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.