CHAPTER THREE. THE START
Happily, along most sandy roads and up most hills of sand there are firm spots along one side or the other, patches of weeds or grass which afford wheel-hold. Usually the surface of the sand is slightly firmer and the large automobile tires ride on it fairly well. As a rule, the softest, deepest, and most treacherous places in sand are the tracks where wagons travel - these are like quicksand.
The sun was hot, the sand was deep, and we had pushed and tugged until the silence was ominous; at length the lowering clouds of wrath broke, and the Professor said things that cannot be repeated.
By way of apology, he said, afterwards, while shaking the sand out of his shoes, "It is difficult to preserve the serenity of the class-room under conditions so very dissimilar. I understand now why the golf-playing parson swears in a bunker. It is not right, but it is very human. It is the recrudescence of the old Adam, the response of humanity to emergency. Education and religion prepare us for the common-place; nature takes care of the extraordinary. The Quaker hits back before he thinks. It is so much easier to repent than prevent. On the score of scarcity alone, an ounce of prevention is worth several tons of repentance; and - "
It was so apparent that the Professor was losing himself in abstractions, that I quietly let the clutches slip until the machine came to a stop, when the Professor looked anxiously down and said, -
"Is the blamed thing stuck again?"
We turned off the Bowling Green road to the River road, which is not only better, but more direct from Napoleon to Perrysburg. It was the road we originally intended to take; it was down on our itinerary, and in automobiling it is better to stick to first intentions.
The road follows the bank of the river up hill and down, through ravines and over creeks; it is hard, hilly, and picturesque; high speed was quite out of the question.
Not far from Three Rivers we came to a horse tethered among the trees by the road-side; of course, on hearing and seeing the automobile and while we were yet some distance away, it broke its tether and was off on a run up the road, which meant that unless some one intervened it would fly on ahead for miles. Happily, in this instance some men caught the animal after it had gone a mile or two, we, meanwhile, creeping on slowly so as not to frighten it more. Loose horses in the road make trouble. There is no one to look after them, and nine times out of ten they will go running ahead of the machine, like frightened deer, for miles. If the machine stops, they stop; if it starts, they start; it is impossible to get by. All one can do is to go on until they turn into a farmyard or down a cross-road.
The road led into Toledo, but we were told that by turning east at Perrysburg, some miles southwest of Toledo, we would have fifty miles or more of the finest road in the world, - the famous Perry's Pike.
All day long we lived in anticipation of the treat to come; at each steep hill and when struggling in the sand we mentioned Perry's Pike as the promised land. When we viewed it, we felt with Moses that the sight was sufficient.
In its day it must have been one of the wonders of the West, it is so wide and straight. In the centre is a broad, perfectly flat, raised strip of half-broken limestone. The reckless sumptuousness of such a highway in early days must have been overpowering, but with time and weather this strip of stone has worn into an infinite number of little ruts and hollows, with stones the size of cocoanuts sticking up everywhere. A trolley-line along one side of this central stretch has not improved matters.
Perry's Pike is so bad people will not use it; a road alongside the fence has been made by travel, and in dry weather this road is good, barring the pipes which cross it from oil-wells, and the many stone culverts, at each of which it is necessary to swing up on to the pike. The turns from the side road on to the pike at these culverts are pretty sharp, and in swinging up one, while going at about twenty-five miles an hour, we narrowly escaped going over the low stone wall into the ditch below. On that and one other occasion the Professor took a firmer hold of the side of the machine, but, be it said to the credit of learning, at no time did he utter an exclamation, or show the slightest sign of losing his head and jumping - as he afterwards remarked, "What's the use?"
To any one by the roadside the danger of a smash-up seems to come and pass in an instant, - not so to the person driving the machine; to him the danger is perceptible a very appreciable length of time before the critical point is reached.
The secret of good driving lies in this early and complete appreciation of difficulties and dangers encountered. "Blind recklessness" is a most expressive phrase; it means all the words indicate, and is contra-distinguished from open-eyed or wise recklessness.
The timid man is never reckless, the wise man frequently is, the fool always; the recklessness of the last is blind; if he gets through all right he is lucky.
It is reckless to race sixty miles an hour over a highway; but the man who does it with his eyes wide open, with a perfect appreciation of all the dangers, is, in reality, less reckless than the man who blindly runs his machine, hit or miss, along the road at thirty miles an hour, - the latter leaves havoc in his train.
One must have a cool, quick, and accurate appreciation of the margin of safety under all circumstances; it is the utilization of this entire margin - to the very verge - that yields the largest results in the way of rapid progress.