actually only rode up with other people three times through the course of the afternoon.

The skiing was excellent: the snow was heavy but not that wet, as if I was skiing on a warm February day or something. I behaved myself and stuck (mostly) to intermediate trails, in the interest of not hurting myself my first time out, but it was hard, as Blue Squares are pretty boring.

It was warm and fortunately I didn’t have on too much clothing. But it was so warm the snow melted on you and, worse, on the lift. When I finished I was as soaked as I have ever been while skiing when it wasn’t raining. (I also had the world’s largest beard icicle, though there is no picture, unfortunately.)

I skipped lunch, because I’m a genius so, by the time we checked into our hotel, I was basically done from a few hours of driving in a winter storm followed by the first skiing I’ve done in over a year. We discovered there were no restaurants we could walk to – I really wanted a beer – but we found out that we could order pizza. It turned out to be pretty decent pizza for rural Vermont.

We basically just spent the night watching basketball and eating pizza, and drinking IPAs we bought from the liquor store across the highway. (When in New England…) Definitely not the worst way to spend the evening.

Saturday March 23, 2019

The reason we drove to Vermont was actually to attend the Vermont Brewers’ Association Festival at Killington, an outdoors beer festival featuring a bunch of different Vermont breweries, as well as a few from Canada, bot notably not featuring Vermont’s most famous, most isolated brewery (Hill Farmstead) or some others with great reputations. (Though the second and third most famous breweries were there.) I must note at this time that I am kind of tired of the snobbery in beer, where only certain breweries are worth our time. (Though I am very guilty of this myself when it comes to Ontario breweries.) Some people say “I won’t go to this festival because Brewery X isn’t going to be there.” I go to beer festivals to try new things and I was glad to attend a festival which featured 90+% breweries I had never tried beer from.

After having breakfast at our hotel, we had a lot of time to kill so we drove into Rutland, the nearest actual town. Though I had been to Killington over 20 years earlier, I had never been to Rutland. Like so many smaller American cities and Towns, Rutland has some stunning old buildings they’ve managed to preserved. Weirdly, it also has a mall two blocks from downtown, which is not something you normally see in communities of its size in my experience. Jenn shopped and we wandered but soon we had to head back up the mountain, as our start time was fixed.

There is one bus that runs from Rutland to Killington, once and our. The stops are mostly not marked and you need to get a schedule online to figure out where they are, or ask a local. (We did both.) We were told you have to wave at the bus otherwise it might not stop but it seemed like our driver was the kind of guy who stopped at all posted stops. The bus was pretty full when we got on, right before the access road. After a few stops, it was entirely full. We wondered what we would have done had we stayed closer to the mountain, as the bus was half full of beer festival goers and many of the people who couldn’t get on were clearly going to the festival. (The clue was the pants and boots/shoes – no ski/snowboard pants, you’re going to the festival.)

The festival was held in two of Killington’s parking lots, making the terrible parking situation at Killington that much worse (with cars lining the road seemingly for over a mile down the mountain).

There are basically two types of beer festivals now: one with a nominal (or sometimes quite expensive) fee and a few tokens, where you buy your tokens inside. (A more expensive entry fee doesn’t always mean cheaper beers inside, but it’s supposed to.) The new kind of festival is one where you pay a much greater entry fee for “all you can drink,” so the brewery staff don’t have to handle the tickets/tokens – lines are apparently much better but these entry fees can range into the triple digits. This festival was a hybrid: a relatively high entry fee but with so many tokens that it was hard to use them all up in the three hours we had to drink. Jenn told me they also capped you at an additional number of tickets, presumably to (attempt to) limit drunk driving. We had a punch card with holes, that came with the entry fee, and so basically never had to bother with buying tickets, which was nice. (Also, I really came close to not being able to use mine all up in the time allotted, though I should mention that my tolerance is not what it used to be.)

It was a good selection for those of us who were from out of state. Some people complained that too many beers were available in store – such is the state of most beer festivals in my experience – but, given that we don’t live there, it wasn’t a problem for us. Moreover, I was impressed with the quality. I had one bad beer and one or two super on-style beers (so, good beers) where the style was just not my favourite, otherwise everything I tried was good to excellent. That is the kind of experience I want from a beer festival.

We probably won’t go back, however, as my understanding is that there was some overlap from last year, and so there would be likely some next year, and the trip is long and expensive for us. I think I’d like to go to a similar festival in another state next time.

We attended the festival with a friend of mine from university and his girlfriend. The plan was then to do something them afterwards, such as having dinner. It turns out, Killington is not a good place to be when you can’t drive and the resort and its surrounding community seemed to be utterly unprepared to handled hundreds of people who had attended an alcohol-based festival. The message seemed to be: wait until you are sober or drive drunk, those are your choices. (To my annoyance and frustration with this, my dad later said “It’s the US, Riley.” It’s the rural US.)

So the plan turned into us going to their hotel to try some beers they had brought – different from those at the festival – and then go out for dinner or order food. There are no sidewalks on the highway. The bus runs once an hour each way. It stops after a certain point. We tried calling something like 6 taxi companies between us and couldn’t get a live person on the phone. We also tried “ride sharing” apps. (How old am I with those quotation marks?!) We ended up with a few choices:

  • Drive down (I was now sober enough post festival) and park the car at their hotel, and try to get the last bus back, or hope there would be more cabs available later at night.
  • Take the bus down and try to get the last bus back, or hope there would be more cabs later at night.
  • Stay at our hotel.

We decided the first two options were too risky, with the hours of service for the cabs being completely unknown (they don’t say on their sites or on their voicemails) and with a good chance of missing the last bus due to too much beer. This beer festival was planned for a year, you’d think that someone – the Brewers’ Association, the Resort, an enterprising cab driver – would have thought about a need for transportation options.

