Saturday, October 6, 2007

Calcasieu Pass

We are parked at the boat launch next to the Cameron Ferry dock, on the west side of the Calcasieu Pass (map). The ferry departs one side or the other every 15 minutes, so every half hour we get a good blast from the horn. Fortunately, train and ship whistles do not bother us. This is very nearly the exact spot where we spent several hours trying to re-inflate our suspension back in January of 2005, after a less-than-graceful ferry embarkation.

That same day, if you read the whole post, we spent the night in a little Texas state park (Umphrey) just across the Sabine Pass, and that's where we had intended to stop tonight. Back on that pre-Rita date, the park was completely deserted -- today, it was full. But not full of transient RV's, as one might expect of a state park -- these rigs all belonged to long-term residents, probably folks displaced by Rita or working in the area on long term recovery. I'm guessing that the normal two-week stay limits have been suspended at that park since the hurricane, a full two years ago. A sign at the park entrance still warns of unrepaired hurricane damage. We likely could simply have boondocked at the boat launch or the day use parking area, seeing as the rules are apparently in suspension, but the charm of the place is gone.

Thus we continued east into Louisiana and again along the Creole Nature Trail. I'm happy to report that there has been a great deal of recovery in the 18 months since we last passed through. There were few signs of derelict structures, the ad-hoc dump sites are gone, the on-premise trailer village at the oil facility has been vacated, and there are many shiny new homes in Johnson's Bayou, Ocean View, and Holly Beach. There are also still some FEMA-trailer encampments, quite a few RV parks that did not exist pre-storm (mostly full of long-terms, but apparently open to transient stays as well), and, not unexpectedly, many empty lots with "For Sale" signs. That's just the western half of the parish, though -- tomorrow we will cross on the ferry and see how the rest of Cameron Parish is recovering.

We spent the last two nights parked at the property of our friends Don and CC, in Channelview, a few miles east of Houston. They are full-timers, like us, and thus I had not checked, when we were in Houston a week ago, to see if they were around. They are also DOVEs and Red Cross technology volunteers, and we all participate in an Internet/amateur radio voice conference every Sunday evening for Red Cross disaster communications personnel. When they saw me check in from Galveston, they messaged us that they were in Channelview and we simply had to stop by. So that's where we headed when we left Galveston Thursday afternoon. We had not really intended to swing back that close to Houston, but it did give me a chance to run back over to the scooter shop (in their car) to pick up the title paperwork.

We took TX146 from Galveston to Baytown (where 330 would take use into Channelview), and just after crossing Baytown's signature Fred Hartman bridge, a fairly serious automobile accident happened right in front of us. A woman in a compact car apparently hit a truck tire carcass, which was whole and standing partly upright in the middle of the center lane when we passed it, and then spun out and slammed into the Jersey barrier in the median. We were very nearly the first-on-scene.

There was lots of hard braking all around us (and we had to do some ourselves), with the potential for more cars to pile into the wreckage, which was sideways across the #1 lane. I maneuvered Odyssey quickly into that lane just a hundred feet or so upstream of her -- far enough away that we were not in danger from the gasoline that was already running out of the wreck onto the concrete, but close enough that no one could hit her car. Not only did we constitute a nearly immovable object, but also we have very bright turn signals and brake lights mounted at the 12' height, and I had the four-way flashers and the brakes on.

After determining that she was not seriously injured and that 911 had already been called, I headed back in a reflective vest to put cones out behind us, and see if I could get the alligator out of the roadway before it claimed another victim. The police arrived while I was doing so, and after he positioned his cruiser behind my cones, lights a-blazing, I dragged the carcass off to the median, collected my cones, and went back to the accident site to tell him we were going to head back out into traffic, as we did not actually witness the crash and likely could not provide any further information or assistance. Much to my surprise, the officer was intent on asking me a bunch of questions about Odyssey, particularly around potential for windshield damage. Clearly, he had already assessed the accident scene as a non-emergent matter.

In any case, Louise snapped this photo of me in my dorky safety vest, walking back toward the coach from my discussion with the officer. Somehow, she managed to capture me just after I whirled around, and it looks like I'm waddling with my arms outstretched on both sides. Thanks. The silly squiggly line emanating upwards from my head is the non-functional radio antenna built into our windshield (the one the cop was so interested in). You can also make out the giant puddle of coolant/motor oil/gasoline running out from under the car.

The whole accident issue delayed our arrival in Channelview, but it made for a good story at dinner.

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