As with any trip, this one began in the days leading up to the actual departure. On Wednesday, we did most of our packing and final preparations. We wrapped up fairly leisurely on Thursday morning, moving food and drinks into the fridge in our trailer, packing clothes into its “dresser” compartment, and getting Loki and his gear loaded up. He didn't really help us out much with packing. We pulled out of the driveway around 9:30am. A rather late start for us. A nice break from the hustle. We navigated to our friend Brendan’s house in Ayer, MA, and arrived about 10:30 or so. He was just wrapping up some unexpected repairs including drilling out a hood lock and jump starting his Jeep. You know, a relaxing end to a 24-hour work shift. Loki ran around with Brendan’s pup Jackson for a little bit and we chatted with Brendan and his girlfriend Hannah before we all got back into our respective vehicles and rode out.
We were headed towards Reading, Vermont, but we opted to take the scenic route. We took a whole bunch of twisty, hilly minor highways. Honestly, I was just playing follow the leader, and not truly paying attention to the route. So I’m not sure how we got there, exactly. We stopped at Singletons in Proctorsville, VT, at Brendan’s recommendation. We had to pick up some local craft beers obviously, and a couple food items including a box of rice pilaf to go with dinner one night, as well as sandwiches for lunch, as it was about that time. I ordered on Mandy’s behalf, as she was outside entertaining Loki. I got her a #2, which contained buffalo chicken. Her go-to. I must admit that this was not my favorite sandwich. It had sour cream and salsa in with the buffalo chicken which was a little strange. I got myself a #14, which had turkey, bacon (NOT TURKEY BACON! EW), mustard, and cheese and was absolutely phenomenal. I very highly recommend this sandwich every time you’re in the area. Mandy stored the rice pilaf in the lower door pocket. This is a weird detail to point out, but it will become clear why later. *shrug*
With our bellies full and finally fully provisioned, we pushed on through the final leg to our destination for the day; Reading, VT. Specifically, Pete’s house. Pete hosted the annual Vermont Overland Rally this weekend. Actually, it’s the event formerly known as the Vermont Overland Rally. It is now called the Vermont Overland Birdwatching Safari. The premise is the same; 3 nights of camping at the event organizer's expansive, remote private property, and 3-4 days of exploring rural Vermont and off-roading through various trails in the area. We checked in at the garage and got our vehicle sticker. We followed Brendan and Hannah into the yard to locate a good spot to setup our trailers for the weekend. We went through the lower clearing in the yard, which was nearly full around the perimeter. We crossed a small bridge over the river and entered the woods. We passed a smaller clearing to our right, which was pretty full, and we went down a sharp drop, then back up a little ledge. Here, the woods became more tricky to navigate with a trailer, but we managed. We crept along slowly, and the trailer handled the rough terrain perfectly. Eventually, we had explored most of this area of the property, to find there were no good spots to setup. We headed back towards the river. After we went back down the ledge, we noticed a clearing we had completely missed before. It was totally vacant, except for one Jeep, but there was tons of room for us. We pulled in and began figuring out the best place to drop the trailers, while also leaving room for one more vehicle which was on the way. As we were setting up shop, the Jeep that was parked in this space left and the driver said he wasn’t returning to that space so we were free to take it. That was a game changer, so we reoriented the trailers and dropped them all the way in the back of the clearing.
Not five minutes after we got situated, Bob walked up. He’d just checked in with his family and was getting the lay of the land. We chatted for a few, then he left to fetch his vehicle and his wife, Jess, and two boys Claude and Ben. They set up next to us, forming a sort of horseshoe around the back of the clearing. Bob and Brendan had both been to this event in years past, but we were new. We cracked open a beer and setup chairs and the fire pit. After getting settled in and relaxing a little bit, just taking in the atmosphere and all the amazing vehicles around the place, we decided it would be a good idea to setup the awning because the weather report was calling for rain overnight. Though the weather was fair for the time being, it’s always easier to take care of these things ahead of time.
We went for a stroll around the property with Bob as our guide. We explored the opposite side of the road, territory we had not been yet, except when we were checking in at the house. Behind the house, the land slopes pretty steeply up. Lots more vehicles were setup atop this hill, however. So we did a big loop around, checking out all sorts of cool overlanding rigs. Bob pointed out all the people and trucks he knew, which was essentially all of them. It’s awesome to have a guide who is a core member of the event. We chatted with several people on our way back towards our campsite, and we met so many puppies. Loki had so many pals around!
