Tornado Hopscotch

Nefelibata

I’m a visual person and not very detailed, so for me the idea of a checklist, well… I just knew that wouldn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a list of things I need to do for setup and tear down. But I found, as long as nobody is interrupting my thought process, if I circle my rig and keep circling it, everything I still need to do pops out at me. When I think I’m done, I circle it five more times.

Well, I did check my window latches. I just missed checking one of the window latches. As I drove down the road out of Minneapolis I saw something funny sticking out on the side of the trailer so I stopped to check it out. The window was gone. I had not even heard it break. I hope it did not land on anyone behind me. Apparently I checked all of my windows but one. Luckily I was right next to an RV shop when I discovered it since I still had weeks of travel before I’d be back to LA Airstream where I could get it fixed.

The RV folks kindly cut a piece of plywood and Minnesota style duct taped it into place. Yes, one more use for duct tape. I know it was not good for my finish but driving with an open window would have been worse. I had a couple of options including going to an RV store in Denver that is known to have a lot of Airstream Parts, waiting at the shop I was at for two more weeks and hoping the right parts were sent and getting it fixed, detouring through Las Vegas or hoping my plywood would last me all the way back to LA.

sculpture.jpeg

I was on my way to Porter Sculpture Garden outside of Sioux Falls South Dakota where I was looking forward to boondocking for the night. After experiencing a lightening storm and power outage in Minneapolis I knew to ask the owner of the Sculpture Garden about storm shelters or safety. His response was a bit unnerving. He proceeded to recollect all of the past small towns he used to escape to when tornados were headed his way. They were all no longer in existence. I decided I’d give him a polite call just before arriving if I chose to go a different way.

Seeing a storm would cross my path to the Badlands just after staying at the sculpture garden, something inside me said reach out for help. I called a friend and asked him to look online for all of the weather reports and help me decide whether or not to stay in Sioux Falls, while I continued driving down the road. Well, turns out the storm was bigger than I thought. I took his advice. He said if I stayed in Sioux Falls I would be there a long time and I may instead want to veer south to Omaha. I let two non-refundable camp reservations go and headed to Omaha not even sure if Nebraska roads were back open since the floods from the summer before. I made it after dark (thankfully) to a dingy little KOA where someone was charging their mower on my power outlet. A tornado plowed into Sioux Falls that evening.

After setting up camp I checked my weather app again. Apparently the storms had turned and were now still headed my way, and the road I had just driven south on was now shut down due to flash floods. So, I got up while it was dark (and thankfully could not see my surroundings) and crept out of my dingy little KOA spot, returning the mower chord to my power outlet before I left.

The night before I had reached out to my facebook groups for suggestions on camping as not much was showing up along the 80. I try not to drive more than 300 to 400 miles in a day, prefering the 300 end. So to travel all of the way to Denver woud have been much more than that following a day where I had been driving under stress for over 15 hours. Well, the best suggestion I could get was in Sterling Colorado. Partly it was the best because it took me clear out of storms way. At least I thought it did.

I set my GPS in Omaha and fought falling asleep on the road where all of the rest stops were packed full with no room to rest with a 27 foot trailer. I found reception was bad on most of my trip but if I put GPS in when I had reception, it would stay in. I just could not reset it. Well, sometimes GPS likes to take you what I call the direct route, not the safe feeling freeway route. This was one of those times. I was twenty five farms back in off of the freeway, wondering why I was not seeing a brown park sign, wondering had I been tricked into going somewhere that my trailer would get jacked and I’d find myself in a cage. Yah, my mind can get pretty creative when I’m nervous and in the middle of nowhere with no way to figure out where I am.

