The rain pelted the ballistic nylon outer shell on my 2 year old Victory Platinum jacket as I eased off the throttle of the Harley-Davidson Electra Glide loaner bike and swiveled my head backwards so my eyes could confirm what I thought I’d just seen. There, in a field surrounded by sugar maples, elm and beech trees was a real live camel! Yup! There’s the hump, so mark that one down, I’ve seen a live camel, and in Vermont, no less!
Fifteen minutes into a four day adventure with three other moto-journalists and two representatives from Best Western and Harley-Davidson and I’d seen my first exotic animal!
They’re not going to believe this back on the farm! I thought as I settled back
into the seat of the loaner bike and re-focused my attention to the unfamiliar wet asphalt ribbon stretching out before me. I was on my way to the original Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury VT and eventually to an overnight stop in Ludlow Vermont.
As tempting as it was to turn around and snag a photo, I hadn’t paid close attention during the pre-ride briefing, and was unsure of the ground rules for this press junket. Note to self, Pay closer attention when the important people are talking.
The rain had all but quit as we pulled into the parking lot of Ben and Jerry’s, a virtual Mecca for ice cream aficionados. Even in late September, with the frost on the pumpkin and leaves changing colors, ice cream in Vermont continues to be a big draw.
I should back up a bit and relate how I came to be motorcycling around the northeast a few days before the peak of the fall color season. It began with an invitation from Meghan Lee, on behalf of Best Western International, to participate in their bi-annual FAM ride. FAM is their acronym for “familiarity” and the purpose of this ride is to expose Moto-journalists to great riding roads in the USA, and the Best Western properties that are found nearby.
Since the corporate marketing partnership between Best Western and Harley-Davidson has been wildly beneficial for both, I wasn’t surprised that the trip would be made on Harley-Davidson rentals.
After the flight in, I checked into the Windjammer Inn and Conference Center, to rest before dinner. This is the Best Western in South Burlington Vermont and upon entering my room I found a large basket full of free swag with my name on it! I love my job! Since I knew we’d be consuming more calories than my current diet allowed over the next few days, I passed up the indoor heated pool, and hot tub and changed into my exercise gear
and headed out to see the downtown area on foot.
Supper the first night was in the historic Ice House Restaurant and Bar, and speaking of bar, this set the bar pretty high for the rest of the trip. But, no worries as Ron Pohl, Vice President of Brand Management and Member Services for Best Western, made sure the lunch stops were adequate and dinners were unforgettable and Mike Morgan, Communications Coordinator for Harley-Davidson provided the bikes and free stuff from the Motor Company. Meghan and Heather took care of all the details on the accommodations, drove the support vehicle, and got us to and from the airport. Heather even got in her first motorcycle ride, (and in the rain!) and was behind the camera on some of these pictures.
Before my encounter with the camel, we picked up our rentals from Green Mountain Harley-Davidson in Essex Junction Vermont; two Electra Glides, one Road King, one Heritage, one Sportster and one Crossbones. Over the course of the next 3 days’ riding, each of us rotated bikes for couple hours, or a half day. The least popular choice was the Sportster, as it had no windshield and we played tag ball with rain showers each day. Thankfully, Ron and Mike, both good corporate hosts, spent the majority of time on that bike, freeing us up to ride in luxury on those most suitable for touring.
The next least favorite ride for me was the Crossbones. I just didn’t fit its
frame and was uncomfortable during my 6 hours on that bike. My favorite overall turned out to be the Road King.
Comfort levels notwithstanding, it was hard to find anything of merit to complain about during this trip.
After the tour of Ben and Jerry’s it was time to saddle back up and meander towards our eventual ending town of Ludlow. I’d done a little research and discovered that Ludlow was a few miles from the historic town of Plymouth Notch, the birthplace and boyhood home of our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge.
When we arrived at the picturesque Colonial Motel in Ludlow, our schedule allowed us some free time before supper. After being in the saddle all day, I was tempted to skip the ride and stay in Ludlow soaking up its Currier and Ives/ Bob Newhart small town charm, but history beckoned, so I suited up and headed north.
Plymouth Notch is a tiny Vermont village that’s just off the main highway. Frozen in time, the houses and businesses have changed little since the turn of the century. Admittedly Coolidge isn’t one of our more revered, or well remembered, leaders, and wasn’t very popular in the south. During his re-election, he did not carry any of the 11 Dixie States.
Interestingly enough he has been our only President born on the 4th of July and the only President to have been administered the oath of the office by his father, a notary public.
