Photography and writing
by Christina Torres
A pared down life. It’s what I had hoped to achieve when I moved out of NYC to the Hudson Valley. Being surrounded by lakes, mountains, and trees, the quiet and simple life would be the escape I needed from the domestic demands of day to day life. I thought that what I had achieved by leaving the city would sooth my cravings for the open air but even that wasn’t enough. Even in the silence of the woods, I found myself constantly in between the ebb and flow of escapism and this time headed to Vermont.
For some time, I had dreamed of cycling through the Green Mountains for a lot of reasons: to see Vermont in the fall, to cycle the unpaved country roads, and to disconnect from it all. As I dreamt of fog rolling over mountains, the smell of firewood, and mud covered tires, I planned to leave it all behind, no phones, no computers, no work or domestic talk. I purchased trail maps, packed gear as lightly as possible, and resolved to eating dehydrated meals for three days. Leaving work and life behind, my partner and I packed up our car with gear and bikes and headed North.
The excitement of camping out in the backcountry loomed over us as we drove. With bright eyes, we imagined the worst scenarios of camping and laughed at all of our worries of unpreparedness, getting lost, and fear of bears. After hours of driving, we drove into our first stop, Jamaica, where we spent our first night in a tiny cabin tucked in the woods behind a junk yard to prepare our route for the next two nights. With maps sprawled on coffee tables we planned 90 miles of cycling and camping through Vermont backcountry trails.
The morning after, we headed out caffeinated, prepared, and excited. We resolved to leave our car parked in Jamaica State Park and pedaled off onto unpaved trails with our bikes and gear at a brisk pace, cracking jokes, (“doesn’t get any better than this”), while marveling how the bleak and drizzling rain made the hardwood forest seem mystical. By noon the sun made a small effort to shine so we paused to hike up the highest hill we could overlook to soak in the view of the valleys below. To the west we could see the Green Mountains, showing off their fall colors and grew excited about the trail that lay ahead.
We cycled 30 miles north the first day on the trail. Staring down roads, unpaved trails of gravel, dirt, rock, fallen branches and beds of leaves seemed never ending while carrying gear till the Sun started to come down. We had reached near Okemo State Forest to set up camp tucked in an open meadow with the woods behind us. As night fell, we gazed at the open sky, listened to the sound of nearby rivers, and revisited the days hardship and discomfort. To pass the time, we revisited old memories of camping as children and drifted off to an early sleep.
The second morning, we packed camp, layered our bodies in warm gear, sipped coffee while discussing the day's plan and hit the trail south towards Green Mountain National Forest. We were making an ambitious day of it, 45 miles of unknown roads and trails with sore bottoms and tired legs. Trailing along our southern route, we rode through quaint New England towns along rivers and rolling country roads where we stopped for rest and fueling of burgers and fries. Soon as we finished and hopped on our bikes, it started to rain. We were at a cross point on our journey at this moment, halfway to our destination. We had to make a decision about how we would handle the rain as it was not forecasting to end before sunset. With a whole lot of hesitation, we decided to head back to Jamaica State Park where our car was parked, two hours away from where we had stopped.
For most of the ride back, the rain was drizzling but as soon as temperatures dropped, that’s when the real suffering began. Cold, wet, sore, tired... I was at my tipping point. I couldn’t appreciate the beauty around me or share in the laughter of being caught in the rain. The quote “Doesn’t get any better than this…” certainly wasn’t funny anymore as we trailed back through muddied trails with wet socks. On top of the discomfort I was feeling, the choice to leave the trail ate away at me, I couldn’t accomplish what I had come out there for.
Once we had reached our car, my heart lightened, the frustration ceased and so did the rain. Luckily the park had one last unreserved open lean-in which we took with a view of the West River engulfed by mountains. I counted myself lucky by that point, at least we didn’t have to drive back home. As the sun started to set, we loaded firewood in the car and set up camp for our last night in Vermont. We wanted to finish what we came here for, even if it meant not being able to cycle to the Green Mountains.
Under the moon and stars, we stared into the campfire in silence. As I thought about the day a song by Neil Young came into mind, “Waging Heavy Peace” that I started to remember, “The moon means a lot to me, as does the forest. All things natural speak to me with a rhythm that I feel. There is no evil in the forest or moon. Or if there is, I don’t see it.” What I had come out to Vermont to do is to connect and escape in nature but what I acquainted myself with was the act of letting go.
I have a view that with every pedal up there is a fresh start at the top, a dedication to renew oneself, however, the longing for endless roads and trails also measures with how much you give to it. Many times on rides, I feel that I am searching for a balance between my expectations and the longing to lose myself. It’s a constant dialogue I have with the world and on the pavement where the road is the mirror which I reflect in. In these moments, I usually face my expectations and the reality I am in and tell myself to get up from the saddle and climb till I can’t go any further. Only this time, I couldn’t.
Staring into the fire, Vermont reminds me to let go of my expectations. Not just on the road but in life. As fire sparks escape, I imagine my expectations and limits drifting away with them and appreciate the moment. Although the tour was not rewarded with the view at the top of the Green Mountains that I had spent weeks dreaming about, I had felt tired and satisfied. Our little ride of 69 miles required little technical skills but heaps of patience and acceptance. Escaping was what I had come to do and although short lived, it was already full of the adventure I had come to see.