Roads Scholar and Gravel Slalom

I’ve finally reached that mind-body equilibrium we all seek. I’m both a Roads Scholar and a Gravel-road Slalom competitor. You’re probably not familiar with either unless you live at the end of four miles of a dirt road in Vermont and live here year-round.

For many of us the primal terror of “mud season” faded with the invention of Tyvek, now underlying the uppermost gravel layer on our back roads. The white lingerie gracing many unfinished homes in our backwoods turned out also to be a boon for those of us living on back roads where in spring the water-table overtakes the road surface. Tyvek has drastically reduced the boggy swales that mired our cars each spring.

Visitors driving along our back-country roads after a few days of inclement weather may be surprised to see locals slaloming along the full width of our two-lane roads even as they approach hilltops. Unless you’re born to the sport of gravel-road slalom, it will seem odd at first, if not fatal.

Gravel-road slalom lacks the grace of a great snow skier following the fall line through a tight web of bamboo poles throwing up clouds of snow from side to side. The gravel moguls we toss up on the roadbed as we carve our way through the aggregate only makes matters worse for the next sportif driver. After several broken tie-rods and a blown shock or two, you’ll learn to appreciate this unique Yankee sport.

If you see a hand-painted roadside notice offering to buy recyclable metal, look sharp for a whopper pothole. Tie rods, blown shocks, hubcaps, bent wheel hubs, even the occasional ancient Subaru rusting in a nearby field should serve as a warning, and by the way if you imagine that speeding over a pot-hole will incur less damage, you’re in for a costly surprise.

It’s assumed that sober folks driving on paved roads drive in a straight line and drunk drivers zig-zag, but on our gravel roads the opposite is true. Intoxicated drivers drive straight down the middle while sober drivers zig-zag.

The few imported Yugos, Ladas, and Renaults that made it to Vermont rarely lasted a year on Vermont’s secondary roads. One Yugo was found buried deep in mud on a road in Eden when a trout fisherman spotted a side-view mirror sticking out of the ditch on the side of the road.

At my age, I’m proud of my Roads Scholarship and my skill at Gravel-road slalom, a skill to which most newcomers only aspire.

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