August 30, 2011

it only looks like the apocalypse out there

Let's start with a public service announcement. Shall we?

When fleeing from a hurricane, it would be wise not to flee to the place where the hurricane ends up doing the most damage.
With the storm of the century apparently heading our way, Will and I rented a car, threw in the kids, the dog and some make shift (and I do mean make shift) camping gear in the car on Friday and headed north. We had actually planned a vacation during those days and had initially intended on heading to Maine, but with Irene beating her way up the coast line, that didn't seem wise. So instead we went for Vermont. Because how could Vermont get hit? It's inland, right? And six hours north of New York City where Irene would make landfall as well. So we would be safe and having fun instead of being trapped in a small room with no power and rising waters.

Ahem. What's that phrase about the best laid plans?

My Northwest girl roots are almost embarrassed to explain our camping paraphernalia. Since we were on a tight budget and all of our camping gear is locked up in a storage unit in Virginia, we made do with a two man tent we picked up at Target (yes two man tent + two adults + two kids + a dog = slightly cramped sleeping conditions) a portable grill, the top half of my double boiler, the mattress pad, comforter and pillows off of our bed and two pillar candles for light. Let me tell you, when you are set up between folks who seem to have bought out Campers World and have somehow managed to construct a deck on the side of their ginormous camper, a two man tent and a few candles looks a little, um, lacking. But whatever. The pioneers did not have portable heaters, ten by ten foot awnings and a CD player on their picnic table, we didn't need them either.
We spent our first night under blissfully cool (but not cold) weather conditions in Southern Vermont in the Green Mountain Forest and the next day puttering through the woods, canoeing on the lake - with the dog in the boat - and then heading north. You know, away from the hurricane. On our second night, the state campground was full so we stayed at a camp resort which was...interesting. Lots of permanent campers, lots of lights and music and people, and a very loud barn dance going on. And lots of raised eyebrows at our tiny tent and two candles set up. But it was only for one night.

Or maybe just part of a night. Early in the morning the rain started and after lying awake for a while wondering how long the el cheapo tent would hold up, we packed up and snoozed in the car for a few hours. And here begins the hurricane saga.

After trying to wait it out for a few hours in Carol's Cafe in Middlebury - which, by the way, I am so in love with that town I was ready to just buy a house right then and there - and listening to the news only to hear that New York escaped the worst of it but that it was heading our way, we decided to try to drive out of the storm toward the coast and head home. But by the time we were thirty miles down the road, looking at a washed out bridge in Rutland and trying to remember if we had passed any hotels in the past few minutes, it became pretty apparent that we were going nowhere.

We ended up in a little roadside moterlodge, the kind that usually turns out to be dirty and scary but which ended up being very sweet and clean and is owned by the nicest family in Vermont, where we watched a little news, a few cartoons and then saw a tree fall into the transformer cutting off power and momentarily catching on fire (heavy rainfall can be a good thing now and then!) By evening, the hotel was totally full, mostly of long term campers and locals who were flooded out of their places when the town on the other side of us had the road washed out as well.

It should have been awful. Rain, floods, hurricanes, high winds, falling trees, fire. But it really...wasn't. In a flashlight lit room we ate the junk food and played cards on the bed and then built Lego's on the floor. There were tickle fights and reading and knitting and a movie on my laptop before bedtime. And in the morning, the sun was shining and the hotel owner knew the roads well enough to help us avoid the flooding and make our way up to Burlington so that we could take the highway south and home.

I won't pretend it was perfect. There were one or two scary moments, what with the rapidly rising water and the minor fire. There were plenty of "dont manke me come back there!" incidents in the car and one tub of Ben and Jerry's ice cream (appropriately called ClusterFluff) that Will and I ate without sharing with the kids because, well, they were being little snots, and little snots do not get ice cream purchased fifteen feet from the factory (which was closed due to flooding, but they really truly have black and white cows grazing out front and mountains behind, just like on the label!)
In retrospect, Vermont was probably not the best choice for hurricane avoidance. But at the same time, I wouldn't have changed our little evacu-cation at all. Well, maybe there were one or two moments that I could have done without, but all family vacations are like that, aren't they?