New England

Labor Day was approaching and as usual I was planning for what was to come. The planning was a bit different this time. For 28 years I would be planning for the first day of school. This time I was planning a road trip. Though it still feels like I’m just skipping school, I have retired as a school teacher.

I decided I would head north. Though it’s a lot closer than many of my other adventures, I haven’t ridden much in New England. I marked some spots on my maps, chose a couple campsite locations, and headed upstate.

I crossed the Hudson River on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge between Catskill and Hudson, NY.

I stopped at a local farm for some freshly picked apples and corn on the cob.

Then I was off to Taconic State Park for a couple nights of camping. I assume by this diner sign that Taconic is derivative of this other spelling.

The campsite was thick with tall pines.

I cooked the corn over the fire and spotted a millipede spiraling on the picnic table.

The next morning I was off to the Norman Rockwell Museum. The museum was across the state border in Massachusetts.

It was great to be out of the city. A nice twisty road ran along this river on the way to the museum.

Inside the museum was an amazing collection of Norman Rockwell’s work. Making it more awesome was that I got in for free with my teacher ID. Shhhh. I told them I was just skipping school that day.

Downstairs they have a large room with all the covers from the Saturday Evening Post on three walls to look at as a short documentary about Rockwell’s life plays on the fourth wall.

My previous understanding of Norman Rockwell was that he was an illustrator that worked in watercolors. How wrong I was. Here on the walls of the museum were these amazing textured oil paintings. Look at the detail and brush strokes in the original painting below as seen in the above cover.

His self portrait is incredible. Below is a cropping of the full painting. The Dürer, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Van Gogh self portraits are small yet detailed along with the 7 self portraits of himself. Look at his glass balancing on the tilted book with the level liquid. It’s great!

The museum curator approached as I was looking at Rockwell’s Family Tree. She said the boy on top representing young Norman was actually a local boy who modeled for many paintings. And that he wasn’t a red head at all. She also mentioned the the male model used in the painting was the same man representing most of the men in the painting. She pointed out the thick bridge in his nose. That same male model is even the woman next to Rockwell’s self portrait as a clergyman. She also said that Rockwell was given grief about his choice for his founding father. He was asked, “Why didn’t you make the founding father a pilgrim?” He replied, “I prefer pirates.”

The details and manner in which Norman Rockwell captured this period of time and local lifestyle is remarkable. And as masterful as he was at capturing the fine details of each setting with his brushstrokes, it is the interactions and everyday experiences between the people that command a viewer’s emotional reaction.

I found myself smiling uncontrollably as I went from room to room looking at these fantastic paintings.

It was a great collection by a fine artist. I really grew to appreciate Norman Rockwell much more than I expected. Also on the grounds of the museum is Norman Rockwell’s studio. Unfortunately, due to COVID the studio was closed to the public.

Norman had sons that were also artists. There are a few surreal sculptures by his son Peter on display around the museum.

I rode to the nearby town of Stockbridge where Norman Rockwell’s family lived.

The town was much as it was when Rockwell lived here. You can see the two buildings behind my motorcycle in the painting below.

Most if not all of the buildings from the painting are still there. The curator also told me that the house on the far right side of the painting was the Rockwell home although it was not located next to the large white Inn. It was further down the street.

Many of the houses in this area dated back to the 1700’s.

On the way back toward New York I passed the childhood home of W.E.B. Du Bois.

I took Route 23 toward Hudson. A crazy splash of color blasted by to my right. I flew right past it but turned around to investigate.

The aisles within were crammed with colorful clutter. The lady inside told me menswear was upstairs. I said, thanks but I gotta go!

This old abandoned grain mill was huge. Red Mills Flour, Feed & Grain. It must be cool inside.

Then I arrived in Hudson. I was hoping to check out some paintings by Charlotta Janssen. I really like her work. She did a great series of the Freedom Riders that are on display at the Hudson Milliner. The combination of collaged historic text and imagery intertwined with a painted palette representative of patinated metals of the past, highlight her strong stylized portraits of these heroic individuals. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed, but even peeking through the window was a pleasure.

I stopped by a very cool motorcycle/coffee shop called MOTO, also in Hudson. It’s a good garage for gear and grub.

