The Rock, the rain and Vienna sausages
I pick a place to stop for the night. I setup my shelter, line the floor with old trash bags, collect water, get inside, change my shoes, boil water, eat dinner, make my breakfast and then try to sleep while the rain pounds away all night on my tarp. It gets dark quick and stays dark until the gray skies lighten up enough to see. Then I break everything down and start plodding again.
I'm still somewhere in Colorado, west of Denver. Or maybe south. There's no power and it's sometimes hard to make out the signs along the way. The rain is unrelenting. It falls in sheets. Drenching downpours that go on for never ending hours soaking the landscape and people alike. The mudslides are a constant danger as are washouts even on the roads. The creeks and streams are raging rivers now making crossing treacherous.
I've taken to wearing plastic grocery bags around the outside of my pants below the knees like gators. It works for awhile at keeping my pants and shoes dry. I'd hate to think how this walk would work without shoes. I hope mine don't fall apart, I have a long way to Texas.
The US Airways flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to San Francisco was on time and we were somewhere over the western edge of the Rockies when the pilot was ordered to put the plane down late in the afternoon. I learned later the pilot asked for clearance to Las Vegas, but instead was told to turn back to Salt Lake City where we eventually landed. We sat on the tarmac for two hours before we were allowed to taxi to a gate. The flight ended there. Permanently.
When we touched down, the pilot told us there was a problem with the west coast and that another flight would have to take passengers on to San Francisco. I had a bad feeling and phoned my company's home office in Boston. I asked the secretary I shared with the rest of the field staff to call every rental place at the Salt Lake Airport until she found one with a car. I was lucky.
After waiting what felt like forever for the plane to empty, I moved quickly through the terminal following signs to "Ground Transportation". I saw numerous groups of travelers gathered around TV screens at the gates and in airport restaurants, but ignored them.
I finally reached the rental car counter and waited in line for twenty minutes before it was my turn.
"Hi, you should have a reservation confirmed for Staton, please."
"I hope so, sir. Because if not, I am not going to have good news for you. Oh yes, here we are, a compact or first available, right?"
"Sounds good, but you have the car, don't you?"
"Yes, it's the last one, it's a Fiat 500, that okay? If so, you got lucky. Did you want collision coverage on that for an extra thirteen ninety five a day?"
"Yes, I would but what is the additional charge if I take the car to another airport? I may have to fly out of Denver for instance, if my flight to San Francisco is not leaving from here."
"There will be a two hundred dollar charge if the car is not returned to this airport but is returned to another as long as it is dropped off at another Enterprise location. Did you still want the car?"
"Yes, please. Could you make sure there's a GPS with the car?"
"GPS unit? Sure, that's nine ninety five a day. I'll need your driver's licence and credit card please."
Another thirty minutes later, and I was sitting in the rental car lot at the SLC airport. I phoned my wife.
"Hey, I'm on the ground in Salt Lake City.." I started before she frantically cut me off.
"Where have you been? I was worried sick!" my wife shouted into the phone.
"I'm sorry. They kept us on the tarmac for a couple of hours, then I had to get a rental car." I said.
"Have you seen the news? Do you know what's going on?" she blurted.
"No, I haven't. I only know it was something big and I wanted an option just in case I'm stuck here or have to drive to San Francisco. I think there was some kind of disaster from what I overheard in the terminal and saw people looking at on the airport monitors." I responded.
"It's awful. A asteroid or meteorite, I don't know which, hit China or nearby in the ocean. They say it's Iran's fault. They hit it with a rocket." she said.
"Iran hit China with a rocket or the rock? I saw something in the news about an asteroid that was going to pass near earth, I think around eight thousand miles away, but that they said it wouldn't hit us. China said they were going to send a probe up to intercept the rock, but not hit it. Are you sure? That sounds impossible." I said skeptically.
"Yes. China sent a rocket up, but Iran did too. They think Iran sent a bomb, a nuclear bomb up with theirs. Something went wrong and the bomb went off and broke a chunk of the rock off in space. It landed in the ocean, in the China Sea they said on TV. You need to get back home. They are cancelling flights and warning Hawaii and the west coast about a possible tidal wave. A big one." she added.
"Well, I'm in Utah and that's two states away from the Pacific so I don't think I have to worry about getting washed away. Are they sure it was Iran?" I asked.
"Yes, they have video and know that Iran launched a rocket the same time as China. It's been on the news non-stop for the past two hours and they keep updating the story. Satellites aren't working, the Philippines were hit so was Thailand and Indonesia. It's really bad, Bill." my wife said quietly.
"Okay, let me call my boss and find out what is going on. I had to get to that conference by tomorrow morning and that sounds like that's a no-go. Just hang tight and I'll call you right back, okay?" I said.
"Do it. Just call me back and get home. I have a bad feeling about this." said my wife.
"Okay, love you." and I disconnected.
I phoned my boss, Barry but the call initially did not connect. I tried two more times before it rang through.
"Bill? Is that you?" asked Barry when he picked up.
"Barry? Yes it's Bill. Did I catch you at a bad time? What time is it?" I asked.
"It's nearly nine here. Look, you're not in San Francisco are you?" he asked.
"No, Salt Lake. The plane put down here and said we were stuck for the night. My wife said flights were being cancelled because of this asteroid thing in China." I replied.
"Good, I'm glad you are on the ground. Look, it's worse than they are saying on the news. That rock landed in the China Sea and caused a major tidal wave. Whole areas in that part of the world are off the air, nothing, no radio broadcasts, no phones, nothing. And several satellites were damaged as well, maybe by that rock debris too, they are saying." Barry said quickly.
"What is the government saying?" I asked.
"Nothing, just statements about the damage and calls the president had with Russia, India, and Australia. They are planning on a relief effort, but they're having a hard time reaching the Chinese government. In fact, they've only spoken with the ambassador in Washington so far. They are pissed." said Barry.
"Wha..? I don't understand." I said.
"China is blaming Iran. There was a military guy on CNN, you know, one of those retired expert types. He is claiming that China may retaliate, if they can." said Barry.
"That would be nasty. China has the missiles and bombs to do it." I said somberly.
"Look, Barry, I want to head back to Texas and home. It sounds like there is some concern about a tsunami or tidal wave on the west coast because of this." I added.
"That's why I'm glad you called, I was thinking about you. There are no flights, the FAA cancelled everything for the night. If you have a car, drive to Denver or somewhere else and see if you can get a flight out in the morning. We'll reimburse you, of course, for the trip. But for the meantime, just get back to your home and we'll talk tomorrow or the day after, okay? I need to call Mike and Dan Brady. They're both traveling as well." replied Barry.
"Okay, thanks, Barry. I'll check in tomorrow afternoon or so and let you know what I was able to do. Take care." I said and ended the call.
I sat and thought for a few minutes before calling my wife. If things were this bad now, I tried to imagine what they might be like tomorrow or in a few days. I was about to pull out of the rental car parking lot, but hooked up the GPS instead. I turned it on and waited five minutes, but it never found a "bird" to lock on to. Eventually, my location posted on the tiny GPS screen, but it only gave a "waiting for signal" message. I wanted my nine ninety five a day back.
I left the GPS on and dug out the map the clerk handed me with my rental agreement. It was an eight by ten inch piece of paper with the airport labeled and nearby roads. In other words, useless. I needed something better, a state map and maybe an atlas of some type. I texted my wife that I was leaving the airport and driving to Denver. I pulled out of the rental lot and headed for the interstate.
There are two ways to get to Denver from Salt Lake City; Interstate 80 (north) or Interstate 70 (south). Although 80 would take me north then east through Wyoming, I chose that option. To get to 70, I would have to drive south then slightly west. In my head, going west (mentally looking over my shoulder) meant going toward falling space rocks, hundred foot talk tsunami waves and hordes of fleeing refugees. No, I took the north by north east route going the other direction.
Taking 80 also got me out of Salt Lake faster and away from city traffic. It also meant I would find a truck stop sooner and sure enough, thirty minutes after leaving the airport, I pulled into a Flying J.
Inside, I went to the magazine rack and found a Rand McNally atlas along with a state map of Colorado and Utah. I was about to make my purchases and decided to take a detour. I was in the process of going on a three day business trip to the beautiful and modern city of San Francisco. As such, I had no emergency provisions other than my standard carry stuff in my luggage. I needed to correct that situation.
Let me point out, I'm not a survivalist. I'm not a prepper or whatever they call themselves these days. Rather, I'm a cautious guy. That's why I get full collision and a GPS on my rent car even though I already have auto insurance and GPS on my phone. I'm that guy who buys two bags of charcoal in case one is expired. I'm the guy that wears clean underwear when he goes out in case he gets hit by a bus. I'm not a paranoid raving conspiracy theorist, instead, I'm simply aware that Murphy has a standing reservation to interfere at the worse possible moment.
I picked up a basket from near the front door and went shopping. I'm a weird eater. I like to eat protein, fresh fruit and vegetables most of the time and am not a big carb eater other than the complex variety. There's not a great deal of selection at a truck stop for such a diet, so I had to make do. I picked up several small cans of chicken, tuna and that bane of low cholesterol, Vienna sausages. For fruit, there was a small fresh variety and I ended up with a couple of bananas, oranges and the only apple that did not look like a shrunken head.
Next up, water. I drink plenty of the stuff throughout the day so I had no problem taking twelve liter bottles from the cooler. That filled my basket, so I took it to the counter and left it with the clerk. I picked up another and went to the miscellaneous section they seem to have in every convenience store. I chose a three pack of Bic lighters, a flashlight, four spare batteries, a pocket knife, a small bottle of Clorox bleach and a four pack of toilet paper. If I'm stuck in my car or at a road side rest stop, I have the basics to get by for a day or so.
I stopped along the way tp the counter and picked up two boxes of whole wheat crackers, a selection of chocolate and protein bars, some overpriced trail mix and two bags of beef jerky. At the counter, I added two two packs of Five Hour Energy and asked the clerk for two of the one and a half gallon red gas cans on the shelf behind him.
"You must have been watching the news?" asked the clerk while he rang up my purchases. Behind him on the shelf was a portable television with a aluminum foil and coat hanger antenna. The news was on.
"Heard some stuff. I possibly have a long drive ahead of me." I said.
"Sure. I expect by this time tomorrow there's going to be a flood of people coming out of California and other points west. I heard the Chinese were going to bomb Iran. Did you hear that?" he asked.
"No and I wouldn't put too much stock in that. Communications are down but I'm sure China is more concerned about their people and the damages. They'll get it worked out." I said.
"I wouldn't count on it. Maybe these are the end times they talk about, you know?" said the clerk leaning on the counter with one elbow.
"From what I understand, most folks around here are ready if that were to happen." I said referring to the large LDS population in Utah as I gathered my bagged groceries.
"Not me," said the clerk, "I'm an atheist!", he laughed. "Have a safe trip!"
"What an odd man. That's what happens when you work nights in a truck stop in the middle of nowhere." I thought to myself as I left the store. I loaded my stuff and pulled the car around to the pump. I topped off the small tank on the Fiat 500 and then filled the two gas containers. I put both in the hatch back, started the car and went back to the Interstate.
I called my wife to check in.
"Where are you?" she asked.
"Interstate 80, headed to Wyoming."
"Wyoming? Why are you going there?"
"Look on a map. It's straight due east of Utah. I'm going to go east then cut down I-25 when I get to Cheyenne. That will take me to Denver. If there's a flight, I'll take that back to D/FW or keep driving south and home."
"That's crazy. When are you going to sleep? It's already almost ten here, you've got to be beat."
"To tell you the truth, I am. I just wanted to get somewhere when I heard about this mess. I'll figure it out."
"Be careful. By the way, after we talked, I went to Kroger and picked up a few things." she said.
