Not So Rough After All

“You’ll need a four wheel drive to get up there.” she said. “The road in is pretty rough.” We had no 4X. “We’ve got what we’ve got.” I said, gesturing to our well-used sedan.

On the way in, I kept looking for the road to get bad. The pavement got a little rougher, but no worse than the road we drove home each day (better in most respects than the Indian Nation Turnpike – a hazard which they CHARGE you to drive upon!). In fact, it was better than many of the roads I’d seen in Oklahoma. When it eventually gave way to gravel, it was well-graded gravel, no potholes (which was more than could be said of the pavement). Overall, a very driveable road, just a few holes to dance around. It helps to be a logger’s daughter, gives you perspective on such things. But then, I’d also lived in Wyoming for 15 years.

Interestingly, I’ve seen more bad paved roads in Oklahoma than I’d ever seen in Wyoming. For some reason, people don’t complain about them in Oklahoma – as long as there is pavement, it is considered a drivable road, no matter how many open potholes, melted dips, overlayered rough patches, or heat buckles in the surface. Gravel, though, is considered “rough”.

“Rough roads” in Wyoming mean REALLY rough roads, and they DO take a 4X with extra clearance underneath to drive. Overall, Wyoming takes much better care of their roads than does Oklahoma. There are more miles of road per capita in Wyoming than in Oklahoma, and a larger percentage of gravel roads – but roads are more valued in Wyoming as well, and they are better kept. There, they are a lifeline. So when someone mentions a rough road, it is pretty much all angles, gullied ruts, boulders, and mud. A paved road with potholes doesn’t even count – you can drive around those!

The other thing we kept hearing about the planned trip was, “That’s a long drive – Pretty though.” It wasn’t a long drive. Just under 2 hours. Less than the distance we used to go to do our shopping. Less than the distance Kevin commuted for two years. Their idea of pretty was different than mine too – I like taller trees, grassy meadows, streams, and whitecapped peaks. This was all fluffy short trees covering rolling hills. Green, yes. Not so sure about pretty.

Many other things mean something different in Oklahoma than what they mean in Wyoming. “Small town” for example. It means 300 people in Wyoming. It means 10,000 people in Oklahoma. There’s a VAST difference between a town of 300, and a town of 10,000.

“There’s NOTHING there!” she insisted, about the last town on the way. “I mean NOTHING… No grocery stores, no fast food, no services, NOTHING!”. It was an awful lot of nothing. A small grocery store, a number of motels, gas stations, convenience stores, local restaurants. In all, a thriving community several times the size of some we’d been in.

“Warm day” also means something different. Anything above 50 in Wyoming is a warm day. In Oklahoma, it has to get up to 80 to earn that distinction. In Wyoming, your biggest bills come from heating in the winter. In Oklahoma, they come from cooling in the summer.

“Stiff wind” is something that does not translate. In Oklahoma, you get gusty winds now and again, and when a storm goes through, you’ll get an hour or two of winds that try to bat your car around on the road (the shiftless, unpredictable winds that accompany a storm with tornado warnings). But people constantly say that it is a windy place to live – and I think they must be people who have not lived anywhere with real wind. The Wyoming breeze blew through on a daily basis, fairly consistent (and the Wyoming definition of “breeze” is a good stiff wind anywhere else). Very little gustiness, mostly a steady solid stream of air from west to east, with enough force to ruin all but the most stiffly sprayed hairstyle. When it got REALLY windy, it could (and did) knock down small children, pull roofs apart, shove cars off the road completely, and even tip over semis, and it didn’t do that for a few hours, it would do it for days at a time. Oklahoma wind is a capricious teenage prankster who occasionally goes too far. Wyoming wind is a practiced, constantly relentless bully, intent on making sure you know who is boss.

There have been many other issues where the words being used meant something different to the speaker than they did to me. So much so that I wondered why they were even commenting upon the issue, it seemed so much like a NON-issue. Just a matter of being used to extremes, I guess.

Many small and large cultural differences as well, and some attitudes that are noticeably different.

Once you’ve lived in Wyoming though, the lack of a nearby McDonald’s or Wal-Mart really isn’t the harbinger of isolation that many people think it is. In fact, it becomes more of a welcome condition. Something that feels a little more like… home.

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