Driving Country Roads

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Maybe, when you think about country roads, in your mind’s eye you see the curving blacktop roads in New England or West Virginia. The Internet will tell you about those roads, to slow down around curves, watch for wild animals and incoming traffic, to obey the speed limit, especially on curves.

Those aren’t my roads. Mine are gravel–six miles if I drive two miles to the Oketo corner, as we always called it although it’s now named Cherokee Road, and turn right for another four miles of gravel to where pavement begins. Or, if I head south to Highway 36, it’s nine miles of gravel before blacktop begins past the cemetery at Home, Kansas.

The rules for gravel are different and basic: slow down. No one who travels this stretch slows down much. Most of us have traveled it all our lives. We know where the rough spots are. We drive by the feel of the gravel.

According to everything2.com, you first need to know what gravel is, “…broken down rock material…” That, I expect, is fairly obvious. “The major difference between driving on gravel and driving on a sealed surface is that there is much less grip on gravel.” And there the tendency to slide comes into play.

That’s what any farm kid learns, driving a truck at a reckless speed on gravel.

I thought about that yesterday as I drove back from town. The township grader and driver were at work on the gravel stretch from Oketo to our corner where I turn north on 16th Road which used to be the Home road, but now it has a name, too. The driving was a little iffy where the grader left loose piles of gravel, but easily doable if I stayed in the two main lanes.

That’s another lesson farm kids learn. In general, there’s two good, worn down lanes with a third swerving to the side to play safe as you come to the top of a hill and swerving back to the two main tracks once you top the hill. That swerving to the side track happens on both sides of the hill and is an automatic movement. It’s what we do.

As I turned north on 16th Road for the two mile stretch to our lane, I slowed down. The road is narrower here and less maintained. That’s when I realized I drive by the feel of the road. That’s the stretch when memory blooms, and I remembered taking the pickup one day when the folks went to town. For farm work, I’d started driving around age fourteen, so I don’t think I was very old, but I do know I was mad at having to stay home. I drove over to the west side and back at a reckless speed, caught the tires in loose gravel and flipped the truck. When I came to my senses, I walked home across the field. Boy, was Dad mad. Somewhere in those years, I also turned over the tractor after catching the plow in the barbwire fence on a too fast turn. He was mad that time, too, and carried accident insurance on me for the rest of my farm work youth. There was some doubt I’d make it to adulthood.

Yesterday, a meadowlark trilled as I passed, five red-wing blackbirds swooped in front of my car, and a turkey scurried across the road.

Now, that’s worth slowing down for.
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11 thoughts on “Driving Country Roads

  1. All the roads around my grandparents’ farm were gravel, so I have memories of that as well, although I wasn’t driving most of the time those memories were in the making. What I remember, too, is how square the miles/roads were and when the corn grew tall, you had to be careful approaching each corner, because you had no idea whether anyone was barreling along the other way. Now we drive on some gravel roads in Wyoming and yes, they can be a bit slippery.

    janet

    1. Hey Janet. I expect there’s a fair amount of gravel in Wyoming!
      So glad the post brought back grandparent memories. Tall corn can certainly pose a new hazard, that’s for sure. Right now we’ve had so much rain up here that the farmers are having trouble just getting in the field to plant it.

  2. On my trip to Kansas a couple of years ago, I was surprised by the ubiquity of gravel roads. There are some here in Texas, to be sure, but the Farm to Market roads are blacktop. One difference is that you have pretty high quality gravel, and we have caliche. The downside of that stuff is that it gets slick when it rains, which adds to the level of amusement.

    I like gravel roads. I grew up with them, and with a dad who enjoyed going “exploring” on them. We often set out in search of treasure. What i didn’t realize until much, much later in life was that the time together was the treasure.

    1. I remember caliche. It’s not fun to drive on. Used to be that kind of road to Enchanted Rock.
      How nice the post brought memories of exploring with your father. Gravel roads hold mysteries and treasures and turns you didn’t expect to make. I’ve liked exploring some of the old roads around here, too, where people I used to know once lived.

  3. I love this – especially the red-wing blackbirds on the barbwire fence. Brings back memories of dirt roads in the countryside around my mother’s small Alabama cotton-growing town. I remember the softness of the dirt that came from the banks of a creek aptly named Big Sandy. I admire your talent driving on gravel roads. Muscle memory stands you in good stead.

    1. hahahahah…well, muscle memory is about all the memory I have left! If it weren’t for forty plus years of journals, I’d never be a memorist, let me tell you.

      I’m so happy the red-winged blackbirds are still around. One of the mornings we were up there, a turkey strolled past the old chicken shed and quail sounded off in the tall grass. I am so grateful for that 160 acres of wildness.

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