On being ... a missed turn

By Ingrid Sapona

A friend and I went on a road trip last week through Vermont. I had never been there and I have to say, it’s as lovely as everyone says. Every town and hamlet was quaint without seeming fake, and all the homes and buildings were well looked after.

We purposely had few plans. We had a map of the state and a Tour Book from the automobile association. My research was limited to going on-line to find out where the Ben & Jerry’s factory was and whether they give tours. (They do.) The only accommodation we had booked was for our second last night (including dinner) at a Relais & Chateaux group inn. (After all, this was vacation, so I could justify one night of luxury.)

We basically planned our route from meal to meal. Whenever we’d stop we’d look at the map and decide what road we’d take from there. Sometimes we’d read the descriptions of towns in the Tour Book -- but more often than not we read about places we had just driven through, rather than places that lay ahead.

Once we realized distances on the map weren’t as far as they appeared, we decided to stop and see Montpelier. With a population of about 8,000, it’s the smallest capital city in the U.S. The capital building itself is very nice and surprisingly accessible -- no metal detectors or security checks to get in and visitors are free to roam the building on a self-guided tour.

With the Green Mountains running north-south, the main roads parallel the mountains. On the map we noticed some winding roads through the mountains and on our second day we decided to explore one. Well, what a ride it was. Curve after curve heading up the steep mountain. At the top we pulled into a scenic lookout.

By the time we parked, we noticed the truck we had been following on the way up was already far down in the valley below. My heart sank knowing that if the truck was already down there, it must be a pretty swift downhill ride. We snapped a picture and continued on our way. The first half mile or so down was smooth but straight downhill. That quickly gave way to a series of hairpin turns, all at grade and fairly rutty. The entire journey across the mountain was only about 15 miles, but it was an invigorating ride from top to bottom. (I don’t even want to think what that road is like in winter!)

The next day, headed south on Route 100 toward the inn, at some point we realized we had missed a turn so we stopped to check the map. We had seen a sign for Route 100A a couple hundred yards back but down that road we noticed a huge, orange Road Closed sign, so that wasn’t an option. We could turn back, but that meant a fair bit of back-tracking. Since we pulled over by a general store, we went in and asked for directions.

The clerk pointed us toward Route 100A and said it would eventually take us back to 100. When we said it looked like the road was closed, he assured us it wasn’t. Though we both thought 100A might be a bit rough, given the road closed sign and all, we decided to try it. To our amazement, as we approached the sign we found that, in fact, the road wasn’t closed. The misleading sign actually related to the fact that one lane on the bridge that leads to 100A was closed.

So, we proceeded with caution. As luck would have it, beyond the bridge the road was freshly paved. It was a beautiful road and a pleasure to drive -- curvy but mainly flat and scenic. I noticed a historic plaque on a clearing on a hill. I glanced at the map and saw something about Calvin Coolidge State Park. As we drove passed the plaque I thought I read that it was his birthplace.

A few hundred yards beyond the plaque we noticed a few buildings back in a clearing. Curious, we decided to turn around and go back to see what it was. Hidden from view of the road was Plymouth Notch (population about 300, but in Coolidge’s time it was about 1500). It was, indeed, Coolidge’s birthplace, as well as the place he was inaugurated as 30th president, and where he’s buried. Many of the buildings in the town, including the general store, which Coolidge’s father ran, are original with original furnishings. Neither of us knew much about Coolidge, and we ended up spending a couple hours looking around and learning.

Later that afternoon, when we were back on Route 100 headed to the inn, we talked about the happy accident of finding Plymouth Notch. We both remarked about the fact that it all happened because we missed the turn and because we followed the stranger’s advice to disregard the Road Closed sign.

On the way home I was thinking about how relaxing the trip was and why. Besides the fact that Vermont is lovely, I think what made the trip so pleasant was our willingness to let the road take us where it did, instead of us taking control and using the road merely to get from place to place. So much of our daily lives is focused on getting from one point to another (not always geographic locations – but surely from task to task to task), that we often don’t even look up en route from one thing to the next. This trip was a good reminder to me that life’s about the journey, not the destination and that missing a turn, getting off your planned path -- and even ignoring road signs (or at least looking beyond them) -- can be invigorating, enriching and enjoyable.

© 2011 Ingrid Sapona


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