"You did? Were we out of something?" I asked.
"I've been watching the news and it's starting to scare me. I had to get out of the house so I went and did the shopping for the week." she replied.
"We did that before I left." I said.
"Yeah well, maybe it's for next week. I sound paranoid, but I started thinking about those old films from the 60's and everyone rushing out to buy canned goods at the last minute. I know, I'm nuts." my wife said.
I looked down at the bag of groceries on the passenger floor board.
"Nope, not really. I'm the one who has twenty rolls of toilet paper in each bathroom. What did you get?" I asked.
"Canned fruit, sugar, oil, batteries, a bunch of tampons and pads for Grey and I. Trash bags, bleach, soap, just your basic end of the world grocery list." she replied.
"How much did you spend?" I asked.
"Two hundred and two plus change." she said.
I whistled, "That's a lot of batteries and soap. Kids help you bring it in and put it up?"
"Of course. They're worried about you too."
"What are you going to do tomorrow?" I asked.
"I don't know. Until we get some answers about what happened, I was thinking about keeping the kids home from school. Just for tomorrow if that's okay?" she said.
"I was thinking the same thing, with one exception." I replied.
"First thing in the morning, take my truck and the kids and go to Costco. Fill both tanks on the truck up and get the usual stuff from the store. The kids can help you."
"Are you sure? What about money?" she asked.
"I moved two grand over from savings before I left. Get the big bags of the stuff we usually get and more batteries too. Don't forget shampoo and medicines. You know what to buy." I said.
"This is bothering you too, isn't it?" she asked quietly.
"Maybe. Don't buy perishables. We may be eating beans and rice for the next year if I'm wrong."
We hung up a few minutes later after saying I loved her and the kids as well. Some time later, I crossed the Green River and I started wondering if this drive and route were such a good idea. This part of Wyoming was empty and there were few cars on the road. It was pitch black with the exception of the few stars visible in among the scattered clouds.
I passed a road sign and decided that I would stop for the night and get a good night's rest in some town along the way. Hopefully, I would wake, get to Denver and catch a flight home by midday tomorrow.
I woke up after a four hour "nap" at the Super Eight in Rawlins, Wyoming. I was about two hours west of Cheyenne and from there, only a couple of more from Denver. I had fallen asleep with the television on watching as the anchors updated what little they knew with more speculation and second guessing. The president was going to hold a press conference at nine A.M. east coast time. I planned on skipping the televised address and being on the road.
A quick shower, shave and I was back to the lobby to check out.
"We got breakfast if you have the time." said the clerk.
"Maybe just some coffee. I want to make it to Denver and hopefully catch a flight."
"Good luck with that. Flights are still on hold except for the military. Least that's what the TV said this morning."
"Bummer. Is there a gas station near here?"
"Yep, two blocks down on your right."
I pulled out from the motel with the gas gauge just above one eighth. I should have filled up before I got the room, but I was beat. When I reached the station, there was a line and it was only a little after six local time.
I waited ten minutes for my spot and filled up. It took the card reader an extra minute or so to authorize my card. While I waited for the small tank to fill, a dirty mini-van with several bags tied on top pulled up to the pump next to mine. The passenger door opened and a woman with messy hair took a little girl from the back seat hurriedly inside the station. My pump shut off, I squeezed in a few more drops and put the handle back.
As I pulled out of my tiny car out, I looked at the van. It had California plates.
Back on the interstate, I phoned my wife and caught up with her in the truck already. I told her about stopping for the night and where I was.
"They opened Costco early. We've already filled the tanks and are pulling into the store parking lot." she said. I could hear the kids, Grey, Luke and Sophie in the background.
"Really? That's a surprise." I said.
"Not really. I've been up listening to the news since five. Its bad. Very bad. How much longer until you think you will be home?" she asked.
"A while. What's going on?" I asked.
"No word from Hawaii and the west coast is getting pounded with huge waves. They won't tell us what has happened, but there are rumors online about San Diego, Santa Monica and LA. I saw it on Facebook but nothing in the news yet."
"Sounds like panic and gossip. Look, do your shopping, get home and stay there. People will probably start going nuts and buying everything that's not nailed down in a few hours." I said.
"Will do. Call me when you can. I love you." she said.
"Love you daddy!" said the kids in the back ground. I hung up and put the pedal to the metal.
Sometime after eight I arrived in Cheyenne, connected with I-25 and headed south toward Denver. I called home and checked in with my wife.
"I called the wood man after we got home and ordered two cords. They'll be here in an hour or so. He had extra after they said the weather was going to be warmer than last year." she reported.
"Good thinking." I said.
"What's your next stop?" she asked.
"I don't know. I filled up about thirty minutes ago. I called the airlines and confirmed there are no flights from Cheyenne or Denver. Looks like I'm driving straight through." I said glumly.
"Don't forget to eat something. Have you been listening to the news?"
"Yeah, some. I turned off the radio a while ago and made some calls. I can't reach my boss in Boston or anyone else on my team. I called the hotel in San Francisco that I had a reservation with and the call did not go through." I said.
"We got home and watched the President on TV. As usual, the press conference started late. He said the country was mobilizing resources for the relief efforts in the Pacific and that there was significant loss of life. He asked everyone to contribute to the Red Cross and to listen to the authorities in effected areas." she said.
"That's weird. What are effected areas? Why would he warn us about effected areas unless something happened here." I said.
"I know. He was hiding something. There are all sorts of things being posted online, but the internet is running real slow. It's like someone is doing this on purpose." my wife said.
My wife is prone to exaggeration and is a bit of a sucker for conspiracy theories.
"It's probably because everyone is online doing the same thing you are. Remember nine eleven? Remember how slow the internet was when everyone was freaking out?" I said.
"Well, I don't trust these people. Why aren't they showing California on the news? What about Hawaii? All they keep showing are graphics of the damaged area and some video someone shot yesterday. They keep saying that our satellites were effected by space debris and there's nothing they can do about it." my wife said exasperatedly.
"The GPS in my car is not working or on my phone." I said. "I'm using a map and atlas I picked up at a truck stop, not that I need it. It's all interstate until I get home."
"Oh crap.." I blurted as I saw what was in front of me.
"Bill? What is it?" asked my wife.
"Traffic. We just came to stand still on twenty five." I said.
I waited for ten minutes before I realized we weren't going anywhere so I got out of the car to see what was going on. I was at the top of a short rise and was able to see a road crew was coning off the passing lane a few miles south of where I was. As the crew worked their way towards me, they would stop traffic, drop cones and then let traffic move on. Judging by their speed, we would be here for a while.
I sat down in the driver's seat of my car but left the door open. I took out my road map, located my position give or take a few miles. I was north of Wellington and just south of the Wyoming border. There was not much to see other than mountains to the west and farm prairie to the east, but I noticed a small road on the map just to the north of where I roughly was. It as a county road, 126, according to the atlas. I stepped out of the car again and looked further down the road and spied a crossover.
Now driving on the shoulder of an interstate and turning around on a crossover is highly illegal in most places. In Texas, it's called defensive driving. I hopped back in my car and edged out from behind a pick up in front of me and inched onto the shoulder. The crossover was about a quarter of a mile south but I rolled forward cautiously in case anyone suddenly wanted to jump out and play "monkey see, monkey do" in front of me.
Sure enough, an older model pickup pulled out a few car lengths in front of me and headed for the same crossover. After that, it was a free for all. I made the turnaround and was the third vehicle to take it. Well, me and a Honda Gull wing made the turn at roughly the same, but we both fit. Barely. Behind us, the other cars started piling up and a made dash to change course before the road crew intersected. A few made it before the first wreck. I didn't stick around to see the outcome.
I retreated north again and found the "blink and you'll miss it" exit for County Road 126. I exited, rolled down the access road, made a right turn at the stop sign and found myself more or less heading due east. 126 is two lanes and with the exception of the one street light town of Carr, is a straight shot through farm land before dead ending at state highway 85. I planned on taking 85 south to 34 and could go two ways at that point; west to 25 and on to Denver or east and hook up with I-76 in Fort Morgan.
With several miles to go, I flipped on the radio to the AM side and looked for some kind of news or information on the latest goings on. I passed two country and three Spanish stations before I came upon the serious intonation of a broadcaster, program already in progress.
"....we will pass that along as it becomes available. The Pentagon continues to move personnel and material both domestically and overseas as part of the relief efforts in the Pacific. Military bases and airports, in and around Denver, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City are staging areas for food, clean water and aid supplies. The president, after today's address to the nation Washington D.C., also signed executive orders directing the usage of rail facilities and freight terminals for the military and civilian aid work.
The secretary of state reportedly held a brief call with his Chinese counterpart this morning. The two discussed mutual aid for the effected coastal areas of China and the situation with the nation of Iran. The secretary assured the Chinese foreign minister that the United States was committed to the international humanitarian mission and offered any and all assistance to the Chinese government. Until that call, all communications with Chinese officials had been impossible due to the recent disaster.
In other news, the Supreme Court declined hearing the same sex discrimination case pending in a lower court...
This is Chet Henry, we'll get back to ABC News as things develop over in China and here back at home. We're back on the Chet Henry show and joining me on the phone is Dr. Linus Ustrader, recently retired from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Dr. Ustrader, thank you for joining us today. I know you are no longer with NOAA, but we wanted to see if you could help our listeners understand what has happened and what we can expect with this rock hitting the Pacific yesterday.
"Chet, thank you for having me on. Now, I haven't seen any of the latest data - "
"Nobody has, Dr. The government seems to be keeping a tight lid on exactly what they know."
"Yes, well, I'm not much for conspiracies or cover ups. I worked for NOAA for twenty nine years and there are some smart and competent people on staff there and I'm sure they are working around the clock trying to help in any way they can - "
"Sure, I'm just passing along the frustration that many of us are feeling out here."
"Myself as well, believe me. The data, the satellite imagery and the details would be fascinating to an old weather bug like me. We haven't had something of this magnitude happen in thousands of years, maybe millions of years."
"Well Dr. We'll have to use our imagination then. What can you tell us the ocean looks like around that area and what about the weather?"
"Chet, when this rock, this asteroid hit, the water was not only displaced, but completely evaporated into the atmosphere. I imagine, and I don't know the exact circumference of the object, but data models on past and hypothetical strikes like these could have resulted in hundreds of square miles of ocean simply being evaporated and displaced. Now that water would have gone into the atmosphere and probably did along with tons of other debris."
"What happens to all that water and stuff, Dr?"
"Some will dissipate while most will remain in the atmosphere and increase the moisture content and cloud cover substantially. We've seen this happen with debris from volcanic activity for instance in the past. It goes in the atmosphere, circles the globe for a few days or weeks and eventually breaks down.
But what we are talking about is on an order of magnitude much more than previously seen. I imagine, this will significantly increase rainfall in the northern hemisphere for several months, maybe years. It could also reduce the amount of sunlight over the same area, but that will have to be seen over time."
"On the break before you joined us, you said this could also lead to drought in some parts of the world. How can that be? I mean, you got all this water in the atmosphere you'd think it would be raining cats and dogs."
"Yes and no. You've probably heard with all the discussion about global warming about the ocean conveyors and salinity of the water. This same event could effect it in the opposite manner. We might see increased drought conditions in the southern hemisphere in Australia or South America. We simply don't know and I can't say without seeing the data from NOAA and other organizations. That and time will tell."
"Dr. I hate to cut and run, thank you for joining us, but my producer says we have to break back to ABC with an - "
The signal changed and with it, the audio in the background, there were several voices speaking at once and the sound of camera's clicking. A male voice spoke over the background noise.
"We are joining the press conference at the United Nations (pause), in New York. The Foreign Secretary rather, the Ambassador to the United Nations from the People's Republic of China has entered the room (pause) hall and..