When we got back from our walk, we decided we should make dinner. We pulled out the grill drawer and I set to work cooking bratwurst we got at Karl’s Sausage Kitchen in Peabody, MA. We toasted some buns for them, too. With or without another beer, these bratwurst are fantastic. We’ll definitely be getting more meats from Karl’s. As is tradition, the group coalesced around the fire for a round of drinks, jokes and stories as the daylight faded. Eventually, we flipped on the red night lights on the trailer, and called it a night. Sometime during the night, it began to rain as predicted. We’d had the foresight to move the awning over the trailer door, so we could stay dry while we were trying to get in and out of bed, which was great. I had to pee in the middle of the night, and the awning and night lights made it not suck at all.
Friday morning, we woke up, but Loki didn’t (yet). We slept much like babies do not. We let Loki continue to sleep, and relaxed to the patter of rain on the roof. Once he came back to life, we all got up to find we were the last to rouse for the day, around 8:30. That was weird! The rain had stopped, which was great. We got some coffee in us, and set to work heating up some breakfast sandwiches Mandy had made ahead of time. This made cleanup a breeze. We huddled as a group and pored over maps to determine a plan for the day. Eventually, we decided on some trails to hit which would take us to Woodstock Farmers’ Market for lunch. We would figure out the second half of the day after lunch.
We aired down the truck’s tires to make them a bit softer for off-road comfort and to give extra traction on boulders. We tuned our radios to a quiet channel so we could communicate across our three vehicles. We got the trail maps pulled up on the tablet so we could see where we were going, even though we’d be playing follow the leader again. We set out onto the road for just a short ride until we turned off into the woods. The trails were pretty mild, so the pace was decent. Not extremely slow, but by no means quick, either. Just enough rain had fallen to make a fun amount of mud without completely washing out everything. We were able to cruise along in 2WD high range for a while. Eventually, we shifted into low range for comfort as the terrain started to get a bit rougher. We caught up to a few other rigs on the trail just before we reached a trail junction. They continued on straight where we took a sharp left turn. It was basically a U-turn, and we had to make it a 3-point turn as the trail was so narrow. Shortly after the U-turn, Bob spotted a small waterfall off the trail, so we all hopped out to go check it out up close. Loki put on his cape (aka hi-vis vest), and he and Jackson ran around to blow off some steam.
After a short break here we continued on following where Bob led us. We knew we were headed straight for the legendary crack, though we really didn’t know what that meant. The road leading up to the so-called crack was filled with plenty of potholes and large rocks. It was getting progressively worse! The road was very bumpy and uneven and made the truck feel like it was going to tip over in a few spots. There came a point where I decided to get out and walk along the trail with Loki so we could avoid the bumpy ride. I also intended to take pictures of the truck while watching from the sidelines as Rob entered The Crack. There was a trail along the ridge of the big muddy ravine where we could watch safely from above. Unfortunately, Loki was so concerned with being more than 3 feet away from Rob and I was too consumed with making sure he didn’t pull me into The Crack that I was unable to get any photos. The Taco made it through the obstacles with only a little more mud than at the start. After we made sure that everyone made it through the big obstacle safely, the rest of the way into Woodstock was smooth sailing. We made good time into Woodstock for lunch.
We stopped at the Woodstock farmers market to grab some sandwiches for lunch. It was quite busy here. I ran in to pick up the necessary items including coffee and fresh veggies. I ordered Rob a Cuban sandwich and I got a sandwich with turkey, cheddar, apple slices, and honey mustard on grilled wheat bread. They were both delicious! During our lunch stop I went to grab my phone only to discover I had no idea where it was. I had used it at some point on our ride when we had service to send a message. But I hadn’t seen it since then. We mentioned this to the group before we got too far into planning the rest of the day’s travels. We weren’t demanding to return the way we came, but after we scoured the truck and came up empty, the group all agreed we should go back to where we got out at the waterfalls to have a look. We couldn’t drive back up The Crack because that would probably be impossible, but also because it’s a one-way trail. We found a different trail that runs approximately parallel, and cuts back in in a spot which would allow us to get to where we needed to be.