Eventually I discovered what in any other circumstance would have been a lovely park surrounding a scenic lake. The only thing is I was the only one there. The camp host was gone and there were no other campers. Even though I had no phone reception I did get one incoming text message from my friend. It said “storms coming, take cover.” Well…. I knew I had to figure out how this weather radio I had purchased worked. It was the only night I have been able to make it work. The radio crackled “Tornado Warnings for the town of Sterling.”  Some people chase storms. I had the storms chasing me.

empty park 2

The picture above gives you an idea of the beautiful eary and empty park I was in.

empty and me

And these two pictures, if you look close and follow the road in, you will finds my lone trailer sitting there vulnerable to what was to come.

alone black and hite

Sometimes the free flowing, go where you want, do what you want, gypsy lifestyle is not so free, even when you have planned ahead. Two reservations cancelled and a route through a completely different part of the country to honor the storm apps warnings and I still ended up in the middle of storms.

Well, I had done the best I could to watch for, avoid, and outrun storms. I was exauhsted and there was no time to pack up and find a new location. Plus, any direction I turned I would still go through the storm. So the best thing I could do bunker down and get ready for the storm right where I was. I left all dignity behind. I wanted to be comfortable when waiting for hours inside of a campground bathroom. So, I brought my pillow to lay on, snacks to eat, my books on Audible, my weather radio and my best little four legged fur baby to the campground bathroom floor. Dudley didn’t need a radio to know what was up. He was already finding things to crawl under and curl up and hide. And in reality, the bathroom was an illusion of safety. I knew what a tornado would do to that structure, but this was one time living in fantasy land was ok by me. At least I felt safe.

I peaked out a few times to capture the storm on camera. I could tell the power of the sky was not unleashing on us. Although we did get the seventy mile an hour winds and the pea sized hail. I proudly show you my little hail dent. I can’t believe I only had one. And I am also grateful that my plywood kept my home dry through the storm.

Later in the night the camp host and her husband showed up with apologies. She said normally they would come warn campers when there was a storm but the storm had hit the town of Sterling so hard their own home had been demolished. She said they had grapefruit sized hail. In town the next day everyone was walking about with their cell phones out sharing photos of the various hail that came down on their homes.

Traveling on from Sterling I think I suffered a little storm app PTSD. Luckily it was fairly uneventful as far as weather is concerned, minus two more tornados in Arizona where they are not used to getting tornados, and a monsoon when I first got to the river, where I watched the waters rise unsure of at what point I should hitch up and leave, but everything worked out and calmed down until I got to back to California where I had to watch the app for fire warnings and freeway closings.

By the way, Airstream LA did a snap up job getting me in and out in one day to fix my window. And I use a physical checklist now, look ahead at the GPS route, and have alternate route plans. I’ve also let go of booking too far ahead in hopes I won’t lose out on any more booked money. And I plan to head back through it again back to Colorado and then down south to huricane land this summer. Hopefully my next trip through tornado alley will be uneventful in terms of storms.

4 thoughts on “Tornado Hopscotch”

  1. What an UNBELIEVABLE tale of everything going wrong but the one BIG thing going right – missing the tornado and the hailstorm save one menacing piece of hail. What you have packed into your short journey of life on the road is already enough to fill most folks’ scrapbooks! My gosh. Good call to stop towing – knowing your limits is a good thing. Another battle scar to mark a heckuva memory…and on to safer destinations down the road! Whew!

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    1. Yes! Yes! I’m glad you caught that. I don’t want to scare anyone. But seriously it all made me remember I’m not really controlling the show here on planet earth. And, I have so much to be grateful for everyday! I love this life. My current problem is too many good choices of directions to go. 💗

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  2. Weather is the one thing I fear the most while full-timing. I’ve been through some storms while camping, driving, and rerouting. Not a fan, but it comes with our territory. Glad you went relatively undamaged and you are safe.

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    1. Yes. I suppose it does. Experiencing it on my first real trip was a bit of a shocker, but I guess that means I have a bunch of peaceful trips in store ahead. Plus it just confirms how lucky we are to be in the moment and enjoy each moment, because that’s what we can do.

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