Write the Road: Vermont Route 2 Wants to Kill You

Driving, and surviving, one of New England’s most treacherous, glorious roads.

Vermont Route 2
Ben Keeshin

Route 2 will get you all the way through Vermont, west to east, from Lake Champlain to Maine’s rolling Aroostook County potato farms. It’s a vein through the mottled mass of shale and granite that makes up the northern tier of New England, and it achieves a casual prettiness entirely devoid of drama—no kegel-spasming cliffs or ocean views, here.

In Vermont, that comeliness is reflected in oxbow lakes, feral apple trees, collapsing filling stations and one incredible barn, the decomposing Coliseum of the Northeast Kingdom. Most landmarks are fluent in the language of decay, though the overall scene isn’t ghastly, settling instead into a warm North Country shabbiness whose frayed edges become mighty endearing after one’s 5,000th crossing.

Vermont Route 2
Doug Kerr, via Flickr

In sections, the deciduous canopy covering the roadway leans intimately inward, heightening a driver’s sense of what Route 2 is: a lonely rural highway with sections of pie-crust crumbly pavement connecting small towns that most flatlanders could care less about. In others, as it swoops down a long, gentle hill with pines fanning away from the roadway, Route 2 takes on a moody grandeur, some downscale version of the sinuous evergreen path the Torrance family drove on their fated way to The Overlook.

The road’s unruliest section comes between St. Johnsbury, a town which formerly led the world in production of maple sugar candies and now contends with stubbornly high rates of heroin addiction, and Lunenberg, a hamlet so tiny it belongs to a legally-defined “micropolitan” area.

Vermont Route 2
Doug Kerr, via Flickr

Driving it recently, over cracked pavement aged by frost heaves, it’s impossible not to read the road as track—one with intent to shake its rider; a proverbial blacktop bull. On my 30-mile stretch, between childhood home and school, there are seven decidedly off-camber hairpins, dozens of blind corners, a couple of squatting moose and in the winter, oncoming snowmobiles piloted by drunks. Allusions to The Shining aside, Route 2 is ominous for entirely earthly reasons. There’s no spiritual malevolence to the stretch, just incautious drivers who expect roads to be sunny and straight. For others, though, the chance to duck, bob and weave through it all is a joyous kind of toil—and the driver takes the beating with a smile.