I have no doubt that during February, Ludlow is hopping with winter tourists who flock to the nearby Okemo mountain ski area, but the night life on a Tuesday night in September was sparse. But after a few cocktails at dinner (we left the bikes at the room and rode in the chase vehicle) the suggestion was made we find a party so we set out to find the best local watering hole. We discovered Christophers, the
only bar open and we “blew it up” playing antique video arcade games and checking out the authentic stripper pole on the dance floor!
Did I mention I love these press junkets? I swear if the only party in town was the Methodist ladies quilting bee, moto journalists would find a way to convince those gals to put down their pins and thimbles and break out the karaoke machine and sacramental wine!
Leaving Ludlow behind on Wednesday, we headed into the Adirondack Mountains to our eventual destination of Lake Placid New York by way of a lunch stop in lake George.
It was during lunch where the short marketing pitch was presented by Ron Pohl. Ron explained that Best Western is the largest hotel company under a single brand with over 4000 properties! Each property is independently owned and operated. Each hotel owner pays dues to belong to the association. To protect the integrity of the name and to ensure standards are maintained across the board, each hotel is inspected every year! Ron said in the last two years, Best Western has pulled its name from over 500 hotels because they didn’t meet their tough standards. Wi-Fi is complimentary in every hotel as is continental breakfast.
For motorcyclists, it’s important to mention that Best Western hotel owners understand our unique wants and needs, because they receive special training and information from the corporate office. Best Western also uses press junkets such as this one to gather input from riders who spend a lot of time in the saddle. What that means for you, as motorcycle tourists is that when you ask for extra towels to clean your bike, or ask if you can park overnight under the overhang near the front door, the clerks understand your concerns and try to accommodate you.
Marketing pitch and brand history lesson over, we headed out to Lake George for a quick stop and photo opportunity. The schedule called for a tour of the lake, but we were running a little behind and with the threat of significant rain between us and Lake Placid, the group consensus was to hit the highway and reach our destination before dark.
Up to this point the leaf colors were soft and muted. Reaching the interior of the Adirondack Mountains, the colors began to “pop” with vivid hues of
orange, yellow and reds, with just enough green for contrast. Once, as the sun broke through the rain clouds, I couldn’t help but think that this must be what motorcycle heaven is; a cool but sunny ride through a landscape colored by the crayons of God.
Hours later, but far too soon for most of us, we pulled into the historic village of Lake Placid. Oddly enough, the closest body of water to the village is actually Mirror Lake. A little bit of useless trivia just in case that question ever comes up during a game show you’re on.
Our overnight accommodations were provided by Best Western Adirondack Inn, located in the heart of downtown, directly across from the Olympic Center. Here’s a little more trivia. Lake Placid hosted the 1932 and 1980 winter Olympics. That might not mean much to some of you, but hockey fans will no doubt remember the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” when a group of American college kids, in the most memorable David and Goliath fashion in Olympic history, beat a group of Soviet Union professional hockey players to advance to the finals and ultimately win the Gold medal.
Overhearing a few of us talk about that game, Olga, the manager of the Adirondack Inn, offered us a tour of the facility. Four of us took her up on it, and she took us across the street and down to the rink, where we stood on the ice, just like kids on a Disney land tour, taking cell phone pictures and acting quite goofy.
Even though I knew next to nothing about ice hockey in 1980, I can remember that game because it was such a big deal to the entire nation.
Because of the Cold War, this was more than just a game; it was a contest between Capitalism and Communism. We were the underdogs, but we firmly believed our society, our freedoms and our liberties gave us an advantage and made us better competitors and better people.
Our farewell supper at Nicola’s/ Grill 211 was the crème de la crème of the trip. This is a “must visit” restaurant in the Adirondacks, and be sure to sample the lamb chops. Did I mention I love my job? As we ate, the cold front we’d been outrunning most of the day, finally pushed through, dumping buckets of rain and ushering in temperatures in the low 40’s for our morning ride back to Green Mtn HD.
After a hot complimentary breakfast with eggs and bacon, we headed out on the final leg of the trip. The highlight of which was a ferry ride across Lake Champlain. Using my camera’s zoom lens during the short 20 minute ride, I intently scanned the water for the lake monster the locals call “Champ” but he wasn’t showing off for the tourists. My dreams of being on CNN as the person with photographic proof of a prehistoric creature in the lake went sadly unfulfilled.
Late that night after three connecting flights, I arrived in Savannah, tired but mentally refreshed from having spent a wonderful three days riding in New England witnessing the beauty and grandeur of some of the best riding thiscountry has to offer. But, it was back to reality and the daily grind of a low brow moto-journalist. The next day I was scheduled to head to Panama City Beach for a weekend in the sun and sand at the Thunder Beach motorcycle Rally. Did I mention I love my job?