Our first day on the road. So excited! Since we’d be traveling through West Texas I knew I’d have lots of time to play cards and board games with the girls, something I really enjoy. Before we could get moving we needed to double check that everything was secured, unhook the power, retrace the slide outs and in general perform “ready, set, go!”
As newbies we encountered a few hiccups. The slide outs wouldn’t retract. For some reason the refrigerator wasn’t working (we thought). One of the keys to an outside storage compartment broke off. I began to wonder of this was an indication of how our trip would go. But we resolved each issue and, after a quick stop to get another key made, we were off.
I had to get my ‘sea legs’ before I would be able to bust out the games and play. Being a passenger in a large shoebox traveling down the highway is like trying to walk on a bay fishing boat. You can do it, but you’d better spot all the best hand-holds, watch out for obstacles on the limited walkway, and be prepared for sudden turns or lurches. In my case also watch out for quick-moving toddlers.
We had most of our gear stored well out of the way in the sleeping areas. But it didn’t take long for Big Truck to achieve that lived-in look. Traveling without passenger restraints means you can spread out games, maps and highlighters and indulge in snacks while rolling down the road. However there is a price to pay – a lane change or sudden acceleration can send your cards flying onto the floor, or your Sorry board tilted at an unusual angle, displacing all the little green, blue, yellow and red men. But we managed to play several games of parallel solitaire, war, and of course I had to teach the 7 yr old how to play poker. It was time. Grandpa put Alex to sleep easily by reading to him from the RV Owner’s Manual.
We glided to our first stop 2 ½ hours later. It was a gas stop but of course we all went in to purchase drinks and snacks. Forget the cooler, pantry and bags stocked with food – convenience store stops make it feel like you are on vacation. A few hours later we entered Wichita Falls and treated ourselves to Gene’s Tasty Burgers. Best crispy onion rings ever.
Laura mapped us taking 287 up to Amarillo, and then down 27 into Palo Duro Canyon. We planned to be there late afternoon with plenty of time to set up the tent, hike and have our first outdoor meal. But as we drove through Childress we noticed the weather getting bad. The temperature was dropping, the wind picked up, clouds were moving in and the sky no longer looked friendly. Those who could get cell service checked the weather to find that we were headed right into the path of a storm cell that featured funnel clouds. This was Craig’s first day driving an RV and he was about to get some serious experience.
As we topped a slight incline, the sky suddenly turned completely black. The clouds too. Thankfully the two youngest children were asleep in bunks. I looked out a side window and saw 3 storm chasers in their beat up pickups. Looking out the left window I saw 3 different chasers – these storms were a big deal. And they were CLOSE, too close. Laura went to the back window in time to see a black funnel cloud. A weather update showed a tornado watch a few miles up the road in Memphis, where we were headed. I went up front to see what the guys thought we should do.
By now we were on a small highway in West Texas. No shelter or overpass for miles around. No truck stop or RV park, no nothing. It was either stay on this road with the tornado, or find a road going the opposite direction and run for it. Laura consulted the map (thank God for AAA, you need a paper map when cell service is down) and spotted a small road midway between Childress and Memphis. She advised Craig to take 86 south if we hadn’t passed it, then 27 north up to the canyon.
The words were still hanging in the air when we saw the sign to 86 South and turned off. It looked like a road I wouldn’t want to drive a car on, much less a huge RV, but the tornado behind us was much less inviting. Praying the storm wouldn’t turn to follow us we started down the pothole path called 86 and drove as fast as we dared.
Our detour took us through Turkey, Texas (Home of Bob Wills), Silverton, and Tulia. Best of all it was tornado-less. We found the gas stop in Tulia, filled up, and headed for Palo Duro Canyon. The exit to Palo Duro State Park was called Cemetery Rd, which seemed appropriate. We arrived with only minutes of daylight left, selected a spot and Laura got out to set up the tent while the guys hooked us up and I stayed inside with the kids. This area had already been hit by storms and the cold front; it was cold, wet and windy. But we were all in one piece and out of danger.
We learned later that the supercell of storms where we had been included touchdowns of funnel clouds, winds of close to 60 mph, and 1.75” hail. None of us wanted to think about what might have happened if we hadn’t been able to take the detour. It cost us an extra hour and half of drive time, but there is no better reason than fleeing a tornado to drive through Turkey, Silverton and Tulia.