With this chapter, I’d like to share with you gentle readers, an incident that can happen to any of us, but we seldom think of or prepare for. Trust me when I say we were scared.
As the new year of 2015 swept in, Melinda found herself accepting a new job in a new city: Houston, Texas. Despite a long and diligent job search, nothing local to Youngsville had turned up, and in her industry Houston was the place to be. The early days of 2015 found us scouring Houston for an apartment located close enough to her new job so that commuting would not be an issue, and we found a small but decent apartment in the dense urban sprawl of an old Houston neighborhood community. We rented a Uhaul trailer and packed up some furniture, a sort of ‘starter kit’ of housewares for her to have in the new place.
Of course, there is no parking to be had in this new location so Tallulah Belle stayed at our house in Louisiana. This was not an ideal situation but we had no other choice and no where else to store her, at least for now.
Covered in a new extra heavy duty tarp and secured against the elements, Tallulah Belle was nominally secure there but being a four hour drive away, complicated the planning and driving needed when we wanted to go on a trip. A better solution soon was worked out–we would store the trailer at my family ranch in central Texas, where it would be under cover, completely secure and much closer to Houston. A quick turnaround trip to Louisiana in early March happened and I towed Tee Girl to Houston, in order for us to make the trip to the ranch the next day. As Friday, March 6, 2015 dawned we were set to make the drive as soon as Melinda had finished her work day. The always-volatile March weather in Texas was mild and damp in Houston and southeast Texas, but a cold front was in place over the northern reaches of the state. The various weather sources indicated that temps would be in mid 30’s in the Central Texas area later that night. Nothing to worry about, right?
We left at about 6 PM that evening and fought our way through the stranglehold of Houston rush hour traffic, and after about 90 minutes our route had become standard two lane state roads twisting through many small towns. As we travelled, we heard a radio station reporting high 20’s temps had developed as far south as Temple, Texas (one of the waypoints on our trip) so we ratcheted up our caution and drove on. By the time we had reached Temple, we were greeted with swiftly falling temps and the threat of light rain or mist. (OH JOY!!) Another hour north and we passed through Gatesville, Texas, there was now heavy mist in the air and the temp was 26F. We were only thirty miles from our destination so we kept driving cautiously, while outside town the terrain becomes hilly as it ascends to the elevations of the central Texan regions. We were now on high alert, but the roads had been good and so we kept moving. Until we started to hit patches of black ice.
Black ice occurs when light condensation falls in freezing conditions and the road is glazed over without showing visible signs of ice. We suddenly felt the truck and trailer shimmy as we drove over patches of alternately glass-smooth and normal highway. Being that it was now after midnight, the road ahead promised to be only more treacherous, and we were fast getting into completely icy roads, we pulled over to turn around, but due to road conditions we had to back up on the shoulder for about two hundred yards in order to get to a spot with enough traction to turn back around.
Once we had accomplished this, we started out again, to return to Gatesville and spend the night in the camper until the icy conditions had improved. We got up to road speed (50 mph) and just then began ascending a fairly steep hill. With a sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, I could tell that we had completely lost traction and would NOT make the crest of the hill. We slowed to a stop a few hundred yards from the crest and despite my stomping the brake pedal into the floorboards, the road was so slick that we began sliding BACKWARDS down the hill, with the trailer slewing into the oncoming lane and us finally coming to rest blocking both lanes. The tires spun helplessly when power was applied, and we were unable to more at all. We were just on the blind side of a long slope and an oncoming 18 wheeler or car would have NO CHANCE to brake or stop after cresting the hill, but would have plowed directly into us.
To recap: After midnight on a iced over deserted Texas road, unable to move at all, blocking both lanes on the blind side of an incline and just waiting for the next vehicle to crest the hill.
We got on the phone and called the county Sheriff’s office to tell them of our predicament and I tried to get out of the truck, at which point I quickly found myself on my butt in the road, the surface being like a wet hockey rink. As I attempted to talk to the dispatcher on the phone, a set of headlights pulled up behind us and crept up to our truck. A fellow came sliding over the ice toward us and identified himself as a local resident and said that his four wheel drive truck would probably be able to get us out of the road, but he had nothing to pull with. I cobbled together a tow line from cargo straps and bits of poly rope and tied onto his truck. Melinda had retrieved the bag of cat litter in the bed (we travel with cats.. OF COURSE we have cat litter!) and broadcast litter under the wheels of our truck to get a small bit of traction. With his truck pulling, we slow-w-w-w-wly straightened up and began to creep up the hill, finally rolling over the crest…just in time for an 18 wheeler to come barreling along right where we had been a moment earlier.
We thanked the fellow for hauling our rig to safety (and us as well), and so started back to Gatesville to wait out the icy roads. We had no further encounters with black ice on our way back to town, and decided to stay in the Wal-Mart parking lot since it was well lighted and there was a 24 hour store handy. Once there, we bought a gas can and filled it at the gas station, set up an impromptu camp on the edge of the lot, and I broke out the generator and fired it up to give us some power. The heater inside warmed up the camper in minutes and we finally were able to settle down about 3 AM to catch some sleep.
The next day we awoke to icy, slushy conditions and mist still falling, and it was mid afternoon before the temperature had warmed enough for road conditions to improve. We crept back onto the road to finish the long trip to the ranch and finally arrived just before dark.
Note the filthy road grime and dirty icicles on the sides. Sorry that the pics are sideways, there were correct when loaded into the queue.
The next day we stored the camper and wrapped it up against the elements to wait for our next camping adventure. Poor Tee Girl was absolutely filthy, covered in road grime and sludge from the icy roads and caliche mud we had plowed through to get to the ranch. Clean up would be oh-so-fun, but that could wait until the next time we went camping. At least we, the cats and the camper were all safe.
We never, never thought that icy roads would be something we would have to deal with, in TEXAS of all places, but folks, the awful feeling of powerlessness when you are totally at gravity’s mercy is something I hope that you never have to experience for yourself. If you are travelling and especially towing a camper on icy roads, BE FREAKING CAREFUL!
Thus endeth the lecture.