The most seemingly mundane of days can wind up exhilarating and terrifying thanks to a few minor events. Late in the morning the spare tire replaced from the previous day’s incident, Connor and I were headed back east towards the Big Spring, Texas area, located about one hour south of Lubbock.
This was a basic slight risk day with a 5% tornado risk. I wasn’t overly excited for the possibility of tornadoes, but certainly was looking forward to a repeat of the hail and rainbow chase in New Mexico.
After very mild anticipation, the tornado watch for the day was issued just after 3pm central, with relatively low probabilities. “A couple of tornadoes possible” read the text written by the SPC.
As I recall, we were driving back and forth on Texas Highway 176 and US Highway 87 waiting for something to happen.
Around 4:15pm, we were cruising down US 87, having followed a tornado warned storm for quite a while. The storm was showing some signs of weak rotation and clouds fragments were flopping around. This storm was in full leg-puller mode. As I continued south on Highway 87, I started to enter a stage of apathy as it seemed like another day of junk in the sky and yawns on the ground.
Only a couple of minutes later, Connor commanded my attention and I glanced over to the right, where there was a large orange whirl of dust on the ground about 300 yards to our 5 o’ clock direction. At first I thought it was a dust devil, but after several glances the dust whirl was much more powerful and large than it had looked at first and definitely was connected to the thunderstorm’s rotation above. This tornado looked like a classic Texas red dirt tornado, like the ones seen in the 80s photos, just much smaller.
I stepped way down on the gas pedal and got up to 85mph as the sky tube was bee lining toward our location, however it appeared as if it would be able to cross behind us safely if I got out of the way quickly. It kept moving closer, but after about 30 seconds it lifted from the ground and vanished completely. This was a great looking tornado, but very short lived and realatively weak as well, so short that I never had a shot to stop driving and take a photo.
I turned east onto a dirt road to continue with the storm before eventually getting back to US 87 to readjust our position.
About 15 minutes later we found ourselves rolling down another dirt road; and this is where all of today’s fun and hidden surprise begins. We were probably about four miles ahead of the storm at this point, so it seemed like we had almost too much room to work with at the time. I was having a blast flying down the muddy dirt roads that seemed to get muddier the more we went along. The CRV was rattling like all hell and yet still driving great, and I was giggling my ass off.
As we turned onto the next muddy road the fun element dropped out quite a bit. Connor said, “Oh man, this thing is rotating strongly, we really need to get east.” During this quotation, my fun muddy dirt road was beginning to become closer to wet clay and sinkholes. We were starting to hit deep and soggy patches that slowed the car down significantly.
The roads continued to worsen. The mud was beyond saturated and the tires were sinking over six inches deep everywhere we drove, slowing the car to around 25mph, the fastest we could go without flying off of the road immediately. Ordinary a non-issue, now a completely different scenario when a possible tornado is chasing you down. Add to that fact, the roads were much lower than the surrounding ground.
At some point we were driving on roads that were so deep in between the farm fields that when you looked out the window the ground was at eye level; about four feet high. This was something I never witnessed before in all my years of driving around Indiana farmland.
With no real possibility of turning around and heading in another direction, due to the path of the incoming storm, we continued our east and south routes.
Shortly up the road, I suddenly hit a patch of mud so thick that we all but came to an abrupt stop. I had the gas pedal floored to the ground and mud was being flung ten feet in the air behind us.
Every slushing, globing, and splattering sound known to man and beast could be heard slapping into every part of the car as the tires spun and had occasional split seconds of traction.
After pushing through with full throttle and moving four miles per hour for about 20 seconds, we seemed to make it onto a much drier patch of ground, and were able to continue forward. A strong sense of relief filled my arms and face.
Further down the road, connor directed me to turn right onto a road that was on the map. The following events occurred…
Me: “This is a road?”
Connor: “Well it says so.”
Me: “IT DOESN’T LOOK LIKE ONE…”
Oh boy, here we are presented one of the tricky and much underestimated hazards of storm chasing. Everything can seem to be going perfectly for the day. You’ve got all your routes planned out, and then oh shit, a road on the maps is actually a field and there is no road at all.
