Are roads only noteworthy for what you can hit on them?
Roads are not only noteworthy for where they take you, I've found, but also for what you can run over when you're driving on them. A few days ago, for instance, my mom and I drove south of Smith Valley toward Sweetwater along the Sweetwater Range. We were warned to watch for bucking bulls, deer, docile cows and cyclists. We saw none of these, but as I looked at the shoulder of road (imagining miles I'd run there, perhaps) and the majestic landscape behind it, the signs struck me as ludicrous. First, I suppose, because we saw none of the advertised fare: no cyclists, bulls, cows or deer happened along the highway that particular day. It made me wonder what event(s) had inspired their placement. Had there been a day in which a profusion of bulls bucked their way across the tiny two-lane road? Or a slaughter of black and white heffers en route to another patch of grass that had an unfortunate run in with a series of semi-trucks delivering groceries? Such a thing is hard to imagine: the landscape is arid and vast; it's all sky and horizons with little to distract the viewer in the foreground. (Besides, I'm not sure trucks use the road at all-- to and from whence would they deliver?) But it was also strange in a larger sense: are such signs germane to all roads, or only some? I'm searching my memory but I'm coming up short of road signs I see warning of the various people and animal objects I might hit. For one, I've never seen a sign of a running person. Now, you'd think that would be one worth having.
But no. I never saw one of those, though I might suggest it if I ever settle in Smith, NV an unlikely event, though I do have to admit, possible, especially after seeing the following road sign on the highway which leads one away from Wellington:
Yes, that's a turkey.
It displays a wild turkey in silhouette against the bright yellow background. It's an odd sight for rural Nevada where I never knew one could see a wild turkey. Had this sign been placed along Saint Mary's Road in Moraga, I would have nodded my head and thought: "Well, that makes sense" because there are turkeys in Moraga. They act like undergraduate students (hanging out on campus, looking for scraps of food and holding up traffic when one is in need of the only vacant parking spot left.) But in Wellington, Nevada, it's an odd sight. Or, to put it a better way-- the only turkey you're likely to see is the one on this sign. Luckily for me, this time I saw it.
Another which struck me as odd on my travels was this one:
That's a person on a tractor. I don't know which is stranger: the image in its entirety or the fact that the person has a cowboy hat on. Why not a cap? Why a hat at all?
I mean: does one need warning not to hit a person on a tractor? I think they covered that when I took my driving test: one doesn't run over another vehicle. Also: who would drive anything beefy enough to run over a tractor? You'd have to have a monster truck and a serious mean-streak.
The best of them all, however, was the next one. My mom and I had been driving for a while, taking shots of the sunset. I told her about my run that very morning and how surprised I'd been that one of the local ranches left their entire flock of sheep out to pasture in a pasture sans fence. As I ran by on the single-lane road, I told my mom I had been worried I'd start a sheep-stampede.
"Nah," she said, "They were out there-- the sheep dogs and the farmers. They watch them. Keep them safe."
"You know," I said. "If they have all these other signs, they really ought to have a sign for sheep. They have a bull sign, a cow sign, a turkey sign, a tractor sign. But sheep are volatile. Why aren't they concerned about the sheep?"
I couldn't have scripted it better. Before us loomed another yellow sign.
"Another cow," I guessed.
"How can you say that's a cow?" she asked. I could tell she was excited.
I looked again. "Cow. Definitely cow."
"No, that's a sheep. Totally a sheep."
We pulled to the shoulder to take a closer look.
"See, it's a sheep." my mom said. And it was:
A sheep. Alas, they care about those too out here. Funny, we were so struck by the presence of a sheep sign, we did, momentarily, not watch the road.
Once I came back to Tahoe, I began noticing others. Signs of bears. Bear signs, I've found, display a larger bear (the Momma Bear, I believe) leading a smaller bear (the baby bear) behind her. It's a large sign. In Tahoe we have leaping deer in lieu of walking ones. Cyclists, again, though I still think (despite my brief foray into distance cycling back in 2009 that riding in the Truckee River corridor (or one section of it anyway between Alpine Meadows and Tahoe City) is a death wish. But nowhere have I seen a sign for runners.
I think someone out there should make one. I mean: if one must be on the lookout for nonexistent (or rare) turkeys, shouldn't one also look out for us brave souls who pound out the miles, day after day, on the shoulders many a highway? I say yes. But then, what do I know? I'm the one who, until recently, ignored the road signs.
But 300 + miles of driving and 75 + miles of running this past week seems to have started me thinking. It's time for a runner sign. Don't run us over, world. We belong on the roads too, on those narrow margins where earth, horizon and sky stretch for miles and miles.