A voice, strained and hoarse, began speaking in Chinese. Seconds later, female voice began speaking for the radio listeners and translating.
"The actions and statements of the Iranian government are unacceptable in light of the circumstances. We are, um, always have been for peace and dialogue, but we cannot be expected to stand back while our nation is under, uh, such a blatant attack. A treacherous action are those of bandits and barbarians, we will do what we will, rather what we have to do to defend our nation. This is not vengeance, but rather, a matter of sovereignty and defense that would support from any other nation.
Somebody asked something unintelligible from the press. It was translated to the Chinese Ambassador who responded along with the radio translator.
"The Russian government has made it's position clear but their country was not attacked. We welcome their aid and assistance but have no plans to adhere to their current policies. This is senseless."
Another voice, with a British accent, spoke over the sounds of cameras and shuffling equipment.
"Mr. Ambassador, have you spoken or discussed the initiative from Her Majesties government on behalf of the Australian or Canadian governments yet?"
After a few moments of translation, the Ambassador replies.
"We welcome their input and warm friendship, as they have put forth over the past few hours. We will review this information and naturally... share with them our thoughts in good time. In the meantime, the People's Government will continue its policy of self defense and will not rule out the use of such weapons as were used against it. Thank you.
The sound of cameras and reporters shouting continued for a few seconds until it was clear the Ambassador had retreated to another room.
I turned off the radio and was about to phone home when my phone lit up.
"Hi, hon I was about to call - " I answered.
"Did you hear the Chinese? Have you been listening to the news?" she asked
"Yes, I did." I answered calmly.
"Do you think he means nuclear weapons?" she asked frantically.
"It's possible, but doubtful, hon. That's the option with the no turning back clause. I don't think the Chinese would do something that rash." I responded.
"Okay, but what if, they do or someone else does. Like the Iranians." she said emphasizing the 'if'.
"First things, the Chinese don't have the ability to hit us here in the United States. Well maybe, the west coast but not the rest of the country. Not without us knowing and that would take some work considering the shape their in right now. The Iranians are another matter. They sent a rocket up with a bomb allegedly, but there's no telling if they have another and if they can aim it another country like the U.S." I said.
"What if they did?" my wife asked. "The Iranians hit a rock in space, why can't they hit New York or Dallas?"
"Because it's easier to send a rocket up then to send it up and have it come down on someone you don't like..."
I could tell my wife was upset. Taking a deep breath, I put myself in her shoes for a moment. I'm three states away in a rental car with no idea when I'll make it home all while the rest of the world is getting hit with space rocks and threatening each other with nuclear bombs. Meanwhile, she probably spent our grocery budget for the next three months in the past four hours and has a stack of firewood on the driveway reaching the roof.
I changed tactics. "What did you get from Costco this morning?"
"Rice, beans, canned things, oil, flour, sugar, medicine, you know the usual." she said quietly.
"Okay, where is everything?" I asked.
"We put most of it away, well, not the rice, it still needs to go into buckets."
"Good. Now where is your car?"
"In the driveway, no the garage. Yours is still in the driveway."
"Okay, when we get off the phone, put it in the garage and close it up. What about water?" I asked.
"We have six or seven cases of bottled water. Wait, let me get the kids to fill some containers." she said.
"Great, have Grey start with the two tubs upstairs, then any containers we have in the kitchen. That should be enough for now."
"What about the firewood?" I asked.
"I paid the two men an extra forty dollars to stack it in the rack you built next to the garage." she replied.
"Send Luke out there to cover it securely with some tarps. There's a stack of them in the garage. Make sure he ties them down, too." I said.
"What about the containers on the patio or the garden? We should cover the raised beds at the very least. Can Sophie do that?" I asked.
"Sure, I'll send her out to do that."
"Great. Now I want you to check with the Peregrins and the Boyles across the road. Don't scare them, but see if they are home and if they need anything from the store. They're the closest to our house and I want them to know that were around, you know?" I asked.
"Sure, I saw Sarah when the wood guys were here and we talked for a few minutes. Her husband is coming home early from work, after lunch I think. She was going to the Kroger for a big run this morning." she replied putting emphasis on Sarah's husband leaving work.
"Good, they're thinking ahead, too. I hope it's nothing, but better safe than sorry." I said ignoring her subtle dig.
"Hon, I'm coming up on 84. I'm going to take it down to Internet 76 and then head east. The radio said the airport was being used for moving relief supplies and the roads around there are probably a mess." I added.
"Then what? How long do you think it will take to get home from there?" she asked.
"Not sure. I'll actually be closer to Kansas then Texas, but I think there's a way to hook up from 76 to 287. That runs right into Dallas/Fort Worth and puts me right close to home." I said.
"Well, call me when you get to 76 or 287 and let me know where you are. I hate asking, but can you hurry? If there is anyway you can drive through without stopping, I'd appreciate it. I'm really nervous." she said quietly.
"I know. Don't worry."
I took state highway 85 to Greeley and pulled over to check my maps again. I also took advantage of a nearby McDonald's to use the bathroom and order four cheeseburgers and a large iced tea. I took the first burger off the bun and ate it while I checked my route.
I would take state highway 34 east and hookup with interstate 76 in Fort Morgan. From there, I had to find a way to get to 287 and found a county road would take me south to interstate 70 and directly to 287. I topped off the tank again and went east.
I turned on the radio again and listened to some retired Air Force general talk about the strategic weapons possessed by China. His belief was that China would make some sort of punitive strike on Iran to simply save face. Perhaps a hit by sea on Iran's oil loading facilities in the gulf. He did not believe China would use nuclear weapons for the simple fact that fallout would naturally travel east into Pakistan and possibly India. Both countries held nuclear weapons as well and would not appreciate contamination from an errant Chinese strike. Then there was the Russians at which point, I switched off the radio and called my wife.
"Where are you now?" were her first words.
"What? No hello? I'm east of Greeley heading toward Fort Morgan. Let's see, there's a road sign up ahead. Alright, I'm nine miles from some place called Wiggins. How are you guys doing?" I said.
"Good. I went over to the neighbors and talked to them about the stuff overseas. Jim Boyle thinks the Chinese are bluffing but Sarah Peregrin agreed with me. She bought a car load of stuff from Kroger and said the store was packed. It was funny, she said everyone was either buying frozen dinners or Spam!" my wife laughed.
It was good to hear her somewhat relaxed.
"What about the kids? How did they like the day off?" I asked.
"I've kept them busy. I made Grey clean her room, had Luke go through his drawers and Sophie pick out what stuffed animals she wants to keep. She has so many of them piled next to the bed - "
The phone clicked and died. I only had a second to notice as the steering wheel tightened up in my hand and the car slowed and rolled to the right. I wrestled with the wheel and managed to get the car to a rolling stop only by pulling up the parking brake. The engine was dead.
As I recall, I kept the two events separate in my mind. Surely, the phone died because I forgot to charge it. I had a car charger sitting in the console and immediately connected it so it would reboot in a minute or two. I then tried to start the car. Nothing. Not even the tell tale clicking sign of a dead battery.
"Damn Enterprise." I muttered to myself. "No wonder this was the last car on the lot."
I turned the key off and sat back in the seat. No, my phone still had not rebooted and it was then I noticed that the light on the car charger was not illuminated. So that was it, dead battery. I pounded the car steering wheel and opened the door. And the dome light came on over head.
"Huh? The dome comes on but the charger doesn't work? What's up with this?" I thought to myself.
I found the hood release and went to the front of the car. Opening the hood, I hoped I would find that magical loose wire that only occurs in movies, but no luck. Back home, I drive a full size Ford F250 diesel and looking at the Fiat's engine was like examining the guts of a popcorn popper. I shut the hood.
I went back to the car, took out a bottle of water and took a long drink. Okay, the car won't start and I can't charge my phone. I'm on a small county road and there's nobody else coming along who can give me a lift or let me use their phone. Solution: I'm walking. Verdict: Great.
It was nearly noon from what I recall (neither the car clock or the one on my phone worked) so I had plenty of daylight to work with. The nearest town was called Wiggins or something like that. It couldn't have been more than seven or eight miles east of where I was. I could make that in an hour or two. No probably two because I certainly wasn't going to leave my luggage here.
I put the non-functioning GPS back in its bag and placed it in the rear hatch next to the two cans of gasoline. There was nothing else of mine back there so I closed up the hatch/trunk and opened up the passenger side rear door. I had a standard sized plain black rolling board suitcase, my SwissGear medium sized backpack and a large gym bag type duffle with me. There was also the three plastic grocery bags from the truck stop last night with my food and bottled water. Time to consolidate.
I put most of the food in my backpack as I had packed that light for my trip. It currently only contained my laptop, power cable, accessories, notebook and some odds and ends. The water I put in the duffle as there was room in there as well. It had my work out clothing and tennis shoes. Everything put away, I took all three bags out of the car and set them next to the front wheel or on the hood.
I cleaned out the console of my things including the McDonalds bag which still contained three uneaten burgers. I stuffed that bag into the backpack and then put on my black trench style rain coat. It was mid-October in Colorado and the temperature was in the mid 50's so I shouldn't be too uncomfortable. I heaved the back pack on, put the duffle over my shoulder and took my roller board by the extended handle. My dead cell phone and charger were in my coat pocket. I started off toward Wiggins but before I left, I turned on the hazard lights on the Fiat and manually locked the doors.
It was actually about seven miles to the outskirts of Wiggins. The town supported the surrounding agricultural community and was home to about 800 souls according to the sign at the entrance to town. It was also at the intersection of state highway 34 and interstate 76 and just west of the larger town of Fort Morgan.
My walk took me down 34 then a short jaunt down 4, under the interstate and then into Wiggins. But that was all on autopilot as I was surprised by what I saw coming into town. Nothing was running. No cars, no street lights, none of the businesses or machinery. Nothing. Just people milling around looking under open hoods and watching others walk by. My entry into town lugging my bags was completely in the norm and I am sure that if I went over to the interstate, I would see the same thing.
I entered the main "drag" in town, saw a Clarion motel on my right and went inside.
"How're your doing?" said a smiling clerk behind the counter.
"Guess? Been traveling since yesterday, I just walked here after my car died and it looks like the power's off in the whole town." I replied.
"Yes, sir. Whole town. Power went off about two hours ago and it took most of the cars and trucks with it. Phones out too." the clerk responded.
"Any idea what caused it? Was it something to do with that darn rock." I asked irritably.
"Maybe. The fellow who runs the garage down the street thinks the Iranians did it." he answered.
"I'm sure there's all kinds of opinions. Who knows? Is there a bus station near here, like Greyhound? Maybe one that serves Wiggins?" I asked.
"No, the closest stop is in Fort Morgan. I'd call for you, but like I said, the phones are out too." the clerk replied.
"Wait, even cell phones? The battery died in mine, but surely someone else's works, right?" I asked.
"No, cell phones are out to. I'd say it was something with the towers, but the darn doo dads won't even turn on now. I suppose maybe there was a power spike or something that overloaded everything. I don't know." said the clerk.
"That's bad," I said, "Real bad. Um, well looks I might be stuck here until something or someone comes along or I decide to hike over to Fort Morgan. Do you have any rooms?" I asked.
"Do I? Only six are occupied and four of those by people like you. Can I see your ID and credit card, please? Now, I can't run the card with the power down, but I can take an imprint and run it later if that's okay." said the clerk.
"Sure, sure. Here, you take Amex? Good. I just want to put down these bags and put my feet up." I said.
A few minutes later the clerk handed me an old fashioned plastic oval key ring with the number 14 written on it and two keys attached.
"We kept the old keys around and they're coming in handy today," said the clerk when he saw the look on my face. "We moved to those electronic locks but the owner didn't want to pay to remove the old ones. You're in room 14, just across the parking lot there."
