The Great Plains

The Sunwapta pushed by strong tailwinds across the Great Plains

The trip is over. I am not home, but the trip is over. All my extended RV trips end like this. I wake up one morning and wish I was home. At this point, the trip is effectively over, although I still have to drive home. The rest of the trip will just be a blur as I slog my way home. On this trip I still have 2500 miles to go. I figured making my way home will take me about a week. I am planning on only driving, resting when I get tired, and then continuing to drive. Tired after 50+ days on the road, I’m ready to go home.

Blog Author Note – This entry was mostly written on Wednesday May 17th. The rest of the trip was not a blur. On Thursday, May 18th, a large swath of storms from Texas to Kansas produced numerous tornadoes, including several in the town of Salina Kansas where I am now. At 5 PM my cell phone started piercing out loud alarms notifying me the tornado watch changed to a tornado warning. An hour later tornado sirens blared. I panicked. People started running towards the campground bathroom which was the only concrete structure in the park. I don’t think the bathroom really offered much protection except from flying debris. For the next hour rain blew sideways up to 70 mph. People’s cellphones were all bleeping out warnings from the National Weather Service and other weather alert services. Several tornadoes touched down within a few miles of the campground. An hour later the sirens went silent and the worst of the storm was over. I have not been this frightened in a long time, probably not since 2004 when four hurricanes passed by the Tampa Bay area in a span of six weeks. I am okay, just shaken up quite a bit. I could write an entire blog just on last night. Right now I don’t feel like writing about the experience or restructuring what I wrote before last night.

Never mind, change in plans. Driving east on I-70 from Boulder Colorado, I intended to just keep driving as far as I could. I’ve done this drive from Breckenridge CO to home in three days in my Toyota Sequoia during the summer of 2015. Today I started at 5:30 am just north of Denver. For almost 500 miles and over eight hours a 30+mph tailwind pushed the rig along I-70. Today was the fastest and furthest I ever drove the rig in a day. I hardly had to press the fuel pedal down to maintain a speed 65-70 mph. I felt the spirit of my dear Sunwapta pushing us along the highway. The intense two-handed tight gripped driving wore me out by the time I reached Salina Kansas. I knew Salina was a major decision point whether to keep driving east or turn south. I couldn’t decide which way I wanted to continue home so I decided to stop at a KOA along I-70 in Salina Kansas.

Sometimes I don’t realize the level of fatigue I’ve  reached after hours of driving until I step out of the cab and realize that I can hardly walk. My legs, arms, and back were all cramped up when I stepped out of the cab to walk to the park office. Deciding to stop and spend the night here instead of just sleeping in a rest stop was a good choice. When I first stopped, I didn’t comprehend what I good choice I did make.

Sandwiched between big storms, I hoped to catch the lull behind the one in front of me, and out race the one behind me to my home. I encountered the same types of storms traveling out west seven weeks ago. Every three days an intense wave of low pressure would race eastward across the country.The difference now was I was heading the same direction of the storm. Navigating these storms was similar to being a boat in stormy seas. Going west in the beginning of the trip was like riding against the waves. There was no way to avoid the storms, they were coming in the opposite direction that I was traveling. Driving east towards home was like riding with the waves.  Heading east I hoped I could drive in the swell between the storms.

Well, I didn’t make my way through the first lull. For the next two days where I am and trying to go has a forecast for damaging winds, hail, severe thunderstorms, and tornadoes. I looked into going east, south, and north to escape the storm. The storms boxed me in because the storms were so wide. I decided to stay put and hunker down once again for a few days and ride out the storms in my tin box. The worst of the severe weather and tornado activity is forecast for south of here, the direction I want to head.

I really want to go home, but I remembered my first rule of travel from 21 years ago, the prime directive, “Safety First.” As Tony Soprano said, “Whaddya gonna do?” In my case, probably laundry. I do feel better than a few days ago.  I am almost halfway home, only 1500 miles to go instead of 2500 miles.

