With hurricane Irma poised to strike the west coast of Florida today I’m going to take an intermission from my stories about our trip west this summer to tell you about my week. I was trying to finish and post my next blog about our first stop in Colorado at the beginning of August. But I just can’t concentrate on that while worrying about all our friends in Bonita Springs, Florida.
We had returned to Missouri at the end of August and planned to spend the month of September remodeling one of our rental houses that had become vacant and that needed a complete overhaul. So we were diligently working on it when we started hearing about Irma. We kept an eye on it hoping, like everyone else, that it would head harmlessly out to sea.
At the beginning of this week that started looking more and more unlikely to happen. So we started talking to our daughter about preparing for the hurricane and for evacuation. Heather had moved down to Bonita Springs last fall while we were there and was living in a small trailer in the same RV park we spent last winter in.
She had already decided she didn’t want to become a permanent Floridian and was looking for jobs in other states. So when faced with evacuating she decided she would just move. She agreed that coming back to Missouri where she had lots of friends and family would be a good idea and she could figure out where to go from there.
On Tuesday, amid talk of traffic snarls and gas shortages, Jim and I decided that we didn’t want her facing all that mess alone. I bought a one way ticket to Fort Myers for Wednesday morning for myself. It was a one person job and Jim would be most useful keeping the remodel going.
My plane left Springfield in the dark.
And the sun rose as we did.
I changed planes in Chicago. The clouds over Lake Michigan were gorgeous.
I spoke to or overheard about half a dozen other passengers. Everyone on the plane seemed to be doing the same thing I was; flying in to get mom, dad, aunt so and so, and drive them out of the state.
I arrived in Florida just after noon and Heather was there to pick me up. We went straight to the trailer park and checked in with the office. Heather let them know her intentions and settled her bill.
They only charge a small storage fee if you leave your rig there in the off season. A lot of snowbirds choose to do this rather than haul their trailers back and forth for the season. So the park looks pretty full but most of the rigs are empty.
I thought a lot of folks would come down to drive their rigs out but that didn’t seem to be the case. In fact, some people that were there and capable of hauling their trailers chose not too because of fears of gas shortages. They knew they’d get much better gas mileage if they weren’t towing and have a better chance of escaping the state.
I was pleased to find that Heather was all packed and had her car loaded. I had brought a car top carrier bag and all that was left was to load it and strap it down. Then we just had to do what we could to make her trailer ready for the storm and vacancy.
We cleaned up everything outside and what was left we strapped to the trailer. We filled the water tank to make the trailer heavier and less likely to tip over. Then we disconnected the water and electric and turned off the propane.
We were getting all sorts of travel reports. The most reliable were from the park staff who said residents who had left super early Wednesday morning (like 2am) had made it out of the state, no problem. But that those that had left late morning were still stuck on the interstate just 90 miles away.
We were all done at 4 in the afternoon. We considered trying to rest and leaving in the middle of the night. But we were both too wound up and knew we couldn’t sleep.
We made the decision to start the drive and just roll with the punches. We figured we were two smart, resourceful, females and we were confident we could handle whatever came our way. And we were tired of wondering what was in store and ready to go out and see for ourselves.
Thankfully Heather had managed to fill up her gas tank on Tuesday. We had heard there was no gas in the area but we checked a few gas stations on our way out of town just in case we could find a place to top of her tank. No dice!
We jumped on the interstate for only about 20 miles and exited in Fort Myers before Google showed the traffic backing up. Then we took state highways for a long way. There were plenty of turns, and traffic lights, and even some construction but the traffic wasn’t terribly heavy and at least we were moving.
We kept an eye out for gas but didn’t see any signs of it. We still had ¾ of a tank when we saw the first station with gas just south of Bowling Green. The lines were long and we figured if they had gas so would the stations farther north.
We were right. A little ways up the road we stopped at a Murphy station and only had to wait behind one person before filling up. There were no problems finding gas from there north.
At this point we had some idea where we hoped to end up for the night and we started trying to find a room. We had the granddoggy, Sasha with us so we were looking for a pet friendly room. Later we started asking for any room and kept getting the same answer.
For several hours one of us would drive and the other was surfing for a place to stay. We exhausted every possibility in the state and started looking toward Georgia. Finally around 12:30 we resigned ourselves to the fact that we were gonna drive through the night.
My dad lives in Alabama. It would normally have been a 10 hour drive but it took us 15. We got there around 7 am central time on Thursday.
We stopped pretty often. We made laps around the insides of several Walmarts. We hung out at truck stops and walked Sasha. The rest areas looked like parking lots so we avoided them.
We finally hopped on the interstate at Ocala just after midnight. From there on out traffic kept moving, usually at or above the speed limit, for the rest of the night. Traffic was still heavy though. It was like rush hour all night long until we turned on to I20 in Atlanta and headed west.
We never saw any wrecks and only saw one semi-truck swerving dangerously. It was really a miracle that all those sleep deprived drivers were keeping it together and not making any stupid mistakes. I know there were plenty of wrecks on Florida highways this week but we were lucky and didn’t witness them during our trip.
We spent 24 hours at my father’s. We got caught up on our sleep and had Heather’s vehicle serviced. My father and stepmother were incredible hosts and fed us till we thought we might pop.
We couldn’t face the 10 hour drive to Springfield in one day so we started looking for a room half-way, around Memphis. Even there the rooms were filling up with evacuees. The only pet friendly rooms we could find were outrageously expensive.
My brilliant daughter finally found us an awesome place on Airbnb. She snagged a one bedroom duplex in Memphis’ Cooper Young neighborhood. It was pet friendly and even had a yard for Sasha to run in. After fees and taxes she paid $120.
We got there around 1. We checked out the house and got Sasha settled then we walked a mile to a restaurant. We had an awesome lunch at Imagine Vegan Café, the first meal we had eaten at a restaurant the whole trip. We had snacked on the remains of Heather’s frig and the things I had brought with me throughout our long night’s drive.
We shopped along the way during our walk home. It was a very neat neighborhood with used book stores, a record store, and our favorite, an Urban Outfitters. Loved the way they decorated this overpass.
We stayed in during the evening, enjoying the free wifi and satellite tv. The neighborhood was super quiet and we never felt unsafe. We got another great night’s sleep and woke up ready to finish our trip.
So we are now home safe. Heather will be doing some couch surfing for the near future until she decides her next step. We are keeping an eye on the tv and Facebook for news from Florida.
If the worst happens Heather’s trailer will likely be destroyed. If it doesn’t sustain any wind damage, the storm surge is expected to reach a level where it would at least reach the door. It is only worth about $5,000 so it is not the end of the world. But we are still hoping we may somehow escape that reality.
The last we heard the employees of the RV park were all staying put and the couple we sold our old 5th wheel to, the Alpenlite, were as well. They text us last night with a question about pulling in the slides. There was a mandatory evacuation for all trailer park residents so we don’t know if they will actually stay in the park, whether in their trailers or in the rec hall, or if they’ve gone to shelters.
Jim has family just north of Fort Myers. We know they’ve left the state but are very worried about their homes. I have family on the east coast who have evacuated and I’m sure are worried as well. Heather has plenty of friends in Bonita Springs, most of which have evacuated.
So we will all just wait, and watch, and hope …