Killington, Vermont Shamrock Tour®

Text: John M. Flores • Photography: John M. Flores

"Long ago, the Great Bear wandered freely throughout the sky. His massive paws took him far across the unlimited ceiling of the world. He hunted and fished, finding food there in the many rivers of the sky. All throughout the first spring he did this, until his belly was full and happy." -Iroquois Legend of the Big Dipper

Wandering the roads, rolling mountains, and quaint villages of Vermont is a treat made extra special by the fireworks of fall foliage. But on this morning in early October it's not the 30-degree temperature that shocks as much as the lack of color - trees past their peak, naked branches reaching for the cold sky. Still, the ride must go on so its kickstands up and electrics on. The journey begins.

Day 1 - Journey's Start

"He did not know that three young braves had discovered him feeding that spring. They sought his pelt and meat to feed their families in the long winter that they knew was coming soon."
- Iroquois Legend of the Big Dipper

I ride south of Killington, following a stream alongside a slender lake, and rambling through the picture-perfect towns and villages of southern Vermont. There is a rumble and clatter in the sky above Ludlow, where a trestle of iron and steel carries the Green Mountain Railroad. Red CL306 is pulling a handful of vintage passenger cars. It looks like a great way to take in the scenery. Sure there is yellow and gold as well as the occasional red, but there's also a lot of brown and a surprising amount of green - evergreens, trees that have not begun to change color, and the grass that doesn'st know winter is on its way.

In Wilmington I join the Molly Stark Trail for a run east. It's a playful romp as the road is rarely straight, but slow-moving leaf peepers keep a lid on corner speed. A brigade of them falls from the mountains into the little town of Brattleboro, clogging the main arteries like my gutters back home. I grab a quick bite at Amy's Bakery Arts Cafe. Looking out the back window I can see across the Connecticut River to Wantastiquet Mountain. It's solid green, bar a handful of trees. Maybe I haven't missed the peak after all.

The afternoon is spent in the lands adjacent to the Connecticut River, including a dip into New Hampshire. The fading light of the afternoon sun brings some of fall's colors forward. There is a hill painted a patchwork of reds and yellows, and a small hardware store painted like the red of a nearby tree. The temperature is dropping as quickly as the sun, and the chill of night sneaks into the shadows and shade. It's time to snap some photos and then find dinner.

Day 2 - Northern Sojourn

"Without warning, the braves ran out after the bear, trying to catch and kill him. The Great Bear ran, trying to escape from the hunters. All through the long summer he ran, always trying to get away. The braves, however, were very cunning and strong. Eventually they caught up with him. In the first autumn, their arrows pierced the Great Bear and he died."
- Iroquois Legend of the Big Dipper

Motorcycle travel is invigorating because each day is different. Wake up, don your gear, head out the door, and escape the humdrum drone of the everyday, the ruts connecting home with work with the coffee maker.

The morning is a mellow ride in the farmland of central Vermont. The Green Mountains loom to my left, tempting and distracting. I'll get to them soon enough. Near the capital of Montpelier, I head to Burlington on Highway 2, which is relatively empty as it arcs and glides alongside farms and through small towns. In Waterbury there's a 768-pound pumpkin on someone's lawn, which is not a common site on the interstate.

Burlington is the largest city in the state but still less than 40,000 strong. The University of Vermont gives the city some cosmopolitan character. On the menu for lunch is Pho Hong, a Vietnamese restaurant just off campus. There's nothing like a bowl of warm Vietnamese pho soup on a cold day.

Once I'm south of Burlington the Green Mountains rise. I make a left and the pace and pulse quicken as the road tilts upward. It bears the scars of winters past - potholes, washboards and frost heaves - but the Kawasaki Versys is a great tool for the job at hand, providing a commanding seating position, decent suspension, and good torque. I'm not the only one enjoying the last remnants of fall, as other riders and cyclists make their way up and down the mountain. The view from the top is special. The Green Mountains, but for a splattering of tall conifers, aren't green this time of year. They're a carpet of gold and yellow.

On the other side of the mountains is picturesque Moss Glenn Falls, its water cascading in a series of drops. The falls feed a river that runs alongside the road for a spell. There's precious little light left and temperatures are dropping fast. It's time to find some dinner at the Original General Store in Pittsfield, where I do my best to eat a pizza pie all by myself before heading back to the Kokopelli Inn.

Day 3 - Hills and Valleys

"The blood of the bear spilled out of the sky and tinged all the leaves with red and orange. The trees then dropped all of their leaves in mourning for their friend, the Great Bear."
- Iroquois Legend of the Big Dipper

I head into the Green Mountains again, this time west toward Middlebury. The trees are on fire, yellows and oranges scorching the roadside and exciting the retinas. Civilization fades away with each bend until it's just me on a bike, the mountain, and a ribbon of asphalt.

