Mud, Dust & Ruts
Catch a glimpse of the rough side of country roads.
Country roads are a great place to go when you want to get away from it all.
Of course, you knew it never really happened because when they finally return home, their SUV is still shiny as a new penny.
When you live in the country – especially if you live a mile or 10 off the blacktop – the only time your vehicle will be spotless is the day you bring it home from the dealership. The rest of the time, it will be covered with dust or splattered with mud, snow, manure, or some combination of the above. The paint will be decorated with fly specks, and the windshield will be adorned with the squashed remains of countless flying insects.
The majority of this country’s rural roads are probably in far better condition than those found in many other nations. Most are passable year round, but some country roads pose challenges you probably didn’t encounter when you took your driving test.
In the winter, when the wind can pile snow into impenetrable drifts, some rural roads may never see a snowplow. Especially in flat, open areas of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado or Kansas. That’s why, in the olden days, everyone carried tire chains in their trunks. Nowadays, many motorists wouldn’t even know how to chain their tires, other than those who routinely drive over steep mountain passes. Of course, now there are strappin’ young guys at the passes, ready to chain your tires up for a modest fee. So even then, you can get by.
Then there’s spring, the mud season, when the snow melts and the ground thaws. That’s when some country roads turn into a muddy mess that can trap even 4-wheel-drive vehicles. If you spend much time driving over muddy, rutted roads, it’s a good idea to keep a pair of rubber boots in your car so the next time you slide into the ditch, or otherwise get stuck, you won’t mind walking to a farmer’s house for help.
Summertime means dust season. That’s when you can spot a vehicle traveling on an unpaved road a mile away by the plume of dust rising in the air. That is, if you can still see through the paste of insect remains on your windshield. While those vehicles are raising dust, they are also creating a washboard surface that’ll jar a future traveler’s fillings and loosen a car’s suspension components. Have a can of paint that needs to be re-stirred? Just toss it in your trunk, and drive a few miles over a washboard county road.
There is relief in sight though – it’s called the maintainer.
Maintainer, motor patrol, road grader – no matter what you call it, the only cure for the washboard blues is a good grading. Although the gravel windrows they temporarily create in the middle of the road can present a driving hazard, good road grader operators can smooth out the ruts and flatten the washboard in no time flat. That’s why there aren’t that many of them and it takes so long for them to reach your neighborhood. In parts of rural Colorado, for example, gravel roads with “moderate” traffic volumes are graded every three or four weeks, while “low usage roads” may be graded “seasonally,” which means, “When Bo can get to it.” For some rural residents, private driveways may pose a greater challenge than public rights of way.