Thursday started with a bang…
We had spent the night in Walnut Creek State Park, near Tulsa, OK. Our spot was perfect, right on the shore of Keystone Lake. It was a truly beautiful place.
We awoke to nature putting on a show for us – with thunder and lightening starting our day. Fortunately our Tab trailer is quick and easy to pack up, and we were soon on our way – with a long drive towards Austin and Cherie’s brother ahead of us.
I drove the first shift – navigating us through the rain and the beautiful Oklahoma countryside. Cherie took over once we reached the turnpike, when the rain had for the time being stopped.
The rain returned soon after we crossed the Texas border – and at a gas stop I popped back to check on the Tab only to discover the first bit of the day’s misfortune. The roof near the vent was leaking, and I could see a small wet spot. Our Tab’s first leak. Hopefully minor, but annoying.
The rain left us for a while, but it returned with a vengeance just as we reached downtown Dallas. The clouds were black, and dumping buckets. Lightning was shooting across the sky, and the wind was blowing the rain at us sideways. Checking weather radar (having wireless Internet to the passenger’s laptop rocks!), we could see a massive line of storms moving into our path. We considered getting off the road to wait it out, but the forecast looked just as bad until late in the night so we pressed on.
It seemed for a while that we were getting ahead of the storms, but then somewhere between Dallas and Waco, (near) disaster struck.
The rain had started to intensify again, and suddenly I felt Jeep starting to sway. We had hit a standing water puddle and hydroplaned a bit, and Cherie was not able to recover from the fishtailing that resulted. Looking into the rear-view mirror I could see Tab swing left and right behind us, and as soon as Cherie tapped the breaks Tab swung out of my view to the left, and we locked into an L-shaped jackknife.
Time started moving really slowly, and I felt suddenly very calm and relaxed. I knew that whatever was about to happen, I would be be fine and able to handle it. It was a strangely reassuring feeling.
Neither Cherie or I panicked – I am proud of how we both handled things.
And we had a lucky star shining down on us – it was a bad situation, but it could have been SO much worse. We weren’t going too fast, there was no traffic near us, and the median along this stretch of highway was big, wide, flat, and grassy – a sharp contrast to the constant “under construction” mess that seems to plague almost every mile of road in Texas south of Dallas.
We spun counter-clockwise, doing a complete 360 degree spin – crossing from the right lane, across the left, and into the median as we slowly decelerated to a stop. I wish someone had been there to film it – it must have looked amazing to see a Jeep and Tab going backwards and sideways down the freeway. I actually had the thought while it was happening that I wished the GPS was on, and I wondered what this GPS track must look like!
I was afraid that we were going to roll when we hit the median – but both Tab and Jeep stayed rock solid flat. There wasn’t even a sudden jarring stop or jump.
When we finally did stop – I feared that I’d look back to see our lives strewn all over the highway behind us. At the very least, I expected a bent axle or a mangled hitch.
But amazingly – the only obvious damage was that our brand new tongue box had been crunched by the Jeep’s spare tire. It might actually have saved us – the tongue box and the spare kept the Jeep and Tab from jack-knifing more fully into each other.
We did a quick systems check – getting soaked in the downpour. Things seemed fine, and Jeep and Tab miraculously both seemed fully drivable.
After catching our breath, we nervously drove onward to the next freeway exit, finding a gas station with a roof overhang so that we could more thoroughly assess the situation and ourselves. The interior of Tab was in shambles – stuff had flown out of the front cabinets all over the floor and the bed. But for the most part, things were fine.
We took a break for dinner at the world’s cleanest and friendliest travel center – in Italy, TX. After an hour’s rest, we hit the road again, slow and easy.
After the scare we had had, I was wanting to take it really easy – and contending with double-length bigrigs going 80mph blazing past us had me tense and on edge for the final 100 miles. After a while I had an urgent feeling that we needed to stop and check the map and the radar to plot our course forward, and I trusted my instinct and pulled off into a rest area.
That sudden urge to pull off must have been fate smiling upon us yet again. When we went to pull away to travel onward, things felt weird. I asked Cherie to hop out and check the tires. We soon discovered that Jeep’s back left tire had gone suddenly and completely flat. If that had happened at speed in traffic, it could have been a nightmare, or worse. That it happened while we were safely in a rest area was our second major miracle for the day.
After we stopped laughing at yet another obstacle to overcome, we debated changing the tire ourselves. We started digging for the jack, but some flashes of lightening convinced us otherwise. Instead we pulled out a laptop and watched an episode of Battlestar Galactica while we waited for Triple A. A wise choice – the tow-truck driver arrived in just 40 minutes and not the predicted two hours, and his monster jack and power tools made fast work of the wet job. The driver said they had gotten 70 calls so far in the past few hours, way more than an entire ordinary day. What a storm!
Finally back on the road again, we limped south. After losing one so suddenly, I wasn’t trusting the other three tires, and I stuck to frontage roads off the freeway as much as possible.
It was nearly 2AM when we finally reached Ken’s place, and crashed at last into bed.
What a day.
Today we went over the Tab and Jeep with a fine tooth comb – and overall things look good. Other than the tongue box, which looks like it can be pounded out – the only problems we discovered were two more leaking spots – probably unrelated to the accident. In fact – if it hadn’t been for the downpour and our spin, we might not have ever discovered the places water had been getting in at the two front bottom corners of Tab. Perhaps in some ways, the whole mess was a blessing in disguise.
This week we’ll be looking into getting Tab’s leeks sealed, and some brand new tires for Jeep.
Some soaking in the hot tub and margaritas are also in order – my body has picked up a lot of tension in the past 24 hours!
Most importantly – I feel that Cherie and I have been tested, and we passed. We faced disaster, did not panic or despair, stayed connected to each other, worked well together as a team, and we recovered beautifully.
In a few days we’ll be back on the road again in as good a shape as we started, but with one difference. We’ve seen some of the worst of what the road can throw at us, and we know now we can handle it. Whatever it looks like, we can handle it.
We made it through, stirred (a full 360!) – but not shaken.
And knowing that feels good.