The land flattens between the Green Mountains of Vermont and the Adirondacks of New York. But it's not entirely flat; it rolls like ocean waves carrying quiet roads and quiet farms. With each crest the sliver of water on the horizon - Lake Champlain - gets closer and closer. The colors brighten even more as I approach the lake. Maybe it's the lower altitude or something in the microclimate. Or maybe the hunters have slain the Great Bear.

There are just a handful of cars and myself on the Larrabees Point Ferry, and the trip across Lake Champlain is quick and relaxing. Soon I'm in New York and heading down to Lake George on Lakeshore Drive. The hills surrounding the lake are alive with color. There is more red and gold mixing with yellow and green than I saw in Vermont, and the way the hills rise from the water's edge is quite dramatic.

In Bolton Landing my tank empties before the bike's - time for lunch. The sun is strong and I join other optimists on the porch of the Son of a Sailor Restaurant, eating outside for what may be the last time this year.

A little farther south Lake George feels like a ghost town. Canada Street is broad but completely devoid of the bikes that fill the road during Americade. A left leads out of town and back to Vermont. There's a little congestion near the state border, but the roads soon open up and I'm left to wander in contemplative solitude.

Day 4 - Peak to Peak

"The Great Bear was reborn the following spring, as is the way of bears, and the braves set out after him again. They do this each year. If you look into the sky and watch, you can see the braves trailing behind the Great Bear as he runs toward the horizon, only to do it again and again with the coming of each spring."
- Iroquois Legend of the Big Dipper

There's a good-size mountain behind the Kokopelli Inn. It has changed day after day, starting with a low simmer and working up to a full boil. Passers-by are stopping this morning for a look. The leaves are peaking, and I've got the best seat in the house.

The number of other bikers on the road this late in the season has been a pleasant surprise. Everyone is trying to get in one last ride before the season comes to a close, and we must put our toys away.

The roads to the southwest are calmer than those up north but not boring. Highway 100 runs along a majestic valley before 103W climbs over the Green Mountains. 140W is little more than a quiet backroad, trees crowding along the edge of the road, reaching up and over to block out the sun. This is autumn in Vermont, riding on a motorcycle, surrounded by color.

After the mountains of Vermont, NY22 is a mellow counterpoint, following a broad, flat valley. NY2 into Massachusetts, on the other hand, is a double espresso, a jolt of energy that climbs dramatically and drops with equal urgency. At certain points the trees clear, the road squeezes to the edge of the mountain, and you can spy the entire valley below. The Versys is in its element here, relishing every degree of lean angle and every twist of the go-fast handle.

All that's left now is a straight shot north back to Killington. Green Mountains, or should I say the Green, Yellow, Red and Gold Mountains, take me home.


That was Old Man Winter knocking on the door - he dumped 14 inches of the white stuff the following weekend. Time to hibernate and wait for the return of the Great Bear.


Killington, Vermont

Killington is a ski town through and through, with the second highest peak in the Green Mountain range. The town was known as Sherburne for nearly 200 years before changing its name to match the mountain in 1999. The population swells in the winter and ebbs in the other seasons. As such, there are plenty of hotels and restaurants to choose from for motorcyclists. Most of the services are on Killington Road, the main road to the ski mountain.

The town is working hard to become a four-season destination, with plenty of outdoor activities. For hikers, both the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail pass through. Mountain bikers can take a gondola to Killington Peak, take in the views of five states, then carve their way down. Golf, horseback riding and other activities are also available.

Killington provides a good base of operations for a Shamrock Tour® as all four corners of the state are within a day's roundtrip ride. For services, the town of Rutland is just a few miles west. In September, the town hosts the Killington Classic (, a motorcycle rally that features both guided and self-guided rides, as well as barbecues, vendor shows, and other events.


RoadFOOD: Pho Hong

The Pho Hong restaurant, near the UVM campus in Burlington, offers generous portions at starving college student prices. My pho soup was tasty, filling and warm, and was followed by a Vietnamese coffee - dripped at the table, into a cup with condensed milk - that kept me awake all afternoon. Highly recommended. Find it at 325 W Winooski Ave., Burlington, VT 05401, (802) 865-8031.


LODGING: Kokopelli Inn

When I arrived cold and hungry at the Kokopelli Inn I was greeted by a group of friendly locals sitting at the Rusty Cage Lounge. They immediately invited me to have a beer and share their hot dogs. I can't guarantee the same welcome, but that's indicative of the mood and spirit that inn owners Marty and Barbara foster here. Marty rides as well so he's tuned in to a rider's needs. A hot tub looks tempting after a day in the saddle. Rooms are simple and clean, and a Continental breakfast is part of the package. Find it at 4337 Route 4, Killington, VT 05751, (877) 422-9888,