How to Find the Best Road in the World

by Laureen on August 28, 2013

Cook-road-through-2Louise Cook “Road Through” (oil/board)

Hot.

Heat shimmers above the pavement. Heat haze obscures the horizon ahead. At 31 degrees C/88 F, I’m trapped on a narrow highway in an car without air conditioning. The car isn’t moving. The traffic isn’t moving. A house as wide as the road is being transported to a new location, and it sits on a flatbed truck just in front of me and going the same direction I am. The house has just come out from under power lines that had to be raised manually to accommodate its height. Its speed is about three miles an hour.

I’m a few miles out of Swift Current, 120 km north of where I live. I’ve been in this car all day. At 10 a.m. the temperature wasn’t as high and there were a few clouds, so I thought the journey might not be too bad. The clouds are long gone and the temperature has climbed way up.  There was road construction, twice, involving waiting, and slow speeds once the waiting ended. I managed a couple of breaks, but breaks are under the blazing sun and make the trip even longer. A journey that’s usually four and a half hours long will end up today being seven.

I was in my old city for the weekend, traveling for both business and friendship. It was a lovely time, and now I’m going home. Going home to the beautiful Grasslands, to Val Marie where I’m the luckiest person alive. But I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll get there.

Chabros-Frenchman-Valley-web2Diana Chabros “Frenchman River Valley: (oil/paper)

The trick to driving in a car without air conditioning in heat like this to keep moving. Windows down, blower fan on – as long as there’s wind, it can cool your skin enough so you don’t feel too bad. With lots of water and occasional salty snacks, you’ll manage. But now the car isn’t moving at all. I’m facing south at 3:00 in the afternoon in the middle of August, stopped.

I can’t do this. I’m not sure I’ll still be conscious when that house finally clears the road, whenever it does. In the middle of the traffic I pull the car into a U-turn and head back north. Turning isn’t hard to do, because there are no vehicles moving from the other direction either. I’ll go back to Swift and figure something else out. There’s a Co-op gas station in the south end of the city. I’ll go there.

At the gas station I fuel up, then I stand inside – air conditioned inside – for a few minutes. I carefully choose a cold drink from the array of liquid sugar and flavouring. Green apple soda. Maybe that will help.

As I stand in line to pay for the gas and the pop, some last gasp of self-preservation raises its heat-exhausted head. I catch the attention of the man in front of me in the line-up. “Is there a way out of Swift Current south that doesn’t involve Highway 4?”

The man is fair, tall, lean of build. He isn’t the kind to throw words around. “It depends on whether you like gravel,” he says.

I’ve been in Saskatchewan for many years now. I’ve learned to recognize this negotiation style, and to appreciate it. “They’re moving a house on 4,” I reply. “It’s going about three miles an hour and my car isn’t air conditioned. I thought maybe I could get around it.”

“And you never know how far they’re moving it,” the man says. I nod. It’s about all I can do.

The tall, fair, lean man considers. “There’s a gravel road goes that way. South out of the parking lot, turn right, then right again. That’s Central south. Turn left on Railway and drive until the pavement runs out. On the right there’s an overpass over the tracks, and if you turn left you can keep going for 20 miles.”

“Right, right, left, left again onto gravel when the pavement runs out? Thanks.”

“I’ve driven almost all the gravel roads around here,” says tall, fair, lean man. “That’s probably the best one.”

I thank him one more time and the negotiation is over. I walk back outside into the heat, strap myself into the car. South, right, right, left. In a few minutes, left again. This is the road the man meant, but the gravel is very heavy. It’s going to be slow. Then I take my first sip of green apple soda.

It isn’t green apple, it’s root beer. I picked up the wrong drink. Root beer. And suddenly I’m 10 years old again, spending a couple of summer weeks on my uncle’s farm. Where I love root beer.

When you’re a child of 10, summer is easy. You love it whatever it is, because summer means no school. If it rains, you read. If it’s hot, you hang out in the hayloft, or under a tree. You imagine impossible adventures, dream about summer that never ends, go slow. If you have to take a long drive in a car without air conditioning, you lie in the back seat with your feet out the window. You don’t tell yourself you won’t survive it. It’s summer, and summer is what life is supposed to be.

Macaulay-Cat-Grasslands-Garden-CoreopsisCatherine Macaulay “Grasslands Garden” Coreopsis (watercolour/paper)

I look around me. This landscape is beautiful. It isn’t like the stretch around Highway 4 south of Swift Current at all. That’s flat and windy and cleared of just about everything natural. Here there are hills, coulees, wildflowers, green. Small rivers run in the valleys, and horses graze in pastures gentle with shade. Crops are thick and strong looking, bending in a slight breeze. I drive past farmyards, old enough so their sheltering trees are tall, planted long ago. There’s even one pronghorn, standing just away from the road.  And maybe the temperature has dropped a little, maybe gravel doesn’t hold heat as much as pavement, maybe it’s the root beer, but the air doesn’t seem quite as hot as it did. At the first paved road, around 30 km later, I turn left, back toward the highway. I will get home now.

Tall fair man, lean of build, thank you. That wasn’t the best gravel road around Swift Current. That was the best gravel road in the world.

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The blog is a series of posts from one artist/art gallery owner’s life in her community in one of Canada’s most beautiful and remote wilderness regions. To receive updates with beautiful images, stories about the Grasslands and its artists and inspiration every week, just put your email in the box on the right. We never share your email address.

         

Louise in SW Saskatchewan August 29, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I’ve driven that road until I couldn’t go any further. I used to drive a lot on the grid roads – driving the landscape I call it. I would have my camera with me because you never know what you might see while you are out and about. I do travel with a grid road map in the car given to me by my 1st employer here. It lets me figure out if I can get from point A to point B off the highway. Sometimes I don’t care – I just follow a road to see where it will lead. You need to have gas for that though, just in case. the other thing I’ve learned about driving the grid roads in rural Saskatchewan – if you see a gas station, fill up and use the facilities – you don’t know where the next one will be, especially on a quiet Sunday morning.

Laureen August 29, 2013 at 7:59 pm

Such great travel trips. I’ll drive with you anytime 🙂

Antoinette Herivel August 29, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Your piece takes me back a few years when I volunteered to drive my daughter to a friend’s wedding in the Swift Current area. We had to find a farm totally off the beaten track on very built up gravel roads that went up and down and around curves. I got hopelessly lost and had to stop at several farms!
But beautiful drive!
Enjoy your blogs and the artwork
Best wishes
Antoinette

Laureen August 29, 2013 at 9:13 pm

Thank you! So nice to have you along for the ride.

Rena Reid August 29, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Sorry I never found the alternate route to VM and now I never will having given up driving.Thanks for sharing your adventure

Laureen August 30, 2013 at 8:08 am

The road doesn’t quite go all the way to Val Marie but at least it gets you past that house they’re moving on Highway 4 🙂 Thanks for reading along!

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