October 17, 2011 at 10:49 AM

Dirt Road Decorum: What Happened to the Drive-by Wave?

"When I first got here many years ago, I developed a system of "waving" based upon some subtle observations..."

By Thor Sigstedt

Thor’s Hammer

Thor Sigstedt is an artist in wood, words, cameras, bronze, cast iron, glass, notes and steel; a homesteader from Spirit Valley specializing in forest diversity and “land ethics” and a dabbler in practical and non-practical non-zero new paradigm complexity in the multiverse.

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One of the neighbors mentioned that  her cousin from New York City (or some such place) was visiting for a while, watching the place while she was gone and seriously asked her, "What is wrong with the people over here; they are always waving their hands at you when they drive past, or am I doing something wrong?" 

Which brings up an interesting observation by some of us rural folks around here, which is that people don't hardly wave at each other anymore these days, like they used to (and like they do up around Reserve, I noticed last year).  Must be the city folk out here again, polluting the  beauty of the place... again.  Now I must admit that sometimes some of us go overboard; like my wife who waves at everyone from the passenger seat, confusing even the hardcore finger lifter. 

When I first got here many years ago, I developed a system of "waving" based upon some subtle observations and some natural inclinations:  a nod of the head is the basic acknowledgement, then one finger (the pointer) raised on the steering wheel is a friendly gesture like the nod, the hand (still on the wheel) raised is a pleasant hello, two hands is real "hello," the hand and arm up off the wheel is for someone you know pretty well (maybe waving somehow), and the waving hand out of the window is for special friends. The peace sign is to remind us that there was a 60s. There are various variations on these approaches.  To ignore is basically rude in the country (I think).  But, to give a little on this, none of this is obligatory, just cool.

Starting here maybe we can move into a few basic categories to look at. They fall basically into this, for some of us: Roads, Roads, Roads.  Then there are Lights, Weeds, Noise (music), Water (creeks), Floods (flash), Manners (needing help), Style, Animals (pets and livestock), Wildlife, Fences, Aesthetics and Attitude.

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Roads:  Driving on and maintaining a dirt road is an art.

1. A dirt road is a very changeable thing.  It is very sensitive to anything that you do or don't do to with it.

2. Anybody that drives on it can positively or negatively affect it; sometimes it is just one driver at one time that can help/hurt it.

3. A dirt road can be maintained just by certain ways to drive on it.

So here is the basic scoop:  To start with we need to understand the bumps and dips in a dirt road.  How they are or grow is of great interest to us who drive on it.  Now you may have noticed "potholes" or dips in the road.  These look like the road sunk in there, but that is not the case, really.  A pothole is often created by a simple depression in the road.  Then it might fill with water or get muddy sometime.  If a vehicle drives right over the pothole that is a little pond or muddy, then the wheels and weight and speed will cause the water and some mud with it to "splash" out from the little hole, making the little hole just a little less full of water and mud.  The dirt that is splashed out is now on the road and the pothole is bigger.  Once it is bigger, then it holds more water (creating more mud, etc.) and will splash out more stuff and the pothole gets even bigger.  It does not take long for the little depression to become a huge road event. 

So, how do we prevent this?  It is easy: just don't drive through the pothole when it has water showing in it or is wet or muddy and, especially, do not drive fast on it.  Sometimes, when it is wet around the hole, you can drive in a way that pushes some dirt back into the pothole, helping to close it up.  A little gravel in a bucket put into the hole can help a lot.

Now that brings us to another scource of dirt roads: washboard roads (sometimes called corduroy roads).  They are the little series of bumps in the road that  look a little like lines across the road or a series of road waves. They are really irritating and are caused by ignorant people in their sometimes silly cars.  I call it the "BMW and Empty Pickup Truck Syndrome" , having watched it first up in Tesuque, in Pacheco Canon, thought about it and then did some research. 

It is sort of like this: a little high torque (spinning out) car whips up a dirt road, spinning out and pushing away little divits of dirt (or a truck with no weight in the rear) and it also starts small and gets reinforced once the problem starts.  It often happens during drought conditions, they talk about,  I guess because the dirt can be spun out all the more easily.  Those little ripples somehow are like big waves and they go DEEP and are very hard to get rid of.  So, if you're in a hurry, or your neighbor is scooting along in his city car or non-working car, you can bet this creates the washboard effect.  That is why we talk about driving slowly on a dirt road. 

Probably few people know this, but you can "work" on the road just using a vehicle, if, again, you catch it in time.  When the road, often in the spring or after lots of rain,  starts to get rutted,  you can try not to drive in the ruts, or wait till the road is frozen (both sides of a winter day),  or less goopy to drive on (plan things out), or wait till it is just starting to dry up, and you can drive just at the edge of the rut and "push" the dirt into the track with the wheels. Or, if you have the right conditions and/or a four-wheel drive vehicle, you can break down the ruts by zig zagging across them, again pushing the dirt into the ruts.

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