In his usual fashion, Bob left us in the literal dust on the trail. We crept along in familiar territory, noting that the trail seemed longer than it had just a few hours before. Eventually, we heard Bob come on the radio with both types of news. He’d found Mandy’s phone, face down in a puddle of mud and someone had probably driven over it as the case was cracked. We caught up to him to retrieve the phone, and Mandy threw it into the bag of rice pilaf that we had stashed in the door pocket, hopeful. We continued along the trail, this time diverting before we were forced into the one-way crack trail. We found our way to pavement and cruised back to Pete’s house to relax early and get dinner and drinks going. We got back to camp around 6ish.
Tonight, I made chicken thighs and broccoli for dinner. Loki got kibble. Again. It’s his favorite! We cracked open a drink each. Rob had picked me up Strawberry Fields from Stow Cider company. It was pretty tasty and refreshing although the strawberry flavor was quite light. Rob had some stupid beer that he can’t even remember the name of. Loki drank water and went to bed early. Right after dinner around 7pm. He curled up into a tiny fluffy ball of puppy and passed out. The rest of us enjoyed the rest of the night around the campfire making s’mores and chatting the chill away. Eventually, we all tapped out and left Bob to his own devices.
We woke up Saturday morning late again. We weren’t the last ones though. Bob was miraculously awake even though he’d been up until about 4am. Brendan and Hannah arose shortly after us. Everyone worked though their own breakfast routines. We had home fries, bacon and eggs and lots of coffee. We had another morning huddle to devise a plan for the day. After we cleaned up from breakfast, we added some air back into the tires because the day’s plan called for a fair bit of highway driving. Harder tires get better fuel economy, generally speaking.
So we cruised over to Silo Distillery in Windsor, VT. We chatted with the owner a little bit about their offerings, and she offered small samples of a bunch of liquors. We each loved the maple whiskey. Actually, everyone did. It’s really fantastic. I liked it and I don't even drink whiskey! I spotted a 4-pack of hard ciders in a small refrigerator wearing the Silo brand, so I asked what that was about. We learned that they only very recently began making hard ciders, and that 4-pack was the last of their second canning session. Obviously we bought it. Bob took two bottles of the maple whiskey.
We hopped back into our vehicles and pounded pavement for a while up to Danville, Vermont. Here, we got off the highway and looked for lunch. The first stop wasn’t actually the first stop. We pulled into a scenic overlook to take a couple pictures.
Then we continued to Marty’s 1st Stop at the Irving station. So the first stop was the second stop. There was a deli here so we fueled up and got sandwiches for lunch. I stayed outside to pump gas and keep Loki company. He got out to stretch his legs a bit and wander around the parking lot. Apparently the inside was kind of a disaster. Mandy can tell the story; she was there. The building was very crowded inside and I think we got there just in time. A school bus arrived just after we placed our order and things got chaotic. The staff seemed overwhelmed but we eventually got our order. We got two sandwiches, one with spicy cheese, jerk chicken, and raspberry jam. This one was really excellent. Sorry Brendan (he tried to order this as well but I got the last one). The other was a roast beef sub that was pretty good but a distant second to the spicy-sweet first one. As we ate, we made our way to Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro Bend. Here we tried one Earl and one Susan. Susan is an American IPA and Earl is a coffee oatmeal stout. We shared them, although the Susan was mostly mine; Mandy doesn't like IPAs. They were both quite good. After, Jess shared her Flora with us, which is a sour beer. This was probably our favorite of the three we tried. The woodwork inside the brewery is really awesome and the yard is full of dogs. The views are awesome, too! After Brendan stocked up on fresh beer to bring home, we set out.
From Hill Farmstead, we drove just a short ride down the road before turning into a narrow passage between two trees on the side of the road. It looked like we were headed straight into the woods! The trail was pretty straight, and fairly mild, except for a bumpy section in the middle, and it was only about a half mile long. We parked at the shore of Long Pond in a tiny cul de sac, if you could even call it that. We walked along the shore on some tiny trails and let the dogs splash around in the pond. Jackson is still learning how to swim, but he did really well. We did a poor job of birding on this “birdwatching safari”. We didn’t see any! After spending some time on the beach, we figured we should start heading back to camp. Once we got on the road, we made a snap decision to split up. Bob and Co. would take the highway back to get to camp fast. Brendan said he was going to try to catch trails most of the way back. We opted to follow Brendan.
