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Sunday, August 15th "Hurricanes and other stressful or scary situations"

Having been around N. C. for the passing of 3 hurricanes/tropical storms in just a few weeks opens your eyes a bit and brings back some memories. Thankfully none of the storms have come far inland, which isn’t always the case. Having grown up in N. C. we are used to hurricanes, ice storms, a few tornados and other interesting weather phenomena. While most often the case, the weather isn’t always the culprit when it comes to life threatening or other scary situations. So while I sit here waiting for my return to Sevilla, my home, I thought I would recall some of the bad situations in my travels and life and the lessons I’ve learned. I know you must think I'm suffering here, while visiting family. Well, I am. But it’s not really that bad! I think it was the hurricane that got me on this topic, so here are some situations which have proven to be interesting in my life:

Spring break camping trip
Three of us (of a group of seven) are the first to arrive to the mountains. Unfortunately we are unaware that we can drive to the top of the mountain and hike down to our campsite. We instead park on a deserted dirt road and hike about 2-3 hours up with all of our gear, only to find the new road about 10 minutes from our site. Leaving one person to man the tent, a friend and I head back down the mountain to pick up his car. Easy trip with no gear and all downhill, we’re thinking. Except we get down to the car and my friend has forgotten his keys. In a fit of laziness and not wanting a 2 hour hike back we head down the mountain to sit and wait by the highway for our arriving four friends, sure we will be able to flag them down. We do not expect the heavy rain during our trek, nor that our friends have left 3 hours late. After several hours waiting we spot them, hitch a ride and make our way back up the mountain where our other friend awaits us. Sure that we had died, he was close to hiking down himself to call the police. Having spent the entire day alone, our voices - or anyone’s for that matter - bring a smile to his face. All is good, right? Except for the freak snow storm and 70 mile hour winds which hit us the next morning, a morning in late April. We build a shelter from the wind to start a campfire, deal with leaky tents and some of us sleep in cars. Two straight days are spent in tents keeping warm. We are not leaving, after all of this. Lesson learned: Sometimes it’s better to leave (and don’t forget the car keys when you head down the mountain)

Hell ride
Dumb, a little drunk and with a sports car, a hell ride through a residential neighborhood at 70 mph. Lesson learned:Young and dumb is thankfully a temporary thing.

Lost in Morocco
Seven people with two cars make their way from Marrakech through the high Atlas mountains looking for the Sahara. We decide to follow a sign to the “dunes” and hit the end of the road. A little fellow comes out from behind the hills and offers to take us to a place to stay. Low on gas we decide we‘ll need to stop one way or another and as there are no signs of life near us we take little man up on the offer. Except now he says he must drive one of the cars. After a little discussion we put little man in with the biggest of us sitting next to him. We spend 20 minutes driving through sandy plains as little man quickly switches directions after a glance at random landmarks along the horizon. Soon we arrive at a small building with a few tents. One car is out of gas as we pull in, while the other with gas has a flat tire. After calming down one of our fellow travelers (a kid from California who is convinced we will be killed and robbed) we settle down for tea in a tent with a Berber tribesman. Soon we learn he speaks 5 languages and we manage a friendly conversation. We are led into a small building where we see a guest book signed by people from all over the world. A sigh of relief is heard from our Cali traveler, “Maybe they won’t kill us after all”. Before spending the night we siphon gas from the car with the flat to put it into the other with no flat and two head out in search of some kind of fuel. After an hour they return successful and the tire is soon patched. We enjoy a good meal and a few hours of music from our hosts by the only gas light in the building. The next day (having not been “murdered” by our friendly hosts) we see the sunrise on the dunes after a short camel ride. We get directions back to “civilization” and all is well. Lesson learned: Hindsight on voyages like these is a great thing. Despite the stress we experience during the trip we all look back on the experience as an incredible journey. Oh, second lesson learned is to leave the guy from California behind the next time.

The Atlantic Wall
Three fellows head out fishing in Murrells Inlet, S. C. After a morning of many sandwiches, a few beers and fewer fish a storm begins to move in. We make our way back to the boat landing to get out of the water. Upon putting the boat on the trailer we hear a cracking noise. The trailer, which has seen it’s better days, has broken so the boat cannot be pulled out of the water. In trying to keep the ramp occupied for as little time as possible we hastily put in once again, forgetting that the plug is out. So in backing up the boat my friend realizes it’s slowly sinking. Working through a foot of water he manages to cut his hand but gets the plug in. Bleeding he must take the trailer to the nearest welder before we can take the boat out. All of this time a cold rain is falling, with thunder and lightening in the distance. Leaving me and my other friend we hang on to the concrete sea wall next to the landing as the rain picks up. We hear from others that two tornados have touched down in nearby Myrtle Beach. The thunder and lightening pick up, as I am stuck holding onto the rope of the boat. The tide is rising, I have no rain gear and we keep our eyes on the horizon for any sign of tornados. We realize it could be several hours before the trailer is welded and we are on our way. Thankfully the two hours pass with little more than rain and an occasional lightening strike. We finally get the boat on the trailer and make our way back to the house. I am so cold I can’t stay in the house or any place air conditioned for the next two days. Lesson learned: Hypothermia is very possible on a July day in South Carolina. Another lesson learned: some boat trailers are better put to pasture, as this one was a year later, left for some unlucky soul to claim by a lake in North Carolina.

