Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Beatlick Travel: Lightning Storm in Houston

Ooh that smell. Can't you smell that smell? Wet pavement on the open road. How long has it been?

Well down Highway 90 my navigator Beatlick Joe Speer signals turns to roads that are getting smaller and smaller. I'm getting tireder and tireder.

"Isn't there a more direct route than this?" I ask. Then switching into alpha bitch mode: It's been three days, 700 miles, and we're not making any progress.

"Well, I thought you wanted to go to Palacias, Texas, and get BBQ.

"I only said that because you wanted to take the coastal route. Besides I already got BBQ." (I couldn't wait and grabbed the first opportunity for some of that great dry Texas BBQ, so unlike the wet sloppy kind back in Tennessee.)

Neither one of us was taking responsibility for the route we were on. And again, not having consulted the map, I had no conception of the extra time and miles it would take to retrace our old path along the Texas coastline. Needless to say we never made it to the coast.

Fortunately we were serendipitously close to Highway 59 heading due east and a straight shot to Houston. We nipped at each other for a few more miles until we took a break at a beautiful picnic area.

I passed an hour doing my yoga exercises, Joe chilled in the van, and we were both in much better moods when we headed out again in the late afternoon, planning on about three more hours on the road and stop on the east side of Houston, hopefully missing some heavy traffic.

The rain had been teasing us all day long and picked up about the same time we hit the 12-lane 210 bypass around Houston. Six lanes one-way of course. We head in. The van is driving effortlessly and we are snug enough. The rain intensifies as night comes on and the sky starts to fill with maxi-bursts of lightning that illuminate the entire curve of the horizon; the lightning bolts must be at least 30 miles long.

I am taking it all in stride and we just start to joke about it, how much worse could the driving conditions be? That’s when the windstorms began. It was like a race car arcade game where you are trying to stay in the lane, but the road is so wet you can’t see the markers; all the tail lights of the cars are twinkling, competing with the lightning bolts overhead; and the big rigs roar past leaving a wake of water as they swoosh by.

By the time we got to the opposite side of Houston, pulling up a long incline, I think we hit a small tornado. I felt like I was “Three Years Before the Mast” heading around Cape Horn in a gale storm. But my little van was giving its all. I had all the power I needed, thank God, to accelerate evenly with traffic, but the spray and the sheer density of the rain sheets finally turned everything opaque, the color of cement. I couldn’t even pull over because we were along a construction corridor and orange cones blocked my path.

I should have pulled over anywhere, but I was waiting for the most opportune pull off. It didn’t come Cars were beginning to line the sides of the highway now as I slowed down, still hardly able to make out anything between the psychedelic light show in the sky, all the red taillights on the road, and the vast amounts of water that were drowning out my vision.

And just at that moment when I saw a sign for an old weigh station turn off one mile ahead, another gush of water from a passing rig submerged me and the engine stalled. I stomped the accelerator and the engine held. All this time an eerie calm is over me. After all the anxiety I felt driving out in the mountains anticipating the danger that never happened, here in this truly dangerous situation I am calm, determined.

The weigh station exit came up at last and I was finally able to pull over. I puttered along in first gear finding nowhere to turn in because the lane was packed with other vehicles, at least 50 or 60. We were almost back onto the highway when I found one tiny space in between two big rigs. I pull in. I have been driving for 14 hours.

This was the night we were anticipating sleeping uptop in the van. But no chance of that now. Unfortunately I had already placed the bedding up there so in the gales we had to lift the camper top and pull out our damp down comforters. But only a little damp. They would work.

We fixed up the bed to look out the side window. The rain and traffic are a real show out there and my body is vibrating so intensely that there is no way I will go to sleep for quite some time, so I just snuggled in to watch the light show. I tell Joe, “I feel like I have been struck by lightning. I feel electric.”

The rain beats down relentlessly, the water gushes past the window horizontally, and the lightning bolts appear like bursts of bomb shells. It’s WWII out there. The noise of the rain, the trucks, the lightning crashes all pass through me. My body resonates. I am safe, I am warm, I am anointed!

Happy Trails
Beatlick Pamela

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