There are the sudden events in chasing and in life, that can not be taught in a classroom. Nothing will prepare you for a road that, despite what someone or something else may have told you, does not exist.
I kept progressing in the direction we had been going before finding another road to fly down. We had a few more squirrely moments before I made it onto the next road.
Connor: “Oh boy, yep…yeah…that’s spinning really fast. We really need to get south.”
Huh, cool. It’s spinning ‘really fast’ he says. I suppose that is good news for this adventure.
Then this magical little section of the journey presented itself….
KaCLASH!! Yeah, when I saw that massive dip, which was probably three feet depp and stretched across the entire road (the video does not show it well at all) I knew it was over. A quiet and blunt “ohmygod” was all that could be mustered.
I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could without skidding out of control completely, but it was too little and way too late.
We had almost a full second of airtime before slamming back into the ground, which for a 4 cylinder baby SUV with 200,000 miles, is quite a punch. Not sure if they showed that in the commercials when they were released twelve years ago, but DO NOT ATTEMPT.
As we landed, we immediately started sliding sideways and fish tailing. The car quickly regained traction, but was heading to the side of the road. I corrected it as accurately as possible, and nearly got it straight, but we kept running into huge mud puddles as deep as the wheel.
The car quickly jolted back left, and at this point my face was heading straight towards a mudbank. “this will feel and taste great!” were my split-second thoughts as I steered back the opposite way to keep us from side-slamming into the mud wall.
“Well nice recovery” says Connor. I had a sense of relief and accomplishment for no more than 0.32 seconds as we came away from the wall unscathed and were all but back on the road steady at the correct angle, but instantly we caught the whole underside of the car on the outrageously steep drop out of the ditch.
I slammed on the gas, shifted into reverse, stomped on the pedal again; rinse and repeat. Connor got out of the vehicle and attempted to push from behind but immediately jumped back in. “WE ARE WAY TOO DEEP” he spoke in a loud and very reassuring tone.
The black sky behind us was roaring closer and I had a few seconds of feeling that I was now in the deepest shit I had ever gotten myself into in my life. I blinked, reframed my mind, and realized this is just what happens in life, especially if you are doing crazy shit like this.
You can be caught off guard at any moment in time and all of your possessions are on the line, or even your whole life. Moments of fear such as this put idiotic fear into real perspective. For example, logging in to pay your credit card bill at 11:56pm on the due date.
Me: “Are we okay here?”
Connor: “We might get hit by a tornado.”
“I suppose if this is the end I deserve it,” I thought. “I drove into this ditch in front of the tornado, so Ill just sit quietly with my seat belt fastened.” The big black smudge of precipitation and potential hidden tornado were almost on top of us.
As I looked in the rear view mirror behind us, the flat horizon was angled thanks to the asinine road ditch that swallowed the car. The power poles to our rear suddenly began falling rapidly one by one. I looked back to our frontside, at the sides, at the camera, all in less than a second. I looked back again and the power poles had stopped falling. The wind was blasting at us, primarily from the driver side of the car.
A couple of minutes passed, and the big smudge had moved just past us. We could not see a tornado for ourselves, but it seemed probable that one was occurring or attempting to occur in the tightly wrapped rain and hail mass. As it passed over us, the wind shifted directions constantly until it had made a complete 270º sweep.
I pulled the camera off of the windshield and recorded the messy looking hail core while watching it pass in front of us as the wind rushed back towards it from our rear. There was a massive mob of tumble weeds and whatever other miscellaneous debris you can find in what appeared to be an irrigated desert flying towards the wannabe tornado figure.
The excitement began to wind down after about ten minutes of activity. The wind and most of the rain died out, and now there were newly formed little rivers of water coming down the ditches on the side of the road, for instance, the one in which we were stranded.
The reality set in that we were very likely to be sitting in that ditch for an undesirably long time.
I looked down at my instrument cluster and while we had a decent amount of gas, the fact that every single warning light had illuminated when we crashed into the mud registered.
I was now highly concerned about my beloved vehicle that had not even received its permanent license plates yet. ABS, brake, oil pressure, check engine; everything was on. (This is called the Christmas Tree at car dealerships!)
