Taking a down day from hiking, we head over to the West side of the state to meet old friends who have traveled down from Burlington, VT. It works out to about a two-hour drive for both parties and none of us has ever been to Hanover, home of Dartmouth College, so we’re all looking forward to it.
But first Walt and I have to traverse the “highways” of New Hampshire. I’ve put the word in quotes because, unlike the highways we’re used to, these have much slower speed limits, stop signs, flashing lights and generally do not allow for much of what we would call “highway speed” travel.
We’ve already figured out that our 90-mile trip is going to take two hours, which somehow seems to be so much longer than it should. I’m not really sure why we think this, having come from the Washington, DC metropolitan area, where a 15-mile trip can take 20 minutes or 40 or 90+, depending on day of the week, time of day, whether it’s raining, whether there’s been an accident or just someone slowing down unexpectedly and causing a chain reaction of slow downs.
Still, there’s something about the devil you know – DC traffic – compared with this new experience of 30 mph speed limits for every town and areas where the 50 mph “highway” slows to 40 mph for reasons we have not yet been able to fathom. At least we should be grateful that it’s summer and the many “20 mph when flashing” school zones are also on vacation. And it does make us very excited when we come to an actual highway where we can drive 65 mph!
Along the way, we find ourselves intrigued (I started to write “enchanted” but Walt’s not really an “enchanted” kind of guy) by the New England-ness of it all. Walt remarks at one point that we’ve gone a whole 10 miles without passing a church. I note that the Dunkin Donuts shops are uniformly modern, well-constructed buildings with drive-thrus and big parking lots. There’s not a Starbucks in sight, although there are certainly many small, local coffee shops in the various towns. It doesn’t take me long to remember that DD was started in New England – Quincy, Massachusetts, according to the firm’s website – which probably helps account for its dominance.
Walt remarks that for an area without a lot of people, we’re seeing a lot of graveyards. Noting the simple, weathered headstones, I reply that they’ve been burying people here for a very long time. I stop to take pictures of one graveyard, set on a hill, and all of the headstones in the row closest to the road have death dates in the 1830s – nearly 200 years of burying.
I’m also taken with what appears to be a classic style of home: a “connected farm” consisting of a “big house” Colonial-style home, connected to the “little house” housing the kitchen and woodshed, which, in turn, is connected to the “back house” containing the privy, workspace and a door to the last building “the barn” that forms the foot of an ell. We are unfamiliar with this type of house but guess that they came about in response to the New England winters and the ability to get to one’s livestock while buried under piles of snow. I’m including a link to the Historic House Blog (http://www.historichouseblog.com/2013/05/28/hubkas-big-house-little-house-back-house-barn-examines-new-englands-historic-connected-farms/), which has much more information and pictures of these historic homes. I’m sure many of the connected farms we see today no longer support farms and livestock, but many look like they’re in good repair and are doubtless being used for other purposes. I know we’re supposed to be downsizing in our next house but I’d bet Walt wouldn’t mind a workshop connected to the house and I could see myself collecting vintage cars in a barn. If only it didn’t mean living through New England winters.
We arrive in Hanover to find a farmer’s market on the famed Dartmouth Green and our friends sitting on the front porch of the Hanover Inn. After an early dinner, we step back onto the street and Walt sees a large placard declaring “You’re now on the Appalachian Trail.” Having seen the AT’s distinctive white blazes on the lampposts of Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, I knew to look to lamppost some 20 feet away. Sure enough, there was a double blaze, indicating the AT crosses the street at that point. I think we just added another 50 feet of the trail’s 2,190 miles to our tally. Walt and I may be up to 4 or 5 miles now, having hiked on bits and pieces many times in Shenandoah National Park. (We have no interest in hiking the whole AT, either a thru-hikers or section-hikers but since my brother Matt did the whole thing in four months a few years, I like to keep track of exactly how far behind we are.)
There’s a zydeco band playing on the green now. Families are gathered in chairs or just sitting on the lawn. Small children are dancing. Dogs are in abundance. The evening is warm and beautiful and the four of us opt to sit in the shade on the Inn’s porch and just soak it all in.
When Walt and I planned this trip, we hadn’t really thought too much about what a summer vacation place New England is but we can certainly see why generations of people have chosen to flee the heat of the cities for this beautiful landscape with its charming towns, sunny days and cool nights.
Call us “enchanted.”
Many thanks to our friends Dennis and Jean, who provided the great photos of the Dartmouth Green and us on the Hanover Inn porch.