Hurricane Fran
When you live inland three hours you don't often worry about the effects of a hurricane, at least not the life threatening episodes you think of that occur on the coast. My opinion of that changes significantly in September of 1996 with Hurricane Fran. I lived in a converted chicken coop on an old farm that was pretty much in town in Chapel Hill, NC. I know it sounds bad, but the place is quite nice, with three bedrooms, a living room and dining room. There are windows on every side, looking onto some old farm land and 100 plus year-old oak trees. It was constructed out of leftover parts from the main farm house next door and stands 6 inches off the ground on cinder blocks. While nice, a "foundationless" house surrounded by large oak trees is perhaps not the best place to seek refuge from a hurricane. A friend of mine who did not want to pass the night alone came over and joined myself and my roommate. We spend the first few hours drinking beer and getting ready for the storm. During some high winds my friend and I make our way out in the yard to see what's going on. Trees are bending over and the rain is beating down. After five minutes we go back inside and wait out the storm. An hour or so later we are all asleep and hear a giant thud. It almost seems as if the house was being picked up. After a few minutes of discussion we go back to sleep. In the morning we wake up noticing it's darker than usual even though the sun is shining on one side of the house. We open the door and look to our left to see that one of the hundred plus oaks fell just 10 feet from the side of the house we were all sleeping on. The leaves and limbs had blocked the sun from the entire left side of the house. What were the chances that we were all sleeping in different rooms on this one side of the house, and that this tree would fall so close. A little different gust of wind, or a little different placement of the roots of the tree and we all would have died. The aftermath was less fun - no electricity with well water means no water. No phone, no air conditioning, no gas in our cars and with most of the roads blocked we did figure a way out after 5 hours. We got 5 to 6 people together and headed to the mountains for 3 days until all was repaired and back to normal. Lesson learned: a well constructed house with no trees nearby is generally a better shelter than a chicken coop surrounded by old oak trees. Also, prepare for this stuff by getting gas, cash and having a charged cell phone.

The Ice Storm
Just a few weeks before leaving for Sevilla we experience the worst ice storm in the history of N. C. With little warning we are hit with several inches of ice which knocks out power and downs trees all over the region. We spend 5 days with no electricity, heat or telephone. Everything is closed except for a few stores or restaurants lucky enough to get their electricity restored in the first days. Every hotel with electricity across 25-30 counties, east or west, is booked, so we spend days and nights sleeping in sub-freezing temperatures in our houses. We also spend a lot of time traveling back and forth to houses, making visits for invented reasons, mostly to keep warm in the car. Being inside your home in temperatures below zero is a surreal feeling, as if you were walking through an abandoned building. All traces of life and comfort tend to disappear without electricity, but especially without heat. Lesson learned: Maybe all that panic before a storm is something to think about. As with a hurricane or any possible extended power outage gas, cash and a charged cell phone are like gold.

