Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Real Life Survival - Staying Above the Water Line! - Part Two

Above the Water Line

He glanced at his watch. 9:30 A.M. and it was still raining hard. He tuned in a good local AM radio station that had frequent news and weather updates. He realized that he was going to need the most current information available about the weather. The message on his cell phone that the current phone network was busy wasn’t very encouraging. He wasn’t surprised though. He knew every time something starts to go wrong that cell phone service goes south in a hurry. Murphy’s Law was working overtime and today was no exception. He was going to have to rely on his truck radio for current information about the developing weather conditions. He knew that in a survival situation: Information is critical.

Thank goodness that he had learned some valuable lessons while working as a mechanic for 14 years. No matter what kind of vehicle you have, if you don’t do the proper maintenance and upkeep it could fail you when you need it most. The wipers had just been recently replaced and were working great and the current tires were fairly new also. He knew it was going to be like driving in a carwash. With the heavy rains that were coming down, it was going to be a long trip home. It wasn’t going to be the normal two hour drive home. Of that, he was certain!

It was a short trip back into the city proper and normally took only about 15 minutes. Today it seemed like it took an hour. Where did all the traffic come from? It was probably due to everybody needing to get back home and he was no different.

Due to all the traffic, he decided to take a little shortcut he had used several times before when the traffic had been heavy due to rush hour. It was a little longer but usually wasn’t too congested even during rush hour traffic. With a decision made, he bypassed the freeway on ramp and took the service road a few blocks till he reached the turn-off for the shortcut. The ditches alongside the road were starting to fill up with water but hadn’t risen to street level yet. He knew once again a basic survival concept was going to be of utmost importance: During a flood or flash-flooding you need to seek higher ground as quickly as possible.

The shortcut proved to be a good decision and he quickly made his way to where he could access a freeway running east that would keep him going in the right direction. Although the road signs were barely visible in the downpour, he knew the route he was going to take by heart. It was imprinted on his mind by the numerous earlier trips that were little more than sight-seeing trips and a way to avoid boredom from traveling the same roads all the time.

Already several cars had stopped and pulled to the side of the road or were trying to wait out the storm under overpasses. They were going to have a long wait with this storm. Bet they wish they had replaced those old, dried out wiper blades now! Emergency work crews were even starting to show up with the signs that would eventually be used to barricade the roads if they became unsafe. Actually it was now more of a question as to when and not if they became unsafe. There was little time to waste. As long as the wipers continued to beat back the downpour, he kept moving east.

It was almost noon and the skies were still dark and menacing. He was hungry but shouldn’t have been. A decent breakfast that morning should have been enough. That’s what eating too many meals on a regular basis will do to you. Make you hungry on a regular basis! Having been a truck driver for a few years, some of which he’d like to forget, it was a given that he’d developed the habit of always carrying some snacks and a few drinks as well. Many times before, during late night or out of the way runs hauling furniture, having a little stash of goodies had proved time and time again to be a lifesaver. It was only some beef jerky and cheese crackers washed down with some bottled water but it tasted like the best thing he had ever ate. On top of everything else that was happening, he was glad he didn’t have to go without eating or drinking. The last thing he needed cluttering up his mind was dreams of a chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes! Once again a basic survival concept came into play: In the middle of nowhere or with everything closed or shut down, you had better have something with you to eat and drink or you could wind up being hungry and thirsty! At least his stomach was thankful that this habit of keeping some food stashed in the truck when he was traveling was still practiced routinely.

The road up ahead was a long winding curve with those metal barricades that run alongside the road. The kind they use when the road has been built up because of a low lying area. This was a critical part of his road trip. If this had been shutdown, he’d be in real trouble. Fortunately, there were only a few inches of water on the road and the road was still visible for the most part. Traffic had slowed to a crawl but it was still moving. Although, he’d seen turtles move faster than this traffic, he realized they’d all crossed the road already (the turtles, that is). Turtles are pretty smart when it comes to getting out of the way of high water.

