Monday, January 23, 2012

A rough night in a perfect spot

We are at the free Rocky Springs Campground on the Natchez Trace Parkway (map), near Utica, Mississippi. In stark contrast to the last time we were here, November 2008, we have the place nearly to ourselves. When we arrived, only two of the two dozen sites here were occupied, and one of those cleared out first thing this morning -- he had reached his 14-day limit.

This is an idyllic spot, and today we have perfect weather. The last time we had this sort of rustic overnight experience, our preferred mode by far, was a good six months ago, in South Carolina on our way to get batteries last July. And it would have been an absolutely perfect stay had it not been for the tornadoes.

By now you have no doubt heard that there has been a great deal of damage and even a few fatalities from tornadoes in Alabama last night and this morning, eerily reminiscent of the events of last April which propelled me to Birmingham for seven weeks. We were actually parked in the watch area last night, and the storm blew through here in the middle of the night. Of course, as luck would have it, we have zero cell coverage here, and pointing the dish through a narrow slot in the trees to get Internet meant no shot to the TV satellite, so we could not even get the weather channel.

Fortunately, our weather alert radio does have coverage here (and, no, it is not universal -- we've been many places where not a single one of the seven NOAA frequencies comes in), and so we knew we would get an alert if the watch turned into a warning. We made a tornado plan, consisting of scooping up the pets and making haste to the cinder-block restroom building a few hundred feet away. And we stationed a flashlight, shoes, and a cell phone near the door for a quick exit.

The alert warble woke us up perhaps half a dozen times in the middle of the night, but none of the warnings was for our specific location. We only got a small bit of rain and a little wind, but it was a rough night nonetheless. Our hearts go out to the folks who were impacted by this series of storms, highly unusual for January.

I know some folks are wondering, so let me say that, no, we will not be responding to these incidents for the Red Cross. For one thing, none of these events is large enough to merit national-level response -- the chapters and regional offices in Alabama are well prepared to deal with this level of disaster with their own resources, including local personnel. For another, we are not on the availability roster this month, since we have several personal obligations on our calendar. That said, long-time readers will know that we have, in the past, changed our availability status on short notice to respond to major disasters, personal appointments notwithstanding. And if this event had been as devastating as the one in April, that would certainly be something we would consider.

Yesterday we had a very nice drive here from Pearl, after a brief stop in Clinton for fuel and supplies. The Clinton stop was eerie, inasmuch as Louise spent seven weeks there back in May and June under less favorable circumstances. Nevertheless, the Kroger gas station there had the cheapest diesel on our route, at $3.499 with the 3-cent discount for having their loyalty card, so we put in 175 gallons. While the diesel was pumping I ran into Radio Shack for replacement thermal fuses for the FanTastic vent, settling for 128°C models rather than the stock 98° ones, which Radio Shack no longer carries. Louise ran into the Kroger store for a few grocery items.

As idyllic and peaceful as it is here, we must move along to keep to our travel schedule. I know that a target of 2-3 hours per day must sound to many to be either luxurious or wimpy, depending on perspective. One of the things it does for us is to provide a good buffer at the end of the day in the event we have to press on further than planned. Saturday we ended up driving an extra hour due to the two Walmarts being unavailable, and yesterday we were perfectly prepared for this campground to be closed, full, or unreachable from our Internet satellite, any of which would have pushed us all the way to Natchez.

Speaking of which, our route plan for today says we should stop somewhere between Ferriday and Jonesville after crossing the river into Louisiana. Since none of our resources lists anyplace to overnight in either of those towns, it is more likely that we will stop either in Natchez at the visitor center, or in Alexandria at a Walmart. We'll decide when we get to Natchez, which is the nature of this sort of travel schedule.

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