Skiing to Troy

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been extending the cross-country skiing season by following Vermont’s Catamount Trail to the Canadian border.

(Lange) There’s something about cross-country skiing that excites your heroic imagination. When you’ve been lucky enough to “hit the wax,” you glide almost effortlessly over the snow, and can imagine all kinds of improbable things.

This is almost the first day of spring in northernmost Vermont, and a little fantasy had been helpful. The snowbanks were rotting in a wet south wind, and the rain was running down my specs and dripping off the end of my nose.

Several of us were skiing a piece of the Catamount Trail from the village of Jay to the Canadian border. The Catamount Trail runs the entire length of Vermont: 280 miles. Parts of it follow snowmobile routes; others have been brushed out and marked by volunteer work parties; and still others are only proposed. That day’s route was one of the latter.

Outsiders think of Vermont as a place of green valleys tucked between green hills, with Holstein cows grazing beside covered bridges. Mountains, of course — also Green — a spine of ancient metamorphic knobs. But mostly a manageable, well-tucked-in sort of place that fits easily on a funeral parlor calendar.

Most outsiders haven’t seen northern Vermont, where the forests open into rolling fields, incised streams, and glacial gravel banks more like Wisconsin than New England. The views here stretch many miles to distant granite monadnocks sticking up from the piedmont.

Our group of heroes and heroines strung out almost a mile across the cornfields. Far ahead of us through the drizzle we could see a wooded double mountain. “That’s Owl’s Head in Canada,” announced our leader. We’re headed to the left of it. The village of North Troy is in the Missisquoi Valley just about there.” He pointed through the mist with a ski pole.

Troy! Of course! There was the heroic image I’d been searching for! We were the Mycenaean host, led by Agamemnon, Achilles, and Odysseus, headed for the ringing plains of windy Troy to retrieve the face that had launched a thousand ships. Amazing what an active imagination can do with rainwater running down its back!

The plains of Troy were soggy and stubbly. We took off our skis in the parking lot of the Catholic church and hiked to the railroad tracks headed toward the border half a mile away. Then we skied along the tracks till we saw the maple leaf banner flapping above the trees to our left, and stamped at last up to the customs station, where we shook hands and slapped each other’s backs.

The Canadian customs folks were nervous. “You block the highway,” they said. “Please move your party to the parking lot.” Which we did; and a few minutes later to the local restaurant. Where we found Helen of Troy herself. Her face and figure wouldn’t launch many ships, but by God, she makes a mean cheeseburger!

This is Willem Lange up in North Troy, Vermont, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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