By Luke Baynes
In 2008, after four years of sporadic weekend hikes, sexagenarians Bob Donnis and Roger Crouse completed the Long Trail, a 273-mile hiking trail that spans the length of Vermont.
Not content to sit on their haunches and let their blisters heal, the longtime friends began planning their next endeavor: a bike ride around the entire perimeter of Vermont.
On June 27, 2009, the pair mounted their bikes at Airport Park in Colchester and began pedaling. When they stopped, they were in Vergennes, where they had a car waiting to transport them back to their Chittenden and Addison county homes.
The pattern continued, with increasing distances required between car drops.
From Vergennes, they rode to Fairhaven. From Fairhaven, they made their way south to the border of Vermont and Massachusetts, then headed east to the border of New Hampshire.
By August 2011, Donnis and Crouse had snaked their way far enough up the Connecticut River to find themselves in the town of Guildhall, in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
Their journey nearly ended in Guildhall.
On Aug. 28, 2011—the same day that Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont with a fury unrivaled in state history—Crouse was struck down with a stroke at his Lake Iroquois summer home.
Crouse, who credits the Williston Fire Department’s emergency medical services personnel with saving his life in the midst of Irene’s unbiased path of destruction, also gave praise to Williston resident Kathy Hudson. Hudson ultimately joined Donnis and finished the ride in Crouse’s stead.
“They (Donnis and Hudson) took a hat that I wear that says, ‘Alternative Energy,’ and had that with them, so I was kind of on the ride with them, even though I wasn’t physically there,” Crouse said.
Hudson is the secretary of the Lake Iroquois Association, a group founded by Crouse in 2007. The association is dedicated to improving the water quality of Lake Iroquois, which serves Williston, St. George, Richmond, Hinesburg and the surrounding communities.
Donnis, although not directly affiliated with the Lake Iroquois Association, finished the ride partly as a fundraising effort for the LIA, but mostly as a tribute to the group’s founder.
“It was very emotional,” Donnis said of the moment he revisited Colchester’s Airport Park on Aug. 31, 2012, and saw Crouse waiting for him at the finish line. “I still wish that he could have done it, because this is something that we both had our hearts in. It was sort of bittersweet that Roger wasn’t able to do it with me, but so sweet to finish it, to get it done.”
Crouse, who downplayed his own remarkable physical recovery from an initially debilitating stroke, instead asked local residents to consider making a charitable donation to improving the water quality of Lake Iroquois. After all, he noted, that was why he and Donnis decided to bike the perimeter of the state in the first place.
“If people would like to donate to the association (flat amount or per mile – approx 600 miles),” Crouse wrote to the Observer in an email, “our address is: Lake Iroquois Association, Inc. PO Box 569, Hinesburg, VT 05461.”