The Wide Angle: Thoughts lost to the sound of gravel under tires

Published 6:35 am Saturday, May 25, 2019

Being from a small town, it doesn’t take long to realize the value of back roads.

I hail from a town that currently boasts around 240 people — Lake Wilson. Naturally, there wasn’t a whole lot to do, but I was an active kid, played a lot of baseball and did a lot of bike-riding. You learn to explore one’s own modes of entertainment.

As I’ve noted in the past, we had horses for a time so that provided another point of fun and my parents were always great at finding things to keep me occupied.

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But, it was the back roads surrounding our humble little village, which provided a bulk of our entertainment, especially in the car-driving years, though not exclusively.

In some ways, the town was like a giant farm in that taking our bikes a mile or so outside of its confines wasn’t worth a second thought. Our parents expected an awful lot out of us, falling under the larger umbrella of don’t get into trouble.

We were kids, of course.Naturally, the second part was more an idea rather thankfully realized concept and I suspect our parents knew that. So long as we didn’t break either bones or property, stayed relatively respectful or didn’t knock over any banks we were fine.

Yeah, we got into trouble. We were in fact kids, but it was the amount of trouble we caused,  weighed against what otherwise kept us active that held the balance of how much trouble we actually got in.

We were a contented group for the most part, satisfied to investigate the back roads and the town’s surrounding, finding whatever of interest we could track down.

To get to these adventures, we traveled by bike, though we were proficient hoofers as well.

Often times, our course took us south on Cemetery Road. I highly doubt it was called Cemetery Road in so much as it deserves capital letters, but that’s how we knew it, so it earns its title status.

The road, a country music cliche, took us up what at the time seemed like a pretty steep hill and past the cemetery, which we spent quite a bit of time in  as well. Creepy perhaps, but as I’ve alluded to, there isn’t much to do in small towns.

Don’t worry, we shied away from dank, dark rituals of summoning. We weren’t that bored.

About a quarter mile down the road we came to Three-Way Bridge, a three way intersection that gave us two choices to our adventures. East to Highway 91, which we usually avoided. Highway 91 is a busy road with plenty of trucks and cars and very little shoulder. Not a place for kids on bikes.

Which, at times went against the real logic given we biked north the nine miles to Current Lake along that same busy road.

We had kid intelligence for sure.

Back to the Three-Way Bridge and our other option — west towards another intersection, this time a four-way, all of it over intersecting culverts. Beyond was Buffalo Ridge, the defining geologic feature of the area and supposedly the second highest point above sea level in the state.

I’m not entirely sure I believe that, but a quick check online and a visit to a geocaching site seems to confirm this.

We visited Buffalo Ridge more than a few times in my youth, the gravel of the road crunching and grinding under the tires of our bikes. The view atop this rising slope gave view to the sweeping vista below us. Everything was visible.

There was adventure, sure, but there was also piece of mind. Aside from our constant chatter and the sound of crunched gravel, there was the wind coming across the corn and bean fields. The sounds of birds and other animals surrounded us and every so often, the thunder of an approaching storm.

There were several times that I hit these back roads on my own, letting the mind of a child soak in everything around me, and I’ve found over the years that this hasn’t changed much. Long, empty roads unraveling before me is a template for thought.

I discovered this long ago quite by force really. When I worked in South Dakota, everything was a long and lonely road, and with so much space between each destination, it was impossible not to appreciate the mind’s wanderings during these times.

I figured a lot of things out on those roads, criss-crossing across Beadle County.

These thoughts occured to me again, thanks in large part to the detour east of Grand Meadow.

We all have bad days, bad weeks, and during these times, the overthought mind can be your own worst enemy.

I was having one of these days and without going into the sour details, let me just say that it was the long and lonely back road that helped more than anything.

Weaving around LeRoy, Spring Valley, Grand Meadow and Dexter, the mind emptied and I was allowed autopilot. I appreciated the flat, the wind turbines, the clouds moving in the sky and the sun falling in the west.

Nothing was solved during this trip, but nothing of what was bothering me really stumbled to the surface either.

It was just me, the road and an open car window. The radio was playing some song from the 70s in the background that acted as a soundtrack.

And for a couple hours at least, everything was just gravel under the bike tires.