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Schubart: Springtime Roads

I’ve finally reached that equilibrium we all seek between mind and body. And at my age, I’m proud to be both a Roads Scholar and a Gravel-road Slalom competitor, a sport to which most newcomers can only aspire – since the main qualification is to live year-round at the end of four miles of one of Vermont’s numerous dirt roads.

For many of us the primal terror of “mud season” faded with the invention of Tyvek, now underlying the uppermost gravel layer on most of our back roads. The ubiquitous white moisture barrier gracing many an unfinished backwoods home has turned out also to be a boon for those of us living on gravel roads where the watertable flirts constantly with the road’s surface. Tyvek has drastically reduced the boggy swales that used to consistently mire our cars every spring.

Reduced, but not entirely eliminated.

So after a few days of inclement weather, it’s still possible to see locals slaloming along the full width of our back roads even as they approach hilltops. Unless one is born to the sport of gravel-road slalom, it may seem odd, even dangerous. And certainly, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Gravel-road slalom lacks the grace of a great snow skier following the fall line through a tight web of bamboo poles throwing up clouds of snow from side to side. And the gravel moguls we toss up on the roadbed as we carve our way through the aggregate only makes matters worse for the next sportif driver.

Broken tie-rods and a blown shock or two are part and parcel of this unique Yankee sport. Hand-painted roadside notices offering to buy recyclable metal are usually tip-offs for whopper potholes ahead - as are hubcaps, bent wheel hubs, and even the occasional ancient Subaru rusting in a nearby field. And anyone trying to incur less damage by speeding over a pot-hole is in for a costly surprise.

The few imported Yugos, Ladas, and Renaults that made it to Vermont rarely lasted a year on Vermont’s secondary roads.

In fact, one backwoods legend has it that a man going trout fishing once spotted a side-view mirror sticking out of the ditch at the side of a road in Chester. Closer investigation revealed that buried deep in that roadside mud was a Lada that had been missing for years.

Bill Schubart lives and writes in Hinesburg. His latest book is Lila & Theron.
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