This greets anyone trying to go inside at the Chelmsford, Massachusetts, rest stop on I-495 northbound.
I drove up to New Hampshire’s White Mountains on Saturday of Columbus Day weekend. At the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch, I gave a talk about why the trails in the Whites tend to go straight up the mountains. On the drive up I stopped at the rest stop in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, along I-495 North. I and a hundred others in a continuing turnover of crowds all discovered the locked building. Four portable toilets lined the area near the curb. Trash overflowed the wire baskets. The busiest weekend of the fall—maybe of the whole year—and hordes driving for hours to reach New Hampshire and Vermont and Maine hold their noses.
On the way home, I slowed down and immediately sped up again as I passed the Montville, Connecticut rest stop on I-395 south. Construction crews are rebuilding it and it will be closed for weeks. I asked myself whether they had realized the construction work would coincide with the chaotic second weekend of October.
Why can’t so many states get this one right? Highway travel brings in revenue. Travelers arrive at rest stops sticking their tongues out for thirst and hunger. Closing rest stops during the busiest weekends of the year feeds frustration. I never feel that way entering Vermont on I-91. I’m not the first one to crow over the Guilford, Vermont welcome center, a post-and-beam structure where community groups gather to give out food (donations accepted) and bright light washes over displays about local goods. Maps, pamphlets, clean bathrooms, and smiling workers ready to help you find your way make me nostalgic not for home, but for that highway in Vermont.
Once I reached the White Mountains, the sight of a hundred or more cars overflowing the lots at trailheads along I-93 and Route 2 made me gulp. People are going to the well-known routes like the Old Bridle Path up Mount Lafayette or the trailhead called Appalachia, where several trails up Mount Adams and Washington end. They are taking big cars and find no alternative transportation, except infrequent shuttle vans the AMC runs. They are not trying the lesser-known trails up mountains they never heard of. Escaping north at this time of year feels like a frantic exodus through unclean territories, the highways.