The Best Driving Road in Vermont

Yesterday, I left work early to go to a talk by P.W. Singer at Middlebury College, about the book that I just reviewed, Wired for War. It was a fascinating talk, but it didn't really tell me anything new from the book.

However, the talk was in Middlebury, in Western Vermont, where I've only been a couple of times, and to get there, I had to do a bit of driving. Ever since I got Maxine, I've been wanting to really drive her, and that's precisely what I got to do. (One thing though - don't buy magnetic stripes for a car. I hit 50 mph and they flew right off. Bah!)

About ten thousand years ago, there was a global ice age that covered much of North America in a mile-thick ice sheet. This sheet ground over the state, shaping the surface to what we have today, and forcing the crust down. It's still rebounding, at about an inch a year, if memory serves. Central Vermont in particular still retains a memory of this. Valleys, running from north to south, held huge swaths of ice that would later become glacial lakes as the earth heated up and melted back the ice. As the ice sheets melted, sediment was dropped, and ice jams kept these lakes in place until more melting occurred.

That's what's happened with the route between Montpelier, Northfield and Moretown and Middlebury. To get from point A to point B, I went up Route 100B. Because my directions from Google Maps were abysmal, I went with the vague knowledge that I have of the area and continued down Rt. 100, through Waitsfield and into Warren. Past Warren is Granville, a tiny town that seems to have been squeezed between two sets of mountains. Looking at a topographic map, one can see the lines get closer together, and as you enter this area, the mountains loom steeply on either side, and close together, while a river borders one side of the road. This is the best place to drive that I've been to thus far.

The road is narrow, and curves around in a number of very sharp turns as the road meanders through this pass. Ten thousand years ago, it was the floodgates of a glacial lake, which in turn carved a path through as the ice melted. Driving past the trees, I can imagine the force of the water going through there. Large boulders litter the sides of the roads, and at points, it feels like you are driving through a canyon.

In Maxine, this was a joy to travel through. I'm a big fan of the British automotive magazine show Top Gear, hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, where they have extolled the virtues of European automobiles while denouncing American made cars. One particular complaint that I remember from them is that American cars can't go round corners without problems, i.e. crashing. While on this ten or so mile stretch of winding corners, I found that my MINI could pull some impressive speeds over the speed limit. Maxine held her own wonderfully, being fairly low to the ground and wheels out to the corners. I never felt her slip or misstep once, and fortunately, the one car that I came across was going around the same speeds as I was.

It wasn't the speed that I was thrilled with, although that made the ride exciting. (And, I did make sure that I was well within my limits) It was the curves, which really allowed me to test out the maneuverability and my own skills at turning around corners. This is something that I would have never dreamed of doing in my old Chevy Prism, which would have had to go far slower and would have likely gone off in the ditch if I'd driven like that. I do, in the future, need to remember to actually put away my CDs and not have anything in the passenger seat when I do this again.

One out of Granville, I reached the town of Hancock, which I had never heard of prior to today. From there, I turned onto Rt. 125, which the signs indicated led to East Middlebury, and recognizing a town name, I turned right, and found another stretch of curvy roads that went up and over Middlebury Gap. Overtaking a large truck, I followed someone in a Honda Fit, which handled the corners just as good as I, and we shot down the mountain. This drive was particularly nice, as it passed right through the Green Mountain National Forest, and through Breadloaf, Ripton and East Middlebury, all along this road, which was marked as scenic, which I can completely believe, driving along it. The only problem along this stretch was the sheer number of bumps from the frost heaves.

I reached Middlebury for the talk (I was running late, arriving about a half-hour after the talk started) got my book signed, and went back off, thinking that I would travel up to Burlington and back down, as it was falling dark. Driving up Rt. 7 from Middlebury and over to Rt. 116, where I remembered that I could go from Bristol to Waitsfield over the Appalachian Gap on Rt. 17. This is where the drive got interesting. As a child, my Grandparents lived in Lincoln, and to get there, we would travel over this route, which featured a road that twisted and turned far more than the Granville section. Maxine's tires squealed around the corners, and I almost hit a guard rail at one section (thank god for snow banks, which only filled my front tire with snow). In daylight hours, and when there will be no snow on the ground in June, this will likely be a fantastic drive that will really put Max to the test. The top of the mountain features a small parking lot at an intersection of the Long trail, and it provides a fantastic view of both sides of the state, all the way to Lake Champlain on clear days. The way down is even better, with the same curves down past Mad River Glen and back into Waitsfield, closing this fantastic section of driving.

I honestly can't wait to retrace my steps when the roads dry out and smooth down a bit, because this was an exciting drive through the Vermont countryside, something that I've been meaning to do ever since I first drove Maxine home. That particular section of Vermont is very beautiful, and there are several sites in the region with historical value (Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point) that I'm intending on visiting again. When I do, I know just how I'll get there.