I started in the Tetons in Wyoming on Monday morning. The temperature was 32 degrees when I departed. I drove through ferocious winds in Wyoming, driving southeast through the Wind River Reservation. You know you are in trouble when you are driving through a place with the name “Wind” in it. This drive was the two-handed with both hands firmly grasped on the steering wheel for 435 miles type of drive. This drive was the most difficult day I ever spent trying to control the RV. Forty miles an hour wind gusts regularly hit the side of the RV pushing the coach four feet to the left or right. I needed both hands to control the vehicle and ease the coach gently and safely back onto the center of the road. I finally made my way down to I-80 and Rawlins where I planned to stop, but Rawlins was so ugly and so windy. I decided to head to Ft Collins Colorado and find a much prettier place with less wind. Although I spent another hour driving to make my way to Ft Collins, I found a nice spot just north of town where the winds were calm.

The next day I drove about 60 miles south of Ft Collins to visit some friends in Lafayette CO, a town right next to Boulder CO. We had a wonderful time catching up after all these years. They used to live in Florida and moved out to the Boulder area 20 years and never looked back, or even ever came back to Florida. They have a beautiful family and a beautiful home out there. Their children were so smart, intelligent, happy, and academically motivated. Their kids gave me great hope for the future of the country. We watched one of the kids run in a district track meet. I almost forget how much energy kids in 6th grade have. Later that night after dinner at their home, the older kid played jazz piano for several hours. He was very good and extremely talented. Especially since he had broken both his wrists earlier this year snow boarding. I felt like we were sitting a piano bar of a western mountain resort as we sat in their warm cozy home.

When I left Denver snow was forecast to hit the area in a few days, the third low pressure systems in a week to sweep down into the country from the northwest. I hoped to catch a wave and drive across the country between the first and second low pressure systems. The second one caught me. Now the trick will be to try hunker down and survive for the second storm as it passes. Then I will get back on the road and try to surf home between the second and the third low pressure system back to Florida. Representing these low pressure systems are the symbol “L” along jet stream tracks on National Weather Plots. These “L” symbols now scare me after my travels west and east across the country. The “L” now looks to me like a gigantic weather gremlin/monster ready to blow away anything in their path.

Now I am running the AC in the coach. A few days ago I was in sub-freezing temperatures. A snow storm closed many of the roads in Yellowstone a few days after I left. One of the roads closed the road that just opened that I drove between the Tetons and Yellowstone. I knew when I left the Tetons snow was coming.The campground was staring to fill up when I left. I gladly left my spot to some other camper. The temperature differential between the Tetons and Salina partly explains the high winds. I spent three weeks near freezing or sub freezing temperature until I left the Tetons.

This weekend I hoped to make my way home. Now I don’t know when I will get home. Mother Nature always bats last.

Vivaldi Storm


Comments

The Great Plains — 7 Comments

  1. This exactly reminds me of my experience in Homer, Alaska 2 years ago. I wanted to stay a week b/c I like Homer, but I got fed up paying $200+ a night at the Best Western which was – kindly described – “a place I’d never, ever stay in if I had ANY choice”. It was a total screw job. So, I decided the trip is over, time to pack up and head back to Houston, TX. The absolute worst part was the monster winds and boring terrain of Kansas. Nice folks though. But I’ve always regretted my intense rush to get home versus taking a calmer, more scenic route home. For me, the lesson learned was to find a nice locale, and stay 2 nights to really rest up. I arrived back in Houston emotionally frayed and physically exhausted from the frantic rush to get back home. And then on my 2nd day back here, I got pissed off at myself for being back here in the Concrete Jungle-Hellhole, and not taking the time to MAKE Homer/Soldotna work for a longer stay. I understand your feeling: when the trip’s over, the trip’s over. But I learned a big lesson on that return: sometimes I have to structure the trip so that I’m not so desperate to get home. IDK. I have no answers. Like so much of your previous posts, I totally relate. Been there. Be safe.

    • Joe, well the weather forced me to slow down, so I suppose that is one good thing. I am going to take my time the rest of the way home and perhaps stop in the Panhandle of Florida for a few days.

  2. Wow! So glad you’re safe. Makes me rethink traveling alone with Abbey. Safe travels my friend. Florida is here waiting on you!

  3. The difference between being in an RV in rough weather and being in a boat in rough seas is that with the RV you can stop.

  4. Hi Rob! My friend Thomas Riis would like to send you some pictures from Norway. He was your guide through the company Contrast Adventures. We are unable of reading the e-mail adress you wrote on that piece of paper. If you can send me an email, we would be happy. My address is engeset.ofstad@gmail.com

    Best regards
    Tarjei

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