Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Mountain Roads

Above: this county road was giving way to water erosion & the eternal grip of gravity. Sometimes huge chunks of road simply fell off, as on the right side of this one.
Even on the paved & well-maintained highway 66, one breathless moment leaves drivers wondering what's on the other side of a disappearing road. Here the summit of Red Bird Mountain.

Mountain roads are the stuff of legend in SE Kentucky. Old timers divide between those using common sense & others in a lifelong challenge of never letting the road get the better of them. I found few terrors worse than traveling some mountain roads. One never knew when the road, already clinging tenuously high up the mountainside, would give way to erosion & the eternal grip of gravity. With few safety posts, these narrow roads hug the mountain on one side, and drop hundreds of feet down on the other, with no margin of space whatsoever at the sides. Cars not equipped for mountain driving can be caught, unable to get up a steep incline nor to back out safely. I was always unsure about where it was safe to drive, so I followed the advice of a local: stay on paved roads. Traveling too closely to a coal truck was also dangerous as they were known to be overloaded and everyone could tell a story about a truck that a.) dumped its load on the car behind it, b.) lost its load on a sharp turn, c.) tipped over trying to navigate a curve while carrying a top-heavy load,…well you get the picture. Other road warriors liked to tell their stories about going off the edge of a mountain & living to tell the story, being rescued from upside down landings in rivers, taking out trees, sliding down icy mountain drives, & more. Still others liked to brag about how quickly they could get across a certain pass or to the closest town, and you knew they were driving way too fast. “What about the possibility of an elk, a four-wheeler, a fallen boulder or tree, electrical lines down, a dog, a person walking, or whatever might be right around the curve in the road?” I would ask. The reply was almost always a nonchalant shrug. Although I lost my gut-wrenching fear of the roads, I never lost a huge respect for their inherent danger. And I avoided driving the pass over Red Bird Mountain as often as possible!

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