Sunday Drives. Destination: The Mad River Valley

Sunday Drives. Destination: The Mad River Valley

It was one of those damp gray Sundays that sets a chill into your bones. I could tell this was so from my slump on the couch, which I was considering staying in for the rest of the day. The foliage was only starting to go off in our stretch of the Champlain Valley, but Instagram was portraying another reality over the mountain. Real-time images of the Green Mountains saturated in red, orange and gold were blowing up my feed—#nofilter. Clearly, there would be no time to luxuriate in my living room while foliage was in full effect a few miles away.

Dylan had a plane to catch out of BTV International Airport later that evening, and I felt that same urgency that kicked in two weeks ago when fall began… “My god, we haven’t taken the kids apple picking yet. What was that art gallery in Waitsfield someone recommended? Isn’t that where the Mad Taco is?” And so the plan took shape and I led the charge getting the crew out of pj’s, teeth brushed, shoes on and out the door in T-minus two for another Sunday drive.

Boyer’s Orchard + Cider Mill

We’ve been to plenty of apple orchards in Vermont, but this was our first time at Boyers. Which is odd, since it’s the closest one to our house. We took the back roads into Monkton and arrived to a bustling scene of families out to enjoy some fresh air, fresh apples, and fresh donuts, despite the dreary day.

I grabbed a few PYO bags while the kids found a little red wagon to haul our load. We walked down the rows to trees less picked and found branches dripping with fruit. My son went in for his first, tugged hard and brought down a heavy shower of apples around him. “Remember to twist,” I advised. My daughter had already scrambled up to the top of a McIntosh and was having her first snack—apple trees are the best for climbing.

With full bags and cold hands, we rolled our wagon back to the country store ready for treats. The cider was indeed piping hot and we had to add a splash of cold water to our cups so as not to burn our tongues. Our noses led us to a table just outside the kitchen where they were frying dough. I passed warm donuts to eager hands, and one bite later I was a goner. These were the best donuts I’ve had in Vermont—a slight cinnamon-sugar crust and a pillowy, perfectly chewy center. I thanked the donut lady through the crack in the kitchen window. She smiled as she ran her hands down the front of her apron, then gave us a wave.

 Cider Donuts from Boyers.

Cider Donuts from Boyers.

The Appalachian Gap

Back in the car, we made our way to Route 17 south into downtown Bristol, the gateway to the Green Mountains. We continued on the most famous part of 17, the steep ascent up and over into the Mad River Valley. On this particular day, the visibility was nonexistent with a dense and foreboding fog. My son described it as though we were “driving into a dream cloud.” I was a little on edge as we passed cyclists who would appear seemingly out of nowhere. By the time we got halfway down the other side of the mountain, the fog began to thin and the reality of peak foliage I’d seen on the screen of my phone was 360 degrees around us. We pulled into the lot of Mad River Glen and took it all in.

The Bundy Modern, Waitsfield

Route 17 fed into scenic Route 100, but our next stop was just two minutes down the road. Turning up a drive surrounded by hardwood trees, we came to an open clearing where sat a giant gleaming cube—the Bundy Modern. The art gallery, designed by Harlow Carpenter in the early 1960’s in the Bauhaus style, sat neglected for a number of years until June and Wendell Anderson restored the landmark in 2014. On this particular day, a group show called Field Notes was featuring work by Monica Carroll, Rebecca Kinkead, Jill Madden, and Eben Markowski.

As my kids were busy sliding off a chaise made from $1200-worth of quarters, I was chatting it up with June Anderson about how she and her husband came to own the Bundy and overcame some of the challenges of the building. A flat-roofed, gargantuan cube, made mostly of windows is no doubt a challenge to heat in the mountains of Vermont, but the couple found efficient ways to upgrade the heating system and rethink the building’s use by converting the four-rooms apart from the main gallery into their living space.

Watching my kids fly headfirst off the Johnny Swing sculpture was giving me agita, despite June’s assurances that the piece was indestructible. So we headed outside to burn off some energy with less financial risk. By the time we had crisscrossed the sculpture grounds of the Bundy, we were hungry and ready for dinner.

The Mad Taco, Waitsfield

My born n’ bred Texas man is quite particular about his tacos (and often disappointed with his East Coast options). But when we stepped inside the Mad Taco, it felt like we were transported to a divey taco joint in Austin. We ordered our guac, tacos, and the elusive Society and Solitude by Hill Farmstead, and scored seats along the window counter with views of the lopsided smoker and busy parking lot. Anthony Bourdain once said that if a restaurant has a world-class view, chances are the food is crap, and the reverse is also is true. Indeed, all signs indicated that our meal was going to be excellent.

Bright green guac came out first with salty discs of corn tortillas. We slopped up every ounce of the silky stuff within minutes. Then came the tacos. I had the pork with kimchi, which was milder than expected but I heated each bite up with a different house-made hot sauce that came in every color of the rainbow. My daughter found the kids beef too spicy for her palate. So we ate hers, too.

 Pork tacos and Society and Solitude Beer, the Mad Taco

Pork tacos and Society and Solitude Beer, the Mad Taco

The clock was ticking away, and Dylan had a plane to catch. Sadly that meant we had to pass on a visit to Canteen Creemee, a stones throw from the Mad Taco on the other side of the parking lot. Oh well, just another excuse to get back over the mountain some other Sunday in the very near future. Snow will likely be on the ground by then but we’re up for ice cream in any season.

Lawn Games

Lawn Games

From There to Here

From There to Here

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