1:00 am Sunday, October 23
Springhill Park near Fort Smith, Arkansas
I planned to stay at this park for two days because the Weatherbug app – which I have come to pretty much adore, by the way – said that it was going to start raining late Saturday night and not stop until Sunday afternoon. It mentioned that there might be thunderstorms. I figured I didn’t want to drive in that on Sunday and so I would take a day to stay in place.
So, Saturday: morning in an even more depressing than usual laundromat, ditto WalMart, then stunningly beautiful drive on lovely back road from Russellville, no problem, missed the turn to the park, had to go about five miles to find a turn around, whatever, park had TWO spaces left when I got here. The older couple at the gate explained that there was some kind of mountain bike race going on all weekend. OK, no problem, got to the site, almost immediately found a helpful man named Tim to take the wheel and back the camper in. Super nice site, very nice park, everything was groovy except the weather, which was too hot and muggy. Grilled out, made veggie burgers and baked potatoes in the coals and even a pot of green beans over the fire. So, all good. 2.5 glasses of Pinot Grigio, some offline Minecraft and I went to bed around 10:30 or so.
At around 1 am I woke up because ALL HELL was breaking loose outside. And I do mean all hell. I mean the lightning and thunder were directly the fuck overhead. I mean the camper was a rocking and a rolling and gusts of rain were coming in through the windows and I genuinely thought the whole thing might be on a short trip to Oz. It was not how you want to wake up. The power went out. Things were slamming into the camper from all sides. There was no way to know what they were. There were screeches and moans and loud bangs and it felt like we were going over.
I grabbed my phone and opened weather bug and saw that I was in the middle of a DANGEROUS THUNDERSTORM ALERT. This was a new one on me. I have seen severe thunderstorm watches and warnings before and I know a watch means they might show up and a warning means they are definitely going to show up. Now I have learned – in such a way that I am not going to ever forget it – that an alert means THEY’RE HERE AND YOU’RE FUCKED. And I also learned that there is a level beyond severe and it is DANGEROUS – in both name and fact.
I didn’t know what to do. The bathhouse – I have noticed that a lot of bathhouses are marked as storm shelters and they tend to be pretty sturdy concrete block structures with no windows – was not close. It seemed as if it would be more dangerous to leave the camper and go out into that whirling, lightning, thunderous nightmare with trees and branches coming down like rockets all over. From the windows by lightning bursts I could kind of see the other campers but there were no lights and I couldn’t tell if anyone was even in them. I wondered if everyone except me had been evacuated. I wondered seriously if I was going to die. I figured if the wind and the lightning and a falling tree didn’t get me than perhaps the river, so scenically close, would flood and sweep me away. I threw my daily pills and my camera and the ipad and all the chargers and a flashlight into my purse and then I sat on a cushion on the floor clutching it, hoping that the windows weren’t going to blow out, that we weren’t going to roll and glad as hell I hadn’t unhitched the truck. The camper might be light but the truck is heavy – of course it is; it’s full of books. Finally, after about an hour, it began to die down to normal thunderstorm levels.
Thank the gods for Twitter and the internet, is all I can say. My phone had a full charge and full bars and so I spent the storm on Twitter. My friends were there and helpful and I must say it’s weirdly nice if you think you’re going to die, to have people to talk to. Who knew? I mean it was incredibly comforting, like I might have just died of panic if they hadn’t been there. And here are the tweets storified if you want to relive last night. I don’t, actually. I don’t ever want to go through that again and in fact part of me wants to abandon this whole trip, camper, truck and all and fly (or, ideally, beam) home to Asheville to build a fort in the cellar and never leave again.
Finally the warnings and watches got lifted and I got back into bed and tried to calm down. Tried. I did not, entirely, succeed but I got at least some more sleep. There were still thunderstorms going on outside – they went on, sometimes quite loudly, until about 5 am – but it was nothing like it had been. I mean, it was enough to have scared me previously, but no longer! Now it was like unto a gentle spring rain and I let the rocking camper rock me to sleep.
But when I woke up I was a hot mess. There was a nice puddle of water on the floor and I still don’t know where it came from. The bathroom was soaked; I think I got the window closed too late or possibly the roof vent leaks. I went out and took a look at the campsite and GOOD GOD I GOT EXTREMELY LUCKY LAST NIGHT. One camper had a tree land on it but fortunately it just got the very back. The bike races were cancelled. There are branches and trees down everywhere. And, craziest and scariest of all, the wind blew the wheel chocks right out from under my tires. It blew one of them halfway across the campsite, along with two of the levelling blocks that hold up one of the back jacks. These are large and heavy blocks of wood, yanked out from under a 3500 pound camper and tossed 15 or 20 feet. But none of the trees directly surrounding me came down, although I was surrounded by a ring of branches on the ground. They must have bounced off as they hit, which explains the slamming noises.
I tell you what, I am a fucking mess. I think it’s an adrenaline hangover or something like that, piggybacking merrily on top of my usual panic and anxiety brain. I chatted for a long time with the guy next to me, who was in a Casita (this is a type of small camper, roughly the same size as Amelia but much more aerodynamic, that I would like to own if I wanted to own a different towable camper which I do not but more on that later.) He said he was terrified too and thought several times that he was going over. Then I went on a walk and met a kid who was supposed to be in the bike race. He said his family thought they were going into the river and that several times they were up on 2 wheels. This is a big, big camper, three times the size of mine. Everyone was shaken up – I talked to a couple more people – but, fortunately, nobody’s camper was smashed, nobody was hurt, nobody died. And most everyone left this morning. There seemed to be a general impulse to go the hell home, which I quite understand. The campground emptied out quick.
I am more shaken up than I wish I was. It seems like way too much of this blog is about how scared I am all the time and I’m sorry for that; I know it gets boring. I too am bored with it! I wish I was fearless and brave and that my brain didn’t go into anxiety spirals, but, unfortunately, you got to play the hand you’re dealt. I was dealt a brain with anxiety and panic disorder and honestly, it’s been interesting. I didn’t think it was a real physical thing for a long time but now I finally agree with the medical evidence that it’s as real as epilepsy, leprosy, the common cold or a broken bone. It makes this trip a bit, perhaps, more difficult than it would be if I didn’t have it. And one of the many fun things about it is that it takes me a long time to recover from panic attacks (although does it qualify as a panic attack if the panic is completely justified?) So I’ve basically felt like I’m having a heart attack all day. Oh well! I am not stopping. Onwards! Anxiety brain, you aren’t the boss of me.
P.S. For future reference or anyone who stumbles across this in similar circumstances, while I was sitting here waiting to die, I also googled what to do during severe thunderstorms in an RV. Apparently I should have gotten into the truck. Turns out cars and trucks are safer than campers in lightning storms because, um, metal or something. I can’t remember why, but they are. If I’d had more warning, maybe. I wasn’t even going to go as far as the truck last night and I think that was smart.