Summer of 2003 we spend traveling through Ontario after a visit to Niagara Falls, or as we liked to call it Little Vegas for all the lights and other tourist trap establishments. (I need to mention I kind of like the tourist trap carnival atmosphere, like South of the Border in S. C.). As we make our way through the town of Espanola we notice the traffic lights are out. No problem, must be a power outage. We happily make our way back towards Toronto, stopping once for wild blueberries by the side of the road and once again for gas. We pull in behind some people who are waiting at the only pump, but aren't pumping any gas. Instead they are stretching their legs and enjoying a drink. I am of course making smart ass comments about the idiots taking their time at the pump. Soon I give up, racing out of the parking lot and on to the next station. We decide to wait until the next town or city of significant size to gas up and make a stop as we see the gauge on empty. We arrive as the sun is setting and see lines of cars in front of the pumps. We finally inquire about the problem and learn of the blackout covering the eastern U.S. and Canada. We take stock of our resources - a half charged telephone, $20 Canadian, a bag of chips and a little water. We hear rumors it could be 2-3 days before the situation is straightened out. Darkness falls and we settle in next to the gas station next to a shopping mall. Things are fairly calm at first, then some kids pull up and start blasting death metal from their car. Nothing against death metal, but when you're already nervous and contemplating several days stay in a parking lot it's not what you want to listen to. Soon we hear sirens and see that the alarm at the shopping center has been tripped. Two police cars speed through a pitch black parking lot as pedestrians are wandering close by. The news on the radio doesn't offer any insight into the situation and we begin to get more and more agitated. A tanker tuck pulls up alongside the station, here to fill the tanks. Unfortunately this isn't the problem - plenty of gas, just no way to run the pumps - so people begin asking about a way to pump directly from the truck. A crowd gathers around the driver of the truck, but there's no way to get gas directly from it so people head back to their cars. I decide we must get gas somehow, and once the tank is full we will drive until we run out - all the way back to N. C. if possible. Once you start to realize just how bad things can get you always start thinking "home, home, home". Another hour passes by and a cab driver pulls up next to us with some news. Seems there is gas at a place with a generator some 20-25 miles to the west. We have no idea why he decided to tell just us, but we don't wonder too long - we get directions and head out, hoping we have enough gas to make it there. The light had been on for some time before we stopped, so we figure we have maybe 30-40 miles on what's left. If we get lost we'll find ourselves in a worse situation, perhaps on the side of a rural road in the middle of nowhere. We finally arrive at the station where there is a surprisingly short line. The problem now is we only have $20 with which to fill the tank. We begin digging in every pocket and bag to try and find as much money as possible to add to the gas fund. We find another 6 or 7 dollars and fill it up. We make our way back to the interstate where we practice a safe and gas saving 55 mph. Once we get to Toronto we manage to head in the wrong direction by 20 miles and must backtrack on fumes. We locate a hotel after 5 minutes and get some rest. We awake at 7am to the fire alarm. Thankfully that was the end of the blackout experience for us. Lesson learned: Once again it's cash, gas and food that proves most valuable.

Adrift at sea; Tumbling over a wake
Some years later we’re on yet another 4th of July fishing trip, remembering the Atlantic Wall episode. We had a few good days in terms of weather and a few fish were caught as well. We head out from a river south of Murrells Inlet near Georgetown with hope of finding more fish and taking in a little different scenery. After a few hours out things stared to get a little rough – not bad, but the wind is picking up and it might be time to head back to the inlet and some protected waters. As we head out we hear a crack and look back to see our friend holding the steering wheel in the air, as it’s come off the steering column. Within a minute we drop anchor to keep us from drifting into anything of away from anything which may be close by. After 20 minutes of trying to attach the wheel or anything to the column which would allow us to steer we start to notice some clouds on the horizon. Rather than repeat our Atlantic wall episode we decide it’s time for a distress call. While you can call the Coast Guard the first line of “defense”, so to speak, is your fellow boater. So our call goes out for a few minutes and we hear the Coast Guard direct it to anyone who may be in the area. Within 10 minutes we have a volunteer to come pick us up about a mile or so off the jetty. As we sit waiting for them to arrive we hear of a boat which has overturned in the river not far from where we are. Of 5 people only a dog and a young child (wearing his life jacket) are found. The boat and the adults are currently missing. This isn’t the kind of thing you want to hear while stranded in a boat a mile out as the winds pick up and clouds gather around you. You start to think if you could swim to shore (you can’t, at least no with the current that day) and how long you could last in a storm (a long time, although without rain gear you will be cold). Soon enough our fellow boater appears and ties us up using perhaps the thinnest piece of rope for the job. We begin to make our way back to the inlet, all the while shielding ourselves from the rope should it snap and come lashing backwards towards us. Now because it’s a nice day and any boater would prefer to be out fishing, drinking or doing whatever else rather than towing someone back in, our rescuer starts to pick up some speed as we head through the inlet and down the river. I am warned by one friend that should we gain more speed we could drift out of the wake of the first boat and tip over. For a while we increase speed, then it drops back down again. Finally close to the boat landing the boat in front speeds up for the last haul. The driver is keeping his eye on the action in front while we begin to sway back and forth, little by little testing the boundaries of the boats wake. Finally we jump the wake, the boat begins to tip and things start flying, like the wrench that landed on my foot. Thankfully they notice our screams in front and drop speed. For 10 seconds I thought we were going under. Thankfully we don’t and end up safe back at the landing. Lesson learned: an old boat can make for some adventure, no matter how well you care for it. Also, being towed in a boat is scarier than you think, especially if someone is in a hurry. Finally, it’s amazing how solution focused you get once you are adrift at sea with no steering.