New England Tour - Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire

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

From the weathered mountaintops of the Appalachians to the bountiful sea, stories of a native people and a young democracy are tucked away in the quiet villages, small towns and country roads of New England.

Day 1 - Shelburne Falls to
White River Junction

The start of this living history lesson is Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. After the retreat of the glaciers, the Deerfield River crashed dramatically over what was then called Salmon Falls. The Mohawks and Penobscots met here in the 1700s and agreed to share the land in a fishing treaty. The treaty applied to "the area within one day's journey," a distance that was much less then than it is now. Subsequent generations throttled the river with a hydroelectric dam, constricting its flow and revealing the effects of thousands of years of rushing, tumbling and falling water. Just below the dam, the rocks have been smoothed and carved by the patient, relentless river. In the heat of summer, locals and visitors alike seek relief in the "glacial potholes" filled with cool river water.

Northward, hemmed in by gentle hillsides, the asphalt winds like a lazy river through intimate valleys of thinly settled farmland. It's a peaceful morning and northern Massachusetts segues into southern Vermont with little fanfare.

The road runs through Whitingham, a hamlet that appears unremarkable except for the information disclosed on a small roadside plaque. Brigham Young, an early leader of the Latter Day Saints and the man who led them to the salt lakes of Utah was born here in 1801. Imagining the arc of his life, from his birth in this still quiet country village to leading the Mormon exodus by covered wagon to the Salt Lake Valley, makes motorcycle journeys like this feel quaint and trivial in comparison. But maybe that's part of why we do it, to be humbled and inspired by what we see.

The road descends into Bennington, which has a college-town-on-summer-vacation atmosphere. It's the third-largest town in the state, which is hard to believe until you discover that only Wyoming has fewer people than Vermont. The route heads north and the vista expands. The valleys broaden and the hills become mountains. The gray skies that menaced us earlier in the day have cleared, and large cumulus clouds punctuate an otherwise blue sky. A collection of outlet shops and latte joints marks the outskirts of Manchester, with luxury SUVs with out-of-state plates careening from one to the other. This crass commercialization in the middle of an otherwise tranquil day is a little unsettling, but you can't really blame a town for doing what it must to make its way in a post-industrial economy. Like other towns, Manchester will continue to evolve and change over time. Change, after all, is the only constant. And Manchester continues to maintain aspects of its small town charm, as seen in the old historic buildings clustered around the town's center.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2008 back issue.