A quick glance to his left showed a lake where there used to be a pond. This wasn’t a good sign. In fact, he’d never seen the water this high. The water was rising faster than he’d expected and he still had to go a couple of miles to go before reaching the other interstate highway that would take him east and a little further north. The radio kept announcing the fact that the Cibolo Creek had risen to a point where the other interstate highway running directly east was now covered by over two feet of water. His normal route home was now closed to all traffic. There would be no turning back now.

Traffic picked up speed and the roadway was clear of any high water as the highway worked its way back up and toward the freeway. He could now see the critical exit that would put him on a highway that should still be relatively safe from any type of road closure. He was about to be proven wrong!

The radio suddenly put out an alert! The rainfall amounts had been so large that they were already starting to release extra water from the dams at Canyon and Medina Lake. They were afraid the water levels were putting too much pressure on the dam at Medina Lake and were advising people to evacuate. He hoped that those being affected would have the sense to leave before it was too dam late. He knew things were going to be a little more difficult now. Normally it would take anywhere from 24 to 36 hours for the rainfall run-off to get downstream. He knew time was becoming even more of a critical factor. All that water was going to be arriving downstream a lot quicker. It was headed directly for his doorstep and may get there before he could.

The rain kept coming down. It was relentless. It was like the handle on the faucet had broken and there was no way to shut it off. The sound of the wipers was no longer a nuisance. He had made it past the first major obstacle on his chosen route and had started to feel a little more relaxed for the first time that day. Little did he realize that sense of ease would turn into a sickening feeling only a short distance later. He exited onto the freeway and was moving faster now as the traffic picked up speed.

He was moving along well now as the pace had picked up to about 30 miles per hour. There was no way in this kind of downpour he was going to be going any faster. It was just too unsafe to try and do otherwise. He had also passed up his first opportunity to head back south. Road closure signs were already up and Highway 1518 was no longer an option to get back south to the other interstate. He silently cursed Cibolo Creek for blocking his way again!

His next chance to head south and get back towards home was coming up when suddenly a car shot by on his left. He thought this fool was only going to get himself killed at this rate. Maybe the fool would get lucky. This guy probably needed a psychiatric evaluation before they gave him a license to drive. He realized that there were probably more fools out there without enough common sense to recognize the fact that they needed to slow down during a hard rain. Before his mind started to wander too much, he abandoned his philosophical thoughts on how ignorant some people can be and turned his attention back to the highway and getting home. It was not a moment too soon.

He was just approaching the bridge he knew would take him over the Guadalupe River. This was the next major obstacle on his trip home. Then without any warning, the rain on his windshield had turned into a sea of red. Red could only mean one thing. Taillights! The cars in front were all putting on their brakes at the same time in an effort to stop. He was no different and found himself skidding to a stop and narrowly avoiding a collision. He realized very quickly he was stopped in possibly the worst place that he could imagine at this point in time and he’d been in some pretty bad situations before this.

It was the river bridge! He was stopped in the middle of the bridge with cars in front and back. There was absolutely nowhere to go! This was the bridge he needed to get across to get home. Another 100 feet or so and he would have made it across the bridge. A few lousy feet and he would have been across it. There was no place to go unless he walked and that was an option he didn’t look forward to any time soon. How could he have let himself become trapped like this? He started having visions of his truck floating down the river. It probably wouldn't float very long...

After a few minutes, people started getting out of their vehicles to see what was going on. He was no different and grabbed his rain poncho before stepping into the downpour. Handy thing that rain poncho. At least he wasn't getting soaked in the rain like some of the others who were stuck on the bridge with him. Unlike the others though, he went straight to the railing of the bridge and looked over the edge. He was devastated by what he saw. The water in the Guadalupe River was only a couple of feet from the bottom of the bridge and seemed to be rising as he stood there. The sign for the RV park located on the river bank was just barely visible and there was a house floating leisurely along the river like it belonged there. There was at least one good thing about this situation.

Although he had a feeling of being trapped like the proverbial rat, he was still:

Staying above the water line!



Anonymous said...

Pretty gripping recount sir, thanks for posting it.

I hate driving in heavy rain, 'white knuckle driving' I call it. When you let go of the steering wheel, your hands ache, you unaware your grip was that strong.

That red letter comment stressing is great, makes it stand out fine.

YeOldFurt said...

A good read, I can sympathize. Keep going.

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