Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bicyclist rides the path to wellness

By ZENDA FARRELL | Milton (VT) Independent Sports Editor

August 2, 2007

The first time I saw the bicycle man, it was winter, cold, windy, sleeting winter. I was in my car with the heat on and the windshield wipers swiping madly. He was on his bicycle, pedaling towards Burlington, equipped with helmet, goggles and gloves, seemingly oblivious to the climate. I cranked my head around like I had just seen an apparition and thought, wow…

I saw him several times over the next months, always on his bicycle and pedaling hard. Then one day in the spring, while I was walking my dogs in a wooded area close to home, I ran into him, the bicycle man as I had come to call him, in person. Yes, he was on his bike, taking a shortcut from Route 7 through the woods to Red Clover Way. Naturally, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to strike up a conversation because I had some questions for this guy, first and foremost, where’s your car?

Bicycle man is Doug Cavett. He doesn’t have a car. His primary source of transportation is his bicycle. Turns out when I fi rst encountered him many months ago, he was on his way to work, in Burlington, on his bicycle, in the icy, freezing winter. Doug Cavett is a 41-year-old Milton resident with a 7-yearold son named Trevor and a 7-month-old yellow lab named Smuggs. Blessed with a quick, easy smile and patient nature, his life story is nothing short of amazing.

A native of Greenwich, CT Doug has the wanderlust. “I spent 20 years trying to get to as many places as I could. I have seen 48 of the 50 states, been all through Central America, South America, Canada east to west, Africa, Italy, Spain, France, Portugal, I spent a month in the Rockies, hiked the Inca Trail in Peru, camped on volcanoes and glaciers all with a backpack. I am just waiting for Trevor to get a little older so we can travel together. He already can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner and he doesn’t want to just get around it… he’s a poker, he likes to examine everything.”

But, let’s back up to the bicycle thing and why would anybody want to ride a bicycle as much as he does?

Turns out Doug gave up his car completely three winters ago. “I’d been kind of half and half; car and bike, for transportation for many years but the fi nal blow came when I divorced. I weighed out what was important to me and what wasn’t. I didn’t need the Tahoe’s $30,000 worth of metal parts. It represented exactly the opposite of what I was looking for. I knew I could do this 100% so I gave up the car and doing so paid for my house.”

Well, wait a minute, what about when you have to take your son, who lives in Waterville, VT, that’s a mere 22 miles one way, somewhere? “I used to pick him up from daycare and put him in the bike seat but now I have a tag-along bike for him. He’s almost outgrown it then he will be able to ride his own.” And how does Trevor feel about long bike rides behind dad? “It’s really cool!” he says.

A typical day with Doug and Trevor begins with working in their organic garden. “We have an awesome organic garden down by the river. It’s not producing much yet but we spend time working in it daily.” When I went to the Cavett home to take some photos, I got a guided tour of Wonderland, the storybook tree house, the winding paths through the woods that lead to the river, the raspberry bushes, the beaver dam, the secluded fi shing spot and the sinking boats.

Their plans for the rest of the day included a trip to Racquet’s Edge for a swim with pit stops at Land-Air and countless other interesting locales. Then back to the garden or another favorite spot in Wonderland. One would think that with the bike being the primary means of transportation, it would be a real humdinger. Not so, although it is completely equipped with absolutely anything he may need, including fenders and a bell, it’s really nothing special.

“Let’s face it. The bike takes abuse. My investment in it is about $100 a year. It failed me last winter and I had to put in some extra parts. I use crossroad tires because I find them to be perfect year round. Winter is hard but not as bad as you might think. I am completely encapsulated in weatherproof gear, polypropylene, long underwear top to bottom – I dress for it. It needs to be about 30 below for me to even question not riding.”

Doug is also an avid skier and rides his bike 15-20 times a season up to Smuggler’s Notch, where he rents equipment, skis all day, then you guessed it… bikes home in the dark.

Biking isn’t the only thing he does to extreme; Doug ran in the Burlington Marathon last May. It was his fi rst marathon ever. His specific training consisted of one 12-mile run prior to the big day. “It was just something I decided I wanted to try and it was awesome to see 26 miles of people pouring out love for humanity. I got the gift of love and it was such a great feeling. I am so grateful for having the good health to be able to do things like this.”

