South of Ark City, just north of the Oklahoma state line, 322nd Road intersects US-77. If you turn west there, you’ll roll out through some pretty flat plains. It’s prairie farm ground mostly, broad fields of dark dirt, some just now greening up with winter wheat after the rain two weeks ago. Otherwise, there’s what’s left of soybean stubble, a pale gray blend that comes from harvest and spending a few months bleaching in winter sun. In some places, chisel plowing has formed rich swaths of soil readied for planting.
Beyond those things, miles of high-tension power line strand north from the wind farms. Tall white towers lift the long blades of turbines high above the fields, above the dark, bare branches of cottonwood, elm and oak and the lines of scrub brush and hedge that edge fields and ditches. At night, the only hint you’ll see of these great machines that harvest the wind is the blinking of their red lights, a warning against the notion of low path flight.
Whether it’s day or night, as you drive along west on 322nd, you’ll likely notice the loud road noise that rough pavement makes against the tires. If you happen to be riding a bike, you’ll notice more than the noise.
I guess I’ve ridden over a hundred miles of Cowley County back roads. None of them are smooth. All of them have rough patches. 322nd is my nominee for Worst Patch of Back Road in the county. I’m not sure what the paving process was but it appears to have been thrown on by the shovelful and then packed by farm implements. In one case, I saw—and felt—the tread marks of tractor tires running across at a ninety-degree angle to the road!
Riding over this on a bike didn’t quite feel like riding over corrugated roofing, more like riding over rough gravel that was cemented in place. My guess is that the topping mix softened a bit in hot weather and took on the tread prints of the heaviest things that rolled over it. I used to think that irreverent farmers ignored the flags and signs of construction crews and just drove right over the stuff before it had time to cool off and harden.
Explanations to the contrary, should you ever decide to take in the view of southwestern Cowley County from the perspective of 322nd Road, I recommend you drive slowly. In a vehicle with excellent suspension, superbly cushioned seats, and exceptional noise-dampening systems. Unless, of course, you are one of those folks gifted with the ability to recognize and appreciate natural beauty even when the journey happens to be a bit bumpy.
Of course, another strategy is to just drive like crazy and get across it in the least amount of time possible. Some things in life seem best approached in that manner. In whatever case, I hope that you reach your destination safely.