"Thank you. Is there an restaurant open? I know the power's out, but I'm sure I'll be hungry later." I asked.
"No, the grill down the street is open, but Hap says he's closing up for the day or until the power comes on. My wife was going to walk down to the sandwich shop, but that's over a mile the other way. I don't think you want to walk that far. But hey, we serve breakfast in the morning and the gas still works so you look forward to that, okay?" the clerk said hopefully.
"What about that place?" I said hooking my thumb toward the window and the store across the street.
"Keane's Market? Yeah Joe's still there. Had quite a few come in this morning with all that ruckus going on overseas, but he's still open." replied the clerk.
"Maybe I'll go over there a get a few things." I said. "Thanks for the room."
I picked up my bags, walked over to 14 and let myself in. I automatically flipped the switch and nothing happened. I set down my things and went back to the office.
"Hi, um, there's no lights, Do you have anything, a lantern, some candles?" I asked.
"Sure, forgot all about it. Here's a box of candles, just take how ever many you need and some matches if you don't have a light. Just don't burn down the place, okay?"
"Thanks, yeah, no problem." I replied as I took three stubby candles from the box and a paper folding pack of matches.
I went back to my room, closed the curtains and lit all three candles. They only provided a little light and long shadows which danced on walls. I took off my shoes and sat down on the edge of the bed to take stock of the situation.
No power in town. No running cars, clocks, or phones. No bus service. No lights in the motel. No way to call home. Rental car abandoned on a state highway. No way home.
I put two and two together and came up with a river in Egypt. The power was out because someone had dropped the big one but the town of Wiggins and I had not yet come to terms with this yet. That was the only answer I could come up with.
I don't want to die. I want to get home to my family. I don't know what to do.
I curled up on the bed in a ball and sat there clutching the pillow. Why did I go on this trip? Why did I take this job? Why didn't I have a job that didn't require travel? Why didn't I tell my boss no and stay home? Why did I stop last night in Wyoming? Why didn't I just drive through the shortest route? I'd be in Texas right now and not in some dumpy motel.
I sat up quickly. I needed to quit feeling sorry for myself, get a plan and a way to get home. I needed to get to another town, maybe Fort Morgan and see if there's a running car or bus there. I have no idea how far this place is, but I know I'll most likely have to walk. For all I know, I may have to walk all the way home.
I pulled my laptop from my back pack and tried it. No good, it was dead too. I tossed it on the bed and took out my atlas and road maps. I traced the distance from Wiggins to the Dallas/Fort Worth area with six inch ruler from my the office supplies in my pack and calculated the distance. A little over 800 miles. Huge, but not impossible.
A man can walk four miles an hour, sometimes more, sometimes less. I'm going downhill, but I've driven some of these roads before and know there are hills in both direction. If I can do 20 miles a day, I can be home in forty days. That's a powerful number with significant meaning. If I can get a ride I can shave that number considerably. There's no reason not to hope.
First step is to get to Fort Morgan. That's one day. Then if that's no good, then on to the next town closer to my destination. I can try and find places to stay along the way, but if the power is out along with communications, those options will dry up sooner rather than later. In that case, I'll need a plan and supplies for camping out if need be. Food for forty days will be hard, same with water. I'll need to be able to get more of both along the way. And to pack lightweight food that provides fuel, but lasts a long time. And a way to cook and boil water.
I grab the groceries I purchased at the truck stop and inventory what I have. It's a good start, but probably not enough for more than a few days. I'll need more. Food. Fuel. Shelter. Tools. I need to go shopping. I check my wallet and take stock of my funds.
I have three hundred and forty three dollars in cash. Wait, I also have two hundred dollars in emergency cash in the back of my wallet so make that five hundred forty three dollars. I have a company Amex, my own Visa and a Mastercard for big purchases. I have two blank checks as well, not that anyone will take an out of town check, but it's worth a shot.
I leave my coat on the bed along with the rest of my stuff and leave the motel room. I cross the road and go to pay Keanes's a visit.
Keane's was a medium size white building that had seen better days. Probably in the 1950's. The Keane's sign was faded and cracked and the paint on the Affiliated Foods logo probably hadn't been touched up since Carter was president. The doors were closed and the ground pads didn't activate without power. I pulled the handle and went inside.
Keane's had faded linoleum and lines of old grocery shelves deep into the dark corners of the store. The front door glass and two windows only provided a minimal amount of light so a few old Coleman lanterns had been placed haphazardly throughout the store. I saw several empty shelves and noticed that the coolers closest to the front were vacant.
As I stood in the doorway adjusting to the lack of light, I heard someone come out of the back of the store.
The speaker was a middle aged man, short, pudgy, with dark hair swept across his brow, glasses, a large dark mustache, two day growth of beard, wearing a heavy coat, sagging jeans and work gloves.
"Yeah, I just wanted to pick up a few things. That alright?" I asked.
"Sure, get what you like. I'm moving stuff from the cold case to the back. Power's out and I want to keep it as long as I can. Need anything holler back my way." he replied.
"Thanks. I looked around and saw a short line of small grocery carts near the door so I took one. I hadn't written a list, but had a good idea in my head. First up, food.
I went to the dry goods and pulled two large containers of oatmeal, followed by a small box of powdered milk, two five pound bags of rice, a large box of raisins, a bag each of dehydrated peaches, cherries, and cranberries, two big cans of peanuts, two bags of M and M's (one peanut, one chocolate), a jar of bullion cubes, a pound of sugar, a pound of salt, a one hundred count box of tea bags, a plastic squeeze bottle of honey, a dozen packs of Ramen noodles, a half dozen bags of beef jerkey, two packs of flour tortillas, a handful of chocolate bars, some overpriced protein bars, two dozen of the smallest cans of chicken, beef, Vienna sausages (blech), and corned beef.
"I'm going camping, I'm going camping.." I repeated to myself. I went to the kitchen ware aisle which I was surprised was available. Now that I looked around the store, I realized Keane's was a small town grocery which probably carried a little bit of everything.
I picked up a one quart stainless steel pot with a lid, a 1.1 quart Stanley thermos, a two quart plastic Thermos container, a blue pewter finish metal plate, bowl and cup set, a twelve inch kitchen knife and a four inch paring knife, a knife, fork and spoon set, a long handled wooden spoon, a 12 count box of heavy contractor trash bags, a 200 count box of coffee filters, a roll of foil, a box of 2 gallon zip lock bags and a box of 1 gallon zip locks.
I found the hardware section and was amazed at the variety and some of the things I had forgotten. I found two tarps, both 8 x 10 and gray, (rather than the typical blue), six bungee tie downs, a big roll of duct tape, a 100' pack of clothesline, and surprisingly, a Coleman camp hatchet and knife set that was less than twenty dollars. (It was made in China and probably wouldn't win any Boy Scout Camp Awards, but it was better than the invisible set I had in my suitcase).
I went looking for toilet paper, but only found three individual rolls of Scott paper on the shelf. All the rest was gone. Batteries were in the same state; two packs of D, one of AA were all that was left. There were no flashlights left. I did find two four packs of emergency candles though along with four two pack sleeves of the big Sterno cans. I considered a traditional single burner camp type stove, but a) they didn't have one and b) if they did, the selection available would probably be too heavy with fuel cylinders.
I topped off with a 100 count bottle of multivitamins, another of aspirin, bandaids, gauze, compress, tape and a variety of small bottles of OTC medicine for colds and stomach problems. I also wisely picked up two packs of gel inserts for shoes. My last selection was for two big bags of snack sized candy bars from the Halloween display.
I rolled the cart to the front and was looking at the stuff on display behind the counter when the proprietor came back.
"Find everything alright?" he asked eyeing my cart.
"I did, thank you. You have a nice place here, just about everything I needed." I said.
He ignored the compliment and looked over my goods.
"Lot of stuff there. Whatcha going to do? Go camping or have a party?" he asked.
"My car broke down and I might be here a few days. Hey, do you know if there's a mechanic around who could look at it?" I asked changing the subject.
"Sure, my brother, but no promises. Everyone's car isn't working right now, including mine." he said glumly.
"That's too bad. My car actually broke down a few miles out of town. It's a newer model and I would really appreciate if he could take a look at it. Could you get me a good deal?" I asked.
"Not from him, but I could on the stuff you got here if you give me the keys and let me take care of it. He gives me a spiff for anything I bring his way." the clerk said.
"Wow, that would be great. Does he have a tow truck?" I asked.
"Yeah, he's trying to get his old one running right now. Thinks he might too." said the man.
"Well, let's get this rung up and I'll get you the keys and where the car is." I said.
The clerk pulled things from the cart and added them up on a pad. The total shocked me, it was over three hundred dollars, but I appeared not to notice.
"Well, on account of the power outage, so much of my stock being bought already and the fact I don't know you from Adam, that'll be three hundred and eighteen dollars for everything. But if you let me have your keys and your car's whereabouts, I'll take two hundred and call it a day. What you say?" he asked.
"I think that'll work. You take American Express?" I asked.
The clerk paused and pulled some of my purchases closer to his side of the counter.
"Not a chance. Cash on the barrel head, bud. No cash, no sale." he said.
"Hey, thought I would ask. My company takes care of my card purchases and you can't blame me for trying to pass it along, okay? Here, two hundred." I said handing him the money.
"Uh huh. We had a few folks coming in trying to use plastic. EBT cards, credit. Don't know when I'm gonna get another shipment in. Got to take care of my business, bud." he said.
"Wise policy. Cash and carry, that's what my grand dad always said. Hey, can I get a few extra of those plastic grocery bags?" I asked.
"Sure, no problem." he said as he handed me a dozen bags.
I finished bagging up the rest of my groceries and arranged them in each arm for the trip back to the hotel.
"Oh sorry, here." I said handing over the keys and fob for the Fiat. "It's seven miles or so west of here on 34. You can't miss it. By the way, there's two gas cans in the trunk as well. You can keep that too for the tow."
The clerk looked at the keys and put them in his coat pocket.
"Where you staying, bud? When my brother gets the car, he'll probably want to talk to you about payment." he said.
"Across the street at the Clarion. Just ask the clerk. Thanks." I said and went out the door loaded down with bags.
I hurried across the empty street and back to room 14. I set down the bags, unlocked the door and brought everything inside. I emptied the bags, laid my purchases on the bed and started to work.
The peanuts, M and M's and half the raisins were mixed together and put into two one gallon bags. The rest of the raisins and dried fruit was mixed and put into a one gallon bag. The oats were separated into bags, same with the rice. The other loose foods, the salt and sugar were put into sealed bags as well. I piled up all the food packaging I didn't need and shoved it into the hotel trash can.
I checked the faucet in the room and the water came out, but only at half flow. I filled the two quart thermos as well as my two empty liter water bottles. I took the rest of my food from the truck stop and packed it and my new stuff into my backpack. I added the cook wear, dishes and thermos.
I went to the closet in the room and found on the top shelf a big wool blanket, extra pillow and sheet all packed in a zippered plastic bag. I laid out one of the tarps, put the blanket inside and rolled it up. I then put it inside the pillow case and then back into the zippered plastic bag. I sat on it and removed all the air making it as flat as possible. I then wrapped the whole thing up into a tube shape and held it together with two bungee cords.
I went through my clothing and pulled out two pair of dress slacks. I hung them in the closet and planned on leaving them behind along with my dead laptop computer. The rest of my clothing I sorted and put into two gallon resealable bags, removing as much air as possible and squeezing them into my back pack. The only exception was my work out clothing and sneakers which I put in the duffle surrounded by bottles of water.
The atlas and map fit into the outside pockets of my backpack. I rearranged my other things like the flashlight, batteries, candles, sterno and so forth. It was tight and I wished I had a bigger bag. The roller board was getting left behind regardless.