Not only did he complete the marathon, he ran it in 3 hours and 59 minutes. “The next day was painful but I’ve already started training to do another. I have the urge to do the Boston Marathon and the qualifying time is 3:10. I have no idea if I can actually do this or not and I keep having to remind myself that I barely fi nished last time and asking what makes me feel like I can do it so much better but I want to try. My favorite run is up Arrowhead Mountain and back, the whole thing takes me about an hour and a half from my front door. My training approach is really just being in harmony with nature. Being active, running, biking is such an exponential kind of gift. Each one of the things you do gives you a gift to do the next thing. It just keeps on giving and giving and the body is energized to do more and more. I can’t tell you how many gorgeous sunsets I have seen because I am out on the bike or hiking a trail.”

What kind of a diet must this guy have to keep up the pace? “I eat everything and I eat a ton but I do try to eat healthfully - fruits, vegetables, fi sh. But, it’s not one apple, it’s four or it’s not one banana, it’s two or three.”

Doug is currently doing an independent study to contribute to the Milton Parks and Recreation committee.

“I am on an independent surge right now. I have been examining the 20 year master plan that was developed over the last year with assistance from Parks and Leisure. It is a concentration of efforts for the upcoming years, for example a bike path, a municipal swimming pool, irrigation of the athletic fields, anything that will help put Milton on an equal level with other towns. We have until the 27th of July to add input and sadly very few people have helped out. I have been through all the hiking trails, up Arrowhead Mountain, investigated cracks at the tennis courts, checked out the boat accesses at Sandbar, visited with the elderly and I have found some disappointments but I hope to put positive momentum into the 20 year plan. I want to see the rubber hit the road. Let’s not talk about wellness, let’s be well. If I can be well, I can help other people be well.”

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My Turn: Make city friendlier to cyclists, pedestrians

Burlington Free Press
Published: Sunday, December 16, 2007
By Michael Hechmer

Thank you for the article about the college and hospital shuttle buses ("Shuttle space," Dec. 13). It is indeed a complex issue and I can empathize with those who would like to see more of these people walking around town and up and down the hill to Winooski, and also with those who want to encourage more Vermonters to use mass transit systems. The problem seems to be how do we encourage those who can walk to do so, while still providing safe, environmentally acceptable alternatives to those who can't, and the possibility of rides for all during genuinely bad weather.

I am one of the people who regularly bicycles to the hospital about seven months of the year, but drives to Winooski and walks to the hospital most other days. The major obstacle to either of these activities is safety. Vermont cities and towns aren't doing nearly enough to make either walking or riding in them safe. I'm certain a lot more people would walk and bike if they didn't perceive it as so dangerous.

To walk from Winooski to the hospital I either have to traverse a lengthy section of Colchester Avenue without any sidewalks, or I must take on the fairly difficult task of getting across that road at a very busy intersection at the bottom of the hill and then back again at the top.

In the winter, Burlington makes a concerted effort to keep the roads free of snow and ice, but the sidewalks are an afterthought. By the time they get cleaned the snow has been packed into ice, and the corners are piled with snow. Last winter I watched a small city snowblower, probably purchased to clear walkways, drive down the shoulder of Colchester Avenue and blow the remaining snow onto the sidewalk. We can't expect a great many people to walk under these conditions.

Burlington prides itself on being one of America's "livable" cities, but it would be a lot more livable if it had more bike lanes, better-maintained walkways and express buses to bring people into town from outlying areas.

Michael Hechmer lives in Westford.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Hot On The Trail

Published: Monday, December 3, 2007
By Joel Banner Baird
Free Press Staff Writer

Peter Vollers isn't the only Vermonter who prefers the path less taken. Even as the engine block on his Jeep cools, the quest to rediscover Vermont's ancient roads has never been warmer.

Hikers, bikers, snowmobilers, birders and botanists; historians, equestrians and devotees of four-wheel drive machines have taken to the state's neglected network of highways and trails with a renewed sense of purpose: they want to save them.

Vermonters have until February 2009 to authenticate the legality of town-owned roads, hundreds of which have reverted back to game trails. The only trace some have left can be found in quaint, cursive descriptions in town archives.

In early November, Vollers, a Woodstock resident, led a slow caravan of 10 Jeeps and Land Rovers from the Canadian border at Newport to Halifax, Mass. For the most part, the Vermont Expedition Society stuck to what state highway maps call Class IV roads, byways that never graduated into the automobile age.