I immediately began fantaszing about having Sonic Triple burgers in the car, and yelling at Connor about how we didn’t get a pack of cancer that morning.
Now the urge to urinate was reaching critical intensity, and there was no feasible way I was going to be able to just get out of the car in the four feet deep rapidly flowing much mud, and piss on the side of the road.
There were no suitable bottles in the car, and the RoadTrip Urine System 9000 wasn’t installed until 2015.
The only resolution in the moment was to open the door slightly, turn on my left side while fully reclining the seat and proceed to pee sideways into the flowing mud river that now possessed the car. It brought such a sense of peace at the moment. In fact, <link> it felt like home!</link>
After a couple of extremely uneventful hours sitting in the ditch watching the day grow older, assuming we might be spending the night sideways in a hole, a Jeep Wrangler with massive tires came down the road towards us.
The man driving it seemed very Hispanic, to the point that I could barely comprehend what he was saying to me with his brute yet fast voice, but he was still my best friend at the moment.
As he tied up the back of his Jeep to the front of the car, Connor warned me that he was going to jerk the vehicle very hard, because “That’s just how it goes down here [Texas].”
That sounded just dandy. Break my neck for all I give a shit, just get us out of this fucking ditch so I can get 15 Sonic burgers and some cancer tubes.
After he tugged the car out of the ditch and back onto the road, I steered and attempted to stop, but for unknown reasons he kept pulling the car until we were stuck on the other side of the road. I thought this was pretty damn obvious and about to be corrected until our guy started to drive off at which point he was promptly stopped.
He came back hollering about something and we were hooked up again and pulled to a much better location this time. Free! Connor got back in and we began to tread back down the mud road that denied us three hours ago.
Not far from our starting point did we find flooding taking over. Giant chunks of the road were washing away and miniature rivers were now flowing across them in numerous directions. We were temporarily stuck again, before making two U-turns on roads we attempted to turn onto at the nearby crossing intersection.
The jeep guy came flying back towards us, and while I couldn’t possibly comprehend what he said exactly, I know he used some profanity and was pointing the other way out the window, which was completely contrary to his profanity and gestures. His instructions and entire behavior through the duration we interacted with him were so erratic and confusing that Connor suggested he may have been on crack. He could have burned a village for all I gave a damn; he was our best friend.
After crossing a few more small streams, we found a clear paved path back into town. I had never been so thankful for rough asphalt in my life as I knew burgers were now minutes away.
The day more or less concluded at a Pilot/Love’s gas station which featured an attached McDonalds. We spent the next four hours standing in the parking lot ordering multiple rounds of Spicy Buffalo McChickens, talking about what had happened, editing video, looking at photos, getting even more Buffalo McChickens and examining the car.
Much to my relief, all of the dashboard lights had gone back off shortly after we had been yanked out of the ditch. Let’s assume that the sensors were pissed that they were buried in a muddy hell. I have never felt so happy to be sitting at a gas station doing absolutely nothing but smoking some cancer and consuming a buffet of high blood pressure and diabeetus sandwiches.
I presume this to be a day I will keep in the memory bank for the rest of my life, although the number of those seem to increase when I follow my journey with purpose. Several days later I discovered on the NWS Midland/Odessa webpage that an EF-2 tornado had actually crossed the very road we were stuck on, only about 1.8 miles ahead of (or behind) us.
I would have never anticipated or been able to plan the excitement that the day had in store, but that is precisely how life works when you just go out and do your shit. The fun, the real stories, the excitement; whether blissful or horrifying; all happen during the journey, not at the destination.
Most real excitement is completely unplannable and short lived. If excitement could be planned…would it be exciting?
That’s why you have to constantly remind yourself that while it is vital to a fulfilling and healthy life to have goals and plans, you absolutely have to embrace the current reality of this very moment in time.
The present is all we have at the time. If you are living life on your terms, following your journey exactly as you have it saturated in your soul, then the road will often be much more exciting than the actual destination…so long as you are giving it the constant attention that it deserves.
Have you ever found yourself suddenly stranded on the road? Have you ever had any rapid changes of fortune that led you from a feeling of bliss to doom?