Looking over my work, I pulled on my coat and went over to the main office. I went inside and found the clerk behind the counter lighting a Coleman lantern. There were candles lit and sitting on each of the six tables in the lobby. There was a fifty-something old couple at one table and an older man sitting alone at another.
"I know this is a crazy question, but do you have anything to read? You know magazines or something?" I asked the clerk.
"Sure, over there on the other side of the lobby are some magazines and books folks left behind. Take what you want, leave something back if you're done with it." he said.
"Thanks, getting kind of bored with no TV or internet." I said.
I went over to the rack and found two copies of Field and Stream and a Louis Lamour novel. At this point, both seemed like appropriate theme reading.
"Not much to do, is there?" asked the older man.
"Nope, I guess not." I replied.
"Seen you come out of that grocery store over there. Loaded down too." he said.
"Yeah, I got a few things in case I'm here for awhile. Oh well, you take care." I said walking away.
"Planning on bugging out weren't you? About time someone figured out the balloon went up. It's only days, maybe hours before the thin veneer of civilization peels back and shows us what men's hearts hold." he said as I walked away.
I rolled my eyes and turned around.
"Sorry, but I'm a little more optimistic that that. I think things are going to work out." I said.
"You're a fool." the old man said.
"Will you can it?" said the man sitting at the other table with the woman. "Why don't you go back to your room and talk to yourself. You're making my wife nervous."
"Better her to be nervous than dead. There's a train a'coming and that right soon. Rows will be made straight and the harvest is at hand!" said the old man ominously.
"Sir, if you don't lower your voice, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the lobby." said the clerk from the desk.
"Bravo!" said the other man. "I'd kick him to the curb if I were the proprietor."
"Be quiet, Floyd. You'll make things worse. See if you can get me a glass of wine." said the man's companion.
"Sir, is there a bar in this hotel, or maybe a package store nearby?" Floyd asked.
The clerk looked up, "Sure you can get beer or wine over at Keane's. Better hurry as he'll probably close when it gets dark. Speaking of which folks, I'm going to lock up the lobby at sundown as well. My wife and I are on property if you need something, but there's no sense in keeping the place lit up all night.".
"What about food? Dinner?" asked Floyd.
"There's stuff available at Keane's," I said. "That's what I did."
"Thanks, friend." Floyd said. "Jean, I'm going to run over and pick up some wine and snacks for the night." said Floyd.
"Bring cash if you have it. No credit." I mentioned as I held the lobby door open for Floyd.
Floyd was about to say something when we both stepped outside but paused. It was starting to rain.
The long rain
I sat in my room and listened to the rain fall. For dinner, I finished off the burgers from McDonalds along with the fruit from the truck stop the night before. The toilet and shower still worked, so I took advantage of both even though the shower was cold.
I packed and repacked the two bags I was taking with me three or four times. Each time, I would put on the back pack and get a feel for the weight and distribution. Naturally, I would start over again. I stayed busy to keep the fact that I could not talk to my family out of my mind.
Besides going through the two big outside pockets of my pack, I also took out a number of small food items and created two small emergency bags to put in my coat pockets. I needed two smaller water bottles, but basically each bag contained some food (one can, some trail mix, chocolate bar, dried fruit, etc.), a lighter, and a few other things in case I lost my bag or worse, it was taken from me. I also planned on carrying some snack foods and first aid stuff in the inner pockets of my coat as well. Me being cautious again.
In my backpack, I had some useful items I always seemed to have with me. I had an old compass, an LED flashlight, some hard candy, a roll of electric tape, a clip on flashlight, four AA batteries, a small umbrella and a spare tooth brush. I kept these things, but got rid of my business cards, presentation materials, work documents and other stuff which just took up room.
The dress slacks were easy to discard for my trip. The rest of my clothing, t-shirts, socks, underwear, one pair of jeans, winter gloves, hat, ball cap, a sweater, spare shirts, a set of patagonia long underwear, my extra shoes and second pair of lined khakis were needed. I changed out of my work clothing and put on my work out clothes for the night.
My plan was to get breakfast at the hotel, make up some excuse and walk to Fort Morgan. I didn't want that store owner or his brother coming after me for the rent car so I planned on leaving without a fuss. When I arrived in Fort Morgan, I would check on the possibility of bus service or any other form of transportation. More importantly, news and information. If that was a wash, I would move on to Brush to the east. After than, things got hairy.
State highway 287 was about one hundred miles to the south, but it ran straight from Colorado, though the panhandle of Oklahoma and then into Texas. I had ridden that road dozens of times and knew the towns through Texas by heart. If I was to get home, I halfheartedly planned on making the walk eventually in that direction and hope for the best. It was all I had short of a flying carpet.
Outside the rain continued and it reminded me of the radio broadcast I heard what seemed a lifetime ago. Was this rain caused by the rock in the Pacific? Who knows? I would ask that question many times in the coming days.
The next morning, unable to sleep any longer, I got up when it was still dark. The rain was still falling, not hard, but steady. I dressed, brushed my hair and teeth and went over to the office when I saw the lantern flare up.
"Morning," said the clerk. "Hope you slept well."
"I did thanks. Always do when it rains." I replied.
"You might get a lot of sleep, that rain doesn't look like it's going to let up any time soon." he said.
"You think there might be some breakfast this morning?" I asked hopefully.
"Yep. We still got working gas and my wife is using up the stuff in the fridge before it goes bad. Eggs, hash browns, some bacon. Can't get coffee, but we can boil water for tea or cocoa if anyone wants some. That and the bread won't be toasted." he said.
"Sounds good to me. I'm starving." I said.
I went into the lobby and looked through the magazines. Eventually, I found a copy of Sports Illustrated from last year and sat down to read. I could soon smell cooking food wafting into the room and my mouth watered.
A woman, I assumed the clerk's wife, starting bringing steaming metal pans of food out and setting them on the darkened buffet underneath the sneeze guards. I waited until she was done before going to the counter.
"Got to use paper plates and plasticware, no way to wash most of this stuff except by hand." the woman said.
"No problem, it looks great." I said as I scooped up a plate of scrambled eggs and potatoes. I topped it with a slice of plain white bread and took a packet of butter. I set my food on my table and returned for a cup of hot water, a tea bag, plasticware and some napkins. I noticed a basket had been set down which contained bananas, apples and oranges. Another nearby contained a selection of Special K bars and granola bars. I took some of each.
I ate my fill that morning, stunned at what I consumed and probably wouldn't have eaten for breakfast two days ago. Things change. After eating, I went back and fixed an egg and potato sandwich, wrapping it in two napkins. I snagged another granola bar and an apple to join the others now in my coat pocket.
"Do you have any water?" I asked the woman who was wiping down the counters.
"Sure, hang on." and she soon returned from the kitchen with a half dozen half liter bottles. I took two, thanked her and started for the door.
"Planning on staying or you going to be checking out?" asked the clerk.
"Staying. I think they are going to take a look at my car down at the garage." I replied.
"Oh, Keane sold you on his brother's garage, huh? Well, good luck with that. He hasn't gotten his tow truck working last I heard." he said.
"Thanks for the information. I might walk down there and see what's going on." I said.
The clerk smiled and waved his hand. I went back to my room and got ready to go. With the rain, I changed into my khakis and shirt with my sweater. The khakis are L.L. Bean and lined with flannel. I also get them scotch guarded regularly at the dry cleaners which not only keeps stains off, but wicks away moisture.
My socks are moisture wicking like my underwear. My shoes are Mephisto boots, recently resoled and comfortable for walking which is why I brought them on my trip. I add my coat and put my recently acquired food and water into the different pockets. I was about to leave when a thought struck me.
I went in the bathroom and collected the toilet paper, soap and shampoo. Then I took the TV remote control and removed the batteries. AA, they would work in my LED flashlight. I checked the thermostat on the wall and found two more in the non-functioning panel. I put everything in my bags.
I put the rollerboard on the suitcase stand at the end of the bed. I left the closet where my pants were hanging, halfway open. I put a twenty dollar bill on the shelf where the extra blanket had been. I tied the bedding bag to the top of my backpack with a bungee cord. The other tarp was folded and attached to the bottom. My duffel was closed tightly and the spare thermos was full of water.
I put a contractor trash bag around my backpack to keep it dry and made two holes for the straps to go through. I put it on my back and made sure my coat was firmly closed. I added my ball cap to keep some of the rain off me. No sense in getting a cold. I had my small umbrella in my outside pocket.
I opened the door and looked out and saw nobody around. The office was situated so they couldn't see my room unless the clerk turned and specifically looked. I left the key hanging in the lock and hurried around the building to the back parking lot. Afterward, I set off up the main street back toward the interstate and Fort Morgan beyond.
The journey begins
This sucks. That's the only way I can put it. It sucks. The rain is falling steady and even though there is only a light wind blowing, it feels like I am walking in a hurricane. My back pack is riding to the right and I want to redistribute things, but there's no where dry to do it. Even though I'm covered up, I'm still wet. I wish I had a poncho. I wish I had a running mini-van, unlimited gas and a straight road to my home for that matter.
I reach the interstate and rather than go back up 4 to 34, I take the entrance to 76 just to check things out up there. Interesting to say the least.
There are a few cars and eighteen wheelers stopped in the different lanes of the big highway. Nothing is moving. The drivers of the big rigs have clearly stayed with their trucks, I can see them sitting in the front seat or at the very least, can see the steamed up windows.
The cars are all empty though. Nothing has been bothered with though, it looks like a long narrow parking lot. Nobody is standing around or walking like me. I'm uniquely nuts today. I walk for a half an hour a see a sign, Fort Morgan 14 miles. Swell.
I do the math. Rain, walking. Probably four hours. My feet don't hurt, in fact, they feel pretty good. Despite the weather, I feel good all over. I'm doing something that's getting me closer to home. The bad thing is the quiet and the walk leads me to thinking about home. I'm sure my wife is a wreck, especially if the power is off there. We did the best we could to get ready and all I can do is pray and hope for the best.
I'm outside of Wiggins proper and on either side of the road is fields and farms. I can see a few homes far from the road, but mostly, its just big fields of some crop which has already been harvested. From time to time I see a few cows (cattle?) just standing around in the rain. I'm glad it's not colder than it is now which is in the mid-50's.
There are few sounds other than the rain, an occasional crow and the sound of my feet. Then I feel it. I have to go to the bathroom. The other one. I look around but there's no buildings, no shelter, no where but the road and me. And all the gear I'm carrying. Sure, I can set the duffle down, and then take off the pack, but then I have to take off my coat, lower my pants, do my business and then what? Toilet paper is in the pack all wrapped up. This really sucks.
I put down my duffle, my backpack and take off my coat. Now my sweater and pants are getting wet so I take out my umbrella which offers some protection. I pull down my pants on the side of the road and squat down. A few moments later, I realize I have no paper so I have to dig into my pants pocket, (which down around my knees) and find a couple of paper napkins. Afterward, I stand and start getting dressed again, humiliated and determined to do this better next time.
I get my gear together again and start walking, leaving my waste behind on the edge of the road. In my mind, I'm no better than a dog going on someone's front yard and running away. I continue on to Fort Morgan and hope for running water, lights and a big Greyhound bus with my name on it.
Halfway to Fort Morgan, I pass a cluster of three stalled cars and a mid sized delivery truck when someone calls out.
"Hey, you?" they say.
I turn and see a man calling out from the passenger window of a Honda, I stop for a moment, my guard up that this may just be another weirdo.
"Yes, can you tell me if help will be coming soon? I've been here since yesterday and nobody has come along yet." he asked once he had my attention.
"No, there's nobody coming because cars aren't running. I suggest you get out of the car and walk back the other direction to Wiggins and see if someone can help you out." I reply.
"Well that won't do. I need someone to give me a ride or at least get my car running." he said petulantly.
