Bicycling the Islands

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(Host) This week we’re having a look at Lake Champlain. Commentator Jules Older looks at the lake from a bicycle seat.

(Older) The Lake Champlain’s islands are built for bicycling. Apple orchards red with ripening fruit, farm stands groaning with produce, herds of lazy Holsteins enjoying the summer sun.

And because distances are short and mountains non-existent, you can bike most of the islands in the course of a day.

But to enjoy the ride and to safely survive it avoid Routes 2 and 78. Route 2 skewers the Champlain Islands like a shish kebob; it’s a drag strip with narrow shoulders. Route 78 vibrates with 18-wheelers rumbling across Alburg on their way to New York.

With those two exceptions, island roads are a cyclist’s dream. They’re flat enough for comfort, just hilly enough to make you feel virtuous.
There’s little traffic, and many old-fashioned unpaved miles, just waiting for the crunch of your tires.

As you cruise along in high gear, you’re rarely far from a lake view with a mountain backdrop. To the east are Vermont’s Green Mountains; to the west, New York’s Adirondacks.

And on the inland side of the road, you’ll pass old homes built from local stone, tidy trailer parks, fields of tall corn, and the occasional inn.

The Champlain Islands have a caught-in-time feel. Residents still wave to cyclists. Volunteers still paint public buildings. People talk about the weather before getting’ down to business.

The islands also have a caught-in-time look. Those stone buildings date back to the early 1800s. Rows of tourist cabins are unchanged since the 1930s. And many of the inns and motels look right out of 1956. They’re plain, functional and very, very familiar. Coming upon them is a little like biting into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the first time in years.

You can also camp in one of the heavily wooded state parks. Both North Hero and Grand Isle State Parks have abundant tent sites and lean-tos. Knight Island has just a few sites and is accessible only by boat. And of course, since these are islands, you can swim. The best beaches are at Sandbar and Knight Point State Parks.

One last thing. In most of Vermont, you have to decide in advance if your journey requires a touring bike or a mountain bike. In the Champlain Islands, either will suffice – as will your old three-speed Schwinn that’s still sitting there in your mother’s attic, patiently awaiting your command.

This is Jules Older in Albany Vermont, the soul of the kingdom.

You can reach the Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce at (802) 372-5683 and

Jules Older is the author of more than 20 books for children and adults. His latest book for kids is “Ice Cream.”

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