It just keeps going. I want to reach the end, now.
I tense to keep myself upright, my hands grasp the edge of the atlas as if it possesses control over the brakes. Thigh muscles flex, feet clamp into the floor mat as I fight the centrifugal pull.
Oh, good; another vehicle drives the curves up ahead. I know safety seeing two gleaming-red eyes in the night.
No obstacles could possible rest between us and that car. If it made it safely, so can we.
The description on the sign for the next curve signals a speed slow enough that I wish they would just call it a U-turn.
Are these mountain S-curves? Possibly, but I’ve never been here before. And without electrical lights, save for the rays of dim illumination from our headlights, I cannot tell what landscape lies ahead, or below us. All I can tell is the car hugs a wall of earth on one side and the other … well, one would leap out into the arms of thin air from what I can see.
The red eyes are now out of sight.
I know too much.
Each curve rounded feels like a pull of gravity whipping us around faster than the speedometer reads to me from the passenger seat. My legs scream of sore futures unless I release them.
Momentum: a quantity that expresses the motion of a body and its resistance to slowing down. It is equal to the product of the body’s mass and velocity.
There is no stopping when there is nowhere to stop. I have to ride this through, but I can not handle it. Anyone could know the fear of seeing themselves coming through a turn and a boulder has fallen, filled your lane. You’d have no time to complete that thought much less react. And don’t change lanes.
These are lonely roads, though that never guarantees another car would not be coming up around the next blind corner. Yes, the brakes, of course, but what if it’s not enough, too soon we cannot stop before–Will the earthen wall meet our swerve? I know the answer but try not to think how it will stop us.
No, no, no more; here comes a hard one. I clench my eyes shut. The atlas curls under my hands, breathing stops as legs cramp, back rigid.
Anyone could know these dangers, but what of the vehicle? It is a skeleton with an engine inside a shell, less reliable than a rock in holding together. Just a few bolts to a control arm. I know; I’ve seen it.
A few nuts hold on a tire, and the car has four of those to fall off. Am I the first female mechanic to tangle with these catastrophic thoughts as the driver sends her around another tight, unfamiliar curve in the middle of the night with only headlights, reflectors, and arrow signs that make her tense before each turn, expecting nothing but the worst?
Let it end, please.
My driver knows how to maneuver the turns. He has grown up driving through stuff like this along the Arkansas River. He knows how to take these curves. I? I tear up a fender when driving a car off a lowered lift. Though, it was only once.
Do I ask him to pull over? We can stay right here until sunrise so I can at least know there’s ground over this edge and where we are in the world, but I won’t. I must see this end, however it might.
The road will not keep going. It is not never-ending.
I inhale as I see another blind corner’s approach, feel him brake, though my foot had already dug into the floorboard for my imaginary pedal, and the car continues. It turns as I curl up my map, hands unable to grasp a steering wheel.
We pass the curve, and I exhale.
What’s that? It is not an arrow sign for one curve but more. It’s telling me I must endure several more miles of this.
I can’t. Please. Don’t.
I inhale, tense, and clutch. Turn concludes. Looking ahead and yes, we’re in another one. Hope is hardly realized, muscles never lax, heart and lungs heavy.
Try distraction: where we have come from. We visited Yosemite from Lake Tahoe during a family reunion. The drive was short compared to one across arid, flaming Utah and Nevada. Dark enfolded us on our exit of the park.
Our cabin is two hours away on the keys. We chose a different route back, a shorter distance based on the map, but I read nowhere of these curves. The world’s map is too broad for me, I guess.
The two-hour estimate was from assuming speeds of sixty, not twenty-five or less. Everything has been extended beyond my resolve.
Free, for a moment, I release a sigh, for I see a straight stretch, no angles. I have only some calm, however. How long will it last?
The answer rises up above the horizon on a yellow and black sign: not long.
We take a junction. This highway is different. The map is no longer needed as a stress-release doll. It slides off my lap, unheeded, as I lean forward expectantly.
The headlights penetrate tall forests on both sides. Yes, this must be my comfort. A drop-off might exist but, as long as it’s beyond these trees, I am calm.
The road is still being made into a highway; the asphalt trail rolls like a black ribbon without its painted-on yellow divider. Curves are unknown, for no signs have been erected yet to offer knowledge of the unforeseen. I’m not given time to tense beforehand. Aches begin to peel along my muscles, slowly eased from nothing they could prevent.
A half-moon is our sole companion along this stretch, until I spot the deer.
They are on the roadside. They behave carefree during our passage. A greater calm sweeps over me.
We near the end of this stretch; the warning arrow signs return, but I know this junction, have seen it before in daylight. The ride is practically over.
The town is quiet. We pull up to the cabin. It is one in the morning and … it is the end.