It quickly became an adventure. We referred to our maps and got ourselves into navigation mode. We were in unfamiliar territory. The day before, I think all the trails were familiar at least to our lead vehicle. Today, we were on our own. We found the first trail with ease. But not long after we got on it, we reached a junction. We pondered the right action to take, and decided to take the road more travelled. That was a mistake, as it would turn out to be someone’s driveway. We turned around as soon as we realized our error, and got back on the right path. Once we drove a short distance, we were able to confirm with GPS that we were indeed on the right trail once again. We continued to a downed tree across the trail. Someone had cut it in half with a chainsaw and just left it there. We were able to pull one half of it enough that we could navigate over them with the vehicles, and continue on. The trail was pretty mild and lasted about 5-10 minutes. We then reached pavement again and we followed this to our next trail. This trail was mostly up hill and also fairly mild. We got to what seemed to be the end of the trail as we could see pavement but again there was a tree down in our path. This time it was too large to drive over. We opted to not move it from it’s spot and backed down the trail until we had enough space to turn around and leave the way we came. We decided at this point in time to hit the highway back towards our base camp. We weren’t sure how many more obstacles we would encounter and we were still about 2 hours from camp on paved roads. Once we got closer to Reading we decided to try out a few more trails. All of which were mild to moderate and obstacle free. It was quickly approaching late evening and we decided to get back to camp as Loki and I were getting quite hangry. We arrived back to camp at 803pm.
Rob cooked dinner tonight while I got Loki fed and settled into bed. We had steaks, green beans, and mushrooms tonight and it was so delicious. We shared some conversation and smores around the campfire after dinner again. After our fire died down, we decided to visit an adjacent campsite. The party site. We made sure Loki was comfy and went next door following Bob’s lead as he seemed to know everyone. Brendan jokingly called Bob the mayor of the Safari. I hung around until I finished my beer I had in progress and then decided to go back to camp to warm up and fall asleep.
I stuck around after Mandy went to sleep for an hour or so. I got to chat with the event organizer, Pete, for a little bit which was great. Bob introduced us, and I had the opportunity to thank him for putting the whole thing together and let him know we’d had a great time staying at his property. He said he was very glad to hear we’d enjoyed our first time at the event and he was super friendly. Shortly thereafter, a crowd began to form around the tallest guy in the site. A woman I’d just met, Amy, was talking rather loudly. After a moment, I realized she was the hype man, getting everyone ready to witness a spectacle. Amy hopped on someone else’s shoulders and held out an empty beer can over her head. The tall man, Vaughn (I’m not sure if that’s the right spelling) kicked the can out of her hand. It was impressive; everyone cheered. Then the crowd dispersed, as suddenly as it formed, and everyone resumed their conversations. Bob brought out one of the bottles of maple whiskey he’d got at Silo Distillery and passed it around. So, unfortunately, I lost track of a lot of the other names of people I’d talked to. But the common theme was that everyone was super friendly, welcoming, and just really stoked to be out there. Eventually, at some point, I don’t really know when exactly, I did the Irish goodbye. I had to crash for the night. It was late, that much I do know, and I was exhausted. I headed towards the red lights and found my way home. I made sure to make a bunch of noise to wake up Mandy (thanks…), then I passed out immediately.
I woke up Sunday against my will. I had to sit while Mandy did basically everything. It was a rough start, to be sure. Eventually, once I got some coffee, Tylenol and delicious home fries, bacon and eggs in me, I started to feel like a human again. At least I wasn’t alone; Bob and Brendan were struggling, too. After breakfast, we began packing up all our stuff. It seemed like everyone was leaving all at the same time; there was almost a line to get out of Pete’s yard. We weren’t in a hurry at all, but we skipped washing the dishes, and instead just filled the sink with all the dirty ones. We figured it’d just be easier to do them once we got home.
