Lost in Vermont

Google Maps would tell me if I drove into a mountain, right? I wanted to trust the kids from Mountain View. They use satellites and fancy computers. . . what could possibly go wrong? When I hit a span of dirt in the middle of nowhere, I forgot to put down the map and enjoy life’s misguided adventures.

This was the deal:  the future missus and I needed a marriage license from the great state of Vermont, as well as a town clerk willing to help on a Saturday morning. We were lucky to find one in the lovely town of Topsham, which isn’t far from Route 91 in the Northeast Kingdom. (Relevant point:  Google Maps suggested I skip the highway and save time on a charming rural road.)

Now, I try to follow in the footsteps of a great road navigator. . . my mom. She got the family to Alaska and nearly every province in Canada with just a couple of folded maps. Paper navigation will also suffice for me. Why spend the dough on an artificially female-toned GPS? (Relevant point:  darn it, why didn’t I spend the cash on GPS?)

With a printout from Google Maps in hand, I navigated to Topsham while my future wife took the wheel. Rolling hills and secluded homes slipped around our Jeep Grand Cherokee, and we were instantly part of a moving car commercial. Suddenly, the pavement disappeared and the SUV lurched into the rugged-capability pitch. I had never seen our car meet factory specifications until now. Dipping up and down in endless ruts must have felt like sliding down a wave trough in the middle of the North Atlantic. Elevation lifted dramatically. We began to look nervously for connecting roads, signs, other homes. . . but civilization was many leagues astern. How can you search for landmarks when all you have is trees in your windows?

I had forgotten how to deal with a broken road, the kind with more boulders and erosion than level earth. This road was absolutely ruined by Mother Nature. She refused to let man take a spin over her contours. But the Jeep tackled the mountain admirably and our apprehension changed to sheer enjoyment. I put aside my Google Maps and grabbed a handle. We giggled–actually giggled!–as the Jeep did its thing. I could almost hear the beast:  “How dare you let me spend hours on the highway! I’m supposed to be up to my wipers in mud!”

You start to think strategically, but the mental process is laughable. What if the car hits a moose and the nearest road service is in Canada? Can you survive in the wilderness? I had forgotten nearly all of my Boy Scout training, but after watching episodes of Man Vs. Wild and Survivorman, I thought I could wing it. Was I able to construct a shelter out of pine boughs and tree sap? Could I devour a handful of ants to catch up on my protein? Would the future missus be forced to eat me, and would there by any remorse after the main course?

To our surprise, the sunken road went up and over a small mountain. Geography switched to forests and farmland. The Jeep touched pavement again, and I felt a little sad. We swung into Topsham, pop. 1,142, before breakfast and found the town hall without difficulty. I’ve never seen a more peaceful town. Chickens and a sheep dog lounged outside a nearby barn. The whole area looked back at us feeble city-dwellers with amusement:  “So what? We drive that mountain every day.”

I was humbled and thrilled in less than thirty minutes of travel. The dirt and mud on the chassis was worth bragging about, and for an instant I wasn’t one of the Americans who takes a powerful SUV to the grocery store. It was such a great ride, the road less traveled, and it was something I must put the Jeep through again one day.

Have you been challenged by Mother Nature on a road trip? Write your comments below!

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