We’ve been adventuring quite a bit in Southwest Virginia lately, near where I went to college at Virginia Tech. I have fond memories from my time there, and Souzz loves visiting my old stomping grounds. She says the area reminds her of where she went to school, at St. Michael’s College in Vermont.
At first glance, our two schools are pretty different–a large state institution and a small private college that are 750 miles apart–but I’ve visited St. Michael’s enough to know that there are at least a few parallels. And there are certainly a lot of similarities in the surrounding mountains.
I hadn’t spent much time in Vermont until just recently, when I tagged along with Souzz on her early Fall trip to Burlington. She had college events scheduled on back-to-back weekends, so we planned to stay north through the week and explore a bit. We figured Souzz could refresh her roots at St. Mike’s, and I could grow some roots of my own.
Our visit confirmed that Souzz only falls in love with the best (well, maybe with one exception). To us, Vermont mirrors so much of what’s great about Southwest Virginia, along with a charm all its own. The geography and the weather are similar–although the winters up north are a bit more intense (!). Still, there’s a lot of overlap, including great biking, excellent hiking, and wild country. There are also beautiful farms and pastures, and a slower pace that’s a welcomed change from the big city.
Vermont does have one thing (besides winter) that sets it apart from down south: a frozen treat called a Maple Creemee. I discovered Creemees for the first time on this trip (pro tip: it’s not called “soft-serve”). I had about a dozen, maybe more . When it comes to sweets, Southwest Virginia could learn a little bit from Vermont, just sayin’.
During our week, we enjoyed the city, we biked, we hiked, and we paddled on Lake Champlain. The scenery is spectacular, and the access to the outdoors is fabulous. We were able to squeeze in nice adventures on the Island Line Rail Trail, the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, Stowe Pinnacle, Camel’s Hump, and Burnt Rock Mountain. It was also great to visit with our friends from Vermont. We have a few friends local to Southwest Virginia, too, which is yet another parallel. The sense of community is strong in both places.
The outdoor adventures were great, but what really stood out from our trip was the St. Mike’s community. The school’s leadership is top notch, the alums are a special group, and the college is full of smart people that are changing the world. Students at St. Mikes are focused on big causes related to the environment, peace and justice, and so much more. My world view back in the day at Virginia Tech was quite a bit smaller. Perhaps I should have paid a little more attention in class?
It’s funny that I headed to Vermont eager to see the mountains, but came away talking about the people and the college. As I learned more about Souzz’s experience, I reflected a lot on my own college years. We were both fortunate to find professors that stretched our minds, communities that supported us, and a wonderful circle of friends that we are thankful to have with us to this day. We’re so grateful for the places and people that shaped us.
Travel has given us the opportunity to share these important places with each other, and to reinforce why they matter so much. Being there is like taking new strides in well fitting boots, equal parts discovery and affirmation. We appreciate the strong similarities and the little differences–a phrase that surely applies to Souzz and me, too.