Why Roads are Less Traveled

A primer to keep you from getting lost, more or less



Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

It's foliage season, which means we've got a lot of visitors in the state, many of whom will end up getting lost. There are politicians who came to New Hampshire thinking they could handle our backcountry roads and were never heard from again, which may not be the worst thing.

Anyway, I've put together a little primer on New Hampshire roads to keep visitors from getting lost. (I generally wouldn't care, but I figure if these folks do get to where they're going, they might buy something.)

In other parts of the country, roads run in basically two directions: east to west and north to south. But in New Hampshire, we've added several dozen more directions, and we try to incorporate them into every one of our roads. Mostly this has to do with the land, which makes the surface of the moon look like a parking lot. Whenever you try to build a road, something is bound to get in the way - a rock, a river or a historic endangered species wetland preservation district - so our roads tend to wind around a lot. Also, most of our roads were originally laid out by wandering cows, and later road builders were either too lazy or stubborn to straighten them. (Or they just thought it would be amusing to leave them as they were.)

All of which means you can't pay too much attention when a highway sign says "north" or "south" on it. That's just a general principle, like the Pledge of Allegiance. Whole stretches of road may go in the exact opposite direction of what it says, so don't let that throw you.

"Pay attention or you'll end up in the middle of nowhere beside a rusted-out hulk with a Morris Udall bumper sticker on it."

Speaking of road signs - there aren't any. At least, that's the way it seems to outsiders. There's a reason for this. We figure that if terrorists ever come here, it'll slow 'em down. On the rare occasion when you do find a road sign, bear in mind that it generally tells you where you're going, not where you are. You may be on East Milfoil Road, but you're actually in Frost Heaves. Over to East Milfoil, the very same road is called Upper Frost Heaves Road or some such. Again, we don't do this on purpose to confuse outsiders, that's just an added benefit.

You've heard of the "Bridge to Nowhere" in Alaska? In New Hampshire we have quite a few "roads to nowhere," classic thoroughfares that start out full of vim and vigor, then lose interest at the edge of town and peter out into old cellar holes and collapsed stone walls. Pay attention or you'll end up in the middle of nowhere beside a rusted-out hulk with a Morris Udall bumper sticker on it. Don't say I didn't warn you.

But the latest fad around here is traffic roundabouts. I think they're an invasive species, first carried to New Hampshire on the undercarriage of an '84 Subaru with Vermont plates that was passing through on the way to an organic gardening festival. I've suggested putting volunteers at the border to check for this kind of thing so it don't spread. But does anyone listen to me? No, they do not.

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