Had a pleasant drive to North Conway, NH today to leaf peep. While the foliage wasn’t very impressive (I’m starting to think this is one of those crappy, off-years for it), the mountains are a very nice change of scenery. I like mountains. I liked them in Nevada, and I like them here. They make for a nice backdrop, the air feels cleaner and the sky looks bluer. So basically that impressed me more than the trees. Maybe Vermont will be different.
Stopped in a Walgreens (my employer) in N. Conway just to scope it out. Picked up a few souvenirs, including a moose bobble-head for my dashboard (ha! Picture tomorrow, I promise). I didn’t see any moose yet, though had plenty of opportunity (see below). The Walgreens sold beer and wine, which is something we’re slowly implementing all over the country, but it’s the first one I’ve seen. Liquor seems to be big up here. Maybe people drink all winter.
Picked up some provisions in a Hannaford grocery store, which apparently is this area’s Stop & Shop. It was laid out and decorated very bizarrely, though it was huge. Things just seemed to be arranged very haphazardly (maybe they were drunk). It was hopping though, and this at 7pm on a Sunday.
When I left Hannaford it was dusk in the valley, which was spooky but kind of romantic. I cranked up the showtunes and headed for Waterville Valley, which is where my first night’s stay is. GPS tells me 1.5 hours. No problem. “Climb evvvvvvry mountain……”
After about an hour, I took a slight wrong turn. GPS recalculated my route (I’ve only managed to take two wrong turns so far, and quickly recovered my route). It redirected me and all was going fine – until that ill-fated turn onto a dirt road (how utterly rustic…) This seemed a bit odd, but hey, when in Rome….. GPS hasn’t let me down yet, so I proceeded confidently. Little did I know what I was in for.
This “road” – and that term is generous, it was more of a dirt path – is the “Sandwich Notch Road” (I’ve since learned that I should avoid any road with “notch” in the name). I think they call it Sandwich Notch because you’ll be on it so long that you’ll need a sandwich. It is an EIGHT MILE, WINDING, HILLY, RUT-FILLED DIRT PATH THROUGH THE FOREST. Literally. There are no lights, no signs, no turnoffs. No going back. Nothing but trees, dirt and pitch blackness (it was 7pm). It wouldn’t match any civilized person’s idea of a road. The “road” was so incredibly bumpy, hilly, and full of huge ruts that you could sink a bowling ball into that I couldn’t do more than 10 mph. My bobble-head moose looked like he was having a seizure. When you’re doing 10 mph for 8 miles, you’re looking at almost an hour of drive time. Harrowing, nerve-wracking drive time. Then I began to wonder if this “road” was two-way, and what would happen if it were as there didn’t seem to be nearly enough room for two vehicles to pass each other. Some of the hills were so steep that when you approached the top of one, you couldn’t even tell if there was any “road” to meet you on the other side or if you were just going to fall off a cliff. The side of the “road” dropped off steeply in spots, so if you did try to pull over to allow a car to pass, you’d likely be stuck in a ditch, or worse, roll over.
I traveled like this for about 40 minutes, feeling like I was in a bad horror movie. I watched the distance calculation on my GPS tick down – slooooowly, in painful tenths of a mile – to mark the end of this sorry excuse for a road. 6.5 miles. 6.4 miles. It seemed eternal, like watching the timer on a microwave when you‘re really hungry. Aside from fretting over how much damage I was doing to my vehicle’s suspension and tires, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d encounter a woodland critter. A deer. A moose. A bear. A crazed woodcutter. It was dark, I was alone, and I hadn’t seen a car or any sign of life or civilization for over a half hour. Nothing but trees, dirt, stones, ruts and darkness. Nobody knew I was here. What if I got a flat tire? Or hit a moose? (granted, I was going so slow it wouldn’t have done much damage to either of us). Or ran out of gas. Cell phone likely wouldn’t work. What the hell would I do? Walk? Ha ha. Not a chance in hell. You couldn’t pay me enough. There’s nothing that could have gotten me to step outside of that vehicle except for a fire, and even then I’d have to think about it. This was a forest. I was the one who didn’t belong, and any self-respecting moose would know that. And who the hell put a road here anyway? Why??? I can’t imagine anyone intentionally taking it to get somewhere unless they had a death wish.
Then an unexpected thing happened. Headlights. Not behind me, but in front of me. A massive truck, like one of those Ford behemoths your car could slide under that you see in monster truck rallies (“the Pulverizer!”). I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or more nervous. Maybe they were going to crush me like a bug! Instead, when they saw me, they backed up and pulled over to the side to let me pass. Alright! And I was the little guy! How neighborly! (people do seem friendlier up here). I flashed my lights and gave them a thank you wave. But then I realized that in slasher movies, little niceties like this always happen just before the gory killings. It makes them all the more tragic. And you thought you were safe! Ha!
