Ah, rural roads, county roads, blacktops, “pave,” Farm-to-Market roads… All the ways to get geographically challenged when you are going from the North Forty to the Back-of-Beyond. (Not to be confused with the back of Burke, which everyone knows you cannot reach unless you are going somewhere else. If you pass a large, black stump, you are near the Back of Burke. And in Australia.)
Some roads I’ve driven on are roads only by cartographic courtesy. The (in)famous “thin grey line” on US Forest Service topo maps is, in theory, a road passable by high-clearance vehicles. In good weather. If you are prepared to dig or pull yourself out of trouble. And bring extra gas. We were doing a whopping five mph to keep from shaking our teeth loose, had another 12 miles to go, and finally gave up. The family also gave up on one over the Bears Ears, because it had snow banks on it in June, and we didn’t have a “dig the truck out of snow” shovels with us.
(The Four-Wheel-Drive rule of thumb – 4WD is for getting yourself out of what 2WD got you into. Not for getting so stuck that you need a six-by to pull you loose.)
Then you get the American Midwest “Grade B” county road. Grade A roads are at least graded once a year, and probably have gravel on them, are crowned, and have bar-ditches along the side. Grade B roads are use-at-your-own-risk, last graded back when the county had a budget surplus (Eisenhower Administration?) They will get you there, but not fast, and most of the time, not in a passenger car. Unless you are a local farmer who knows how to ride the ruts and ridges. I’ve compared light turbulence to driving on a County B road, and the passengers knew exactly what was coming. If it has rained or the snow is melting? Don’t do it unless you can power yourself out of the mud.
Before the advent of 9-1-1- and the requirement that all roads not only be named but actually have signs on them (honored in the breach at times), unless you had a really, really good map or a local along, navigation could be a challenge. It is still a challenge for those without a sense of navigation direction, or on days without visible sunlight. Which dirt road is the one you want? Which blacktop road is the one you need? “It’s on the blacktop” is not helpful for those who don’t recall when that particular one was the only paved county road. “Turn at Conyer’s Corners” sure, but the sign doesn’t call it that: the sign just gives the names if the roads. Sometimes. If there is a sign. Or people use names for roads that are signed with numbers (Iowa loves to do that, for some reason. Colorado uses double letters, and each county does its own lettering, so crossing county lines can be interesting.)
Some of my favorite roads are two-lane federal or state highways that go for tens of miles with nary a sign or other evidence of management. They just are, stretching out across the empty quarters of various places, rising and falling with the land, opening up fascinating vistas. They require a certain amount of self confidence and certainty that yes, you are still on the correct route, heading in the hoped-for direction. I’ve found some wonderful places that way, nosing around on rural roads. You know, the ones where people ease to the side to make room for you, and where everyone still waves as they meet.