For many years now, since before Jessie and I began our so-called life in the fast lane, I’ve held an unusual title. I am the Back Road King. The friend who hung that nickname on me, er, crowned me ‘king’, claimed no matter where we went, I knew a back road shortcut. Only, they weren’t always so short.
To be fair, I do have an aversion to busy main thoroughfares and highways. Who wants to be stuck behind a tractor-trailer truck belching black diesel fumes, anyway?
Yes, I know, you’re just as likely to get stuck behind a tractor on a country road, only this one will probably be towing a manure spreader and releasing fumes of an altogether different nature. Then there’s the risk, at least in my area, of following an Amish buggy traveling at a brisk one horsepower trot.
If you ask me, the back road scenery is worth the risk. I enjoy seeing cattle, horses, sheep, and mules grazing in pastures, cool woodland passages, golden fields of ripening grain, fragrant cut hay lying in windrows. Jessie suggests I like to see how fast the grass is growing on the roadside. She also compares me to a turkey, craning my neck every which way to ‘gobble’ at the sights.
The title of Back Road King didn’t come easy, costing me many gallons of gas and uncounted wrong turns. It also taught a few hard lessons: don’t explore at night, when you can’t reckon by the sun; and development roads follow no recognizable rhyme or reason. I soon cultivated a, shall we say, liberal concept of being lost. Remember, this was before Google Maps or GPS displays. In my opinion, just because I don’t know where I am, does not mean I’m lost, as long as I still know where I’m going. I don’t often get lost, but it does happen from time to time.
Back-roading is a Weidman trait. Long before I could drive, I was adding back roads to the map in my mind, as I rode along with my dad. Three of Dad’s favorite pastimes involved back roads and his beat-up old farm truck: Sunday drives in the fall, farmers’ markets, and farm estate auctions. Mom never missed a chance to ride along, even if it was just to the feed mill, but she liked to be coaxed.
One truck, an aging Toyota (Dad pronounced it ‘Tie-odor’ in true PA Dutch fashion), had a tendency to backfire and stall out at least two or three times as it traveled down the lane. Mom came to depend on that condition, deciding to go along only after the first backfire and miss. Except for the time that old rust heap hesitated only once on the way to the road. When Dad got home, Mom declared she’d have caught him if only the truck had stalled once more. The truck continued to stall for a few more years, but Mom never hesitated again.
Many times on those meandering excursions, Mom would get nervous, asking Dad if he knew where he was headed. “Well, not really, but I suppose I can find my way home.” I suppose I get it naturally.
My parents spent the last 60 some odd years traveling life’s back roads together. Last December, the day after Christmas, Mom departed on her final trip, leaving before Dad for what may have been the first time ever, at the age of 84. Dad continued on alone, perhaps feeling more lost than ever before without her, though he wouldn’t admit it. Just last month, at the age of 86, he found his way Home, as he knew he always would, catching up with Mom to travel that last back road together as they’d always done before.
It’s true. You’re never lost if you know where you’re going.