Our neck of the woods is considered “country roads” by most standards. Some call us “outside the city proper” while others go with “unincorporated county”. No matter the label, living in these parts presents its unique challenges. It takes a little longer to get to your groceries and gas. The wind gusts enough to make the patio furniture take flight. The wildlife big and small sneaks into the backyard or peeks through the dog door.
There’s one more aspect of “the country” I didn’t expect when we moved here: washboard. Washboard is a constant phenomenon on our dirt roads. The pressure of rotating car tires makes small ripples in the dirt, which quickly turn into bigger ripples, and eventually you have speed-bump city.
The concrete on the interstate is smooth as silk, while the asphalt on the city streets generates a soothing hum. But washboard is all kinds of nasty on the ears. If I could drop an audio file into this post you’d think I was riding a Harley in need of a tune-up. Just try to have a conversation while you’re bumping along on washboard.
I have this recurring nightmare where I’m driving on washboard and all four wheels simultaneously vibrate off the axles and bound away. Then my car slams to the surface of the road and comes to a skidding halt. Then one of my neighbors walks by, chuckles at me and my car-with-no-wheels, and wanders on.
Scientists (with way too much time on their hands) have determined that a car’s suspension – once thought to be the cause of washboard – actually has no bearing on the creation of all those ripples. They also ran a few experiments and decided the only way to avoid the creation of washboard is to drive at 3 mph or less. I guess I could do that – if I wanted to take twenty minutes to drive the distance I normally cover in two.
Now that I have you utterly spellbound over the phenomenon of washboard (not), look for it on sandy beaches and snow-covered ski slopes. Ocean waves and speedy skiers produce the same effect on entirely different surfaces.
How our county resources “fix” our washboard roads drives me nuts. Our street is a mile long with a half-dozen houses on either side. That’s not enough country bumpkins to generate the tax revenue (or traffic) to justify paving the road. Instead, every couple of weeks the county sends out a giant Caterpillar tractor, which drags and pushes and manicures the dirt until all of the washboard is gone. But those grooves just reappear in the next day or two. This futility reminds me of the Golden Gate Bridge, where once the painters finish a fresh coat it’s time to go back to the other end and start again. That’s how it is with washboard.
The upside of living on washboardy roads is that you never have to wash your car. There’s no point. The moment you hit the washboard you’re giving your car an all-over dirt bath. So I just ignore the thoughtful “wash me” notes that show up on my back window every now and then.
The other day at the gym I was working out and I overheard a guy talking about his “washboard abs”. For reasons that are now obvious to you, I cringed and promptly left the room.