Bob, Jess, Ben, and Claude finished packing first, and they left as soon as they were ready. We said our goodbyes and wished them safe travels. We finished packing all our gear fairly quickly, and Brendan and Hannah finished up not long after us. We did a sweep of the whole clearing for any trash that might have been left behind, and tossed the trash bag on the tailgate to haul to the dumpster on our way out. The dumpster was completely full so we just found space in the truck bed for the trash bag and carried it home. We said goodbye to Brendan and Hannah and immediately took a wrong turn onto the road. Great start. We set our GPS to navigate us home, but then remembered that we wanted to return to Singletons for another #14 sandwich. As soon as we found a good spot to, we did a U-turn, and navigated back to the general store.
We arrived and parked along the edge of the parking lot with the trailer, trying to stay as far out of the way as possible. There was so much traffic in the parking lot, I ended up moving the truck and trailer further away from the commotion while Mandy went inside to order the sandwich for me. After I parked again, I noticed that it looked like some of the stuff in our kitchen had shifted and was pushing one of the doors open. I was approached by an older couple as I was setting the kitchen area back in order. They were very curious about the trailer, and they had numerous questions. They were stunned to find that we’d built it from scratch, and suddenly had even more questions. They were very enthusiastic, and it was a pleasure to chat with them about it. They were quite impressed. They suggested we build another one to sell. I had to tell them no, that we’re more interested in getting out and using it now that it’s done, rather than spending all our free time in the garage building another one. As fun as it was to create a tiny home from nothing, it is far more satisfying to finally use it.
Mandy returned with the sandwich and it was just as good as the one I’d had Thursday. Truthfully, I wasn’t even hungry, but it was so worth it. I ate it off the tailgate, and told her about the inquisitive couple, before we got back in the truck to head home. Just as we were getting situated in the truck, Loki barfed in the back. So we got out and cleaned that up and made sure he was okay. Then we got back in and finally set off. The ride home was pretty uneventful. We took a more direct route home than we’d taken on Thursday on our way to the event. We got back home around 2pm.
Forest Road 35, Vermont
We had a free weekend and decided to go camping in Vermont! We recruited our friends, Jenny and Shaun, and their three pups to join us. Since it was last minute we figured we wouldn't find many open sites at campgrounds. We prefer more isolated camping anyway. We investigated primitive camping in Vermont and stumbled upon a list of several forest roads that have "campsites" ...basically an open space with a fire pit. Perfect. We chose Forest Road 35 in Pittsfield, Vermont because it sounded secluded and was near a brook which would be great for the dogs. And us.
We set out early Saturday morning and met our friends at the rest stop in Salem. It was a fairly uneventful ride. We utilized CBs along the way to coordinate bathroom breaks and gas stops. We got into Pittsfield, VT shortly after noon and turned onto Lower Michigan Rd. It started out as a regular dirt road with a few houses here and there and then became narrower and more like a trail. A road less traveled, if you will. We took this to be a good indicator that there probably wouldn't be a lot of other people on the road. The trailer did great even with the muddy potholes and ruts in the road. We eventually came upon a bridge. Unfortunately, there was a gate blocking it. At this point we decided we might as well make lunch because it was after 1pm and we were all quite hungry. We pulled the grill out of the trailer and the few things we needed to grill up some cheddar brats. Meanwhile, the dogs roamed free, swimming in the brook and frolicking in the grass and mud.
After our tummies were satisfied, we decided to head back out towards town. Over lunch, we had reiewed the map and found our error; we wanted to be on Upper Michigan Road, not Lower. We took Crossover Rd. to cross the brook and reach Upper Michigan Road. We saw a sign that said Forest Road 35 that confirmed we were on the right path this time. It wasn't long until we saw Green Mountain National Forest signs and began to see campsites. We were really hoping to get a site right next to the brook. Unfortunately the one that we had read about was occupied. We kept driving to see what else was open. We did see another site next to the water but there was a lady squatting next the the firepit. Literally squatting. No vehicle or tent was there. Just the lady, squatting. Shaun asked her if she was camping on that site and she responded that she was. We found it to be somewhat strange. But we moved on. After a good stretch of driving we found another site right next the water with open spots on each side of the road. Rob and I parked the trailer at the site while Shaun and Jenny continued on to scope out other open spaces. They continued until we lost radio contact. When they came back they reiterated that this was the best of the open sites so we set up camp. Rather, Shaun and Jenny set up camp. Rob and I just had to stabilize the trailer. It was so nice to park and not have to build the tent or make the bed. Instead we cracked open a beer and played with the pups.