"Won't happen, sorry. Like I said, walk back to Wiggins. Where's everyone else?" I asked nodding at the other cars and truck.
"They left yesterday afternoon as well. I told them to wait, but they went anyhow. I think they went on to Fort Morton or whatever its called. Do you have a working cell phone? I can call triple A and you can be on your way." he said.
"I don't have a working phone and I'm leaving. Good luck." I said walking away.
"Hey, don't your turn your back on me! You need to help me out here! Get back here!" he called.
I shook my head at his sense of entitlement and continued east with his voice calling after me. Not once did he get out of the car and do something, he just sat there and yelled. The road was probably full of people like the Honda guy this morning.
I walked on, the time passed and I finally saw a sign alerting me that Fort Morgan was only five miles further. I had no working watch but figured it was sometime close to noon, not that I could tell with the constant gray skies and rain. I was starting to get hungry so I adjusted my things so my right hand was free and took out the egg and potato sandwich from my pocket. It was cold, but the walk had left me ravished. I ate it in four bites. I took out one of the bottles of water in my coat, took a long drink and finished up with a banana before they ended up squished. I should be in Fort Morgan an hour or so. Who knows?
Two days later
Fort Morgan was a bust, but the people were nice. Brush, no so much. When I made it to Fort Morgan, I went to a fire station as it was the first government building I could find. The firefighters were pleasant, but they had no running equipment. They had no more information about the details of what happened other than all of northern Colorado was affected as far as they knew. Other than that, it was all rumor and hypothesis from people growing more nervous by the day.
I was put up that night in the high school gym where they had managed to get a generator started for electricity and where they were housing locals and refugees alike. They had fresh water distributed with this box contraption used by the football team and served an interesting combination of food which all came from those big number ten sized cans from the grocery store. Baked beans and peaches along with bread. Meat that was in danger of spoiling was in the process of being cooked in big open barbecues underneath quickly erected tents in store parking lots. I had a slice of pork roast, a chicken breast and some sausage. We were allowed to take leftovers which I had no problem with.
I slept inside that night on a fold out cot along with a few hundred other people in the gym, watched over by local police officers and volunteer security guards. I think it was as much to keep us all in one location and from wandering around town than for our protection. Looking back, I can't blame them.
The next morning, after cleaning up, changing and filling my water containers, I braved the rain and moved on to Brush. While the nearby town was working to the best of their ability with nearby Fort Morgan, it was more disorganized. It was suggested that I go back to Fort Morgan for lodging but I went on and found a Days Inn that was still taking guests, which was a liberal use of the word.
The proprietor wanted ninety dollars cash up front for the room and then tried to stick me in a messy place that someone else had just vacated. I demanded another unused room and after some empty threats, he found one but he had to unlock the door with a master key. There was no way for me to lock up my things and leave the room if I wanted which meant I would have to trust this guy or carry my stuff with me around town. Worse, there was no running water, not even a trickle. To save the water still in the pipes and heater, the manager shut off water to all the individual rooms.
By this time, I was too tired and irritated to continue arguing so I made do for the night. I realized that things were too far gone at this point and moving forward, I'd probably have to make do without the remaining creature comforts of pre-Rock life for the rest of my trip.
I also knew that finding a running car, truck or bus was out of the question. I settled on sneaker power for the rest of my trip or at least the foreseeable future. Looking over my maps, my next stop would be far to the south, Limon. It was a jaw dropping seventy five miles away and there was only a couple of towns along the way. I went to the motel office and asked for bottled water but was not given any or the the chance to buy some. I had to risk leaving my things in the room unattended and go across the street to a convenience store where I managed to buy a six pack of half liter bottles for twenty dollars, cash. I didn't want to try for my walk to Limon without plenty of clean water.
I ate a cold dinner in my room while I worked on some shelter designs using my tarp, rope and other things. I could always make a tarp/lean to shelter if there were two trees or even two fence posts available. I could use trash bags as a floor to keep from getting two wet. I was glad I had bought the big cans of Sterno, wet wood would not make a good fire. I tried not to think about my wife and instead tried to send happy thoughts her way, that I was still alive.
I woke while it was still dark out, changed, packed and readied to leave. It was pouring rain and as I wondered when and how I would be able to wash out my clothing, I wished again I had a poncho so I went into the bathroom and took down the shower curtain. I laid it out on the bed, cut a hole in the middle and put it on. With a hank of rope for a belt, I had a ridiculous looking but serviceable poncho that reached almost to my feet. I didn't feel bad for taking it after overpaying the jerk manager for the room. I also didn't feel so bad when I snagged a container of anti-bacterial wipes off the unused housekeeping cart I passed as I left.
I mapped it out and I figured I could get to the little town of Last Chance, which was halfway between Brush and Limon, by nightfall.. Once there, I would either setup camp or see if there was someplace I could rest for the night. For now, the countryside along state highway 71 was dominated by agriculture; farms and cattle.
A couple of hours after leaving Brush, I passed a field where a farmer and another younger man were putting out hay for the cattle from a horse drawn wagon. Both men, wearing heavy rain gear and grim, stoic determination, merely looked up at me as I passed before continuing on with their work. I wondered if that was going to be the new norm for agriculture which would lead to less food production and eventually starvation if something wasn't done. Happy thoughts.
It was approximately thirty seven miles to the aptly named town of Last Chance and I realized as the day wore on, I had been more optimistic than I should have been. It was dark enough with the low clouds and constant rain, but was growing darker as the sun set in the west. There was no sight of the town and I passed only one sign some miles back which informed me I was going in the right direction.
As the light faded, I had no choice but to stick to the road until I found the town. There was no way I was going to have enough light to make a camp, so I had to hope I could find a gas station, restaurant or hotel I could hole up in.
A few miles later, I made out something lighter colored on the ground next to the road so I flipped on my LED light and found a wooden sign laying on its side in the wet grass. My light, alien and foreign in this empty, damp land revealed a hidden signet.
Last Chance Dairy King
The sign was faded and peeling. Not much of an advertisement to draw in weary and hungry travelers except those with a sense of false humility or masochism. I panned my light up and saw there was some structure ahead on the right about a half mile ahead. I plodded on and found myself in a wide spot of the road with a couple of burned down and dilapidated buildings. The Dairy King was there and intact, but it was also locked up and abandoned. There was an overhang in front protecting a small dry area, so I sat down, bone weary and broken.
There was nothing to do but sit and wait for the sun to come up. I took off my bag and set it to the side along with my duffle and the silly looking poncho. I was about to dig around for something to eat when I saw the light bobbing my way from across the highway. I realized I didn't have a weapon of any kind handy and even the hatchet and knife were still in their packaging in the bag. I snagged a wet rock off the ground nearby and steeled myself. The light shown in my face and lowered.
"How you doing?" said a voice.
"Could be worse. Wet, cold and tired." I replied.
"Saw you walking by when you passed the church back there. You can stay the night in the fellowship hall if you're done walking for the night." the stranger said.
"That's very nice of you, let me get my stuff." I said as I stood.
"Name's Jeffries, Tom Jeffries. I'm not the pastor, he's up in Woodrow." said Tom.
"I'm Bill, Bill Staton." I said offering my hand before it was full. "I didn't even see the church." I added.
"Across the road. Lights are out and the fellowship hall's around back." said Tom leading the way. "Last building standing after the fire two years back."
"I didn't know. I was hoping there would be something open here, you're being here was an answer to a prayer I guess." I said.
"That's our job, glad to see we're doing it right." said Tom laughing.
The hall was around back of the simple, one story brick Methodist church. Inside, a Coleman lantern had been setup along with a large LED lantern. There were four other people inside, besides myself and Tom. An older couple, a fifty something woman and her daughter. All were sitting on or standing nearby a number of old army cots which were distributed around the room.
"The cots came from one of our members, he had them out in the barn so they might smell like cow." said Tom.
"No problem, it's a luxury hotel compared to the sidewalk I was about to sleep on." I said.
"You hungry, want some coffee or anything?" asked Tom.
"Coffee would be great, but I don't want to put you out." I replied.
"No problem, brought my camp stove and percolator and made some just a bit ago. Here you go." he said handing me a steaming cup.
"Thank you. Know anything about this mess? The power? The rain?" I asked.
"Probably as much as you if not less." said Tom, "Where did you come from?"
"Salt Lake City, Wyoming, Wiggins, Fort Morgan and finally Brush." I said.
"What you trying to do? Tour the Rockies?" asked Tom.
"No, just get home. Texas." I then gave a quick explanation of how I ended up where I did and my plan.
"You got a long way to go, our prayers go with you. For now, you're our guest. We got some potluck food the women have sent over and we can share with you what we have for your trip." said Tom.
I thank him and ask where I can hang my shower curtain poncho without making too much of a mess. That makes Tom laugh and he shows me the rest room and an unused cot in the hall for me to use.
It technically is "early" by pre-Rock standards and everyone is somewhat happy to have a new face to talk to so the another lantern is added, food handed out and we sit down and socialize.
The older couple are Juan and Esmeralda Sanchez of Albuquerque. The women are mother and daughter, Joanne and Christy Finn of Denver, Colorado. All four found themselves with dead cars three days ago and managed to make it to the church in the last day or so. They have no idea what they will do next other than Joanne who says her husband, Paul, will search "hell and high water" until he finds the two of them. Knowing their route, I believe her when she says it's a matter of time before he arrives, gun in one hand and horse in the other.
As for the Sanchez's, they are both retired, he, the post office and she, from a series of restaurants where she cooked for several years. They have seven children, twenty grand children, two great grandchildren and an angry cat at home waiting for them. If each of those kids and grandkids heads in one direction, I figure they'll find Juan and Esmeralda in a day. I tell them and they laugh.
Tom is a retired rancher and now helps out at the church, the school in Woodrow and a dozen other places that a rural area is pressed to maintain. His work is cut out for him. I ask him how the church became an impromptu shelter.
"The Sanchez' car broke down a few miles from here. They were sitting at the Dairy King probably like you were. I was on my horse helping a neighbor look for some head that went through a fallen fence and figured they needed help more than some dumb cows. So there you have it. I got them to the church, spread the word and here we go, just doing His calling now that He's turned off the lights. Can't hide that lamp under a bushel can we?" said Tom with humility.
"I have a sister in Houston." said Joanne to me.
"No, I don't know her." I said before she could finish. "There are a hundred million people in Texas and when we're not checking our oil wells or riding horses, there's not much time to meet new folks."
Joanne stops and then laughs when I wink at her.
"Seriously, I'm sorry for being a smartalec, I've been trying to get home... for what feels like a year.... and I really needed to be .... normal for awhile." I said laughing myself, probably a little too loud and too long.
The room gets quiet when the laughter dies and the tears come down. It's getting to me. No sleep, the walking, the rain, it's too sudden. I want to be back at the Dairy King overhang alone and eating Vienna sausages. They surround me and that's enough. The lifeboat's leaky, but we're alive and together.
I spent half the night talking to Tom about life, my family, the rain, the rock, everything. I was so caught up in getting from one place to the next, to acquiring food and water, to finding a place to sleep that I was in danger of losing myself and who I really am. I need to get home and I will, but not at the expense of my soul.
The following morning, Tom had a surprise for me. Around nine (according to the pocket watch one of the men had), two men arrived on horseback at the church. Like Tom, they lived nearby, were church members and stopped by to spell Tom and bring supplies if needed. Tom spoke with one of the men for a few minutes and the man rode off. He returned soon after with two more saddled horses. After coffee and breakfast, Tom took my things and tied them onto one of the horses.
"Tom, what are you doing?" I asked.
"Giving you a lift down to Limon. I have a friend down there we can stay with tonight, but this will get you home a day earlier I figure." he replied.
