with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Day Two of Running from Hurricane Dennis

Tunica, Mississippi

While driving along Highway 10 heading east, and then up Highway 55 towards Memphis for the past two days, Hurricane Dennis dropped to a category 2 hurricane and then back up to a category 4 and is on track for the Gulf Coast, aimed right between Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida. It is now on record as the only hurricane to make landfall in the United States in July on record. Hurricane Season may have begun, but the storms usually don’t reach the US coastal shores until August or September.

Our luck that a record-breaking storm would hit us. Never fails.

Thirty-six hours ago, we pulled out of Mobile, Alabama, and headed “away”. We weren’t sure where or even when we would land, but we knew we had at least two days of travel to get “away” from the direct path of the storm.

Having spent almost 12 hours non-stop without sitting, just working my ass off to get ready to move the trailer, and finally sitting in the truck dragging the trailer down the highway, I worked overtime on my brain to relax. I instructed my shoulders to drop, my neck to loosen, and squirmed around to unhook my clean but once again sweat covered body from my shorts, and tried to shake off the tensions of the past few days.

Brent kept glancing at me out the corner of his eye. I knew what he was waiting for. I just didn’t want to hand it out to him right away. Let the anticipation rise, I thought. Besides, we were maneuvering around traffic, loaded down with the weight of the trailer, and readjusting to the feeling of a few tons behind your ass on the highway with everyone traveling at 75 miles an hour and us trying to melt into the flow of traffic at 65 miles an hour….he needed his concentration on the road.

So I finally gave him what he wanted, and it was a joy to see that little smile appear on his face as each question was asked, and to watch as he, himself, slowly relaxed and settled into “pulling the trailer” mode.

“Is it still behind us?”

“Yep.”

“Are we there yet?”

“Nope.”

The ritual was done. It had been just over six months since we played our little game leaving Tulsa to come to Mobile, Alabama. It felt good to say.

In fact, it felt extraordinarily good to me. A euphoria of joy hit me. I LIKED saying it. I wanted to say it again more often. I was tired of sitting still. So I told Brent how good I was feeling about this.

He was stunned, and for a few minutes I saw the old Brent, the Brent I thought had been left behind about four months after we left Seattle in 1996. The fear of being away from the security of the job. The anger at having life disrupted by events out of his control. The anxiety that comes with life on the road, never knowing when a tire will pop or an engine will burn up or where you will be when exhaustion or night falls. I desperately sought for words to heal his resentment and fears.

“I miss being with you. I miss this time together. I’m not looking forward to the trip, but I’m with you. That is all that matters.”

That helped. I could see him start to relax again. I got him talking about the new work projects that he is involved in and how he’s bringing a lot of work with him, and I told him about the work that I was doing, also brought with us. In fact, everything is with us. That is the fact of being a turtle and taking your home with you when you go.

We talked for a couple hours and then realized that night was coming and we needed to make a plan.

I called Brent’s dad and asked him to get out his campground books and help us find a place to stay tomorrow. He did more than that and helped us find a place to stay that night on our path and then also made a reservation for us at the Grand Casino campground, a place they had stayed on one of their trips through this area recently, one that they found to be nice and clean and featuring FREE WIFI INTERNET ACCESS, the most important thing on the list. I found out they have a swimming pool, too, which meets our two basic needs, in addition to water and electricity. Awesome people. We now had a place for the night and a destination in mind. Memphis, Tennessee, we’re on our way to see you.

About 30 minutes past our exhaustion point, we pulled into a state park they’d found on the list near McComb, Mississippi. This was no “state park” like I was used to state parks. There was a fancy carved sign at the formal looking entrance and we passed over a “golf cart crossing” and then were a little dismayed to see a turn off sign for “Golf Villas”. I’d never heard of a state park with “Golf Villas” before. Hmmmm. Mississippi is moving up in the world for state park luxuries. The custom architecture of the security gate and entrance building looked more like an A-frame ski lodge or border welcome center than a security gate shack for a state park. Brent went in and the 24 hour designer sports-shirted official told him the park was sold out. No room at the inn.

