In late September and early October we spent a couple of weeks house-sitting for my aunt and uncle in beautiful Burlington, Vermont. In many ways it seems like the perfect Goldilocks city – not too big and not too small. And because it’s a university town, there’s plenty of music, improv, art and other cultural stuff going on.
Making it up
Making the most of this, during our stay we participated in an improv workshop at Comedy Vermont. A visiting improv guy/comedy writer and performer from New York guided us through ‘let’s get on the same page’. It was fun. My favourite exercise involved starting an improvised scene, with your improvising partner, by saying the same opening sentence four times (twice each). Sounds strange, but just try it. It seems to give added import and subtext to just about anything you say. The scene I was in started (via a process I won’t even try to explain here) with the obvious comment:
‘We’ve had a reasonable amount of floods in these parts over the past year’.
Say that out loud. Then in a different accent. Then with feeling. Then with more feeling. Four times.
Improv is one of the hardest things to put across by describing it, but trust me, it makes perfect sense when you’re doing it or watching it!
One of the things I like about improv is that it’s the ultimate transferable skill. There may be some people who have scripts for their lives, but most of us are making it up as we go along. So that is how we came to make up an accidental 55-kilometre bike ride, on a beautiful sunny Monday in Vermont.
Have bikes, will travel
It just so happens that my aunt and uncle’s house is right on the bike path. And it also just so happens that they had generously lent us a pair of bikes to use. We picked up a bike path map and set off. About a 10-minute ride away is the aptly named Overlook Park, with a great view of Lake Champlain down below.
Descending, you come upon a perfect co-operative food store to buy lunch in. Organic, vegan, veggie options, spicy salad, etc. Beautiful Burlington. Armed with a picnic, you set off along the Burlington Greenway, passing through the city near the edge of the lake. It’s all very well maintained and signed. It looks like a case of local taxes well spent (I feel like I might elaborate on this in a subsequent post).
Since we were making up the day as we went along, we stopped to eat our picnic overlooking a beach, and then continued on our way. The pedestrian and bike sharing of the path was good-humoured, which was a relief. As a cyclist, you can get used to being on the receiving end of some hostility somewhere along a bike path, however hard you give way to pedestrians, warn them you are passing with a cheery ring of your bell, and smile. But this was all very civilised. People said hello and even smiled!
On the bike path map there is a thin red line seemingly setting out from the edge of the lake and heading straight across it. A tad unlikely, we thought. Then we realised there is a causeway, just a few metres wide, built out to almost reach the nearest island in the lake – South Hero.
So we improvised a cycle out with the water on both sides of us, caring not a whit that because it wasn’t the weekend we wouldn’t be able to get the bike ferry at the end of it. And neither did our fellow cyclists with the same idea. The sun was shining and we had saved dessert from our picnic to eat the the very end of the spit of land.
On the way back – well, of course we didn’t go the same way. I have been trained out of that boring habit. So we set out on a bit of a loop. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of it, and how the way back was longer than the way out, but the end of our improv performance was a return to base in the dark, starting to get cold, scared because we had no lights (we hadn’t intended to be out so long …) but happy with our achievement. A beautiful sunny day on bikes in Burlington.