July 7, 2016: Jackson, MO.
Our short 272-mile jaunt today took us across NE Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, and over the Mississippi River (twice) to Missouri. "Optimistic" isn't a word we would use to describe how we felt after the last two days, but as of this writing - it might end up one of our favorite days. Funny how that works.
The lack of optimism might have had something to do with what we learned via these 4:30am Emergency Alarms.
We spent 14+ hours on the road (and a couple more wrenching with headlamps) yesterday. Our heads finally hit pillows around 1am to rest for a few short hours before our planned 6:30am departure, but the HORRIFYING thunder, lightning, and biblical rain had other plans. This storm was much worse than what we saw yesterday and everything around us - including the parking lot of our hotel - was flooding. Needless to say, riding a scooter with 12-inch wheels through inches of standing water was out of the question, so we had no choice but to wait. Our eyes were glued to the radar on our phones while eating another sub-par hotel breakfast of biscuits & gravy, dry waffles, and waxy apples.
After a three hour delay we were finally able to hit the road. Ron was forced to stay back long enough for a tire shop to open to have his rear-tire swapped and we all secretly feared that he might throw in the towel and turn back to his home in Florida.
We were forced to navigate around some road closures, very washed-out roads, and as you would expect; the humidity was absolutely awful. There were 100+ year-old trees uprooted and laying on fences & homes, cemeteries that were now totally submerged (with gravestones toppled), and entire farms were covered in brown, neck-deep water. We were discussing over our SENAs how terrible we felt seeing how severely people's lives had been affected around us, but at that moment we also saw something else: it was a man who was turning lemons into lemonade by taking advantage of his new "lake-front property" with a JET-SKI RIDE around what was once his field. The laughs didn't last long as we spent the next hour dodging dozens of very dangerous zones covered in more mud, rocks, tree branches, and some washed-out roads. Chalk it up to good luck but somehow we remained upright, had zero time-killing breakdowns, and both Ron & Big Daddy caught up to us a few hours down the road!
The weather cleared up a little bit and we started to enjoy the scenery of these massive Southern estates and well-manicured lawns.
We were finally making decent time and feeling pretty good about ourselves, but that feeling only lasted until we got closer to Dover, TN where Mother Nature got angry again and things got REALLY sketchy.
It was another storm. Our fourth in three days, and it was bad. We were already more than three hours behind schedule, and as a group we made the decision to gear up and ride through the oncoming storm. Just as we finished suiting up at a gas station, a fine Southern gentlemen poked his head around the pump and said something like:
"Y'all ain't going through that, are ya? Y'all about to go straight into the gates of hell."
He was right.
SPOILER ALERT: we survived and the video will prove how awful it was.
Only a few miles out of Dover we were entering The Land Between the Lakes where there would be no services available if we needed more than what our support vehicle could give us. Almost immediately, the sky turned the darkest color we've ever seen and started to swirl into shapes that reminded us of that Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt film from the 90's.
What was that movie called?
The rain started shortly thereafter and was followed by strong winds, then even heavier rain, and much stronger wind that was pushing us all over the road like toys in a bathtub. The sky got darker and darker until forming some funnel-looking things around us. We nervously laughed about it through our SENAs (Jesse screamed, but that's ok), but make no doubt about it - we were all super freaked out.
Our boots were filling up with water and any hopes of keeping ourselves dry (or any of our electronics) was long gone. Cars were pulled over on the shoulders of the road with their hazard lights flashing. I guess they didn't want to drive in this mess, but least we didn't have to worry about the wind blowing us into oncoming traffic anymore! It's the little things, sometimes.
We are so thankful for our SENA comm systems. Not only did they perform flawlessly - they were a major key to keeping us together and safe since we were able to pass along road conditions, hazards, and tell jokes to hide how scared we actually were. Our situation would have been even worse if it weren't for our full-face helmets and shields (thanks, Biltwell!) to protect our money makers from the stinging tornado-rain.
We're laughing about it now, but the risk we were taking to save a couple hours was so incredibly stupid.
The next hour of completely wet clothes combined with the 90+ degree heat made it feel like we were inside a dryer, but we finally stopped in Paducah, KY for gas and some food. Joe asked Paul how his Tamagotchi Pet survived with the weather. The look of disappointment that washed over his face was something we'll never forget as he stared at the blank screen on his electronic pocket-pet that he pulled from his totally soaked vest. It was ruined. The storm just took a life, and we had witnessed our first failed challenge. As per the challenge rules - Paul had a choice to make when we got to the hotel tonight:
A.) Shave an eyebrow, or B.) Shave a cul de sac.
But first - we feast.
The radar showed no more rain in sight but we decided to remain in our rain gear anyway and head out of Kentucky, into Illinois, over the Mississippi River, and through the totally mind blowing town of Cairo, IL. This place might be the strangest town that any of us have seen on this trip, and maybe ever. It looked like all of the residents just decided to pack up what they could carry one day and drove away, completely abandoning everything they left behind. If anyone can tell us what happened to Cairo, that would be great.
We stopped a few miles later to replace a snapped drive-belt in Big Daddy's scoot, but we felt better knowing the worst of the weather was now behind us! Also - we are starting to attack these broken belts like a NASCAR pit crew. Only a few more miles to Jackson, MO.
By some stroke of luck we scored a free room at our hotel tonight so everybody gets to sleep in a bed for the first time in a week! We ordered some pizzas, gave Paul a pretty slick haircut, and will now hopefully get a decent night's sleep before heading East for 328 miles to Nevada, MO in the morning.
Joe tried on his outfit that he'll be be wearing tomorrow: a snow-camo ghillie suit. He looks amazing, right?
We have also learned more about yesterday's fatality accident on the Dragon.
Here is the report from WATE News.
A 90-year-old man, riding as a passenger on a motorcycle, was killed Wednesday in a crash on the portion of U.S. Highway 129 in Blount County known as “The Dragon.”
The Blount County Sheriff’s Office says Ira Hodby of Indianapolis was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, Tonya Jean Hodby, 55, was taken to Blount Memorial Hospital and then UT Medical Center.
Deputies say the motorcycle was going south near mile marker one when Tonya Hodby lost control in a curve, went off the fight side of the road and down a steep embankment. Both Hodbys were wearing DOT approved helmets.
We would like to pay our respects to Ira and send all the positive vibes to his family and Officer Weeden for being the first officer on the scene. Our film crew is still pretty shaken up from what they saw and thank you to everyone who has reached out to make sure we're all safe.
Thanks for supporting us. All our love.
--SLOW RIDE HOME
*(P.S. The carnage from the storm was severe enough that Tennessee just declared a State of Emergency.)*