Next destination, truck stop, WalMart, Lowes, anywhere with a big parking lot. Our bones ached and our muscles had given up all thought and energy over an hour before, so we were now a hazzard on the road. We needed to stop and sleep. A glance at the clock reinforced our exhaustion. Ten at night.

Our trailer sits small among the many large trucks in a truck stop in central Mississippi, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenWe headed back to the highway, our eyes throbbing, and right there found a huge truck stop. We pulled in, a mosquito among 50 or more giant trucks, their engines running all night, and fell into bed, asleep within seconds.

Brent fills the trailer tires with air as we prepare to travel again, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenEarly the next morning, we crawled out of bed, smelling like sweat, sleep, and more sweat, and prepared to head out. Brent found that the trailer tires I’d warned him about checking the air pressure, were indeed low, so 30 minutes were spent putting air into the four trailer tires with our horrible little Sears cheapo air compressor. I’d get something better, but we use it so rarely, we just suffer with it’s little engine-that-almost-could effort.

Then back onto the highway, heading towards Memphis.

We love to listen to books on tape, so after checking in with the weather report which said that Hurricane Dennis had dropped from Category 4 to Category 2 after pounding the hell out of Cuba, but was expected to rise again once out over open water, we turned on Douglas Adam’s last book, Salmon of Doubt, and were enchanted within minutes.

I’ll talk more about the book later, but it is basically a collection of short stories and articles, for lack of a better word, found on his computer’s hard drive after his stunning death in 2001 from a heart attack. It made us laugh and agree, and slap our legs with joy as we listened to a man who does indeed, as one of the introduction essays explained, “makes you feel like he is talking to you, and just you alone.” Wonderful.

We trudged on, stopping at a truck stop for lunch, and answering questions from our family checking in on our progress, and finally arrived at the Casino Grand Hotel and RV Park in Tunica, Mississippi, just south of Memphis.

Grand Casino of Tunica RV Resort - pavement parking lot for trailers and motorhomes, photograph by Lorelle VanFossenThe campground is more pavement than….well, anything. I can probably count the trees in the 300 plus spot campground on both hands and stop before getting to the last finger. The sites are wide apart, which is nice and will hopefully keep any smoking camper next to us far enough away not to make me sick. For a lot of travelers, this is a perfect campground. Wide open space, no trees to rip any roof paraphernalia off, and wide spots to pull through or back into. For us, it’s an embarrassment in its lack of “natural” and nature, but it will be our home for the next few days as the hurricane smashes into our precious little Shady Acres Campground in Mobile, Alabama.

Oh, WIFI Internet? Well, Brent was told that while the Internet Access is free, it doesn’t cover the whole campground, but we can get it in the main office with no problem. Folks!!! You have a huge cell phone tower hanging over the office – why not spent the less than $200 to put a good omnidirectional antenna on there? Then you would really have a great service to offer and I wouldn’t whine so much about the parking lot design of the campground.

But it has the access, so I will pray that my laptop will hold up as I transfer data over to it from the server/desktop and lug it into the office and sit there for hours to post these notes, do email, and try to get done as much work as I can that now requires Internet connection all the time. Life on the road and Internet access are still things of the imagination but the lines are drawing closer all the time.

Our friend, Marion, just called us on our cell phone. She was worried about us. And slightly amused. All last year, the hurricanes smacked her over and over and over again in Vero Beach, Florida. This time, she gets to watch a hurricane come through and not be in it. And after spending several hurricane seasons watching storms hit her, she gets to watch a hurricane hit us. Not that this is funny, just a switch in positions.

She also told us that another storm is heading directly for her behind Dennis. It’s a way off but on it’s way.

I hung up and turned on the television and Weather Channel. Hurricane Dennis is now a Category 4 again. And not only is the path heading towards Mobile and Pensacola, the eye of the storm is heading DIRECTLY towards Memphis. Shit. I thought we were out of the main path. But it looks like by the time it gets here, it will just bring some 40-60 mph winds and tons of rain. Lots of rain. We can live with that, but next run from a hurricane, we’re heading further east. It might shift, but I doubt it. Of course it would follow us.

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