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IMHO: Good News, From a Ditch

  • Woodstock's Riley Quicker.



Valley News Sports Editor
Thursday, February 15, 2018

I hate driving U.S. Route 4. Regardless of whether I’m headed toward the spine of Vermont or the lakes of New Hampshire, I loathe this piece of pavement.

If I’m behind the wheel of my pickup truck and traveling Route 4, I’m trying to get somewhere in a reasonable amount of time. On Route 4, reaching that somewhere inevitably will be slowed to a teeth-grinding slog by some yutz whose goal is to escort me there personally at a pace 10 or more miles below the posted speed limit.

Route 4 is too slim, there are too few places to legally pass and it’s too easy for one person to screw up the trip for everyone else.

So I find alternatives.

Which, on Sunday, led me to a ditch beside the Ottauquechee River.

Which resulted in a much more heartwarming story than you might expect from these opening paragraphs.

Old River Road in Taftsville can be a nervy and narrow drive in good conditions, barely wide enough for two cars in some places. As I learned too late, it was the wrong place to be on Sunday afternoon. Just enough rain fell on the road’s dirt surface to turn it into a skating rink, with trees to the right and the guardrail-less Ottauquechee on the left. I found myself there because: 1) I was due at Woodstock’s Union Arena to officiate a youth hockey game, and 2) a slow-moving yutz on Route 4 made the alternative attractive.

You wouldn’t expect anyone to be on Old River Road on a wet, icy Sunday. You would be wrong. And, like me, you would be hard-pressed to keep your vehicle to the side as another approached from the opposite direction.

Just west of Otis Hill Road, beyond the Taftsville Covered Bridge, that exact thing happened. I didn’t realize how far over I’d pulled until the drag of gravity yanked my truck into a roadside culvert. It took all of 15 seconds to realize I wasn’t getting out of this without help.

Fortunately, Riley Quicker stopped. When I explained my situation and the need to get to UA, he courteously answered my plea for a ride.

Quicker’s a Woodstock Union High School sophomore and a member of the Wasps’ alpine ski team. He was heading home from a day at Suicide Six, where he’d been judging gates for a ski race. We discussed Woodstock’s herky-jerky season of postponements and reschedules, the day’s ski conditions (“Meh,” he said), how the school’s academic schedule works with a ski team schedule, the perfection of his name (who can’t like a ski racer named Riley Quicker?), how handy it was to be driving a four-wheel-drive Acura SUV (unlike my ditch-ensconced two-wheel-drive Toyota). I made my referee assignment in plenty of time.

None of my interaction with Quicker surprised Woodstock ski coach Fred Dieffenbach when I relayed the story this week. He described a sophomore who is very focused on skiing, to the point of showing up for one of his first Woodstock practices clad in his Su Six ski patrol gear.

“He’s a pretty quiet kid; he seems to stay to himself in some respects, but not in a negative way,” Dieffenbach said. “Looking at the scenario where you met him, a lot of kids would have driven right by. He lent a hand. That speaks very highly of him.”

It gets better.

My wife met me at UA, picked me up and persuaded me not to call AAA immediately. She must have known something, because a second truck, its hazards flashing, sat behind mine as we returned to the scene of the ditching. Austin Crossman had just finished trying to dig out the snow around my vehicle. Of his own volition.

Crossman is a Woodstock Union High School senior. He’d seen my truck while passing by with his girlfriend, and together they figured he might be able to help. He returned with a shovel and started excavating. Concerned someone might tow my truck away, he wrapped orange tape around the driver’s side door handle as a signal to leave it be.

He explained to me that he’d recently broken a tie rod on his pickup while driving along Route 4 in the Bridgewater area.

“Maybe, if I do a good deed, my luck will change,” he said.

Mine certainly did. With the help of Crossman, his truck, a tow strap and my competent wife, who wisely didn’t let me back into my vehicle, we were freed with one good yank.

Daily life has become such a bombardment of the negative. Dysfunctional leadership in Washington. Televised celebrations of stupidity. Pandering to the least-common denominator. It shouldn’t require you to do something dumb to have your faith in humanity restored.

Crossman’s excited about his future, which he said will include a job at a fish hatchery once he graduates this spring. My other savior has plenty of ski racing left this season, since the Wasps don’t hold their state championship until March; here’s to a quicker Quicker.

Gentlemen, from the bottom of my cold, dark heart, thank you for helping an old man out of a foolish, self-created bind.

See? There is good out there. Sometimes you just have to drive into a ditch to find it.

Greg Fennell, when he’s not heaping scorn upon speed limits or making dubious navigational decisions, can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.