After we were all settled, the ladies cruised back down the road a short distance to get some firewood from a neighbor who was selling it from the end of their driveway. Shaun and I stayed with the pups and parked our butts in our chairs on opposite sides of the trail. We sipped our beers and threw a frisbee at each other. When we'd miss, which was frequent, one of the dogs would fetch the frisbee for us, which was super convenient. We hardly had to move at all!
Jenny and I drove back towards town and gathered two bundles of firewood. When we went by the campsite that the lady had been squatting at we noted that the site was empty. On the way back in to camp however, there was a Subaru at the site and the squatting lady was now squatting in a different spot behind her (presumed) car at an adjacent site. So strange.
We got back to camp and found the men sitting and chatting while all the dogs were just laying around. It seemed like everyone was in full relaxation mode. I soon got to working cooking chicken and steak for tacos while Jenny got all of the fixings ready. Our kitchen setup worked wonderfully. And the tacos were delicious!
After we washed dishes and put everything away, Shaun set to work building us a fire. It's kind of his thing. If you recall from our previous overlanding adventures with Shaun, he built a fire every night. We let him have at it, and we always appreciate his efforts. This evening's fire was especially tough to ignite because the wood was all somewhat damp. He powered through, and soon enough we had a small, crackling pit of flame.
It seemed like a really long dusk for some reason, but eventually it started to get dark outside. We flicked on the rock lights on our trailer to help provide some ambient lighting away from the fire and to help us see our way around the site. Jenny busted out the 'mallows and grahams and chocolate before we'd had a chance to digest our delicious tacos. None of us were hungry but we ate smores anyways. We shared our beers and hard ciders, and argued over the pronunciation of "gose".
It began to drizzle, so we migrated temporarily to the awning, to stay dry. The rain let up shortly thereafter, and we all moved back to the fire. When it happened again, it didn't give up so quickly. We got cozy under the awning. Eventually, we were all feeling the effects of a long day, and were looking forward to a good night's sleep. We ensured everything was tucked into a place to stay dry that needed to be. Then, we brushed our teeth and snuggled up with Loki.
In the morning, we woke up not a moment before we were absolutely ready to. We checked the battery meter, which said our battery still had about 12.5V. We considered that it was disconnected from the truck around 2pm, and didn't really receive any direct sunlight after that, but the fridge ran all night, and the lights were on for a few hours. We're pretty content with the system performance; there was still plenty of life left in the battery as the sun was coming up.
Jenny cooked us up some awesome breakfast sandwiches, and we all had a round of cold-brewed coffees. We cleaned up the kitchen in short order, and then we spent the rest of the morning mostly standing around feeling awkward because we didn't have much to pack. We heckled Shaun and Jenny while they were dismantling their tent. And we played with the dogs, obvously. It was wonderful and relaxing and we loved it, but couldn't help feeling a bit odd, as it was so different than the normal packing-after-camping-in-the-rain that we're used to.
Once we were all packed and hitched up, and all our trash collected, we made our way back into downtown Pittsfield. If you want to call it that. We checked out the general stores, and got some beers and ciders that sounded good. We tossed them into the fridge to try out after we got home. Then we headed back the way we came.
As we approached route 93 on 89 near Concord, NH, Jenny radioed that we should divert from the highway to avoid southbound Sunday traffic. Good call Jenny! We took the scenic route through Bedford and got back onto the highway in Manchester. We caught about a mile of traffic, before things started moving freely again, which was not bad at all. The rest of our ride home was uneventful. We arrived home midafternoon with an exhausted puppy. He could barely get his butt up the 3 steps into the house while we unpacked the truck and tucked the trailer into the garage.
This trip was a fantastic first for our trailer, and was exactly what we were looking for. We found some minor things to work on on our trailer, but overall we couldn't be happier with its turnout. We love it.
"It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to."
- Bilbo Baggins
We're just an adventure-loving couple with a puppy looking to share our stories with the world.