The past Memorial Day weekend marked the opening of the Local Motion Bike Ferry, connecting Burlington and Colchester to South Hero, via the Island Line Trail, as well as my very first time being a bike ferry passenger. For folks who have never experienced the causeway, it's an incredible ride for all abilities with plenty of gorgeous vistas for photography. All these overlooks make the 10 mile adventure feel like a breeze, but many of these go unnoticed from people focused on time and speed. If you allot enough time and enjoy stopping to observe your surroundings, then this is for you.
What makes me come back? The beauty is the obvious answer, but the proximity at which you are riding to the water gives you a feeling unlike any other. That feeling is what brings me back time and time again.
However, on my most recent ride I discovered a few more parts to the trip that I had previously flew past. This ride taught me the beauty of slowing down and observing my surroundings. After riding out on the same path as before, I noticed so many little things that make the whole experience that much better.
First, the newly repaved and rerouted path along the Burlington waterfront takes the rider right next to the water with a more gradual incline, making it seem flat! The smooth pavement was a great riding surface, so you should get out while it’s still good! I rode by many walkers, runners training for the Vermont City Marathon, couples enjoying the sunny summer day, and got passed by the avid cyclists. With so many user groups enjoying the new path, it eventually returned to its good old self with a lot of character in the form of frost heaves and cracks in the pavement.
I was nearing my destination, but took a small break at Airport Park in Colchester to see some incredible sights. First, I noticed two kids with smiles across their face and a constant giggle, trying to show their friends something. As I watched them I couldn’t help to think how picturesque this scene is: a small neighborhood, warm, blue skies with the sun shining down as bikers and runners leave the neighborhood and continue up the trail to the causeway, older couples unloading their bikes from their cars in the parking lot, and siblings on the swingset as their parents watched their sons and daughters play baseball as a gentle breeze moves through the air and the sounds of birds chirping fill the background.
Back to the kids in the street. They would wait and wait until a car would come, then bounce with energy and release excitement as the car neared. They would get on both sides of the road, then with grimaces of strength on their face, and a tug of war stance, they pretended to hold a taught rope across the road as if they were going to bring the car to a stop. Laughter burst out of them as they threw their hands up and ran away when the cars slowed or came to a halt. The drivers I watched chuckled as they saw the kids having the time of their life running off to hide. It’s the things like this that warm the soul. Slowing down and truly enjoying the bike path is a great way to see families and friends at play and brings a smile to your face.
As it was my time to continue onto the ferry, the mosquitoes of the short, forested, gravel portion of the path kicked my legs into third gear, and I promptly sped out into the warm sun of the causeway, greeted with a cool breeze across my face. I looked to my left and back to my right, and there’s that feeling again. No more than 10 feet in either direction, there was the nice dark blue water of Lake Champlain. Just off the shore, I noticed a couple of loons that just dove under hunting for fish and many ring billed gulls flying in the nearby sky. They looked to be waiting for families picnicking on the rocks to leave some crumbs of food behind! Aside from families, there were many rocks carefully selected -- in the warm sunlight -- by couples to sit down and enjoy a beer. There were many people fishing, from college students to a father and son having some good ol’ fashioned bonding time.
As I rode, the more things I noticed, the more everything had in common. People here enjoy their time and are happy no matter the activity. Accessible and utilized by all. The causeway is for everybody to enjoy -- young and old, family, single, or couples, mountain bikes, road cyclists, cruiser bikes, town bikes, fat bikes, or parents pulling burly buggies. Come one, come all. It was great seeing the diversity of folks here.
After a mile of beautiful riding, I reached the Cut and the bike ferry dock! Here it was great seeing people with season passes roll up and know the drill, newcomers who haven’t even heard of the ferry purchase a season pass because they fell in love with the idea and place, or those who happily turn back to return another day. As I sat there, I watched families roll up together or one at a time, friends share their excitement for making it to the end, or solo adventurers loving the view and weather.
One of my favorite moments was when a mother and her son arrived looking like they stepped out of a car and immediately starting walking around checking out the end of the path, closely followed by their daughter/sister who also joined them in walking around, then the other sister who promptly put her arms around her two siblings and gave a big “Whoo! We finally made it!” between breaths, and the best part, which also happens to be the last piece of the puzzle, is the father. He rolls on, hunched over, sweaty, breathing pretty heavy, and greeted by his family, but it’s hard to tell if he is happier to have gotten off his bike or to see them! With his arm around his wife, he hobbles over to a rock so he can sit and rest his legs and lungs. And without any hesitation, the kids give their old man a hard time like it was their job.
Turning around, I see the bike ferry pulling into the docks behind me, so I go ahead grab my camera, bike, and backpack and rolldown the ramp to the dock. This was the first weekend for the bike ferry this season, and my first time ever on the ferry. I had no clue what to expect. Before I even got onto the ferry, a big sense of “coolness” came over me from merely having my bike with me on a dock on the water. I felt wicked cool, and thought this is a cool adventure that everyone should be able to experience. With a very friendly and fun crew, I knew this short ferry ride would be a good one. Even if you immediately ride the ferry back to the other side, it would be worthwhile! (It’s funny because I actually spoke with a couple from Enosburg who came down to ride the causeway on a beautiful day and decided to ride the ferry solely to say they rode it!) With Captain Ed behind the wheel and two happy and fun deckhands, Paddy and Frank, as well as the ferry dog, Molly, a beautiful golden retriever, the ride was efficient and easy. They loaded and unloaded our bikes, all we had to do was sit down, enjoy the break, and really unique perspective of the Cut. I was amazed at the efficiency and how smooth the whole process was. Even if you miss the ferry, it will be back within a matter of minutes!
My time on the South Hero side was short lived, as I enjoyed the ferry too much and wanted to hop on for a ride back to the Colchester side! As a first time user, I guarantee this won’t be my last time riding. I have already made plans to return on my road bike and ride around South Hero for a day! It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to return to the ferry for my second, third, fourth….ride.