As we entered Phoenix, the traffic slowed almost to a stop. After about half an hour, we passed the reason for the hold up. The westbound side of the freeway was closed due to an apparent head-on collision. The eastbound side was slow due to rubbernecking, us included.
South of Phoenix we came to another near complete stop. It took an hour and a half to go nine miles! Traffic was directed off the freeway at the Casa Grande turnoff due to another freeway closing. Most of the drivers must have been playing follow the leader because they all turned right and continued crawling along in single file. I’d lived many years in Tucson and knew the area fairly well. We turned left and zipped a few miles east then south again to Eloy, near Picacho Peak, and back on the I-10.
The delay, while frustrating, did allow us to enjoy a beautiful sunset near Bowie.
We pulled into Deming, NM at about 9:30 pm local time and checked into a motel. Apparently Deming closes at 10:00. We drove around looking for a place to eat and found a KFC that luckily stayed open until 10:30. On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Wal-Mart for beer and spotted a Casita nestled in between a couple dozen larger rigs hunkered down for the night.
Monday the 17th was a buffer day in case we couldn’t make it in two days. We stayed with my sister just outside Fort Worth. That night the thunderstorms started.
We got up early Tuesday morning, March 18th. It’s an hour and a half drive from my sister’s to the factory and we were shooting for the 10 o’clock hookup. We left Ft. Worth at 7:30 so that we would have an hour buffer.
We drove along I-20 in a Texas downpour and found the US 287 transition without any trauma.
Being the master navigator that I am, (hence my screen name) I had planned a primary and alternate route to Rice. The map was neatly folded for easy use in the car and placed in the folder for easy access. As we drove through the raging storm, the folder sat quietly on my sister’s kitchen counter. No problem, I had the routes memorized.
It was dark, wet, and windy and the NOAA weather alarms made sure that I wouldn’t get a nap as my wife drove. (FYI: Texas weather alerts keep you well informed of areas of high winds, heavy rain, tornado sightings, flood warnings, and locus swarms. Unfortunately, they give them by counties, and they have lots of counties, and they’re all very small. If you don’t know what county you’re in you might as well turn off the radio.) We crossed the leading edge of the front at about Mansfield and just had moderate to light rain the rest of the way to Rice.
We pulled into the Casita parking lot at 9:00. After a visit to the head and a cup of coffee, the maintenance supervisor hooked us up and gave us a two-hour training tour.
We had brought almost everything we wanted to outfit the trailer and, after the tour, we took about a half an hour to load everything on board.
By the time the paperwork and everything was done, it was 1145 or so. They suggested a propane station in Ennis to fill our tanks and recommended the BBQ restaurant next to it for lunch. By the time we found the station, it was closed for lunch, and the cold front had caught up with us. It was 12:15 and the sign said that the shop would open at 1:00. We went next door to Bubba’s BBQ and got take-out and had lunch in the Casita.
We watched the clouds get lower and darker and the rain get heavier. At 12:45 an LPG delivery truck pulled into the station and a little old guy got out and limped over to us, knocked, and asked if we needed propane. He said that someone had called him and told him we were waiting. He wanted to get us fueled before the electrical fireworks started. In the half our or so that we had been there, the temperature dropped 30 degrees.
I called my sister and had her pull up a live Doppler radar website and give me a briefing on where the heaviest thunderstorm cells were. We drove through Ennis and headed back to her house on 287. The rain at times was so heavy it was hard to see and the winds were reported as 30 mph gusting to 45 in the Waxahachie area.
The little Casita behaved beautifully and I caught myself driving 60+ several times even though I was trying to drive conservatively. We did hydroplane several times and the wind blew the Pathfinder and Casita sideways across the highway as one unit.
By the time we got to Midlothian, the rain and wind was so heavy and the creeks were flooding over the highway so I decided it was time to hunker down for a while.
I called my sister and she told me that we were in the worst of it at the moment and that we had a shot at beating the next heavy cell if we left as soon as possible.
The rain let up a little and we hit the road again. We heard on the radio that DFW airport had been shut down due to tornadoes spotted nearby. I told my California-native wife to keep her eyes out for cyclonic action and pressed on. I’d spent most of my early life in Texas and Oklahoma and had yet to see a tornado but always wanted to…now was not the time for that. We’d paid for a whole egg, not an omelet.
As we hit the outskirts of Ft. Worth, the worst was behind us and the death toll was five or six. It rose into the teens the next day.
On the return trip, we spent the first night east (south on a lensatic compass) of El Paso in a rest area. After a very good nights sleep, I took a shower in the Pod (the water pressure was better than at home) and just after I finished, the water stopped. I thought I had run out of water since I only filled the tank about half way but it was too dark to see. (I later learned that the pump failed. I called Casita and they shipped out one to our house as we were still on the road.
Somewhere between Las Cruces and Deming, while my wife was driving, an eighteen-wheeler was passing us. Just as his rear wheels got even with the driver side door, one of his tires blew. It was LOUD and even with the doors closed and the windows up we felt the concussion. Rubber and gray smoke covered the Pathfinder. We pulled off at the next opportunity and checked out the Casita and TV. Nothing…not a scratch.
The plan had been to spend the night at the City of Rocks north of Deming, but my hyper-detailed planning had overlooked the tiny fact that this was Easter weekend (they keep moving it!). We pressed on to Lordsburg and took US 70 to Globe, AZ and then US 60 to Apache Junction. (My wife really like that part…well, except for when I kept pointing out interesting sights while I was driving the fast winding road into the Valley of the Sun.)
We spent the night at the AJ KOA since the water pump was inop and pressed on back to L.A. just in time to join all the other Spring-Breakers and Easter holidayers on the freeways.
About 40 miles from the house, the yellow fuel light came on warning me that we were down to three gallons (I guess). I pulled off, dumped the 5 gallons of generator fuel into the tank, hit the head and hit the road.
Parking is a problem in our neighborhood so I had arranged for my son and a neighbor to grab a couple of spots in front of the house for us. When we got off the freeway I gave them a heads-up that we were nearby. When they saw us turn the corner at the end of the block, they moved and I pulled in.
Well, actually, the beginning of the adventure.