An adventure story (2)
So, as I said in the last post, faced with the choice of security or a very dicey route home through the hills, I chose the latter.
If you’e2’80’99ve read A Grave Talent, you’e2’80’99ll have had a taste of what our storms do to the hills. And in fact, my friend Laura Crum used that very road in her novel Forged, although there it’e2’80’99s a nice day.
After the first mile, the paint crew had given up bothering with the pretense of center lines; after the second, there weren’e2’80’99t even very many guard rails at the drop-offs. The edges on both sides had that stretch-mark look that indicates some time soon large parts of hillside are going to head for the creek at the bottom, so I tried to stick to the center, except that there were an awful lot of landslides coming off the hills to my left. And waterfalls’e2’80’94where normally there is a trickle, and by June barely enough dampness to keep the moss from blowing away, now there were magnificent specimens that in summertime would have tourists standing around with their cameras, oohing and aahing, and the local kids setting up tables to sell soft drinks and T shirts. But this was not July, it was January, and I hadn’e2’80’99t seen another human being in three miles. I went slow, then slower; every time I came around a corner and saw a waterfall pounding and clawing its way out of a fold of hillside, I expected its culvert to have given way and the road to just stop in front of my tires. Lack of road is asking a lot, even for a Land Rover, and it was going to be a neck-breaking test of my driving skills to reverse to a wide spot and turn around, since there weren’t any.
The sky grew darker. The occasional watermelon-sized boulder sat in the middle of the road, eyeing my underpinnings. I occasionally managed second gear and reached high speeds of maybe ten miles an hour on the brief straight-aways’e2’80’94I’e2’80’99m not really sure, because I didn’e2’80’99t take my eyes off the road long enough to look at the dashboard. I passed the first sign of human beings more animate than the opening to a driveway, namely, a truck parked (fortunately) off the road, the sign on its door saying ‘e2’80’9cMobile Mechanic.’e2’80’9d The thing looked as if it had been swatted by God’e2’80’99s hand, or been pelted by a Roman catapult: the shaken mechanic must have had to climb out through the passenger door, because that driver’s side door would never work again. In addition, its bed was scorched and blackened, as if someone had used the vehicle as a fire-pit. I began to hear the sound of banjos gently playing the duet from ‘e2’80’9cDeliverance’e2’80’9d.
I did not see another car for fifteen miles. The rest of the county was far too sensible to drive that road.
But I saw some spectacular waterfalls, of the sort you would never see otherwise, since they are so very seasonal. And although there actually was a tree down, it was still lying across the wires overhead, and I figured that if it hadn’e2’80’99t ripped them out of their sockets yet, it wouldn’e2’80’99t in the five seconds it would take me to slip under.
That tree was the beginning of civilization, marked in part by the presence of wires, but also by 1) a real live road crew, three men standing in their slickers gazing up at the precarious tree, and 2) a bicyclist. Yes, a man on a bicycle, straining uphill through the rain, around the boulders, and under the tree, as if the light racing helmet on his head would offer protection against twelve inches of redwood trunk. God, did I feel a wimp.
Those 15 miles took me the best part of an hour, but in the end, the road was more or less open all the way through, and I was home before absolute darkness fell, having had my nice drive in the country.
Who says adventure is dead?