The next day I rode through Massachusetts on my way to Vermont.

Imagine a time when the people revolted in peaceful protest against their government. They surrounded the courthouse in town. In response, the government ended up sending in Federal troops to quell the “riots”. No, I’m not talking about Portland, Oregon. I am talking about Shay’s Rebellion back in 1787. Back then things got ugly and this was the site of the last battle.

The whole thing occurred because Massachusetts was charging more taxes than the British had. What was the point of fighting the British in the Revolution if the colonists would end up paying more in taxes to their local governments? This debacle resulted in a rethinking about the rights and power of states and of a unified federal government, leading to the creation of the Constitution of the United States of America.

Right next to the monument was a parking spot on the Appalachian Trail. I hiked that trail for 4 days in New Jersey with no tent back in the 80’s. It rained like hell and I slept in an abandoned copper mine near the Delaware Water Gap. Fun. The trail runs from Georgia to Maine.

As Route 41 ended at Route 20, I saw a Shaker Village to my left. It wasn’t planned but this cool round building attracted me to pull in and have a look. The place turned out to be closed. A lady told me I could walk up to a rope fence to take a photo if I wanted. I did. Here it is. There were signs and instructions for tour busses in the parking lot so I guess this place fills up when it’s open.

I rode on up toward Vermont. I stopped one more time in Massachusetts to check my maps in front of this reconstructed 1753 house.

Now in Vermont there was a noticeable change in temperature, but a real nice ride up historic Route 7A.

Moose crossing can be something to be aware of when you get into Vermont. If you have ever seen a moose hop up on the road, it is quite a sight! I saw one in Idaho once and I pulled to the side of the road. Later, when I told a guy at a bar about my experience, he hollered, “You don’t pull over when you see a moose on the road, you just ride underneath ’em!”

Besides the chill in the air, another sign that Summer had come to an end was scattered about in front of a farm to my right. Pumpkins, gourds, and creepy looking scarecrows were all over the place.

Route 7A rolls through some old towns that date back centuries.

Manchester, VT would be the largest and nearest town to my campsite, where I would get food and supplies. It was a bit more crowded and touristy than the other towns I passed.

My campsite further to the north however was desolate. It was just me and a bunch of signs warning about the bears. Perfect!

The campsite itself was an individual plateau on the side of the mountain with ravines on either side. It would be very private, even if I weren’t the only person on this mountain.

There was plenty of wood from fallen trees all along the mountainside and with my saw and hatchet, I made good use of it. It was a cold night.

I really had hoped to go to Mount Washington in New Hampshire on this trip, but the cold nights here at Emerald Lake State Park had me rethinking things. My old sleeping bag may not cut it in these temperatures.

In the daytime the weather was perfect. I mapped a route to visit some covered bridges. I saw some of the bridges of Madison County once. I didn’t mean to. I was checking out John Wayne’s birthplace in Winterset, Iowa. Winterset happens to be in that Madison County from the book and movie.

Here in Vermont I was intentionally tracking down some of these old bridges of yesteryear.

This first one I went to is probably the hardest one to find. I had taken some screenshots of map locations so I could find my way even if I had no signal. Good thing, cause in these parts there were many times that my phone had no signal.

A sign on the front of this bridge reads: ONE DOLLAR FINE FOR DRIVING FASTER THAN A WALK ON THIS BRIDGE.

On my way toward the second bridge of the day, I made a fortuitous stop to look at my map screenshots. After pulling to the side of the road I noticed a sign, partially obscured by a large pine tree.

This was no ordinary pine tree. Besides being a a fine pine, hundreds of years old, this tree was the model for the Great Seal of Vermont. Over 200 years ago, this tree stood alone and was visible from the Arlington home of Thomas Chittenden, first Governor of Vermont. The tree inspired Ira Allen (brother of Ethan Allen) in designing the State Seal.

The next two bridges were just off highway 313 traversing the Batten Kill River.

This one had a rope swing next to it. I’ve been known to grab the rope in full riding gear, but not on this day.

This bridge below was especially nice with the lattice windows. Those criss cross windows are actually structural beams you can see from the interior.