"Tom, I don't know how to thank you. At least let me give you some money for feed or something." I protested.
"No, keep your money, besides, it might not be worth anything in a few days anyhow. Ever ridden before?" he asked.
"Sure, a few times." I said.
"Good enough, let's go." said Tom.
We set off soon after for the thirty something mile trip to Limon. Tom said we would probably stop a couple of times to rest the horses as well as walking them part of the way. He figured we would not get to Limon until after nightfall, but his friends home was north of Limon and he knew they way in dark or light. The ride gave us some time to talk about things and what the future may hold.
"What do you think will happen?" I asked.
"If the power's off all over the country, than this will be a hard winter." said Tom.
"What about overseas? What do you suppose happened there?" I asked.
"I figure China went after Iran and Russia or India took offense with that and took a poke at China. This power outage was probably caused by one of them as well. They don't need to drop bombs on our cities anymore to take us down." he replied.
"Just enough of a kick in the gut to get us out of a larger fight. How about you? What will you do?" I asked.
"Me? I'm retired and older than dirt. My wife and I live on our own land, have horses to get around on I guess. Living out here we should have enough food put away for this winter and we will put in another garden in the spring. That's all well and good, but don't do nothing about shoe leather, coffee or anything else that comes from the store. I guess we'll take it one day at a time." Tom said with a wry smile.
"My wife always freaked out about this kind of stuff. She was the worry wart and maybe that paid off. I told you last night she went to the stores and got a big order of firewood when this happened. I hope the kids are keeping her head on straight." I said.
"My wife was always worried I was going to get cancer. Sent me to the doctor twice a year and had me get all those tests. Doesn't run in my family, I've never done anything like smoke or such that will cause cancer and I've never been sick a day in my life, but I did it anyway. I haven't been diagnosed with cancer yet so she's happy with it." said Tom.
I looked at Tom for awhile and understood what he was saying. When I got home, if I got home, I was going to spend more time with the wife and kids. I've been traveling too much lately and working even more than before. That would change.
We arrived outside Limon late that night and went to Tom's friend who also had a ranch. His name was Arthur Jackson and he welcomed us into his home for the night. I slept in the living room on a couch while Tom took the bed in the spare room. The next day his wife made a big breakfast for us both before sending us on our way, Tom back north and I on to Lamar by way of Hugo and a few other stops.
I thanked Tom and the Jacksons for their hospitality and help. Mrs. Jackson made sure my water bottles were full and gave me some homemade bread for my trip. I left Limon and walked toward 287 and toward home.
The stench of death
The dogs left an hour or so ago, probably on the scent of something else or bored at waiting for me. I sat inside of the abandoned Hyundai craning my neck in each direction until I felt safe enough to open the door a crack and check to see if they had really left.
I was three days out from Limon on 287, memories of Tom and the Jacksons long behind me when I heard the dogs. There were three of them, stray, mutts and hungry. There were cars and trucks left on the road and I made it to the Hyundai as it was the closest, but offered the least room. The dogs stood on hind legs, nails scratching the windows, growling, snapping, teeth bared. For several hours they wouldn't leave and I made the mistake of opening the door which only brought them back. I managed to shut the door just in time.
It's still raining and I got myself and my gear into the car, but my shower curtain poncho was trapped in the door. I took it off, but the dogs had shredded the part outside leaving me with half now. I'd figure it out. My feet were muddy and I was wet. And I had to go to the bathroom. I couldn't hang out the window, so I had to go in the car. Now it stunk of urine and I was stuck waiting until these damn mutts went away.
Eventually, they did but half the day was gone so I moved to another car nearby, this one a minivan. It smelled like Doritos, but offered much more room. I settled into my routine. I stuck a plastic bowl outside to fill with water and when that was done, I poured it through two coffee filters stuck in a funnel in the mouth of a two liter soda bottle. I learned a few days ago to filter the rain water as it had a fair amount of debris. That's probably China or some other country coming down with the rain I tell myself. After running the water into the soda bottle, I added a few drops of bleach and let it sit. Then it would go into my pot heating over a can of Sterno to boil.
I had done this same thing this morning and added the boiled water to my Stanley thermos along with a cup of rice, a bullion cube and some bits of beef jerky. Now I scooped that out into my plate, swished a little water inside to get the rest out and had dinner. The newly boiled water was added to the thermos along with a cup of oatmeal, a spoon of powdered milk and some dried fruit. Breakfast would cook while I slept and be ready in the morning.
Lunches were usually a can of something, crackers, some dried fruit and a protein bar or chocolate. I tried to avoid using my Sterno except in the morning and night to make it last. I had been lucky getting meals in Fort Morgan and Last Chance as they stretched my food supplies. The town of Hugo, nothing more than a wide spot in the road, made it clear they had nothing and sent me on my way.
It was over one hundred miles to Lamar and after three days, I was only thirty four miles into my journey. The dogs cost me a day and fifteen miles. They were also a reminder that time was against me. My next destination was Kit Carson, CO, but I was less than half way there. I did the math against my food and it would work. I hope there is something I can buy, beg or borrow.
I spent the night in the mini-van, the rain pounding on the roof. The non-stop rain was making a mark on the land as well. Washouts were full blown creeks, rivers torrents and mud slides a constant threat Yesterday, I passed a section of 287 that had partially washed away leaving the road down to one lane. Reservoirs I passed were full and overflowing. Farmland was soaked and cut with rivulets ruining late season crops.
I reached Kit Carson two days later and basically received the same greeting as Hugo. There were no stores or other businesses open and the town had organized crews to scour the surrounding roads for vehicles carrying anything of value. I was okay on food for the time being, so I took their advice and kept on moving. I found that every car I passed afterward for the next ten or so miles had been broken into, pilfered and in many cases, vandalized. Most of the vehicles were left with broken windows, doors and trunks open.
My next destination was Lamar, but first I had to see a couple of things which still disturb me when I think about them and what I did. A couple of days after passing through Kit Carson, I came to a wide spot on 287 where the road crossed over a washout. I saw that a pickup truck had gone off the road at some point in the recent past and it was now wedged against the tunnel that ran under the road. With the rain, that tunnel was now overflowing and clogged with the wrecked truck and other debris.
I went over to the truck to see if there was anything useful when I saw him. The driver's body was still in the front seat, leaning over sideways towards the steering wheel. I was about to walk away when I noticed some stuff on the front seat and I figured I might as well check it out.
The doors were wedged with mud and debris, so I climbed into the bed and wrenched open the back window. The smell hit me and made me gag. Having come this far, I pressed on and holding a rag to my face, I looked inside the cab and saw a gym bag. I dragged it out the window and sat down to examine the contents. It turned out to be the driver's work stuff including a blue company logo shirt, a pair of dark blue pants and some toiletries. The clothing all smelled pretty bad having been in the truck cab with the decomposing driver for so long so I had no intention of taking them with me. In the bottom of the bag, I found last item.
It was a soft sided case and I knew exactly what it held just not the model. It turned out to be a Ruger SP101 chambered in .357, loaded and with a plastic baggie containing an extra ten rounds. The gun would come in handy especially if I had to deal with wild dogs or worse. The problem was taking it from a dead guy who probably lived nearby and whose family had no idea what happened to him. I wasn't about to dig through his pants for a wallet or ID, but I could take down the licence plate number and the name on the work shirt and pass it along to a cop or sheriff if I ever found one.
I turned the gun over in my hands before dropping it into my coat pocket, the baggie of extra rounds in the other. I returned the bag to the truck cab and walked away.
The next day I came across six bodies alongside the road. All had their hands zip tied behind them and a single bullet hole through the back of their head. I wondered then as I do now what did those six people do to earn an execution style death? Who know?
Ever cautious, I broke off the smaller blade on my truck stop pocket knife, wrapped a small amount of duct tape around one end and inserted it into a slit in the back of my belt. If I was tied up like that, I wanted a chance to get lose.
Afterward, I slept in abandoned cars for the next two nights until I made it to Lamar, Colorado.
On to Lamar
I reached Lamar and was running low on food. I was eating more than I planned and half my rice was gone as was half the oatmeal, most of the dried fruit and all of my protein bars and crackers. I was wringing out my socks nightly, but did not have a truly dry pair so my feet were always wet except for night time when I took off my shoes and socks and put on my sneakers or went barefoot.
I took my chances and entered town looking for anything open. I eventually found the town police/fire station where the only officer on duty told me I could swing by the town rec center to see if there was anything I could find there. I forgot to mention the dead guy in the truck though and I wondered if I did that intentionally. Who knows? When I arrived at the rec center, I was shown the main room where stranded travelers were waiting and it was pretty depressing. I asked if there was any food I could buy or trade for and they directed me to the only open store in town.
When I found that place, I learned that the proprietor was trading locals food for valuables, namely gold or silver coins or jewelry. I only had my wedding band which he was not interested in so I left empty handed. I went back to the rec center and took them up on their offer of a night inside and the chance to dry out my clothing. There was food; chicken broth with canned corn added and some stale crackers. I asked if there was anything I could to do for repayment and they handed me a mop. I mopped the main hallway where everyone was tracking mud and then went to sleep on a cot with the others.
Lamar is very near the border of Kansas and just north of Oklahoma. The next town I would come to was Springfield which would then lead to the Oklahoma border. The person working at the rec center told me that travel between Lamar and Springfield was relatively safe, but south of there were reportedly problems with road gangs. That was the first I heard of that activity. The rec center employee felt bad about the food situation and gave me a two pound bag of brown rice, some more oatmeal and a few pounds of pinto beans. He also found me a three pack sleeve of Sterno in a cabinet that had been left behind from a wedding. Offering to do work the night before paid off.
After sleeping in a room with a few dozen other stinky, snoring people, I left early the next morning for Springfield.
I lost my duffle bag which contained ten of my liter water bottles, my dry sneakers, work out clothing and a few other things. But I'm alive and I still have my main pack, my two quart water thermos, three liter water bottles, a few smaller bottles and all my food. I call that a win.
They were cleaning out an abandoned eighteen wheeler and I didn't see them until it was too late. There were four of them, all armed, tattooed and and nasty looking. They didn't care that I was a guy with dirty clothing, muddy shoes and twenty pounds lighter than when I left home, they just saw that I had stuff and they wanted it.
I backed off and starting running back the way I came but one of them was faster. He caught up with me and grabbed the back of my coat slowing me down long enough for the others to join in. I swung the duffle around and hit him in the face. That gave me time to get the Ruger out of my pocket and fire off a round in the direction of the other three. They all stopped and we played poker. Now what? I didn't stick around to find out. I backed off hurriedly and went back the way I came.
The four were armed, but they didn't take a shot at me. They simply picked up my bag and went back to looting the truck. Shortly afterward, I heard a number of motors kick to life and from a safe distance watched as three four wheelers and a dirt bike roared off to the south. I waited for a few hours before staring my journey again.
Two days later, at Boise City, Oklahoma, it was a different story altogether. The town was an armed camp with locals manning a barricade blocking 287 in both directions. No, I could not enter the town and was instructed to go back the way I came or find another way around. I ended up backtracking a few miles, finding a local gravel road going east and taking it until I found another going south. I passed a few farm houses, one of the residents of which took a pot shot at me. I ended up east of the intersection of 287, 412 and 56 and waiting until dark to rejoin the road out of the sight of the barricade guards.
A day or so later, I was about five miles from the Texas border when I was "arrested".
It was late afternoon and I was close to the border and for my mental well being, wanted to cross over into my home state before bedding down for the night. Just shy of my destination, I heard the motor coming down the road behind me and I took cover behind some scrub brush. They had a spotlight on the car and when I didn't come out from behind the bushes I was hiding in, they lit up the area around me and fired a burst from a rifle. That was enough to convince me to come out and say "hi".
