Driving Vermont – October 8, 2017

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People in Vermont kept apologizing to us: the host at Red Barn Loft, the man behind the counter at the Maple Museum gift shop, the coffee shop owner – just about anyone who found out we were tourists.

“Sorry about the foliage,” they’d say. “It’s just been too hot, too late this year. The leaves aren’t what they should be. Sorry.” As if it were their fault. And as if it were true.

Maybe a connoisseur of Vermont autumns would agree, but for us, the foliage was glorious. Every new mountain vista brought breathtaking bursts of crimson maples, nearly-purple sumac, golden birch, deep green pines, and all shades in between. Farther away, mist-softened mountains rose like clouded dreams. Creeks and streams burbled over rocky beds, and road signs tantalized with warnings that remained, for us, unfulfilled promises of moose and bear and deer crossings.

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I chose the “no highways” Google maps option for the trip from Boston to Brandon, because we wanted to see a lot of the state, not just zoom through on an interstate. That worked well, though it included some interesting side streets and roads that required a high degree of trust in the voice on the phone that kept telling me where to turn. Speed limits of 50 or 40 and even lower on the sharp turns made mountain driving a little less scary than usual.

I missed the old AAA maps, which told the names of every town you passed, and a little history or points of interest – like the biggest carousel in the country in Iowa or a giant otter statue in northern Minnesota. None of that for Google – just an occasional orange squiggle to indicate a construction zone. On the other hand – I would have had to stop every ten miles to read the AAA map, while I could just listen to Google directions.

On the way back, I wanted to go a little faster, so I chose the highway option. Looking at the paper road map, I couldn’t see any major east-west highway that would get us across Vermont, but I figured Google maps would find a way. And, I thought, by choosing highways, I would have easier driving and a more straightforward route, without so many detours through small roads and city streets. Google also showed a completely different route, so we would see new scenery.

Vermont is basically vertical. Wherever you go, you drive up and down and around mountains. . Google gave me virtual mapping, directing me turn by turn, but with no sense of topographical features, road types, or even the existence of towns or the availability of roadside stopping places.

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We spotted a turn-off for a national forest, parked the car and took a walk there. Driving slowly into one little town, we found an interesting-looking café for brunch, and read in the menu that it had been a favorite soda fountain for Robert Frost.

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As we set out from there, Google directed me to turn off the highway and onto Airport Road. Airport Road rose at a sharp angle. Trees hid the view ahead, as we climbed. The road had no center line, and unmarked shoulders. After a few miles, we came to a clearing and a sign that advertised glider rides today. Aha! That must be the airport. But the road went on.

Then came the next turn – I think that was the road called Lovers Lane. Not so bad – a yellow line down the middle made it seem like a real road. Even the sign warning “Steep hills and sharp turns ahead” seemed like fair warning for more mountain driving. Up and around and up we went, finally seeing the sign that warns trucks about a steep downhill grade. Yep – looked like the top of the hill, with a bright sky instead of more trees – and then the sign: “Pavement ends.”

Yes. As we crested the top of the mountain, the pavement ended.

Ahead, or rather below, wound an unpaved road, with occasional water from the morning’s rain – all downhill, with sharp curves and warning signs. Ron helpfully reassured me that the road was actually in good condition, not muddy or rutted. He pointed out sights of interest and particularly lovely vistas. I appreciated his effort, but did not lift my eyes from the road or release my white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel.

Eventually we returned to actual pavement, and then to pavement with a yellow line down the middle of the road and shoulders, and finally even an interstate highway. And seeing Vermont was wonderful, and worth the mountain driving. But if I do that again, I think I’ll consult AAA and get some actual paper maps, too.



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