The next bridge of the day turned out to be the most special of the day.

Now this bridge itself was not more spectacular than any other. It was what I saw when I mounted the bike that made it more spectacular. Something caught my eye. The road turned to dirt after crossing the bridge as you can see above. About 100 yards away the road came to a “T”. At the end of said road was an old white house with a strong oak tree in front. I went to have a closer look.

Unbelievable! This was Norman Rockwell’s house during the “war” years. He had moved up here after his time in Stockbridge Massachusetts. Some of his greatest work was done here! There was a plaque in front of the house, but it seemed like someone’s home. Then I noticed an art studio in back. Notice there is a ‘No Swimming’ sign on the smaller studio like the sign in the painting from the museum.

I couldn’t help myself. I rode down the driveway and peeked in the window.

A lady came out from a nearby house. BUSTED! She seemed a little put off by my presence at first, but it turned out she was very kind. She told me the place is an Inn now but she was too busy to help me. She was planning for some special guests that evening. Then she said, “Wait, let me call my husband”. Out of the main house comes Kevin. He couldn’t be nicer. Kevin took me into the studio and showed me around.

This was blowing my mind. Two days before I was disappointed that Rockwell’s studio in Massachusetts was closed, and now I had stumbled upon a private tour.

You can rent the room out above the studio. I think he said it’s $175 per night. Kevin said the studio was pretty beat up when they bought the place in November, but they fixed it up to its original look as best they could. He said Rockwell had a deer head there on the wall. They ended up being given another deer head from the same taxidermist that mounted Rockwell’s.

He also told me that the special booking his wife was working on was a visit from a woman who modeled for one of Rockwell’s wartime posters that I saw at the museum.

Rockwell built a studio for his children as well. (They became artists too). This little studio has also been converted into a small apartment that you can stay in.

Kevin also showed me the main house where the Rockwell family lived. He told stories about Norman Rockwell. He said Norman liked to booze it up when he first moved here to Arlington. He kept a stash of liquor in another studio he had down the road a bit. When his family found out about the secret stash they poured it all out in the Batten Kill River and Norman sobered up. Below is a framed photo of Norman Rockwell with one of his boys in the main house.

What an amazing coincidence to discover Norman Rockwell’s house here in Vermont. The Inn is now called Rockwell’s Retreat. I highly recommend a visit and I am sure staying here would be delightful. CLICK HERE to have a look.

The ride back to camp produced one more covered bridge and some other interesting scenery.

As the cold night approached I realized it would be crazy to ride north. I looked at the upcoming weather up there and it was predicted to be in the 30’s at night. I was having difficulty in the 40’s with the gear I have now. I was good as long as I kept the fire going, but it was rough in the middle of the night as I went to bed to the sounds of crying coyote.

In the morning this winged fella was having more difficulty warming up than I was.

Today I would enact my change of plans and head south to the Catskills.

I filled up for gas right next to the entrance for Stratton Skiing.

This night I would stay at a place called North/South Lake Campground near Kaaterskill Falls. I got a site on the edge of the lake with a decent amount of real estate.

They make you read about bear and COVID, then sign some papers before entering this place. So, as was the case each night, the food goes up in the tree.

This campsite is well kept. They even had a shower curtain divider between the sinks in the bathroom.

While looking for wood that night I came across a posse of slugs devouring a fallen mushroom.

In the morning a golf cart pulled up into my campsite as I was packing up. The sun was hitting the plastic windshield so I couldn’t see the driver. He pulled right up next to my firepit. Out climbed an old guy with with a lot of necklace looking things around his neck. But they weren’t clasped. They just hung there. I engaged old Jim in some conversation and in no time we were talking about UFO’s, Bigfoot and the local species of mushrooms, as one does. Jim then said, “I saw a fireball and I’ll tell anybody, cause I know I saw it!”. After a good talk Jim swept out the firepit and took my garbage bag for me. He told me he’s not supposed to, but he did.

Before the long trek home, I had a look at Kaaterskill Falls from a podium high above. I’d like to climb down to the bottom when I have more time.

When I got home, I ordered a new sleeping bag. Cold nights aren’t going to hold me back!

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