On August 30, 2023

Living the Dream: Roof racks are the key to many adventures 


My fingers move of their own accord, tightening the straps while I press the lever open. I pull just a little bit more before letting the strap fall and wrapping a backup knot. I let both straps fall into the car and shut the door, hopefully keeping the straps from flapping around and breaking the window. I lift up on my canoe from the middle, checking the tightness and then walk around the back, checking it again. It barely wiggles and I know I’ve got it down.

The boat launch parking lot is filled with others performing their own versions of this ritual. Kayaks, paddle boards, and canoe all being lifted onto the tops of cars and strapped down in whatever fashion the owner has designed for themselves. My system comes from years of boat maneuvering, a few years of D1 level rowing and an apparently good overhead lift.

I had a girlfriend who used a bathmat on the rear of her car to slide it down into the hooks. Others use the team approach; having two people struggle to get the kayak up makes it just a little more fun. The paddle boarders have the simple task of rolling the float down the length of the vehicle. Still others have the boat assist rack system which is stunning to see in action.

But it all works. Somehow. 

Instead of being trapped by storing our boats on one lake, we can go anywhere. We are free to paddle wherever and whenever we choose, either solo or with friends because the roof rack has given us the freedom to travel — safely. 

I remember stuffing foam blocks underneath the gunwales when I was much younger and hoping that one didn’t fly out on the highway (it usually did). It was nuts and not something that seemed very sturdy at all. It was not uncommon to find the bow bouncing around in the wind until you added the third and fourth straps at the ends. What chaos!

Nowadays, it’s rare to find a Vermont car without a roof rack, no matter the season. The day I got my storage box for the roof was one of the greatest moments in my ski career. You could load it up with whatever skis you wanted to bring — bring four pairs with you everywhere, who cares! As long as you brought along a de-icer for the lock, you could travel with a full box of skis and make the final decision when you got to the mountain.

On my car, I have super long crossbars with tennis balls on the ends. I am every dog’s favorite car in the parking lot. But it keeps me from cutting my head open as I duck around the vehicle and my canoe. (I don’t need a vanity plate, I have balls!) But the long bars enable me to live out of my car about as well as a camper. I can put the canoe and a box on my roof filled with all my gear and then sleep in the wagon. It’s a lot cheaper than a Mercedes Sprinter van — and I can actually reach my canoe.

When I got a new box for my car last winter, someone said they didn’t know it was me and then they saw the balls. In fact, I can recognize most of my friends’ cars by their roof rack, no matter the season. Whether they’re a road biker or a downhiller, paddler or skier, even when the racks are empty you can tell. When someone around here asks what you do, most of us could just point to the racks on our car to answer the question. Your rack is your personality, your uniqueness, your identity.

My roof rack lets me be the person that I am — and keeps my car just a little bit less moist. Of course, storing all the pieces when they are not actually on your car is a bit of a pain, but that’s what outbuildings are for, right? The more toys you have, the more ways you need to transport them.

But that’s life in Vermont. Waving at a stranger as they pass you on the road because you think their canoe is sexy and you should be friends. Avoiding a scene from a Warren Miller film as you flag down the guy with the open ski rack. Or getting home to realize you left the key in the box with the ribbon hanging down making you a candidate for Jerry of the Day.

One thing is for certain — roof racks mean freedom. The freedom to join your friends wherever they might be paddling or biking or skiing that day. Freedom to be the adventurer you want to be, not just what you are limited to. This is my ode to my roof rack, my crossbars, my tennis balls, my ticket to adventure. I couldn’t be who I was without you. 

What’s on your car?

Merisa Sherman is a long time Killington resident, bartender, local Realtor and KMS Coach. Share your favorite aspects of Vermont at femaleskibum@gmail.com.

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