So basically, I couldn’t see my friend more because I’m too responsible. This is a reason to travel to places that are pedestrian friendly instead of somewhere like this. So we stayed home and watched basketball and ordered food from the other delivery place (adequate sushi).

Sunday March 24, 2019

We ate breakfast at the hotel, relatively early. We got up early every day simply because we fell asleep early every day, due to tiredness or, in the cast of Saturday, alcohol. But we didn’t have a good sleep. Our neighbours had their TV cranked. This didn’t bother me at first, as I was so tired, but I woke up at quarter to 2 and it was still cranked. When I say cranked, I mean we could hear everything, the dialogue, the incidental music, the sound design. So I walked outside and banged on the door intermittently for what felt like 10 minutes. Eventually I heard someone in their toilet and assumed they were coming to open the door. But they never opened the door, they just turned off the TV. I yelled a slightly sarcastic “Thank you.” I got what I wanted, but is it wrong that I’m annoyed that they didn’t even acknowledge us?

So anyway, they’re up at like 6:45. We probably would have not gone back to sleep, because we had been waking up that early every day – both at home with the dog, and so far on the trip – but we couldn’t because they were talking loud enough for us to hear them, despite having passed out drunk the night before. Then, the woman of the couple, or possibly a friend of theirs, tried to enter our room. If it was the woman, I suspect she had gone out for coffee in the lobby, but, anyway, I hadn’t quite shut the door properly. (It’s one of those doors you have to listen for the click in the latch to know it is locked.) Fortunately, Jenn had asked me to put the chain on the door when I came back in the room from banging on their door, which I thought was unnecessary at the time. But it turns out it was a good idea, as the woman tried three times to push the door in, and would have likely walked right in on us had the chain not been on. Needless to say, we were not super happy about our neighbours.

Anyway, after breakfast we headed to Rutland to get Jenn some coffee, and had our first and only Stewart’s experience – think of it as an upscale 711 with better prices.

After Rutland we headed back to New York State, deciding to take the “scenic route” rather than interstates on our journey in the direction of Rochester. This took us through the very pretty town of Lake George – where TheLast of the Mohicans is basically set – and then through the southern Adirondacks, which are mostly a little less pretty than further north. At one point, there was nearly an hour stretch where we didn’t see a town, which is rare for New York State’s 40 some million people.

Eventually we found our way to Utica, where we stopped to get a coffee/tea. Utica is in an interesting state of flux: beautiful old buildings, some of which are abandoned, some of which are in use, combined with the odd empty or abandoned lot, combined with hipster coffee shops, bakeries and ice restaurants, all depending upon which block you’re on. The downtown itself is really small for a city of its size, but if you pass by it’s worth driving into to walk around for a few minutes – you can walk across the downtown in mere minutes.

Then we joined the interstate and headed to Syracuse, a city I have seen only from said interstates and been shocked by its condition. However, much like with Hamilton when I was young, I was judging the city on one little corner of it. Like so many American cities of this area, it has many beautiful buildings and, like many cities in the Rust Belt, is in the process of re-gentrifying, with lots of new businesses in the downtown (which doesn’t look anywhere near as bad on the ground as it does from the highway). We tried to go to Dinosaur BBQ, a great BBQ place I’ve been to in Rochester, but the line was out the door. So instead we went to a savoury waffle place, Funk’n’Waffles. There was no parking anywhere for some reason, so we had to park 5 blocks away, which at least gave us an excuse to walk around.

After lunch, we drove through Syracuse to a suburb to go to the largest Wegman’s we’re aware of. If you don’t know Wegman’s, well… it’s a typically gigantic American grocery chain, with all sorts of stuff we can’t get in Canada. It’s a mandatory stop when we go to New York. (I need my pancake mix!)

After Wegman’s we found our way back to the Thruway and headed to our hotel in Farmington, a tiny hamlet near Victor, a small town outside of Rochester. We stayed there years ago when we went to the finger lakes and knew that it worked for us, there’s breakfast, a pool and hot tub and a sports bar across the street.

We settled in, had a drink watching basketball, and then went to the pool. After the pool, we walked to the sports bar we went to years ago. They had the Madness on, which was good, and they have decent enough (and cheap) food. The bartender had a crazy shirt on about fighting people who don’t like “My Flag” but, aside from that, it was a pleasant experience. After that, we went back to the hotel and watched more basketball, then fell asleep early, as per usual.

Monday March 25, 2019

We had a relatively lazy morning comparatively this day. Funnily enough, it was at the one hotel we shouldn’t have done it at, as this hotel is very much a place people stay on their way somewhere. (There’s nothing to do in the surrounding area, though there are more buildings than there used to be.) Breakfast was being put away when we came down to eat. (Fortunately, we were just early enough to still eat.)

So we headed back up the Thruway to head to Buffalo. Well, not exactly Buffalo, but on the border between Buffalo and Tonawanda. This is our usual trip to Premier Gourmet – a beer store posing as a BBQ and food store – and the mall down the street which contains a Trader Joe’s among other things. We somehow spent three hours here, between beer shopping and other shopping, but I hope the beer haul will yield some good stuff.

We decided we wanted to get over the border as quickly as possible and crossed at Rainbow. There were only about 30 or 40 cars in line, and the wait was only 10 minutes or so. (It’s good to travel on off days, shockingly.)

In Canada, we found an unofficial service centre and ate fast food. Then we made excellent time to Mississauga, only to get stuck in typical Toronto traffic (going into the city!), making the rest of the trip into Toronto a bit of a slog.

So that’s the trip. It was pretty damn expensive because of the exchange, but it was a nice break and a nice return to a place where I had not been in a long, long time.

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