"Our expeditions have a purpose," Vollers said recently. "We're telling people to get acquainted with these roads. Our goal is to preserve a network of well-marked corridors that will foster more diverse use. People tend to be at their best when there are multiple user groups out there."

The expedition society has an engines-off when horses approach policy. They tote chain saws and other trail-maintenance tools. When maps -- and even GPS devices -- steer them into what looks like private property, they'll detour around the landowner. Vollers said club members take pains to distance themselves from the hell-bent-for-leather tribes of ATV riders who sometimes churn through the back country.

"You can overturn months of good will by going through a shut gate or ignoring a sign," Vollers said. "Jeeping is a viable, healthy activity that's been going on since the 50s and 60s. But it's been tainted by bad apples who think of the TV commercials, people railing around at breakneck speeds; marauding.

"We'd like to think of ourselves as doing a service," he continued. "We buy meals at local restaurants; we support local hotels and businesses. We hope it adds up to increasing a town's willingness to keep these roads and not throw them up."

Other Vermonters worry that such advocacy efforts are premature.

George Mincar, who serves on Huntington's nine-member ancient road committee, said for now lobbying should take a back seat to painstaking scholarship -- finding and verifying the legality of right-of-ways.

"We're not trying to take a position," he said. "That's up to the Selectboard, and they'll hold public hearings to get all the input they desire."

Surveyor and Calais Selectboard member Paul Hannan agrees.

"As I work with groups to train them in the task, I've been vocal in my admonitions to stick to the fact-finding mission of the endeavor to avoid having lines drawn among townsfolk until the information has been gathered," he said.

"I ask researchers to set agendas aside," he continued. "It's like what I tell my clients: 'You're going to get the same answer whether you pay me or your neighbor pays me.' The object of a surveyor is to benefit your client without subtracting from the rights of others."

For Victoria Weber of Bethel, the "others" include Vermont's populations of wildlife. The former environmental law librarian said a new wave of trail-bound humans could accelerate the fragmentation of forest habitat through erosion and the introduction of new, unwelcome plants.

"Roads and trails are vectors that take invasive, non-native species right into the interior," she said. "Seeds ride in on pant cuffs, dog hair and wheel treads. When they become established, they disrupt feeding patterns that have co-evolved between native fauna and flora. They create edge habitat for animals like raccoons and starlings."

Weber suggests that, while new trails could enhance a broader appreciation of nature, their recreational use needs to be balanced with other concerns such as conservation, privacy and even future development.

"Almost everyone has a very short list of things they want to look at with these roads," she said. "We need to build criteria why we might want them, and why we might not want them. Maybe we need to weigh those criteria with numerical points. I think we need to have all the issues out there."

Individual property rights should be near the top of the list, said Bob Hill, an executive vice president of the Vermont Association of Realtors. Although ancient road advocates might be racing the clock to complete their surveys, Hill sees mounting possibilities for boundary disputes.

"We're not completely wild about the length of time towns have to certify their roads," he said. "The more you try to find something, the more you're going to find."

Contact Joel Banner Baird at 660-1843 or

Pedestrian Remains in Critical Condition

Burlington Free Press
News Brief
December 3, 2007

A pedestrian who was hit by care at the intersection of South Winooski Avenue and Cherry Street in Burlington on Saturday remains in critical condition at Fletcher Allen Health Care, according to police.

The name of the 54 year-old woman from out of town is being withheld until family members can be contacted, police said. The driver, Kristin Fleming, 21 of Burlington was interviewed and released. Police said neither speed nor alcohol were factors.

Police are asking witnesses to contact Corporal Peter Chapman at 658-2704 ext 254.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Witnesses To Pedestrian Accident Sought

Burlington Free Press
News Brief
December 2, 2007

Burlington Police are investigating an accident in which a motor vehicle hit a pedestrian at the intersection of South Winooski Avenue and Cherry Street at 1:15pm Saturday.

The pedestrian, a 54-year-old woman from out of town was transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care with head and other possible injuries, police said. The woman's name is being withheld.

The driver, Kristin Fleming, 21, of Burlington, was interviewed and released. Police said neither speed nor alcohol were factors.

Police are asking witnesses to contact Corporal Peter Chapman at 658-2704 ext 254.