I had a lovely trip into TRF last night to deposit Joe's paycheck. The weather was perfect. The music on the radio was a good fit for my mood. I took the backroads. Pure fun. But I have to tell you, I was feeling just a smidgeon nervous by the time I got home. I like to think I'm brave. But it's sometimes easy to confuse brave with foolhardy. Especially in the spring.
Here's how it happened.
I was looking for this little place I found once out in the country between Pennington/140th Ave, and US59; and Center Street and TRF. It was a cute little township hall or school house or something, with several other farm sites on the adjacent land. I think it was called something like Valhalla, but I'm not sure. It's almost as if it was some time warp thing I slid into. Another dimension or something. I've never been able to find that spot again, and it doesn't show up on any county maps or township lists or anything.
The only thing I remember from that accidental find is that I had been on 59, going north, behind some sort of slow moving vehicle, with oncoming traffic or poor visibility or something that deterred me from passing. So I turned off instead. And discovered this cute little place. And have never seen it since.
The parameters I've described do not mark a very big area. Maybe six or seven miles long and, because 59 goes at a diagonal, the width starts at about five miles wide and tapers to a triangle at TRF. So really, really, with the pretty much perfectly square mile roads in this part of Minnesota, there are not that many places it could have been. It's as if Valhalla was never really there.
So last night, on an unplanned trip into town, with no real time frame or rush binding me, and after having cared for sick kids all day, I did a little exploring.
On the way into town, by the time I got near the Casino, I was again behind someone going kind of slowly, and I didn't want to follow him all the way into Thief River. I turned off and so began my adventure. I found St. Pauli church, and a paved road I didn't know was there. But that was the extend of my outgoing travels.
I turned north at the church and followed the paved road until it again joined 59 at that funky angle. It was a pleasant little drive and I saw and learned some new things. But it wasn't Valhalla.
After picking up a few things at Wal-Mart, depositing Joe's check, and filling the car with gas, I headed south out of town on Pennington. I was bound and determined to find Valhalla.
I passed the corner by Challenger, since I know where that road goes. No mystery there. I passed the first mile road, since I didn't think there was any mystery there. I feels too close to town for my memory.
I passed the next mile road, since that's the one that goes to the Smiley bridge eventually. I know that one, too. The next mile, the one that should come out where the road curves past the airport, ... I don't think it goes through. I'll have to check next time. It's on the map, but I don't remember it.
So I took the next one.
By that time, I had curved back to the west, so I felt kind of stupid meandering around out of the way, just for this silly notion I have about some cute place. But, as I said, I was determined. And the music was good. The DJ had promised Miranda Lambert's new song, Mama's Broken Heart, which always make me smile. It's such a fun song.
Shortly after I turned east, the anticipated song came on, and I cranked up the volume. I had opened my window while driving around town, and hadn't bothered to shut it. So I felt kind of silly. But I was loving every minute. I felt like a teenager, which I kind of needed after caring for a sick child all day.
The sun was going down, but the light was still good. The road was open. The air was filled with the flavors of spring. And the song was loud and fun.
But suddenly there were ruts. Deep ruts. I heard the car bottom out. Oh, shoot. I guess I better slow down and stop cutting loose. Like in the song, I guess. I better hide my crazy and act like a lady.
I debated whether to stop and look at the underside of the car, but I figured I wouldn't really know what I was looking for anyway, ... Oh dear.
I did stop briefly at the next intersection. Kind of sat for a minute. I figured in case something was leaking out the bottom, I'd give it a chance to make a puddle. Then when I pulled forward, I'd see it in the mirror, right?
No puddle, so I guessed all was good.
"Hmm, I think that this must be about where Brian and Beth live. Maybe I should stop and have Brian look underneath there."
And soon, sure enough, I saw their house up ahead. To stop or not to stop?
"It looks pretty quiet there. It's about 9:00. They're probably trying to get kids settled down," I thought to myself. "I've been OK so far. If there was something badly wrong, wouldn't I know it by now?"
And so I drove past. I did, however, turn my radio down before I got there. THAT would have been totally embarrassing.
"What is that noise, Brian?"
"Some obnoxious teens out blaring their speakers."
"That was Mary!"
And so I came once again to 59. And here is where I did the thing that probably defies common sense. But hey. I had been dealing with puke all day. I really, really needed a little fun.
I continued east across 59. At twilight. Roads I had never traveled. With a car that had bottomed
out on the ruts a few minutes before.
In my defense, as I've said, the roads are all square. Except where the river goes through. I knew that as far south as I was, I'd get to the Kratka road and even, if the road went through, to the High Landing road before getting to the river. I figured I was good. What could go wrong? I mean, even if something did happen, the people here are Minnesota nice. I'd just ask for help at the nearest place.
And so I drove on. Window still open. Music loud during the good songs. The smells of spring filling the car. The sights of spring filling my view.
It gave me wonderful sense of freedom and optimism. And adventure. Anything could happen, right? What might I see? What might I find?
I came to the Kratka road. I briefly considered turning back toward familiar roads. But I decided to stay on my little back road. I knew the river would be up ahead. I suspected that I'd have to turn south soon. I knew there ought to be one more mile of east-west road between me and the highway. I hoped that it was not too little a road. I really, really was not ready for the highway yet.
One mile after the Kratka road, I came to the turn. One of those places where to continue on would take me onto a minimum maintenance road. Probably also a dead end, since I knew the river was angling south towards the River Valley Bridge. So I tuned to the south for one mile, and then again went east. I knew where I was, of course. I was one mile north of the highway, and I could watch the road signs to keep track of each passing mile. I know 290th is the Oklee road. I was coming to an area I know, even if I'd never been on this particular stretch of road.
All was good in Mary's world.
Except that suddenly it was dark.
Then there wasn't much to look at. There was a kind of deep ditch following along the right hand side of the road. The road became minimum maintenance. The ruts got bigger. And there were no more farm places to run to in case something happened.
I started seeing things. The deepening shadows became bears. Or boogie men. Or maybe cougars, out prowling for their supper.
There were a few deer out, so I had to slow way down and keep a sharp eye. I could just imagine hitting a deer out here in the middle of nowhere.
Or what if there was something falling apart from when I bottomed out? What if it wasn't bad enough to cause a problem until just now? Here. Far from anything.
I watched the road signs. I saw when I was on the north side of the section where Tyler lives. Next I came to the north side of the section with the poplars across from Quinten and Alyssa's, that Tyler and Ryan are clearing.
I could see the radio tower. Just over there. Getting nearer.
I knew where I was. I knew I could find someone if I needed.
But a whole section. That's a mile. I'd have to wander in the dark and lonesome night a whole mile before getting to any homes.
I began to see the folly of my actions.
I must admit that I breathed a big, giant sigh of relief when I hit the High Landing road. And I gladly stayed on the tar the rest of the way home.
I had a little fun. I lived a little dangerously. I breathed the spring air. I saw the spring. The sides of the roadways and pastures are greening up. The tractors are sitting out where fieldwork is beginning. I was home safely.
But I never did find Valhalla. Maybe next time.