On a crooked road

Brown’s Landing Road is a 35 mph two-lane road that, not surprisingly, leads from Palatka to Brown’s Landing. I’ve cycled it many times because I like its rural feel.

Brown’s Landing itself is a place at the end of the road where you can launch your boat into the St. John’s River. Perhaps for a day’s partying afloat. And, indeed, when I rode my bike out there last Saturday, there was a party-like atmosphere there at the water’s edge.

But being a Trained Observer, I couldn’t help but notice a disturbance in the force along the way. Precisely at a spot where the road takes a sharp curve.

The first thing I noticed was the skid marks. The next thing I noticed was the splintered remains of what used to be a power pole. All of this set off by yellow “Caution” tape.

Termites? Lightening? Entropy? Or just some party animal who misjudged the turn and ended up on the losing side of a tug of war between physics and poor judgement.

Then I noticed something else.

Within just a few feet of the splintered pole the sagging power lines was an old plastic cross adorned with remembrances: A chrome Nissan emblem, a sad, soiled American Flag, a wreath and a weeping angle.

It marks the spot where 23-year-old Ryan Hayes died in 2018, after he lost control of his car and careened into the trees. His friends haven’t forgotten him.

Just off that lonely road. At that sharp curve.

Turns out Ryan Hayes wasn’t the first young man to die on Brown’s Landing Road. Three years earlier, in 2015, Bryan Atchison died at 3:30 a.m. when the car he was riding in plunged into the river.

Nor was Ryan Hayes the last to die on Brown’s Ferry Road. Just two years ago, 18-year-old Rhett Timothy McCool similarly lost control at the curve, hit a tree and died.

The thing is, I’ve probably cycled the road to Brown’s Ferry a dozen times or more over the years. This because it’s got a deceptively rural, out-of-the-way feel to it. Like nobody ever comes this way.

But I don’t think I’ll ever cycle it again. Party animals scare me.

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