Search This Blog

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Tualco Valley Speedway…Or Life on the Fast Corner…

the fast corner“Better be careful down around that corner,” Brett de Vries pointed down the Valley south, looked at Gladys and cautioned, “there was a car/motorcycle accident yesterday afternoon.” Brett and Megan live on the first corner of several “reduce speed” corners on the Tualco Loop Road. I had stopped off a bag of tomatoes and this warning was my greeting. Coincidentally, Brett and Megan were  in the front yard as I pedaled up. Hardly had we exchanged greetings when Megan was distracted by white pickup truck rounding the corner. Valley neighbors often wave as they drive by and I thought Megan knew the driver and was preparing to return his wave. Not until she commented on the truck’s speed did I realize Megan was slightly on edge at the moment. “He’s not driving too fast,” she said; her relief was obvious.

The truth of the matter is…no doubt about it…the thirty-five mph speed limit in a Valley meant for dairy cows and farm machinery is seldom observed. “I was working in the yard awhile back,” Megan said, “when I heard the squeal of brakes. I looked up just in time to see a car miss the corner and launch itself into Van Hulle’s pasture.” Twice this summer, she informed me, vehicles speeding down Valley spun out and struck a power pole [Pole 39, a new pole, recently replaced]. Earlier in the summer the Valley was without power nearly ten hours when a speeding pickup truck failed to negotiate the left turn to Highrock Road and sheared off a power pole on the main line. Megan related another recent  incident.“Two cars,” she continued, “were speeding around the corner. One of the drivers saw Brett take out his cellphone as a warning. The next thing we knew both cars, slowed, lined up west of the corner and raced down the straight stretch. They drove the Loop, returned, and did the same thing!” Life on the fast corner had unnerved her, I could tell.

Sure enough, as I negotiated the corner above Swiss Hall I saw the accident debris: flare dust and branded asphalt, assorted chunks of plastic and glass, most of which appeared to be motorcycle parts.

The Tualco Loop Road…you can’t have a loop without an arc, without a curve, without a bend in the road. When the county engineers were laying out the Valley road infrastructure in the past century, little did they know they were designing a future Grand Prix race course. It was their intent to provide access to all contiguous properties, allow Valley farmers egress to a public thoroughfare. The result? A county road with long straight stretches abruptly interrupted by ninety degree corners. These corners are well marked by reduced speed signs (“15 mph”…lowered by the way,Valley people, from“35 mph”) as well as directional chevrons guiding the motorist through the turns. Motorists for the most part disregard this signage, look upon it in much the same manner as New Yorkers view traffic signals: “They’re just a suggestion.”

The truth of the matter is, as a country lane the Tualco Loop Road no longer exists. Traffic in the Valley is on the increase…motorists seeking less congested roadways have shifted their commute to the Valley in the hope of shaving a few minutes from their commute, avoiding lengthy delays at traffic lights, foregoing the turmoil of rush hour and that claustrophobic feeling that comes with metal and machinery pressing in from all sides. And then again there are those long stretches of “as the crow flies”asphalt. Something happens when a motorcyclist or a hurried driver spies a lengthy straightaway…and then there are those irritating crotch rockets that wind up like jet engines on a commercial airliner revving for takeoff; I can hear them from my backyard. Testosterone overpowers the amygdala, the decision-making portion of the brain, and caution becomes a jet stream. Signs are a blur…and suddenly the road becomes Tony Broers’ raspberry field, a cornfield…a pasture. I rarely visit the Valley these days without seeing traces of vehicular mayhem: road signs sheared off, fences mangled, skid marks at corner approaches, crops mowed down, utility kiosks mangled….fence on the fast corner

At the Riley Slough bridge on the Lower Loop road I meet a woman with a camera, another of the many bird enthusiasts I’ve encountered in the Valley and stop to chat. I balance Gladys on her kickstand. The lady and I saunter to the bridge and stop mid span.Our presence startles the blue heron I frequently see at the same site on the downstream side of the bridge. The bird launches into flight, awkwardly gaining altitude, impressing the birder with its struggle and presence. As we watch the heron disappear around the bend, I hear a vehicle approaching the bridge from the north and concerned for our safety, turn to look. The vehicle is coming on fast. I expect it to slow as it nears the bridge. No such luck. No such reduced speed. The car is one of those older nondescript models, the variety that has those retractable headlights, both of which are in disrepair, locked in the up position. The vehicle is painted fifty shades of gray…or fifty faded shades of gray. Oblivious to the two pedestrians on the bridge, the driver flies across at fifteen or twenty mph over the speed limit. We hug the railing as the car shoots by, jarring  the fillings in our teeth and rattling our knees. As the vehicle jets past, I note driver and passenger, two young ne’er-do-wells who not only can’t afford to have their headlights fixed, but also can’t scrape together enough cash to buy razorblades. While the bridge deck is still dancing under our feet, I couldn’t help but think about a cartoon I saw in The New Yorker magazine a few years back. Over afternoon cocktails two women were discussing the legalization of controlled substances. One says to the other, “I’m in favor of legalizing all drugs…except for testosterone.” Let’s face it: fast lane life  is now status quo in the Valley.

Print this post


  1. On Saturday evening I was driving on a different country road heading toward Granite Falls. My wife kept asking me what was wrong, and why was I driving so slow. As it turns out, I was driving the speed limit, 35 mph. I guess I need to repent and follow the speed limit often enough such that my wife doesn't consider it to be strange behavior. I think most of us probably drive too fast on our local country roads. I suspect that you and Gladys rarely violate the speed limit.

  2. Gladys and I do our best to observe the rules of the road when we journey out in the Valley; however, I must admit though we try to keep up with the flow of traffic, we have been guilty of impeding vehicular progress as we pedal our route. (A fellow cyclist once clocked us at twenty-five mph, but I suspect the stiff tailwind that day attributed to our heady speed.)

    Far be it from The Ripple to be hypocritical: I do own up to our running the occasional stop sign, although the word "running" seems a bit excessive in describing any of our forays out and about in the Valley.

    Thanks for your observation about speed limits and county roads. After all, it's about the scenery, isn't it? TMJ