Occasionally on our trip, we ventured off the interstate. You can find a lot of authentic American life along these smaller roads.
Like, you know, flash flooding!
It was my idea to leave the interstate. We were passing the little West Virginia town where I spent my “train escapes,” and I really wanted to show it to DJ. Granted, it was a rainy day. Stormy, even. Massive torrential downpours for miles at a time.
But I was sure it would clear up. Or something. Anyway, I asked him to take the exit.
DJ drove carefully along the two-lane highway; the town was two miles down. Within a few hundred feet, we encountered a section of the road that was covered with muddy flowing water.
With traffic in front of us and behind us, we had to keep moving forward. I held my breath as DJ carefully navigated through it. I remembered a video that showed how a road could wash away underneath while still appearing solid on top. The van felt like a million pounds as we eased across the flooded pavement.
I’d barely relaxed when we came to another wide swath of water. Then another. The road was rapidly disappearing underwater, and the rain still fell hard.
The map said we could get back to the interstate on the other side of the town. Only half a mile down the road—past a golf course that was a churning muddy sea—DJ pulled into a driveway for what looked like stock yards.
He announced to the kids, “We’re going to wait here till the rain slacks off. Let’s listen to some music.” Taylor Swift obliged, and the kids went on playing electronics and snacking. DJ then checked the weather while I watched gallons of water rush over the road in front of us.
More rain was coming, he told me in a low voice. What to do? Neither of us wanted to drive back over the road we’d just come from. “If the town is on higher ground, it might be okay,” DJ said.
“I don’t know if it is,” I answered, picturing the little town where I’d taken walks on bright spring mornings… “No wait. A river runs through the town!”
So DJ made the white-knuckled drive back along the flooding road. Taylor sang plaintively about how she knew they’d always walked a fragile line, but never thought she’d live to see it break.
It was only a mile or so. Maybe ten minutes’ driving. I’m not sure either one of us really breathed until we merged back onto the interstate.
In the brief lull before the next torrent of rain fell, we drove past low-lying towns where all the streets flowed with muddy water. I said a prayer for everyone down there, feeling guilty that we were safely on high ground where all the water drained away from us… down into the rivers and towns below us.
About forty miles later, DJ sat back and flexed his hand several times. “What are you doing?” Sparkler asked.
“I was holding the steering wheel pretty tight,” he replied conversationally.
We outran the rain. I listed the mile markers by tens, counting down one hundred miles to home. It says a lot about how much we’ve driven that the kids cheered when we got to “fifty miles to go!”
Now we’re home and about halfway unpacked. Only one kid is awake; after all, it’s 9:30 EST, but that’s 8:30 CST, 7:30 MST, and 6:30 PST—all of which we’ve driven through in the past three weeks. Twice.
I sorted through souvenirs. The kids came home with lots of stuff. DJ bought a sandstone sculpture and a mug. I have a magnet or two, a cup-and-saucer set… and twenty-five rocks.
DJ and I climbed gratefully into our own bed last night. We looked at each other and said in surprise, “We’ve been talking about this trip for sixteen years. And it’s done. We did it. And everybody had a fantastic time.”
So ends The Jones Westward Expedition of 2016.
Thanks for coming along.