The Road Less Traveled

Short story by Ursula TillmannOne more hill, one more corner. Maybe there will

be a sign or a turnoff. I am hoping, as I have for
hours now. It is starting to get dark. I must
hurry. If I cannot see the road properly, I won’t
make it out of here, that I know for certain.
Where am I exactly? I do not know. I cannot
see a ray of sun, it’s cloudy. Where is south
and where is north? Trees, nothing but trees.
The only land cleared is the path in front
of me – the narrow road.

There is no map or food in my car.

I only wanted to go for a quick photo-shoot.
The road less traveled looked inviting at
the outset. There were some farms – and cars
coming toward me once in a while. But for the
last 50 clicks I have only seen two lone deer,
gazing at me in amazement. I remember that I
started out north. I should go to the
right, east, if I stumble on a possibility.
Or should I rather not do that? I am starting
to doubt my decisions.

The last few signs I noticed, gave

directions to logging camps and gas patches.
Dead ends. Deeper into the bush, I am
certain. Roads for heavy trucks, not for
my light-weight convertible. I hear myself
apologizing to my car.

I have slowed down now. The last curve

I nearly missed. Icy patches appeared out
of nowhere, beyond one of those step hills
on this mud road. Gravel would have been
better. “Slow down,” I hear myself yelling.
But I dare not step on the brakes. I’ll
never get out of those steep ditches,
they’ll never find me. I can only go about
40 km per hour. Anything quicker would be
suicidal. Curve after curve and hill after
hill, the dust is trailing my whereabouts,
wherever that may be.

Two hours ago, I noticed, that it

read: “No service” on my cell-phone.
That was before it started to get dark.
I wasn’t afraid then. But now, I have to
admit, an unknown feeling is creeping
up my spine. My options are to start
stepping on the gas pedal and risk
losing the road or going slow and
driving into vanishing dusk.
I decide for the latter one.

Crazy scenarios are entering

my mind. What if I get flat tire or
lose the road? What will I do then?
Start walking? What direction, where to?
I am somewhere, but nowhere anyone knows.
I could be in the Wilderness of Alaska,
instead of the vast foothills of Alberta.
So near, but yet so far away from
any settlement, even here.

I have turned on my radio. No

reception. Not even a cracking sound.
I am far away from anything close.
Another steep hill, and beyond that
several more. I feel itchy, not really
frightened. And start to sing some German
folk songs I learned in kindergarten.
The sound of my voice seems to calm my
nerves, as I am driving slowly yard
after yard through this magnificent
and untamed wilderness. Suddenly a
white truck is coming toward me.
The first vehicle in hours.
The man waves at me, I respond thankfully –
thinking, I must be really far off now.

I have kept track of the distance I

have driven. It is definitely too late
to turn back now after nearly one hundred
kilometers into the wild. To keep on
driving may give me a better chance
to find a road that eventually leads to a
highway before it’s pitch black dark.
What lies ahead can’t be worse than what
I have experienced so far, I argue with
myself. Suddenly I spot two four wheel
vehicles. Men are leaning with riffles
against a tree. What are they doing?
Is this hunting country? I dare not stop
to find out. Their army like outfits
blend in with the trunks of the
naked birch trees. They don’t even
look up as I pass by – focused
on their prey.

The hours are passing slowly, while

I am driving without haste. I am not
running out of childhood lyrics. In fact,
songs, long forgotten are sliding back
into my memory. It has to be that way,
when you lose your way and sight of the
outcome.

Now what – this mud road splits

like a giant V. No signs. Nothing.
I stop and start to contemplate. My
desperation reaches an unknown high.
Which of the lesser travelled should
be mine? Suddenly I hear the sound of
a vehicle coming closer. I wave down
the driver like a drowning woman
in an ocean of green. A hunter and
his teenage son look at my dusty
convertible with pity. A vehicle, which
has been admired by city slickers
doesn’t impress out here. It looks
pathetic to them. But I also catch a
glance of empathy in the mans face,
as I beg him to tell me how to get out
of this wilderness – the quickest way.

He leans down in his truck to

look at a map. His son keeps staring
at my sports car. I can envision, what
story his father will tell him later.
A warning, I am certain, about what
not to do. My desperation will be
helpful to teach avoidance. It takes
some time, before the man has figured
out on his map, as to where we are.
But when he finally talks, it sound
as if angles are singing for me
right here in this forest.

“There is a way out to a secondary

mudroad, leading eventually back to
the highway. But that is quite a ways,"
he dampens my expectations. “Keep on
going for a long way and you will see
a turnoff,” he says, while speeding
away in his heavy vehicle.
Crystal clear to me. Keep on going,
he has said. But he did not specify
how many kilometers. Distance doesn’t
seem to matter. The lesson can only
be made stronger. And so it should.

I am alone again on the road

less traveled. But I feel some comfort
now. Hope. I have spoken to someone.
And he knew the way. I start my engine
and continue, but now with more force
and higher speed. I can see the
tail-lights of his truck. I don’t
want to lose my savior. But after a
few minutes, I give up. I am losing
grip with my tires on the road. Too
much lose gravel now. I have to slow
down. The truck is out of sight now.
I lost it quickly on this road, which
is now winding like a roller coaster -
up and down steep hills and more curbs.

Checking my mileage, I realize,

I have only covered another ten
kilometers in what seems like half
an hour. No turn-offs, no signs.
Only trees coverning the horizon
in all directions. But then, suddenly
I see a shade on that next hillside
among those trees. It is the truck
of my savior. He has slowed down.
Maybe he has been thinking about my
agony, which I am certain, he saw in
my face during our brief encounter.
Or maybe, his son motivated him to
slow down for me, after listening
to his fathers warning words of
traveling alone in the wilderness.

I rejoice, while speeding up.

The road seems less dangerous, when
someone is in front of you to see.
I can feel, that he wants me to trail
his truck. I whistle a happy tune.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you …

Nearly half an hour has passed,

when I see a yellow sign: Important
intersection ahead. The truck is
waiting for me at the bottom of the
hill. I see the turn-off. I wave
and wave with enthusiam and so much
might – like someone, who has to say
good-bye to their loved ones.
The man and his son smile and wait
until I have taken the turn
for the better. It’s still a mud road,
but it will lead out of the bush.
This anticipation is sparking now
such joy, that I turn on the radio
to find a happy tune. Nothing yet,
but soon. I know.

After driving for another

hour, I can see farmhouses in
the distance and cattle. Life.
How I love those cows. Has anybody
ever loved the sight of those fenced
in animals more than I have? And the
road. How I adore the road. It’s now
made of asphalt. A sigh of relief
for my poor convertible. All is good.
My knees are still shaking,but I am
now traveling once more on familiar
grounds toward home.

The Road Less Traveled

Ursula Tillmann

Canmore, Canada

  • Artist
    Notes

Artist's Description

short story – a true account of a place and emotions, when lost in the wilderness

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