If the events of this first day on the road are a reflection of things to come, then I definitely got what I asked for when I said I wanted an adventure.

Our morning started great. TJ cooked us some super pepper and asparagus omelettes and we had some coffee before leaving. We left Pensacola near 9am and the humidity was smothering but the temperature was still bearable. We puttered along, following I-10, really admiring all that ‘scenery’ along this stretch of highway. It was gradually getting hotter but we were still riding with the windows rolled down. The first couple of hours of the trip were uneventful.

And then we hit Mississippi. Their sign boasts ‘Welcome to Mississippi: It’s Like Going Home’.

Well, I was welcomed ‘home’ with a speeding ticket. I wasn’t checking the speedometer much and the car has been running so smoothly since I got the wheel bearing fixed so it wasn’t always evident when I was approaching 80. I was mostly just relying on the driving speed of my fellow motorists. I was in a line with maybe 4 other cars and I noticed they all started slowing and switching to the left lane. I saw that there was a car parked on the side of the highway and I couldn’t tell that it was a statie. I began slowing, but it was too late. Being the last car in the lineup of speeders, I guess it was easiest to nab me. He had turned on his lights before I even passed him.

The officer approached the car, said ‘good morning’ and asked for my documentation. It was with shaky fingers that I handed over my license (I haven’t been pulled over for nearly 6 years). He told me I was clocked at 78 in a 65 and I just blurted ‘I’m sorry’ as he walked away. He returned with a ticket and my license and pointed to a number at the bottom that he told me to call and said good day. I’m pretty sure I thanked him 3 times, which just seemed ridiculous to me as I was pulling away. I obviously haven’t had much practice in socializing with enforcers of the law, especially when I’m in trouble, mind you.

I was a little shaken up and Ingo asked if I wanted him to drive, but I told him no. This was largely based on the fact that my hands were still shaking and I figured that if I had to grip the steering wheel guide the car then the whole uneasy, shaky feeling might pass quicker. It didn’t take long for me to feel like myself again. Of course, I was being very careful to check my speed and often drove exactly the speed limit.

At some point we noticed a burning smell like someone had left up the emergency brake and started driving, so I checked mine and it was in its proper position. Ingo sniffed the air outside and the air coming through the a/c vents and said he didn’t think it was the Fox. We pulled over anyway to pop the hood and take a quick look. Everything seemed to be in order and the burning smell went away so I wrote it off as coming from someone traveling in front of us. We pulled back onto the highway convinced that everything was fine.

As I’m sure you may have guessed by now, everything was not fine. Ingo and I were chattering and nearing Jackson when the car suddenly seized up and made a quick, sharp squealing noise. I lost use of my breaks and had to signal and drift into the shoulder until we rolled to a stop.

My immediate thought was that a tire blew out. I couldn’t imagine why else the breaks would fail as they did. We quickly hopped out and inspected all the tires which were intact. We popped the hood and smelled that faint burning smell again. The low oil pressure indicator had alit on the dash so Ingo checked the oil, which was clean and full. I tried starting the car a couple of times but it wouldn’t turn over. Our eyes poured over everything on the surface of the engine and we pulled on hoses to make sure everything was on tight. We looked under the car to make sure nothing was leaking. We were totally puzzled.

We had already convinced ourselves we were going to have to get the car towed to Jackson, so I started calling car rental agencies in the city, not exactly sure what the plan was going to be (one of the scenarios involved having the car scrapped and flying all the way north). Nobody had rentals available. What a weekend for your car to break down, right? We had been sweating in the car for almost an hour when someone pulled up behind us. A wrecker. Perfect.

A guy stepped out sporting dark shades and a bristlecomb mustache, coke bottle in hand (Ingo had noticed there were peanuts fizzling and floating around in the bottle). He asked us what the trouble was and we explained briefly that we weren’t really sure. He leaned over the engine and asked me to crank it a few times. Both Ingo and the stranger stood there brooding over the engine a few moments longer and he asked me to try and crank it again. With this last effort, Ingo furrowed his brow and noted that the a/c belt appeared to be dragging across its pulley and knew that I had previously had it replaced. One of the pulleys that turns the a/c also turns the alternator. Ingo suggested that we just cut it off and with that, the stranger pulled out a knife and sliced through the belt.

I once again leaned over the driver’s side seat and reached out to turn the key. The engine roared to life. I stepped back toward the open hood and saw that the men were grinning. We thanked the stranger for stopping and he plodded back to his trucker, swigging and chomping on his coke and peanuts. I sat in the car, stroked the dash and apologized for threatening to scrap him.

It was nearing 2pm and Ingo and I decided it was a good time to take a break from the road so we stopped at a little Mexican restaurant. Grilled shrimp and sausage quesadillas? Yummy. Once our bellies were full and our bladders were emptied we got back in the car and pulled out on the highway. We drove through Jackson and began heading west for Louisiana. I noticed it was getting a little dark and smelled a little wetness in the air, but we welcomed the clouds. There was an unnerving chill to the air and it felt like the weather had cooled off much more than it should have with cloud cover. I was sure it was going to rain.

We crossed the Mississippi River and were welcomed by a small sign in Louisiana when it began sprinkling. I had only gone about a mile from the bridge when the rain suddenly got very heavy and the wind picked up. We stopped near an underpass (near because there were already other motorists occupying the space beneath it). It rained and the car rocked and I tried to pick up the Weather Channel on my phone to see if there were any alerts for the area. The results for Vicksburg, MS, didn’t show much.

After a few minutes of resting in car I was worried that rocks were being cast at us by passing trucks because there were louding cracking noises on my window. But then there were cracking noises on the windshield, too. I took a closer look at the rain coming down through Ingo’s window and saw something more than just rain. There were pea-sized balls of hail falling from the sky. There wasn’t much at first, but the frequency and size of the hail was increasing. There were times I was afraid my driver’s side window would shatter, it was so loud. As the storm subsided I was finally able to pull up the Doppler Radar for the area and it showed us that the storm was moving in the opposite direction than we were headed.

The rain seemed to slow and most of the other cars that had pulled off had already left. I eased back onto the highway and planned to stay at 40mph until the rain had stopped for sure but had to pull off of the road again within 50 feet because the rain began pelting the car. I checked my phone and it seemed a weather advisory had been posted about the hail and 35mph winds. We sat and waited, a little bewildered by this string of misfortune, and the intensity of the rain increased. Hail fell again for an unknown length of time and the wind rocked the car. We saw a few really good bolts of lightning, scary close, and heard their deafening cracks. And then the rain slowed. And the traffic picked up.

It felt safe enough, so I got back on the road, driving just 30mph this time and headed west, away from the freak hail storm. Within 5 miles of driving we hit totally dry road. The sky brightened and the air warmed again. The storm was behind us.

We didn’t quite make it to Ft. Smith like we had planned and stopped instead in a town outside of Little Rock. It was definitely a hotel night. I was smelly and exhausted and didn’t feel much like pitching a tent. I think we both felt like we deserved it, anyway, with all the chaos that the day had brought. Thank goodness for continental breakfasts with waffles.

Advertisements