Another prompt enticed my creative vein this week: Which is better paved roads or gravel? It’s always fun to see where and what form of adventure the right brain might steer this writer’s mind to follow. Enjoy. Thanks for stopping by.
Paved or Gravel or Dirt?
In her all-knowing, female articulation, the onboard GPS had informed me that Highway 34 up the Turley Creek Canyon was the shortest route to my destination, the historical Grand Overlook Hotel. I tried to imagine the person––the face––connected to the voice that guided and too often grated me. The stand-by, blind-date compensation line came to mind: “But she has a great personality.” From my perspective, that reasoning couldn’t possibly apply. I pictured Gladys Path Snob as more the nagging wife or mother-in-law. Out of pure spite, I’d sometimes engage her even when I knew where I was going just to hear Gladys exclaim “Recalculating” each time I opted for an off-route shortcut. In one instance, she’d said “Recalculating” so many times I’d expected her to toss in the towel and blurt, “Screw it, smart guy. You figure it out.” The recollection made me chuckle until I spotted the flashing lights that read: ROAD CLOSED.
I glanced at the GPS screen. No indications of construction or closures appeared. “Well, what now Gladys?”
The device remained mute.
Up ahead, the arrow on a fluorescent orange DETOUR sign indicated I’d be turning right, onto a gravel road…that or doing a one-eighty. I pulled over and stopped on the skimpy shoulder, turned on the car’s emergency flashers, and opened the glovebox. A compacted stack of napkins and a few extra-long straws plopped to the floorboard. I yanked the owner’s manual from the enclosure (the one for my 2002 vehicle that I still hadn’t perused) and rummaged for a map.
If I was Dorothy and Toto, the crusty Kansas directory might have come in handy. Amidst the granite walls of the Colorado Rockies, however, it was as useless as Gladys Path Snob. I tossed it on the pile of fast-food souvenirs, then stared at my watch: 4:37 in the afternoon––or was it 5:37? Had I reset my analog watch after crossing into Mountain Standard Time? I grabbed my smartphone from the center console: 5:37 p.m. Depending upon which direction I held the iPhone, signal strength waffled between one out of four bars to No service. “Great. Just friggin’ great.”
I lowered the driver’s side window. Water babbled down Turley Creek as it skipped over and around large rocks in the streambed. The sweetly acid smell of pine and fir blessed the cool air. I closed my eyes and deeply inhaled through my nose.
A few breaths later, I opened my eyes, put the car in gear and turned onto the gravel road. “It’s just a detour, right? The highway department isn’t preventing folks from getting where they want to go, just changing the scenery.”
Gladys interrupted my moment of reconciliation. “Recalculating.”
I switched her off.
According to information posted at the detour sign, I’d be traveling another three miles, then intersect with Meyers Gulch Road. Dust swirls chased me in the rear-view mirror. Creek sounds faded, but the scent of pine and fir intensified. I eased back into the seat, greedily inhaled, and began to whistle. Though a bit noisier, the two-lane bypass that led into the forest was fairly smooth. Gravel roads weren’t so bad.
I scanned to the right. A huge bull elk browsed in a small meadow. Several cow elk mimicked their male companion. One lifted its head and eyeballed my passing, its jaws undulating in a circular motion. “Wow.”
To my left I spotted a weather-beaten, log cabin, its roof badly bowed above walls that leaned toward certain demise. I wondered how long it had been there…and how many more years it would remain until it became a pile of rubble––a monument to the past. As I followed a curve in the roadway, my mind drifted further to imagine the homesteaders that occupied the one-room abode. How difficult had it been for them to––“Shit!”
I slammed on the brakes. Like trying to dance on a floor full of marbles, the car skidded sideways on the small stones. When it finally ground to a halt, I opened my eyes and released my white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel.
A shadowy hulk loomed near the driver’s side. Clods of fresh soil clung to the massive boulder’s jagged surface. As my heartrate began to slow, a creaking, groaning sound gradually increased in volume to the right. A thundering crash followed as an aged ponderosa pine slammed across the roadway. Once my pulse began to stabilize again, I took stock of my situation. The rock blocked my progression. The fallen tree eliminated the possibility of retreat. And my Honda Civic wasn’t designed for four-wheeling. Sunlight was beginning to fade. That quickly, gravel roads had lost their appeal. I was trapped––except for the single-lane dirt path straight ahead that climbed into the conifers.
“All roads lead to some form of civilization, right? Or at least to the possibility of better cell service. What the hell. Better than hiking or spending the night in the car. I hope.”
The Civic bounced through ruts, downshifted dozens of times, but continued to drone up the grade. As the forest became dense, I turned on the headlights and kept them on high beam. Fifteen minutes later the car emerged into a grassy clearing. A stone structure that resembled a sixteenth-century castle had been erected in the middle of the plateau. Light shined from a solitary window.
I docked the Civic next to a late-model 4X4 pickup parked on a sizeable pad that had been constructed with brick pavers. After switching off the ignition, I glanced at my smartphone. Four bars. Considering how my day had gone so far, a sense of relief escaped my body in the form of a sigh. My travels had included paved roads, gravel, and dirt. Yet, the latter seemed as if it might provide the greatest adventure.
I called the Grand Overlook Hotel and canceled my reservation, then ambled toward the castle’s arched entryway. I had a better place to stay tonight. I hoped.