Seven days looks a little different this week. Occupying six full pages of the newspaper – with plenty of accompanying photos – is the journalistic equivalent of a summer road trip. Five of our writers have teamed up to explore Route 100, which winds its way past a dozen Vermont ski areas, the birthplace of Calvin Coolidge, countless artist studios and galleries, incredible restaurants and natural wonders, from the crystal clear waters of Lake Whitingham to the abandoned asbestos of Eden. mine.
The road is a monument to Vermont industry, in the broadest definition of the term, and a testament to its enduring entrepreneurial spirit. For every shuttered plywood factory, there are a dozen family businesses, selling wood pulp, mouth-blown glass, organic vegetables, quarry stone and gourmet pizza. Fortunately, Route 100’s size and traffic volume encourages and enables human-scale transactions. Along this stretch, commerce and natural beauty coexist in harmony.
The idea of reporting the route as a group came about when returning from a wedding in June that my significant other and I attended in Grafton. Highways 89 and 91 got us there as quickly as possible. But after the party, on Sunday morning, we took the long way back via a stretch of Route 100 that I had never traveled. Vermonty’s longest north-south highway was far more complex than I had imagined.
At the next editorial planning meeting, I loved the ride and the culture team turned it into a cover idea. We decided to split the route and assign each section to a different reporter.
Food writer Jordan Barry, an avid gardener who grew up in southern Vermont, was eager to explore Wardsboro, “the home of the Gilfeather turnip.” Culture co-editor Dan Bolles signed up for the stretch from South Londonderry to Plymouth dotted with summer camps. Food writer Melissa Pasanen was drawn to Rochester’s craft-rich region. Writer Sally Pollak has agreed to take a fresh, local look at tourist-heavy Waterbury and Stowe.
I really wanted to return to the austere northernmost stretch of Highway 100 that I had traveled for a memorial service earlier this summer. It was blisteringly hot in the Northeast Kingdom the day we visited – I think I left some DNA on the booth seat at Cajun’s Snack Bar in Lowell – but the heat made diving in the Lake Eden even nicer.
I love telling stories like this because I’m curious by nature and happiest talking to strangers. Having a mission gives me an acceptable excuse to be who I am – and I’m also holding a clipboard. It is also a necessary reminder of the difficulty of relationships. You have to relax to get people to talk to you, but taking names, taking photos, and remembering to ask all the crucial questions is nerve-wracking. Nor can you easily repeat the experience.
In the end, everyone delivered, and the resulting piece is a fun and informative read. It’s not investigative journalism that helps readers understand the state’s housing crisis – it was last week – but rather a subjective vision of Vermont from a “scenic road” which is also a main artery, a road as crucial as it is vital.
Enjoy the ride.