Speeding on the Mountain

old postcard of the mountain, courtesy of Eden Anyabwile

old postcard of the mountain, courtesy of Eden Anyabwile

The typical mark of a new Covenant student or Rock City tourist is that of a slow- painfully slow- mountain driver. I imagine that those dreaded drivers are often consumed by uncertainty over when the next sharp curve might come, what the drivers of the cars crawling behind them are thinking, whether they’re obviously new or not, and finally, what the speed limit is.

The speed limit on the mountain changes quite frequently depending on the ever-present GA/TN state lines. Driving on the mountain takes an extra measure of concentration for even a Covenant senior, and with every other element that driving on the mountain entails, it is hard to fully pay attention to when to accelerate to 25 mph versus slowing to 15 mph. As the tentative driver finds more normality in traversing along mountain roads, it can become a bit of a thrilling challenge to push the limits of ability that both the car and the driver possess. “What if I made it down the mountain faster than I ever have before?” “What if this curve doesn’t have to be taken quite as slowly as I thought it did?” In the mind of an excited new mountain driver, these questions that sit on the edge of a newfound freedom in feeling like a skilled driver can be ever-present every time they press their foot to the floor of their vehicle. For example — once I made it down the mountain with no cars in front of me, and I swear it clocked in at just about 5 minutes.

There is a distinct problem for people like me, though. That problem is the law.

In November of last semester, I was pulled over on a night that was supposed to be great. I was headed to Walmart with my roommate, we were shamelessly blaring Josh Turner’s “Would You Go With Me,” and I was admittedly not paying much attention to anything but singing really loudly. Suddenly, for the first time in my driving career, blue lights began to flash behind me. My roommate kindly pointed out what was happening to pull me out of my country music daze, and the next thing I knew I was headed to Walmart with a fat, fresh speeding ticket in hand.

The issue with this situation is that the speed I was going felt perfectly normal and perfectly safe for my own driving habits. I did not feel that I was putting anyone in harm’s way. I’m tempted to reason that “there aren’t people around the road that late at night anyway!” But the more I have meditated on this incident, the more I have come to the conviction that I should have concern over the speed I am going, not in order to be safe by my standards or even to save money by not getting ticketed (though that’s a perk), but in order to do what has been determined is safe by those who are actually in positions of authority above me. What a thought!

The speed limit is sometimes an arbitrary number in my mind. I forget that speed limits are set by people who are employed to regulate road safety, not who are trying to ruin my life by keeping me going 5 or 10 miles slower than I would otherwise choose. My care about speed limits is a relatively new thing, and I have found that the burden I used to feel it was to drive slowly on the mountain is becoming a gift. I notice homes and views that I had previously only blazed past, and while it’s obvious that 15 mph is slow by any standard, I have more things to put effort into than holding a grudge against the speed limit. So, whether you love to fly over Scenic’s roller-coaster-simulating hill between Carter and Mac or you just moved to Lookout a month ago, my advice is this: Don’t try to go down the mountain in under 5 minutes. You should listen to Josh Turner next time you drive to Walmart, but do so slowly. And honestly, if you’re not swayed by any of my argument, hear this: with the cost of an average speeding ticket, you could buy an 8-count nugget meal from Chick-Fil-A every week until August 25th, 2019. Do yourself a favor. Don’t be dumb, don’t speed, and go celebrate your brilliance with golden nuggets.