When you come to Vermont, turn off your GPS device. On the Saturday they came to visit Fern Forest, Brandon and Mimi took the advice of the blind woman in the machine rather than heeding H’s advice to go around the Green Mountains. They also ignored the sign that said ROAD TO LINCOLN CLOSED and started up the gap, a narrow dirt road with steep hairpin turns. The road crew stops plowing and sanding around Thanksgiving and locals drag their sleds up the mountain or skin up with tellies for a heart-stopping ride down. We haven’t had much snow, so there was no frozen wall where the plow stops to deter these Cape Codders. It was late, and Brandon wanted to surprise Mimi with a Valentine’s weekend in the treehouse, and the GPS device said Lincoln Gap Road was the quickest route. He drives a 4WD and thought even if he encountered a bit of rough stuff, he could muscle his way through. I’d probably have done the same thing had I not known better.
When I was traveling around Kentucky on book tour a year ago, I rented a car with a GPS thingy. The voice had an English accent with a bit of saucy added to make her sound southern. I couldn’t understand a thing she said. Navigating Louisville roads, I had to listen, look at the map on the little screen, check street names, road signs and stoplights, and I admit that I made several gratuitous turns when I found myself in the wrong lane. “Off course. Recalculating,” the voice said. In the time it took her to recalculate, I’d made another wrong turn or two. “Recalculating,” she said again. And again. I finally stopped and bought a map.
Midnight on the Lincoln Gap. Cold. Dark. Car stuck solidly in snow. Wheels spinning. Brandon likes to drive on the beach and so is ready. He’s got a shovel and some boards, but the shovel goes in a few inches and hits solid ice. Snowmobilers have packed down the snow so that the trail looks drivable, but it’s a nasty illusion. The boards do nothing, even with Mimi gunning the engine in reverse. No go. No traffic. No houses. No cell phone reception. Deep breath. Start walking—back down the mountain. Knock on the first door available, even though lights are out. Lights come on. Welcome to the warmth. Use the phone. Call H.
We’re on the other side of the gap and H had no way to reach them except to go over the Appalachian Gap, drive down Route 100, and approach from the Warren side. He didn’t know how badly the car was stuck, whether he could haul it out with his truck. Brandon said he’d call AAA. He did. Help arrived within fifteen minutes, even though it was close to one a.m. When he called H again, H directed him over the App Gap and they arrived finally, cherry cheeked and glowing with adventure. It was nearly three a.m.
I didn’t meet the duo until the next afternoon, when they rose at two p.m. for waffles I’d made at eight a.m. and which were now hard as those boards Brandon had used the night before. But soaked in Vermont maple syrup, they softened enough to get down and the hungry couple devoured them with granola, berries and yogurt. Afterward, they toodled around Bristol, shopped, had a beer at the Bobcat. It was Sunday and Valentine’s Day to boot. Shops closed early, and the Bobcat was packed, so they picked up some snacks and came back to Fern Forest.
Earlier I’d put a bottle of champagne in the fridge to cool, and when they returned we had pomegranate champagne cocktails, dark chocolate hearts and good conversation. H and I took leave for a soak in the spa and they retreated to the treehouse, a blessedly early evening for all of us.
Mimi heard about Fern Forest from Colleen, a previous guest. She lives in Manhattan and works as a designer; her specialty is sports shoes for girls. Brandon is vivacious and amiable. He runs a motel in Orleans on the Cape with his father and his three-year-old son, and he has started a company called Frozen Waves that makes skateboard ramps. They met ten years ago in Limestone, Maine, at a Phish concert but then lost touch with each other. Four months ago Mimi was visiting a friend who suggested she look Brandon up. She found him, made contact, and it looks to H and me that they were ready for each other. These two are gracious and modest, and we enjoyed their company. They’ll be heading south today, straight into a snowstorm, but this time I have a feeling they’ll steer clear of the mountain gaps.