My 23rd Birthday at the Highland Lodge in Vermont

Home to green mountains, maple syrup, and my favorite senator: welcome to Vermont. The second-least populated state was my first stop on my road trip, and the place where I turned 23 this past month. I drove up from Albany through serpentine roads and witnessed sprawling mountain views that captured my heart and camera. Coming from the city, there’s nothing like this back in NYC. I drove up to the Northeast Kingdom and to the Highland Lodge located in Greensboro, Vermont.

Photo credit: Moriah Hounsell

I was greeted by a peaceful quiet – only the sound of birds singing and splashes of waves to be heard for miles. The front entrance was dotted with gorgeous tulips and well-kept bushes and in the distance: the Caspian Lake. I was in environmental heaven. After grabbing my duffle bag, I walked through the screen-covered doors. The floorboard creaked as I made my way to the reception desk. Appearing before me was a man with a Santa-like smile and cozy Patagonia jacket. His name was Kevin and he was the innkeeper for this historical farm-turned-lodge, originally built in the 1860s and founded in the 1920s. It is a true piece of living history tucked away among the trees, only for the bravest nature-lovers to indulge in. He led me to the Garbo Room, which I would be calling home as my 22 years turned into 23. The room, like all of the lodge, and dare I say all of Vermont, just felt quaint. The lacy curtains complimented the view overlooking the lake and setting sun. I placed my keys on the adorable wooden vanity and plopped onto the ultra-cushiony queen-size bed.

I’m actually in Vermont, I thought. It looked like something out of a dollhouse with an old school flair. After I showered, I headed downstairs to the common room.

The room was olde-world cozy, like stepping into a past long forgotten by 2023, and full of stacks of books from all eras and cultures that lined the shelves, vintage puzzles with frayed edges from years of families putting them together, and of course, beautiful worn furniture that holds stories in its stitches.

I pulled out a puzzle and began working on it by lamplight. Puzzles aren’t usually my thing, but when in Vermont… might as well. I got the sky almost complete when a family walked in from the cold. They lit up a fire and chatted among themselves as I listened in, forgetting all about my brain game. Local to the area, they seemed so at home at the Highland Lodge. After some time, I asked them a few questions about places to visit in Vermont, especially for a maple creamy. They were extremely helpful in pointing me in the right direction and wished me luck on my journey. That night, I had a good feeling about what was to come.

Golden rays poured into the room as I snuggled awake…

Where was I? Oh, yeah, Vermont!

I headed downstairs to grab some breakfast, since the Highland Lodge is a bed-and-breakfast, and they do not disappoint on the breakfast portion. Waiting for me in the dining room were hot trays of delicious (and local Vermont sourced) morsels. Maple sausage, scrambled eggs, seasoned home fries, fresh fruits, Vermont yogurt, and the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth: Lemon Ginger Coffee Cake. The family from the night before greeted me as I piled my plate high with decadent bites and went over by a window seat. I wrote down my wishes for 23, when suddenly Kevin appeared, wishing me a happy birthday. The first of many wishes – he insisted I come to trivia night that evening, and receive all the Vermont-y birthday greetings. I agreed while digging into the maple sausage and strawberries.

After breakfast, I changed into some hiking clothes, grabbed my camera and was set out to explore the great Northeastern Kingdom. Before I did though, I needed some tea to keep me warm due to the weather being in the 40s. My eyes glanced over to the open kitchen door, where slices of the Lemon Ginger Coffee Cake sat in all its yolk-yellow glory. A woman chopping veggies took notice of me and I figured this was my chance to be reunited with my lemony love. She introduced herself as Dominique and cut me a couple slices for the road. I thanked her as I nibbled on a slice, pocketing the other for later, and headed out the door.

The crisp air was warming up as the sun marched higher in the sky. There was a beaten path that I was told led to the beachfront and trail. Whispers of the leaves sung to me while I snapped photos, hyper aware of the life surrounding me in the trees. Birds flew high above, bees found their way to the blossoming buds, and butterflies twirled effortlessly from bush to bush.

The path was easy to walk (coming from someone who doesn’t get out all that often, not like this) and in five minutes or so I came across the beach area.

Presented before me were relics of a yester-summer: lonely beach chairs, canoes docked, and abandoned volleyballs. Eerie yet familiar, nonetheless it was all picturesquely inviting to a solo traveler like me. I walked over to the deck, where I imagine children who might be my grandparents’ age jumped off into the Caspian Lake to cool off, year after year. After settling into a beach chair I read for a bit before eventually falling asleep.

When I woke up, the sun was low on the horizon, and I headed back to the Lodge. It was half past 6 and the trivia night started at 7. After freshening up (and applying a coat of red lipstick for a confidence boost), I made my way downstairs to the dining room. The night was in full swing as people ordered craft beer (the best in the state), made-in-Vermont burgers and salads, and scribbled down their team names. Tentatively, I walked up to the hosts, who both sported various alternative-cool-people vibes with bleach blond hair and crystals dangling from their necks. The blond host (who I would later learn is Claire) directed me to a nearby table. There sat a couple, a man with a sandy shade of hair and a serious face and a woman with a chill demeanor sipping on wine. Ben and Ellen, they introduced themselves and asked how I had landed at this rural lodge so far away from home.

“I want to prove to myself that the world isn’t scary,” I explained — and that was our team name as we played trivia that evening. Note: this was my first trivia night, ever. But we came in either fourth or third, so not bad. Once the game was over, Kevin made an announcement that it was my birthday and the whole room sang Happy Birthday to me. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Kevin brought out a strawberry shortcake (with a real shortcake!) and I shared it with Ben and Ellen. The whipped cream was airy and so easy to eat, the strawberries brilliantly red and dripping with juice. I shared a conversation with Ellen that reminded me: yes, I’m 23 and I should live my life as I see fit. The night came to a close as people trickled out the door, shooting me final birthday wishes.

As I climbed the stairs up to my room I reflected on my first night being 23, doing what I loved: traveling, writing, and connecting with people.

The next morning I was off to Montreal. Before I did anything though, I made my way to breakfast. Fresh made pancakes with gourmet garnishes of whipped maple butter, whipped sweet cream, blueberries in syrup, and local strawberries. I had a little bit of everything, of course. Scrambled eggs with veggies, bacon, and tri-berry coffee cake appeared on my plate as I took a cozy nook seat and did some writing. Midway through a letter I was writing, Dominique approached with a loaf of the mouth-puckering Lemon Ginger Coffee Cake.

“For your travels.” She placed it on the table next to me. At that moment, I was in disbelief. Was this what I was missing out on when I didn’t travel? The kindness of strangers whose small actions are so memorable. I (profusely) thanked her and gave her a hug before heading out to start the next leg of my journey up north.

My time at the Highland Lodge was metamorphic. I came in 22 and happy, free, confused, and lonely all at the same time (to quote Dr. Swift), and left 23 – still all of the above, but a little more secure in my decision to travel and see the world. If you’re looking for that Vermont magic full of quaint spells and nature quests, pay a visit to the wonderful:
Highland Lodge
1608 Craftsbury Road
Greensboro, VT 05841.
Website: here

And tell them a New Yorker sent you.