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We didn’t leave San Diego looking for rain – we figured wet weather would find us. But according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the “exceptional drought” in Southern California is in the same category as the epic drought (not seen since the 1920’s) in the southeastern corner of Tennessee near Tellico Plains where we’re now enjoying a two-week breather from the highway life. My sister, Deborah, and her husband, David generously opened their driveway for us in these serene, mystic and remote woods of Coker Creek in the Cherokee Mountains National Park where a six-mile graveled forestry road connects to the famous Cherohola Skyway.
Other than a few scattered sightings, we are now at the threshold of full, fall foliage color in the countryside! As amateur leaf-peepers who don’t know an Ash from a Dogwood, we’re totally bingeing on this whole color thing and the pure, natural glory of it. Every day is like a new walk on the same road – a different episode as fresh players, demonstrating extraordinary restraint and dignity, step in with perfect luminosity to deepen the plot.
During these last three months of full-time travel through beauty and grandeur, we’ve encountered wet weather about three times – a combined fifteen minutes of light sprinkle with only brief splatters of rain – and it’s no different here. Watery Tennessee’s usually roaring creeks, rivers and falls are now dominated by the sound of crickets and frogs under the mid-October moon.
Even though we haven’t had a television for over thirty years, the absence of connectivity is another draught we hadn’t fully anticipated. We prefer to stay in public parks, but (now, and into the unforeseeable future) cell signals are mostly rare – even nonexistent in State and National Parks. Since we began living in Beauty, Wi-Fi and cell service are a treat and only a necessity in an emergency. But, thanks to public libraries and Wi-Fi friendly businesses, we’ve learned to manage our data shortages which are under constant threat of drying up.
On good advice, we purchased a set of walkie-talkies for times when we are separated from each other within a 36 mile radius and without cell service…
…and a hand-crank Red Cross radio to provide vital weather reports from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).
October 3rd, on the eve of Jim’s birthday, we pulled into Minooka Park, a gorgeous state campground in Kansas. We’d hoped to kayak there for a couple of days and also visit with our ex-Coronado neighbors, Bill and Betty. At sunset, as we drove up the hill to the entrance station, we noticed several rigs driving out. We’d spoken to the ranger six hours earlier, but the station was unmanned before closing hours. Strange, yes, but … as the expansive lake came into view with grazing deer and the perfect full-hook up, bank-side pull-through spot … we failed to notice how the strong wind gusts we’d been dealing with since breakfast in Nebraska with Jim’s aunt Lillian … had begun to pick up.
We smelled rain! So, we settled into the completely abandoned campground, fired up the stove, put the kettle on – excited about snuggling up as luscious droplets of sky-elixir pitter-pattered upon our aluminum roof. Jim cranked up the radio and tuned into NOAA as I prepared the tea. What’s that? Did our digital weatherman friend, Paul, in his rigid and benign voice say, “baseball-sized hail”?!? We listened to the report again. No, no, no. Paul said: “tornados, 70mph winds and baseball sized hail” … heading straight for us.
As we packed in record time, Jim – with a single bar on his cell phone – called the rangers, the police and the national guard. I called my Daddy. “Head east!” said the police! “Head south!” said, Daddy! We did a lot of both and found a Cracker Barrel just outside the range of the storm. With two other rigs, we took refuge in the restaurant’s parking lot that night. Next morning, at breakfast – after lightening struck the tall Cracker Barrel sign and the lights went out – we threw money at the register, bolted to our rig and eight hours later rolled into St. Louis, Missouri where we met dozens of Florida residents escaping hurricane Matthew.
Hey, casino-camping with screamin’ Wi-Fi ain’t too shabby – just what the weatherman ordered.