Tornado! (or "welcome to Oklahoma")
Trip Start Mar 30, 2009
53Trip End Ongoing
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Around 7pm, the scary weather guys (I think they really get off on this stuff) were talking about golf-ball size hail, 100mph winds, and getting to your 'safe place'. Luckily, I'm familiar enough with the names of the towns to recognize the area*, and the swirly dots and red map graphics were looming. I looked out the huge window and saw the back line of solid black clouds moving FAST, followed by a clear yellow sky. Well, I've heard about that, so into the bathtub I went!
I put my clothes and sneakers back on (hey, I was relaxing in pjs!), grabbed my handbag, phone, camera and laptop, and laid in the tub. I covered up with the comforter and closed the shower curtain (the opposite wall is a plate glass mirror).
I could still hear the weather guys from the other room, and they kept harping on last year's huge hail storm and the likelihood it would happen again this year. Shut up! All I could think about was my beautiful new FJ, how hard it was to find, and how far away I am from my guys at Toyota South. I actually considered driving it down the road and parking it in the car wash, but there was no time.
After a few loud booms, it all seemed to be over. Sure enough, it was bright outside (I'd forgotten it was supposed to still be light), and a gentle rain was falling. So within about 15 minutes, it was all over, at least for Poteau. Not so great for several places in Arkansas, but we did okay.
My other exciting (gut-wrenching) experience was driving up Cavanal Hill this morning. http://poteauchamber.com/Community/CavanalHill/tabid/88/Default.aspx Touted as the "world's tallest hill", at 1,999 feet it's just one foot shy of being classified a mountain. I called the local Chamber to see if there's a hiking trail, assuming that since I'd hiked in the Smokies I could handle the elevation, but there's just a road. Turns out to be a good thing since the hill is so steep! I didn't pack enough inhalers to handle this so-called hill.
Although I love helicopters, tiny planes, tall buildings, etc., I have a serious problem with heights. Somehow there's a pocket of fear that starts around 20 feet or so and stops whenever I feel I'm mechanically safe, like in a machine or building. I mean, I was fine at the top of the World Trade Center because it seemed unreal, but was leery of getting close to the edge at the Empire State Building -- which has fencing stretching way above my head. Makes no sense. (Bridges don't count, though, since it feels like gravity is literally pulling me over the edge.)
And yet even in a car (mechanical) flat on the ground (less than the 20-foot pocket), driving or being driven, it freaks me out to take those curvy roads that go to the chalets in Gatlinburg: I have to fight thoughts of brakes going out, a tire going off the sheer edge, or losing the engine and sliding backwards. (Yes, I know an automatic would just stop, and you could take your foot off the clutch, but fear isn't logical.)
So, anyway, about halfway up the hill things started to get freaky. Lots of switchbacks and what appeared to be bushes along the road that were actually treetops. All I kept thinking was "okay, this is a challenge, and that's what I'm here for" and "how in the heck can I handle Colorado if I can't do this?". So I drove right by the two pull-offs and made it to the top. Of course, it was misty and foggy, but I made it! Whew. Oh, hell, now I have to drive down...
All I'm going to say is that I only made it into second gear three times; otherwise, it was 10mph in first gear and I'm not ashamed to say so. The two photos were taken at a dead stop - these were NOT shot while the truck was moving! (Compare this to the McDonald's shot... height is scary, but not speed.) I celebrated at the bottom with a huge hunk of rocky road fudge, and I deserved it.
So now I'm off to the Spiro Mounds a little north of there, then back south to Talihina and the Ouachita National Forest. I plan to do quite a bit of camping and hiking, so I'm not sure when I'll post next, but it looks like good weather for it (which, in Oklahoma, seems to mean 'no tornadoes' -- but also notice I'm not driving west toward the wildfires).
By the way, I'm learning to pronounce things properly, i.e. Poteau is po-to with two long ohs. Tahlequah is ta-lee-kwa with the emphasis on kwa. (Although I'm told the native americans say ta-lee-kuh.) And Spiro has a long i, like spirograph, not like spear-o. Of course, I immediately return the favor by teaching people how to pronounce Marijka! :-)
* For those who haven't heard the story, I was in Stillwell (I think) doing sewing events for Husqvarna. The hotel had one of those wide-open atrium lobbies and all the rooms overlooked it with sliding glass doors and a little balcony. There was a raucous bachelor party reverberating throughout the atrium, so I kept calling the front desk to ask when the bar closed - I'm quite sure they were sick of me already. Since I couldn't sleep, I turned on the TV. Big, big mistake! Horrible tornado warnings, scary moving graphics, and "we've seen one touch down in such-n-such", but they only gave county names. How in the heck am I supposed to know what county I'm in? So I call the front desk. Yep, they're talking about our county. I wait for the "go to your safe place" announcement and call the front desk: "where's our safe place?". The guy pauses for a second and says, "well, I guess you just crawl under your bed" and hangs up on me! (Remember, I'm on an upper floor surrounded by glass.) I don't remember sleeping much, but the ladies sure got a kick out of the story the next morning. I guess tornado warnings in Oklahoma just don't scare anyone but tourists.