A Failed Trip Through The Great Vermont Corn Maze
Every year in January, Mike Boudreau sits down with a piece of graph paper and sketches out a new, elaborate design for the Great Vermont Corn Maze in Danville. It’s the biggest maze in New England. It is the black diamond of mazes. And Erica Heilman stopped by on the last day of the corn maze season to give it a try.
So the first thing Mike Boudreau wants you to know is that the corn maze is a summer activity. You want to go to a corn maze when the corn’s high and lush and green, which is not October, even though I went in October. The next thing is, Mike doesn’t want you showing up at 2 p.m. when they close at 3 p.m.
Mike: "Team. How we doing? So. One cornfield, two mazes. Worst thing you can do out here is think you have a clue. 'I think we should go up that bridge. I think we should go up that hill.' Whatever you think doesn’t matter, because I designed it."
The Corn Oracle
Most people take hours to get through the maze, and only about one or two percent get through without clues from Mike’s kid, Jake, who stands on a bridge in the middle of the maze like some kind of corn oracle.
Jake: "So the maze is set up — imagine just a straight rubber hose — and it’s divided into four quarters. They’re not equal size quarters. And in order to solve the maze, you have to go through one, two, three and four and out. However, we took that hose and we tied it in a big ugly knot. So you could be in the first quarter and be right next to the fourth quarter, but you still have to go all the way around through the rest of the knot and get out through the fourth quarter."
Me: “There can only be a certain number of kinds of people and how they manage puzzles like these. How do you describe the different categories?”
Jake: “There’s a group that they’re just here to walk, and they’re not paying any attention to what’s going on, and they’ll walk the same little eight foot square a hundred times and think they’re on a different spot. But they’re still having fun doing it. So it’s kind of hard to even feel bad for them. 'Well, you guys are having fun. Keep going.' And then there’s others that come in here, and after we give them a spiel of how to attack this, it opens up a whole new world for them, and they’re running right through, trying everything. It might take them a few hours to finish it, but they're having a blast.”
Me: “You can see evolution pretty starkly up here. There are those who are survivors, and there are those who are not.”
Jake: “Right. Absolutely.”
Me: “Alright, well I will probably see you, I don't know, seven or eight more times.”
Jake: “Oh at least. Yup.”
Like A Midlife Crisis
After talking with Jake, I set off into the maze. Word of advice: don’t wear heels. This is 26 football fields worth of corn, with hills. You don’t run from one endzone to the other. You snake along.
Me: "I’m walking in a path that’s about five feet wide. The corn’s about 10 feet tall. Miles and miles of corn. It’s like a midlife crisis.”
Me: “Where are we? Can you just help me? Which quadrant are we in?”
Guy: “No clue.”
Me: “Okay. Oh my God. “
New people pass by.
Me: “Hi. I am from Vermont Public Radio and I’m just following people around.”
Man: “You lost too?”
Me: “Have you developed a strategy?”
Man: “Always right.”
Woman: “Following kids.”
I run into Justin and Liz from Barre.
Me: “What about you guys? How long have you been here?”
Justin: “Ten minutes.”
Me: “Have you done this before?”
Liz: “I have.”
Me: “What’s your strategy, here?”
Justin: “Just make it up as we go.”
Liz: “Survive. So we came out here. So that’s got to be the only way.”
Me: “She really knows where she’s going.”
Justin: ”She’s got a direction and she’s heading towards it.”
I keep meeting Liz and Justin at the same place. It's like running into someone at the grocery store and then running into them six more times, always in aisle six.
I am hungry and defeated. And I’m not proud of it, but I’m not going to lie about it: I give up. I give up, and I take the scenic tour, which brings you through a series of doors with explicit directions for how to get through the maze.
Me: “Door eight. Welcome to door eight. Open this door, then turn left. Then take every left and you will soon be on your way. But don’t be left behind as you find your way to door nine. Lefts. Left. Oh there’s another door! I like the scenic way. Oh there’s another door.”
Finally I come to a high clearing in the maze. It looks out over the corn, out to the White Mountains, to Mount Washington and the Franconia Notch. Tired mazers are sitting in groups on the ground, enjoying this view in the late fall sun. Tamaracks blazing. I talk with four young men lying in the grass.
Me: “Level of one to 10 in terms of just sheer anxiety.”
Guy: “Sheer anxiety, probably an 8.5. It could be worse, but it’s also pretty bad.”
Me: “The four of you are together?”
Me: “Have you discovered over the course of this time … what have you learned about each other?”
Second guy: “That when we have a plan, they back down. You build up trust as friends over a period of several years, and you don’t expect that to be broken down in a single afternoon. That’s where we’re at.”
Me: “Yeah. Do you have any strategies that you’ve employed that have been useful?”
First guy: “Some strategies that don’t work: number one, if you try to solve the maze by keeping your right hand on the right side and thus follow every right path, you won’t pass it because it’s a three-dimensional maze, not a two-dimensional maze.”
Third guy: “Because there’s bridges and tunnels. It doesn’t work that way for this one.”
First guy: “For me, I kind of thought there’d be no strategy or logic or reasoning to it. Just walk around and then eventually you’d get lucky and stumble onto the end. But now we’re realizing that it’s actually much larger and much more complex than we’d expected. And I think it’s humbled us.”
The Great Vermont Corn Maze is closed down for the season. The day after I came, they cut the corn for silage, packed it down tight into the bunker silo. Mike’s already planning for next year. He says don’t forget to come in August. And wear sensible shoes.