Around the bend: Drive revealed Gap in knowledge

Two weeks ago, I made the flatlander mistake of assuming that because it was mid-April in Vermont, it was spring.

We were heading to Montpelier Saturday morning for a basketball tournament — me driving; my husband, Mark, riding shotgun; our daughter in the back. (For the record, I always drive. I’m a nervous passenger and I’m prone to carsickness. When Mark drives I’m constantly slamming on my imaginary passenger brakes and shouting at him to watch out for turning vehicles and not run over any pedestrians. It’s just too hard to be a backseat driver when I’m busy throwing up out the window.)

When I suggested we go over the Appalachian Gap in Starksboro rather than drive all the way north to pick up 89 in Williston, Mark gave me his usual response: “It’s up to you.”

If this sounds like Mark being agreeable, it’s not; it’s his way of setting me up. Deferring to me allows him to avoid taking any blame if there’s a problem.

He no doubt harbored deep reservations about going over the gap a full two months before the summer solstice. But exercising classic Vermont reticence (known in the other 49 states as passive aggression), he put up little resistance.

The Ap Gap starts off quite pleasantly: curvy roads, scenic vistas, rolling hills. As we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, however, the road grew steeper and the houses grew farther apart until there were none. We appeared to be the only vehicle on the increasingly desolate road.

I found out why when we came around a steep uphill curve: The climate changed abruptly from temperate to arctic. In the distance of a car length we left rainy springtime behind and passed into the type of winter weather that had catapulted the Donner party to fame.

The sky was dark, snow was falling and the pavement was covered with several inches of slushy snow with no evidence of a plow or sand truck having come this way. The grade of the road was such that, during better weather, an experienced climber might enjoy rappelling down it. Under the current conditions, however, driving up it seemed a bit ambitious.

If I accelerated hard, the wheels spun. If I eased up, the car couldn’t maintain any speed. As it slipped and slowed, I saw two choices: Park here in the road until the snow melted some time this summer, or back down a treacherous black-diamond run with not nearly enough guardrails.

So I panicked.

“I’m-scared-I’m-scared-I’m-scared,” I whispered repeatedly, in between shallow breaths.

The rest of the family remained remarkably calm. From the back seat, my daughter asked if we were going to make it to Montpelier in time for her game. I didn’t dare tell her that at this point I’d be happy if she made it to her 12th birthday.

And Mark was too busy gloating to succumb to fear. He just kept shaking his head and saying, “I knew we should have taken the interstate.”

The car was barely moving forward now, but I managed to slalom us up one last steep curve when I saw what I now consider the most beautiful patch of real estate on the mountain: a pull-off.

I pulled off.

After a moment of silence, during which I concentrated on not bursting into tears, I managed to spin the tires enough to get the car pointed downhill. After descending several terrifying miles, we crossed back over the line from near-death experience to typical April rainy day. We took the long way to Montpelier and got to the game late but — and this is the important part — alive.

In regaling his brothers with this story, Mark says it proves that even after all these years in Vermont, I’m still as much a flatlander as I ever was. I say it proves he’s a jerk for not insisting we go the long way in the first place. Both viewpoints have merit.

Whatever the marital implications of the adventure, it did yield a piece of practical advice for those flatlanders out there who, like me, have only lived in this state 20 or 30 years: Avoid the Ap Gap in months that have an R in them.When Vermonters say, “You can’t get there from here,” they’re not just being folksy.

Lesson learned.


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Addison County Independent

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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