Nevertheless I continued on, feeling slightly more confident now that I knew there was another fool in the world who was doing this little-red-riding-hood-in-a-car thing at night. Then, a short while later, I actually saw a HOUSE! Like, in the middle of the woods (maybe it was Grandma‘s House? Why does she live in the middle of the woods, anyway?) And it wasn’t a little house either, but a big one, setting pretty much right on the road. “Who in their right mind would live out here?” I wondered. Paul Bunyan? And would you be able to sleep at night? Would you walk from your car to the house in the pitch black darkness where nobody would hear you scream should the occasion arise? And how did they get electricity way out here? Generator? Or black magic? It was like something out of a Stephen King novel, but this wasn’t Maine. Or was it…..
As I pondered all this, more headlights appeared (and I was in it for keeps, six miles deep now, two more to go). But this time they were behind me. Where the hell did they come from? That house? The extremely odd thing was, they were doing a pretty good rate of speed. What the heck were they driving? Here I was – chugging along in my SUV as fast as I could to get the hell out of the woods, yet being forced to obey a 10 mph limit due to the unforgiving ruts in the road that turned my vehicle into a Home Depot paint shaker – and here this joker behind me was gaining on me, and fast. As this was making me nervous, I decided to pull over and let them pass. Go ahead, ruin your suspension pal. As they pulled up beside me, they stopped. Stopped! Great. I’m going to be murdered in East Butthole New Hampshire in the middle of the woods. Why else would they be stopping? As I didn’t see any other choice, I rolled down my window, with grave apprehension.
It was a high end car, maybe a Lexus or an Audi. Can you believe this, taking a vehicle like that on this road and driving it like it’s a four wheeler? (And why do I care when I’m about to be bludgeoned?) An attractive, cultured-looking woman was in the passenger seat. She and her mate looked like they just drove in from the suburbs. They didn’t seem the least bit shaken. This was fun for them! (maybe they were drunk, too). Could this get any weirder? They behaved like this kind of thing was natural to them.
“Are you lost?” she asked me. Inside, I was laughing at her presumption. Why else would I be out here in the middle of the woods at night unless I was lost? A perfectly logical question. “No,” I said, because I wasn’t really. Peeved, yes. A little wigged out, yes. But not lost.
“Does this come out onto 49?” she asked. Ha. THEY were the ones who were lost, and were looking for company. OK, Mr and Mrs Misery. Oddly, I spied an in-dash GPS in their Batmobile. Maybe this was another of those calm-before-the-storm moments. I glanced at my GPS and informed her that this road ended in 2 miles, at Route 49. At least, if there is a God it does. She acknowledged me and they sped off, their high-end suspension sailing over the ruts like butter. (They were joyriding!). In a flash they were gone, and I continued my convulsive trudge.
A little ways up, I saw a roadsign that made me really question my sanity. “Watch for Children.” Huh???? How about “Watch for Moose?” or “Watch for Bears?” Or “Watch for Serial Killers?” Children were the last thing I was concerned about, and I can’t imagine what any would be doing out here anyway, unless maybe they were Children of the Corn.
Then, I began to see signs of civilization. Another house. Then two. Then some actual tar. Hoorray! I’m saved! The ordeal is over! I emerged from the woods, triumphantly, and turned onto Route 49 – speed limit 55! – and felt like I was just let out of prison. Like the freeing feeling you get after you’re in a huge traffic jam and can finally hit the gas. Hotel bed, here I come!
But… I’m not out of the woods yet. My GPS doesn’t recognize the name of the road my Best Western is on. Ha! No wonder, it’s in a ski resort area in the middle of the forest (except with real paved roads). It’s dark and the roads are windy. And there are all kinds of ski lodges and resorts nestled amongst the heavily wooded properties with poor lighting and signage. The roads are short but many, and they all circle in on each other and change names quickly. Great. I couldn’t pick a Motel 6 or something right off the highway. Finally I stumble onto my road. Imagine my delight! Problem is, I STILL couldn’t find the place. What the hell? The road was like not even a mile long. I road up and down it twice. The third time, I spotted the Best Western sign. Not at all what I was expecting – more upscale, kinda ski-lodge looking. Blended in with the others. When I checked in, a bit harrowed, I told the clerk of my dirt road adventure. Seems it wasn’t the first time he’d heard it, but he sure sympathized (I got the impression some never made it out alive). He told me there are three ways into the area. The one I took was the worst one. Ya think??
Next time I come, I’ll bring a pack mule.