The Failed Hunt for Bernie : Canoeing Grout Pond, Vermont

DSC_0901(State #21/50) My original intentions were to locate, convince and canoe around with Bernie Sanders. As Vermont is small in size and population, I tacked on another 45 minutes to my schedule to accomplish this goal. Yet, after an hour of passing through the rolling pastures, green mountains and village after village, with as many church steeples as people, I gave up my search — I would canoe Vermont alone.

DSC_0803Unlike the Northwoods of Maine, the Green Mountains of Vermont are pretty light on natural flat-water canoeing options. Most water I saw on satellite imagery was either a reservoir or a rocky, rapid-filled stream. Eventually, I narrowed in on a mountain lake, which looked natural. I confirmed with an outfitter and drove out of New Hampshire, headed towards Grout Pond.

Other than the unfortunate name (why not just call it Choad Pond?), Grout Pond was just what I had in mind; the lake sits atop a mountain at 2,100 feet, surrounded by low peaks and encased by a mix of evergreen/deciduous National Forest Land. A dozen free, first-come-first-serve campsites lay along Grout’s Eastern shoreline.

DSC_0835I arrived around six in the evening and was relieved to only see 2 cars in the parking lot. As I loaded my gear a few more cars pulled up with 4 kayaks. A few bearded men, looking like they had just crawled out of a coal mine, stepped out along with a teenage girl, which they had clearly kidnapped. I walked with them down to the water front and we made light chitchat, not acknowledging the reason we were all rushing — to be the first to the best available campsite.

Luckily, for all parties involved, we could see several good-looking open sites across the pond. The unspoken tension eased. “So, y’all come here a lot?” I asked, watching if the girl would tip me off that she was a hostage. “First time for us. My niece has to complete a wilderness survival test for her high school class.” Likely story. I thought. But, she grinned with excitement, so I believed them.DSC_0817

I wished them well and paddled across the pond. The sky was low with a mix of blue and passing gray clouds. Sprinkles fell here and there and then the sun would light the greenery across the pond. A lone osprey, it’s white belly giving it away from 300 yards, watched me canoe from the opposing bank. A high, flat topped mountain rose above the far end of the lake. Clouds parted and, for a minute, evening sunlight washed over its side, revealing clawed out sections of forest — ski runs.

Thumping pop music drowned out the breeze and the birds as I neared eastern shore. A party raged somewhere back in the forest at an unseen campsite. Loud drunk talk and gleeful yells and laughter from girls seeped out across the water. “Dammed kids,” I muttered as I fished through my pocket and around the handkerchief for an unwrapped Worthington butterscotch.DSC_0856

I continued around a point, now blocked from the music and floated past a man tending a fire and two dogs. “Where’s your boombox?” I asked, wondering if anyone still says ‘boombox’ any more. He laughed. “Yeah they’ve been at it since they arrived in a big U-Haul van.” We shared an unspoken agreement that we were doing the wilderness right. (No matter that only a few years back I sat sullen with a group of friends around a picnic table while a park ranger poured out our beers and scolded us for being noisy. But isn’t that the beauty of getting older — cursing the kids these days for doing pretty much the same thing you did in your youth, but having zero awareness of that fact?)

DSC_0831I landed at campsite 10, chucking my belongings onto a clear patch of grass while trying to keep Rider steady against the small boulder lined shore. Then it hit me; I had spent more brainpower rehearsing good conversation points to impress Senator Sanders than I did on packing and had left my dinner. All this crap I lugged out, half of it unneeded, and my tasty buffalo chicken sandwich was still in the blasted car. I had planned, however, for more canoeing anyways. I put up the tent on the wooden platform, filled it with junk to weigh it down and canoed the 3rd of a mile, against wind now, back to the parking lot.

DSC_0819Paddling back and feeling social, I opened a beer and hugged the coast. The high school girl was trying to use a fire drill to start a campfire. “Any luck?” I called out. “Not yet, but I’ve done it before!” she answered. The dogs barked as I canoed by the final occupied site. The guy told me to come over for a beer and I agreed because his fire was already ripe with coals, the pups looked affable and he didn’t look like an axe murderer. Being alone in solitude, miles from other humans, as I have been many nights on this trip is often pleasant, yet being alone amongst people, even strangers, is when you can feel the loneliest. The guy with the dogs must have felt the same.

Back at my campsite I scarfed down the leftover cold sandwich, packed a few beers, a flashlight, my camera and walked over. His name was Ben; he was from Vermont, but living in Massachusetts. His girlfriend was at a bridal thing in Denver and so he was left to his own devises for the weekend, so he decided to spend it in his home state.

DSC_0876Ben handed me a beer and we sat down by the fire and talked hiking, canoeing and camping. A beer later we talked politics. Then, cracking another beer, we got into real important matters like tornadoes, which led to an impassioned discussion of the critically heralded motion picture, Twister — when two guys are having beer around a campfire the conversation will always come back to Bill Paxton. Just like that F-5 at the end of the movie, there’s just no escaping it.

Ben had kept the pups in the tent because, as he explained, they kept trying to eat dirt. “They’re not used to the outdoors,” he explained. But, eventually the tent walls moved enough that he released them and I was glad to have the pup dogs out. Ruca (a name derived from a Sublime song) came up and leaned into my petting and I was happy to oblige. As eleven o’cock approached,  I took the soggy trail back to my campsite. Ben wished me well and I thanked him for the beer and fire.DSC_0897

Wind, honking geese and creaking trees awoke me in the morning. The air was much colder than the previous evening and the sun gave way to more low gray clouds, which combined to a form a ceiling of blah by noon. Dreading the short, but chilly canoe back I thought about pulling out my notebook and simply writing “Morning of June 3rd: Green Mountains, Vermont, Choad Pond, still not summer.”

I paddled to the far end of the lake and entered a calm inlet where a 60-foot long beaver dam spanned the back end, creating a natural infinity pool. Hugging the shoreline, I canoed back as bits of low clouds blew over between bits of sunshine. I stopped in a calm zone, behind a hemlock lined point and admired the mountaintops beyond my camp. With the front of my boat still vacant, I asked. “Say Bernie, what’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?” The breeze blew and the pines swayed. “Mine too! I love mint chocolate chip!”

Pond Stats and Fun Facts:

  • Grout Pond, Vermont
  • Miles Canoed: 3
  • Date Canoed: 6-2/3-2017
  • Weather: Ranging for partly cloudy and cool to mostly cloudy and chilly
  • Elevations: 2100 Feet.
  • Launch/takeout Point: gravel beach boat access (43.04689, -072.950721)
  • Campsite: Site #10 (43.045044, -072.942663)
  • Furtherest Point in Reached: beaver inlet (43.037799, -072.940625)
  • Songs Sung on Pond: 2020 by The Herd (Australian Hiphop)
  • Wildlife Spotted:
  • Birds: Canada Geese and osprey
  • Dominant Vegetation: Sugar Maple, Paper Birch, Yellow Birch, Beech
  • Ecoregion: Northern Highlands (58p) White Mountain/Blue Mountains
  • Current Threats: High level of mercury in fish tissue
  • Ecoregion: Northern Highlands, (58c) Green Mountains/Berkshire Highlands
  • Trash collected: bits for plastic around my campsite

Fundraiser for American Rivers: Currently at $2016 of my $5000 goal. Please go to my Crowdrise link to donate below. American Rivers is a 40+ year old NGO working to clean up rivers, remove antiquated dams, restore riparian ecosystems and preserve Wild and Scenic Rivers among much else. If you find my trip remotely inspiring, please consider donating! As always, thanks to all that have already given!

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