Arts & Leisure

Epic road trip makes new 251 Club members

MICHELE HERNANDEZ BAYLISS and her daughter, Alexia, completed visits to all 251 Vermont municipalities this summer. Here they display a state map, created by Weybridge neighbor Aiden Cole, that includes photos of all the individual town welcome signs they photographed during their odyssey.

I think both of us are kind of obsessive when it comes to lists, and getting things done.
— Alexia Baylis

Everyone likes a good road trip. You pile into the old station wagon and let the good times roll. The odometer clocks your miles, but there’s no measuring stick for great memories
Well, there’s “road trips,” and then there are road trips. Michele Hernandez Bayliss and her daughter, Alexia, certainly experienced the latter, during a summer-long odyssey that was equal parts scavenger hunt, wanderlust and togetherness — all safely logged within the confines of the beautiful Green Mountain State.
The extra payoff for what they’re calling their “Pandemic Peregrinations” — that is, visits to all 251 Vermont municipalities — was a two-dimensional keepsake of their once-in-a-lifetime journey that any traveler would be proud to display on their wall. And the map, which depicts the welcome signs or logos of each Vermont municipality, was designed and assembled by Middlebury Union High School senior (and family friend) Aiden Cole.
“With the pandemic, we were limited,” Michele said of recreation options. “We hadn’t seen our home state, so we thought we might as well try to see it.”
It was while completing a hike on Camel’s Hump that the duo talked about joining Vermont’s 251 Club. Alexia, who last week went off to graduate school, was home for her first extended stay since she’d begun high school out of state. “I’ve been at school for eight years,” Alexia said. “This is the first time I’ve been back since middle school. I wasn’t doing much, I had a lot of time, and I wanted to see the state.”
And that was just fine with Michele, who’s no stranger to marathon challenges. A few years ago, she and a neighbor completed the “Northeast 115” challenge, which involved successfully climbing the 115 peaks of 4,000 feet or higher in New England (67), the Adirondacks (46), and the Catskills (2) — during the winter. “I think both of us are kind of obsessive when it comes to lists, and getting things done,” Alexia said of herself and her mom.
The duo decided to complete the 251 challenge by the book: A 2003 Vermont Atlas, to be specific. They eschewed GPS, in large part because some regions of the state continue to have little or no cellphone reception.
With mom driving and daughter navigating, they spaced the visits out over 18 separate outings, during which they strategically covered blocks of mostly contiguous communities. No overnights; just a lot of round trips from their Weybridge home. “We had some insane days, with 10-hour drives, like when we knocked off all the Champlain Islands,” Michele recalled.
They usually packed their own provisions, wanting to limit their visits to stores during the pandemic. And of course they placed a premium on daylight travel — not only for driving safety, but in order to have optimum conditions for taking photos of the signs.
Waltham was the first community they crossed off their list; it was June 7. Woodbury proved to be the last piece to be positioned in their 251-piece jigsaw puzzle, on Aug. 23. “Alexia targeted this with military precision,” Michele recalled. “She probably spent 100 man-hours with the atlas to figure it all out.”
And it wasn’t always easy. Some communities had multiple welcome signs conveniently placed on well-traveled roads. But in some cases, the old Down-East expression “Ya can’t get thay-yah from hee-yah” rang true.
“That became our fun part; to figure out where the sign would be,” Michelle said. “Sometimes we would ask people, but they often didn’t know where the signs were, or if they even had one.”
They had some interesting talks with a few town clerks. “Some of the towns had crazy stories,” Alexia said. “Like Plainfield. I called, and they said, ‘Well, we did have a welcome sign, then it got stolen, then we found it down by the river, but we never put it back up.’” So they took a photo of the Plainfield Town Hall as a substitute.
Maidstone, in the Northeast Kingdom, was also a tough nut to crack. The town clerk there told the travelers, “We don’t have a welcome sign, but we have a welcome on a rock down near the lake,” Alexia recalled. Their atlas advised them to access the “welcome stone” via an obscure road that began in the neighboring town of Brunswick. It wasn’t really a road, as much as an abandoned trail.
“The grass was like four-feet high and there were huge ruts,” Michele said.
Eventually, Alexia got out of the vehicle and ran ahead to direct her mom over the rugged terrain. And the capper: The 2003 atlas had betrayed them. They ultimately found the right route, and found and photographed the “Maidstone welcome rock.”
“Some of the roads (in the atlas) don’t exist anymore,” Alexia lamented.
Being unfamiliar with much of the real estate they were covering, the pair proceeded very carefully. “There were a lot of U-turns,” laughed Michele, who often had one eye on her rearview mirror to make sure no vehicles were behind her in case she had to stop suddenly at a roadside welcome sign.
Both made sure the trip didn’t evolve into a mad scramble, making sure to metaphorically smell the flowers along the way. If there was a special historic or scenic site in a particular community, they’d go out of their way to find and experience it. They brought one of the family’s four dogs on a couple of the treks, pausing to allow him to swim and frolic at various state and local parks.
Among their favorite communities to visit were Enosburg, Wardsboro, Tinmouth, Poultney and Middletown Springs. Particularly scenic roads included Routes 140, 10 and 131.

CREATING A KEEPSAKE
Aiden, who is a whiz with imaging software he learned to use at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, created the outline of a huge Vermont map. Michele and Alexia relayed their welcome sign photos to Aiden, who skillfully positioned each within the borders of the corresponding community on the map. The result is a very unique, multi-colored state map that lends visual identity to each of the 251 communities.
“It was very interesting, because I got to see all the different fonts the towns use,” Aiden said of the different sign scripts. “Some of them are really unique.”
He will be helping out in Career Center teacher Lisa Rader’s Visual Communications class this year. “This was good practice to keep me sharp during the summer,” Aiden said.
He’ll also include the map project as part of his application portfolio for college. He believes he’ll pursue a career in the realm of graphic design. “This will relate to what I’ll be doing in the future,” he said.
It’s an experience that will resonate for years with the Hernandez Bayliss clan. “It for sure will not be the same when (son) Ian and Alexia leave next week, but I’m grateful for the millions of hours we spent in the car seeing every corner of our brave little state,” Michele said.

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