Been there, done that
A Really Bad Hotel in Chickasha, Oklahoma
We make 500 miles today. 500 miles! Our goal (when we're not really sight-seeing) is 300, sometimes we can push this to 400. But today we were fleeing from some of the worst weather I've ever seen. And fleeing. And fleeing.
Now I've been in hurricanes, some pretty big ones where I was 50 miles inland, and some small ones where I was right on the beach, but this doesn't count because during a hurricane the whole world is dark. You can't see the weather. You hear it, and you hope not to hear the 'train' sound. You know how a tornado is supposed to sound just like a freight train? I've heard a tornado before, several miles away, but I've never seen anything other than a little bitty water spout.
Today we fucking SEE the weather. We're in the desolate stretch of the top of Texas, headed for Oklahoma (only way to get to Arkansas, ya'll), actually looking for a place to camp for the night. Texas has less than 3% public lands and a lot of folks who love their shotguns, so you can imagine we're having a wee bit of difficulty. We head out of the last town (where we get gas, thank the Goddess) and into the middle of nowhere farm country, lots of crops squatting on either side of the highway, also lots of empty red fields.
One moment we're tired, vaguely looking around for a place to pull off, and the next moment we realize the horizon is an awfully ominous shade of blue-grey-black. That's ok, though, because the good thing about the horizon is that it's so damn far away.
And then the lightning starts. Neither of us has ever seen lightning like this, and Skip is a lightning junky, loves nothing better than having his hair spiked with ozone and electricity, climbs buildings to get closer to storms. This lightning flashes and cracks and spits, luminous against the blackening horizon, and it goes from a bolt every minute or so to too many bolts to count or even see in the time of a single hard gasp. The lightning spikes up, down, sideways, pumped out of roiling clouds and swirling wet chaos. The lighting is forked, forked again, shiny and everywhere.
And still far, far away from us.
As we move north the wind picks up. The ugly and brilliant horizon is east of us. Then north-east. Then north-east, east, and south. The wind becomes a hand, swinging back and forth across our highway, whacking us sideways when it catches us. When we pass earthen fields without green, the wind blows a silty red curtain across the road. Inches of top-soil in the air surrounding us. We have to slow to 35 mph because the visibility becomes so bad. We start looking for shelter, find ourselves urgently ready to ask for the shelter of someone's barn, but the distance between houses is great, and most of them are abandoned. We imagine parking the van in the shelter of some solid wall, breaking a window to let ourselves and the dogs into the spidery, dusty interior.
When the wind slows a bit and the red dust curtain disappears from the road we floor it. The world has turned green and the clouds have come to earth. We push Dervish up to 65, as fast as we dare go without compromising our full efficiency. I am driving, and Skip has his nose out the barely cracked window, cackling at the lightning. I raise our speed to 70, slowing when the turbulence forces me to.
Our highway turns left for a few miles, then back north, then straight east, and the clouds continue to cavort just above us. They are swirling. Not rotating yet, but gathering their skirts, swaying them back and forth, ready to start swinging their partners if the Sky God starts calling.
Cell-phone service, thank Goddess, and we J, our internet service provider, and ask him for a weather report. Possible tornadoes and golf-ball size hail for the county we're in and three counties east of us. By now it is six in the evening, so we still have plently of light by which to see our doom. We head east, and east, and east, Dervish pushed a little above 70 when the highway allows. We pass one town, and then another, and then a third, but the J weather report tells us these towns are still expecting possible tornadoes and hail. The size of the hail, at least, decreases as we head east, until we are almost ready to shelter in a car-wash (the hail can't hurt Dervish, but what would a tornado do to the incomplete cinderblock walls) to avoid the nickel-size hail.
Instinct tells me (and the dogs, quivering on the back seat, agree) we should not spend tonight outdoors, and we start searching for a cheap hotel in a town not supposed to be inundated by evil weather. When we finally stop for the night, we've been over 500 miles, which means we should make Skip's parents' house in Arkansas a day early.
The hotel is inside and clean-ish, and takes the dogs. I have to kick three roaches out of the shower, but at least they're not a tornado of roaches out to destroy my van and family. While I'm battling arthropods in the bathroom, Skip hunts and gathers a six pack of Dos Equis beer (the only import beer available in this town) and Mc Donald's, and our meal is like deep-fried victory seasoned with MSG'd exhaustion.