The Quechee Journey, over rocks and rivers and ravines

Memo to everybody. If I ever talk about doing this again … ever … you have my permission to come over to my place, knock on my door, wait until I come out to greet you, and then you can whack me upside the head with a skillet.

But for now, I did what I set out to do. Essentially, I earned my one mulligan. And I got two photos out of the efforts.

It’s October 9th, and I’m taking this Saturday to drive up to Vermont and try to photograph some covered bridges with the fall foliage. Of the three bridges I did snag, they turned out quite well.

Then I hit the Quechee Covered Bridge.

The Quechee Covered Bridge spans the Ottauquechee River in Hartford, Vermont. It was originally built in 1970, and was restored in 2013 after Hurricane Irene severely damaged it. It’s a steel stringer bridge, and it stands next to a spillway from a dam. It’s similar in setup to the Paper Mill Covered Bridge that I photographed in Bennington earlier this year.

There were a few angles where I could capture the bridge and the spillway, but nothing successful from the various fenced-in parks near the bridge. This was the best I could pull from my Krasnogorsk FT-2.

Ugh. I can see the spillway, and I can see the bridge, but the spillway’s too low in the frame, and the bridge is too high in the frame. It’s not composed the way I want. Nuts.

But even with that, I was not sure I could snag a Competition Season-worthy photo out of this excursion. Remember, I’ve still got my shot from the Silk Covered Bridge as my covered bridge “King of the Mountain” entry for 2022. Any covered bridge photo I want to take in 2022 HAS to surpass the Silk Bridge shot. Without question.

So here’s an overhead shot of where I was.

You can see the parking lot – at top center of the photo. To get my ultra-wide shots, I had to walk down Quechee Main Street, walk past the bridge, traverse down a special guided pathway, and shoot the spillway and the bridge together, using Raskolnikov.

As I headed to my car, figuring the photos I took with Raskolnikov were just good enough, I noticed that a photographer was standing on one of the rocks in the river, getting an amazing angle to capture the bridge and the spillway.

Well, hell, if he can do it, I’m gonna do it.

Remember that part about the skillet upside my noggin?

You may want to use it right now.

Because while the other photographer seemed to traverse the steep rocky surface with the skill of a gazelle … that flat rocky surface you see in the overhead shot is an optical illusion.

I tried to get an angled shot from the edge of the road, as I barely stood on the edge of the ravine. I’ve got one hand holding on to a very loose tree branch, and the other hand delicately holding onto Kodak Red.

At the Edge of Quechee. Kodak Medalist II camera, Kodak Ektachrome film. Photo (c) 2021 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Okay, Miller. You’re here. You didn’t drive two and a half hours to photo from the edge. Grow a pair and find a way down that ravine.

I quickly scoped a few options, and eventually I decided my best option was to try to slide down a muddy incline to the ground below. A little mud and grass stains on my jeans? No big deal. That’s what laundry detergents are for. Yeah.

It took a while, but I eventually got down to the water level. But …

Now I couldn’t see the bridge at all. There were rocks and trees and branches in the way. Okay. Climb. Twist. Step carefully. Mini-whoops. Okay, Miller. Keep your balance. I had to climb over various rocks and tree branches and prickle-bushes. I even stepped in what I thought was clear water, only to discover it was brackish sludge. Ugh.

Part of me was thinking, “I should just go back up the hill and go on my way. This is crazy. The photos I took are just good enough.” And the minute I said “just good enough,” I knew that my high school English literature teacher, Bonnie Diefendorf, would rise out of the grave, fly all the way to Vermont, find me, and chastise me to never settle for “just good enough.”

Well, I’m down here … let’s make this happen.

Suffice it to say … it took me 45 minutes to get anywhere near where that photographer had shot. And mind you, I’m doing all this while carrying my Kodak Medalist II (“Kodak Red”) in one hand. AND I’m doing this after two foot surgeries AND full diabetic neuropathy in both feet. And if I took one single slip, I would land on rocks. Big hard jagged bone-breaking rocks.

I’m sucking so much air into my lungs, you would think my last name was Hoover.

And just as I was about to take my photo … I saw two young people sprinting down another section of the embankment, both deftly moving down the hill with ease and grace. All right. I surrender. I cry uncle. I’m old.

But I still have Kodak Red in my hand. Four shots left on the roll. And from this angle … I’ve got the bridge, I’ve got the spillway, and I’ve even got some color-changing foliage in the foreground.

Autumn in Quechee. Kodak Medalist II camera, Kodak Ektachrome film. Photo (c) 2021 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Used up my four remaining shots. Time to get back up the hill.

Okay, now how do I get back up the hill?

I watched the two young people as they finished their little Instagram selfie shots, and they both jaunted up a steep, jagged cliffway like they were competing on American Ninja Warrior.

Okay, Miller … grow another set of brass ones. If they can do it, you can do it. It’s either do it, or wait for the paramedics to come rescue your sorry ass.

Here we go. I can clearly say, I was today years old when I did my first rock-climbing event. Climbed that thing like I was scaling the vertical face of El Capitan.

Up I went. Rock by rock. And eventually, somehow, through some miracle, 30 minutes later, I made it back to the parking lot. Pants and shoes were soaked with mud and scrapes and brackish muddy water. Some of the gunk splashed onto Kodak Red, giving the chassis a mottled appearance. Thankfully, no mud on the lens. Whew. Oh, and four prickle-burr buds tried to stowaway on my shirtsleeve. Nopes. Off my shirtsleeve, prickle-burrs. You stay here.

It was another 15 minutes before I could finally get my heartbeat and breathing patterns back to normal. I haven’t felt this winded since the last time I visited the Boreas Ponds in the Adirondacks. And maybe before that, way back in 2010 when I nearly fell off the side of a rock outcropping while trying to photograph a lighthouse in Nova Scotia.

So I’ve got two swank images of the bridge – “At the Edge of Quechee,” and “Autumn in Quechee.” I now have to decide if either of these pictures knock my previous covered bridge shot, “Fishing at Silk Bridge,” off its “King of the Mountain” designation for Competition Season 2022.

Fishing at Silk Bridge. Rolleiflex Automat MX camera, Fuji Velvia 100 film. Photo (c) 2021 Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

So what you see here is me having options.

In other words, I want a Vermont covered bridge photo in Competition Season 2022.

The trick is to find the best Vermont covered bridge photo of 2022.

Hopefully without injuring myself to get it.