Friday, April 29, 2011

Dodging Tornadoes

It started in Paul's Valley, OK. I remember Paul's Valley quite well, having spent 4 days trapped there by a winter blast that had blown down from the Rockies and swept eastward across the country, dumping as much as 27 inches of snow in a matter of hours. I rode that wave from Denver all the way to Oklahoma City, following the taillights before me until the snow became ice and the roads became glaciers. I then skidded, bounced, slid and worried my way another sixty miles to Paul's Valley where I parked for 4 days, waiting for the roads to clear.

Then, a week ago, parked in Paul's Valley, the weather hit again. Another wave stretching from Texas to Canada was sweeping across the country. This wave was torrential downpours, electrical storms, and tornadoes. Hail hammered my truck while severe gusts threatened to blast me off the road. Rain and mist cut visibility down to 100 feet. Vehicles slid into the median and ditches, and tree limbs littered the interstate, providing attention-grabbing obstacles (though where they came from, I have no clue since there were no trees in sight).

I got confirmation that there were indeed tornadoes in the area, crisscrossing the land, tearing up whatever they could find. I kept moving, intent on driving out of the destruction. I figured I was harder to hit as a moving target.

I slept in Russellville, Arkansas and listened to Emergency Broadcast System warnings about tornadoes in a half dozen counties. That night, the violent winds shook my truck, rocking me to sleep as rain and hail slammed the roof.

In West Memphis, Arkansas, just as the sun was rising above the trees and struggling to pierce the dense clouds, another driver informed me that a massive tornado had carved a 2 mile wide path of destruction out of the Little Rock area a couple hours earlier… as I was driving through Little Rock. No wonder my truck had almost been blown off I-40 several times.

The winds had calmed so I thought it was over, but that afternoon I was proven wrong. While hooking to a trailer in West Memphis, a tornado struck. In an instant, the calm air was a turbulent, chaotic monster. My truck, weighing in at 78,500 lbs. felt as if it were being rammed by another truck. So violent were the gusts that it knocked my coffee mug from the cup holder. I sprinted inside the building, almost losing my footing to the winds, and took shelter inside. A couple parked trailers were overturned and a smaller trailer suddenly went sliding. It traveled a few hundred feet before crashing into a parked truck. The winds calmed a bit, only to return a half hour later. This went on in waves for several hours. By the time I left the next morning, part of the building's roof was gone.

Coming out of Northern Alabama in the afternoon was just as bad. Violent winds sprang from nowhere, slamming my truck about. The skies behind me, erratic clouds and frequent lightning, looked worse than the sky before me. So I drove on, weaving down state highways, dodging fallen trees and debris for several hours. My pulse was racing, my nerves were shot, and my hands ached from gripping the steering wheel. It was like driving through a hurricane… something I have experience doing.

I made it to the interstate and tore south, arriving safely in Saraland (where I was once assaulted by crackheads while on Walkabout). My training told me I should have stopped when the weather got that bad, but my instincts had been screaming for me to keep going. My instincts were proven right when I learned that a mile-wide tornado had ripped apart the area between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, killing dozens of people and injuring hundreds more. I had been on the edge of that storm, fleeing. Had I stopped, I may very well have been part of those statistics.

Now, I'm safe in Florida. Another day of storms followed the Birmingham tornado, but I made it through that unscathed even though a truck parked 5 spaces down from me was overturned during the night. This bad weather seems to be following me. I've surfed the waves of three blizzards, two flood-inducing storm systems and now tornadoes. Every two weeks another wave of severe weather washes down from the Rockies and crosses the country. I've never heard of weather like this. Wonder what I'll see next month.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Welcome Home

Almost immediately after moving into my new home, I was back out on the road again. Several thousand miles later, I returned briefly to get my NC license, open a credit union account, and settle a few other things. I did get to paddle around Lake Norman a bit, but then I was in the truck again.

Now, after owning a Charlotte address for a month and a half, I finally got to see what all the fuss was about. Tasha had been joining hiking groups left and right, and it was with one of these groups that we hiked up South Mountain.

The trail began at a parking area where we met about twenty other people. Once gathered, we set out to conquer the trail. It traced the edge of a stream where a man in hip waders was fly fishing before crossing a narrow foot bridge. Then, it was all uphill from there.

Over boulders and mounds and up the mountain we went, ascending through the tree-covered slope. The sound of falling water grew in volume until we came to the source. The waterfall originated high in the mountain, but the source was obscured from view. From where we first glimpsed it, only the lowest portion could be seen.

Higher still we hiked, skirting the sides of the falls as we followed it up, closer to the source. The trail was steep, one of the steepest I'd ever been on, but worth the effort. At the top, the roaring falls came into view and those standing nearest the uppermost pool were getting misted by the rushing water.

We stood there a while, watching the churning water fly from the ledge overhead and thunder down onto the rocks below. It was magnificent to say the least.

The hike, up to the falls, to the top of the mountain, and back down to the bottom, took several hours and  a lot of energy, especially for someone from the flat country of south Louisiana. Tasha and I weren't accustomed to the elevation gain, but we didn't let that get in the way. It was just another obstacle to overcome on the way to enjoying the great outdoors.

I wonder what day two will bring.

P.S. Thanks to David and Florence from the hiking group for the photos. We accidentally left our newly-repaid camera at home for this trip. Oops.