I don't know how they got their Crown Victoria running, it ran rough and wasn't much to look at but it was a working vehicle. They both wore floor length dusters, cowboy hats with plastic covers. And both were armed, one with a .40 caliber semi-auto and the other with a AR style rifle so you'd understand why I thought they were cops. One searched my bag while the other went through my coat. They took the Ruger, my knives and my hatchet. They dumped out the last of my oatmeal on the road out of meanness I think.
I was put in the back of the Crown Vic, my gear thrown in the trunk and we rolled away into the late twilight of the day. A short time later, they pulled into a compound with a chain link fence that said Agriculture Facility and some other stuff, but that was all I was able to read. They had lights and the place was lit up like a Christmas tree.
We parked in a dirt and gravel lot full of similar cars and next to a big building with some type of barn behind it. I was pulled out of the car, but as I stood, fell backward but caught my balance. It was then I put the bottom of my shoe against the side of the car marking it with the sole. I wanted to know which car I was brought here in as my stuff was still in the trunk.
I was brought inside the building and as my eyes adjusted to the idea of artificially produced light saw that the hallways and some of the rooms were crammed with boxes of food, pallets of drinking water, guns, suitcases, bags, and odd ball stuff like a mannequin wearing a fur coat, a set of chrome wheels and a life size stuffed moose head. These guys had some odd tastes in evidence.
I wasn't booked though. A third guy, dressed like he rest, asked me some questions, took my wallet, ID and all my money and I was hustled out the back door and into the big barn structure. The doors were unlocked and I was taken down a long, concrete corridor surrounded by animal pens on both sides. Many were occupied by sadder looking people than me, all tied up, dirty and forgotten about. I was led to the furthest pen in the corner of the building, shoved inside and the chain link gate locked behind me.
It was dark in the pen, but I felt around with my foot and found a small drain in the floor. The walls on either side were wood slats and metal with the inside wall raised about six inches off the ground. The gate was chain link but the back wall interested me the most. It was solid metal and wood slats, but again, was raised off the ground about six inches. The bottom slat was wood with a one inch pipe running the length of the wall.
If someone were able to kick out the wood slat and bend the pipe out of the way, they could slide under the wall and be outside the barn. Now there might be another fence on the other side of that wall or a whole bunch of those cowboy guards outside, but that was a chance worth taking. I could kick out that slat with my feet, but I'd need my hands free to move the pipe, but both were tied behind my back with a zip tie.
I shuddered at the thought of zip ties and head wounds and felt around my belt for the slit. I carefully pulled the broken blade out by the duct tape side and used the exposed inch and a half of sharpened steel to cut the tie loose. Once off, I stowed the blade back again in case it was needed. That was when I heard the voice.
"Hey." it hissed to my left.
"Hey, yourself." I replied.
"Where you from?" it asked.
"Texas, what about you?" I said.
"Shreveport, name's David. Trying to get home like you I bet." he said.
"You have that right. You want to get out of here?" I asked.
"Sure, what you got in mind?" David responded.
"I think we can break out the bottom slat in our cells to the outside wall and squeeze underneath." I said.
"Sound great, but the slats on my wall are all metal." said David.
"Can you squeeze into my cell?" I asked.
"Probably, be hard with my hands tied, but I can try." he said.
"Hang on. Get down on the floor and watch for it." I said. I removed the knife blade and slid it under my cell wall.
"Hey, I see it, let me see if I can pick it up." said David.
I watched as a cluster of dirty fingers took hold of the blade and soon after, the plastic tie fell to the floor. A face appeared at the gap and a man squeezed under the cell wall into mine.
"Thanks," he said as he held out his hand.
"No problem, name's Bill, let's get out of here." I said shaking his hand briefly.
We ended up on our backs, knees up to our chest and both kicked out at the same time. The slat popped out and hung sideways on the wall. Next, we both took hold of the pipe and pulled upward. It easily bent and then popped out of the connector.
"Who are these guys?" I asked while we worked.
"Criminals, nothing more. They steal stuff on the road, from warehouses and kidnap people. They either sell you or try and find someone who will pay to get you back." said David.
I stuck my head under the wall and did not see anything in either direction or in front of us, but it was pitch black and raining so I expected the worse.
"Okay, I planned the escape, I get first dibs on what we do next." I said. "Once I get out, I'm going left and around the building. You have to go right and don't come my way unless you are fenced in. Same for me, deal?"
"Got it. If we go different directions, there's less a chance we'll both get caught and one of us might get away if not both." said David.
"Exactly. Let's not waste time, good luck, hope you make it back to Shreveport." I said shaking his hand once more.
"Same here, take care." said David and we both slipped out into the rainy night.
I stood and started running to my left, keeping the wall within an arms reach to guide me. In a few moments, I was soaking from the rain now that I didn't have my rain coat any longer. Mud clung to my shoes but I kept going regardless of the speed. I came to the end of the barn and looked around the corner. The barn extended further than the building they originally brought me into and I could make out the parking lot where the Crown Vic had parked.
I moved cautiously the thirty or so yards until I reached the lot. I could see the cars clearly now that the lights from the front of the building lit them. I dropped when I heard a car door slam and two more cowboys walked toward the building laughing. I waited until they went inside and then started checking the lot.
It took me a few minutes before I found the car they brought me in. The doors were unlocked and I popped the trunk open from inside. I pulled out my coat and pack when I saw the stuff underneath. There was a cardboard box, a partial flat of bottled water and some other bulky objects. I opened the box and felt the plastic wrappers. I had a good idea what they were so I took the whole box out and set it on the ground. Next, I grabbed the bottled water flat and put it on the ground next to the other box.
I dug down in the trunk one last time and felt the composite rifle butt. I carefully removed it and left only the spare tire and some tools in the trunk. Working quickly, I loaded by pack with the plastic packages and bottles of water. When there was no more room, I shoved bottles into the pockets of my pack until I had them all. I crawled up to the passenger side of the car and opened the front door. Looking around in the split second illumination of the dome light, I stabbed the button in the door frame and killed the light.
From the floor, I grabbed a medium sized cardboard box and from the console, a heavy load bearing vest. I was pushing my luck at this point so I took the vest in one hand, the box in another, my pack on my back, the gun dangling by its strap and made a break for the edge of the gravel lot furthest from the building. There was a slight incline to a wash that was now three quarters full of running water and where I crouched down.
The box had several full magazines for the rifle I presumed as well as two boxes of spare cartridges. The vest pockets were full as well, so I shoved the magazines and ammo into my pockets both of my pants and in whatever room was left in my coat. There was no time to take off my pack and coat and don the vest, so I draped it over my shoulder, kicked the empty cardboard box into the washout and started running toward the entrance to the lot.
I passed the sign and went right into the darkness. It was ten minutes or so later I heard a car start, some voices yelling and soon after, a half dozen gun shots. I kept running and darted into the scrub off to the side of the road. I ran away from the building until the light faded and my side was about to split. Then I walked until dawn.
On the road again
I sat behind an old billboard under my tarp inventorying what I had liberated from those thugs. There were twelve MREs, fourteen half liter bottles of water, one AR-15, ten thirty round magazines from the box, four more from the vest, forty loose rounds of 5.56, a scope for the rifle, a fixed blade knife, an LED flashlight, two signal flares, a non-working radio, a pair of handcuffs, a cleaning kit for the rifle and a retractable baton.
My stuff in the pack, including my remaining canned and dried food, the water bottles, Stanley thermos, two quart thermos, bleach and other things were still in the pack. Only my hatchet and knives were missing. That and the revolver which seemed tainted to me. Ever since I found that cursed thing events had gone poorly. I was glad to be rid of it.
I repacked and found my way back to 287, but walked in the damp grass and rain some yards off to the side. I entered Texas that afternoon and set my sights on home.
The following days passed quickly. I made it to Stratford, Texas and there, learned some good news. The state and limited resources of the federal government were coming into play including getting power back to some locations that were not as badly effected by what was known to be an EMP attack on the country. Most of the western U.S. was effected but not much of the midwest or south. The eastern U.S. was another matter as an D.C. was bombed by a nuclear weapon, but not much else was known. I think some of the people I spoke with embellished details for their own reasons.
The road gangs were working the periphery of the functioning areas taking advantage of aid and relief efforts. It made sense. There was no working transportation for people though, only for troops and stuff needed in hard hit areas. Nobody wanted to talk about the west coast for some reason or another.
I made another leg of my journey from Stratford to Dumas a day or so later and wrangled a bed for the night in the town rec center. The next morning, I refilled water containers and headed south to Amarillo, a major hub for relief convoys going west. That trip took two days by foot. I went to the first hospital I could find and was told again there was no transport for civilians. Displaced civilians were to go to refugee centers or make their way home by whatever means they could find.
It was 364 miles from Amarillo to Dallas. My home was another twenty miles past that point, so I started walking again. I was able to get some oatmeal, rice and a few other things at some point and water was for the taking as long as you could clean it. Over the next two weeks, my clothes got wetter, one of my shoes fell apart, at least two people took pot shots at me, I was pestered by some coyotes, stray dogs, followed by a weird guy for a few hours who thought he was related to me and finally, offered a warm bed and a meal by some woman who had other things on her mind. I opted for sleeping outside far away from her strange advances.
When I reached Denton, I came to my first town in weeks that had power, but no working telephone. The cellular system was down, probably for good and the land line system had so much interference it was called the squawky box. I was directed to a refugee center by a uniformed officer who stared at the AR I was openly carrying as if he were trying to burn holes in it with his eyes. I thanked him and left town.
Two days later I was close to home. I saw a lot of burned houses in Dallas which made me was glad we didn't live there. We lived on four and a half acres to the east and are surrounded by similar sized lots in a small community. It was nice but strange to be near home, and I was nervous. I arrived at the front door early in the afternoon. My wife knocked me over with a huge hug after she opened the front door.
A good part of southern China including Hong Kong is under water. The Phillipines, Indonesia, Malaysia, southern Thailand and other places exist only on maps and globes. We no longer refer to Beijing because its not there anymore. Neither is Tehran, Moscow, Pyongyang or Washington D.C. Austraila is a military dictatorship.
San Francisco is an island, well what's left of it. Half of Los Angeles is buried under mud from the hills or under water from the sea. The aircraft carrier Midway is now on top of the Holiday Inn across the street from its last berth in San Diego. The Hoover dam is broken and hardly anyone is foolish enough to live in Las Vegas any longer.
The capital of the U.S. is in Omaha now. The president disappeared a few days after the Rock landed and after it was revealed one of his advisers had ties to Iran and allegedly knew something about what Iran was up to. The new president wasn't a member of any political party, he is just really good at getting things done. And there's a lot to do and time to do it. Facebook, Yahoo, and Google aren't around anymore. Neither is texting but writing is making a comeback.
It didn't stop raining until the following spring. Even then, the days are shorter because there's so much junk in the atmosphere. The upper midwest and New England were the least effected so the country grows a lot of food up there. Potatoes are more common than grain. Michigan is thriving again.
We had enough basics in the house to go for two years as long as one like pinto beans and rice. We had a garden, first in the green house and later expanded to the front yard, back garden, side yard, neighbor's yard, their neighbor's yard and so on. We're essentially vegans by chance with the exception of eggs and an occasional yard walker, squirrel or rabbit.
I still have nightmares and occasionally, go stand outside for long periods of time. Every now and then, I put up a tent and sleep in the yard where I feel safer. I have no idea why. Who knows anything anymore?
Sometimes, I take out my backpack, now with only one strap remaining and look at what's inside. There's my broken shoe, some dried fruit rolling loose in the dark recesses, a used up roll of duct tape, an empty Bic lighter and some soap with a hotel chain name on the label. There's also a single can of Vienna sausages long forgotten. And no, I won't eat them, they're still gross.
at 5:10 PM