An outbreak of winter twisters in Albany, Georgia can change your plans a bit. But more on that later.
After leaving Ian’s Florida home in January we made our way south to visit Universal Studios and to explore the Everglades / Keys area. We knew the implications of leaving a comfy home and how hard it would be assimilate back into life on the road.
As we hit Orlando Our home base would be a Cracker Barrel just outside of the city limits.
This particular Cracker Barrel had a massive front parking lot and a massive rear one. So large was the front lot that rarely any vehicles spilled into the secluded rear lot, which allowed up to park in one of the 8 RV spots for days without intruding. In fact, during our time in Orlando we would stay here for a half week the first time and for almost a week the second time on our way exiting Florida.
After enjoying Universal Studios and a visit to a couple of the Disney Resorts for dinner and fireworks, we made our way south. Our final destination at the southern end put us at a Cracker Barrel in Florida City. A little sketchy at times, it served us well as we explored the Everglades on one day and a portion of the Keys on the next. We saw some gators finally, and ate some too. Not to mention the exquisite Key Lime Pie!
Our time in Florida was almost done and as we headed back north to leave this state we contemplated revisiting Ian’s place but it just wasn’t in the cards as his guests would still be there, more importantly though, was our desire for a little more Disney.
Disney had the same effect on us adults as it does on children. We couldn’t shake the magic and the feeling it gave us. (Cynthia gives a shameless account of these feelings in her post under “Cynthia’s Thoughts”)
Cynthia started to research some of the other resorts we could visit for dinner and explore, and in doing so learned that we could stay at one for a pretty low price. We decided to do two nights at the Art of Animation resort: Little Mermaid complex. It was a blast to stay there, and for those two nights we explored even more resorts around us. When our time was up with the hotel room we kept our trailer in the parking lot for 2 more nights (possibly 3, I can’t remember) and kept exploring every gift shop and resort we may have missed. We dined and enjoyed one last firework session at the Magic Kingdom before knowing we had to move on.
Clearly we had a hard time moving on from Disney. It wasn’t just because of the magic, but also because we had no clear future destination. Making one would make leaving easier so we decide on Sherwood church as our next stop in Albany, Georgia.
Sherwood was on a short list of churches we wanted to visit in the States. It was responsible for making popular christian movies like Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous and War Room.
We would get here by Friday and stay till after the Sunday service.
That did not happen.
We have been here for over 3 weeks as we plan to depart tomorrow for Tuskegee, Alabama.
On the Friday we arrived there was a string of massive thunderstorms that plagued the south eastern United States. I found this to be awkward since storm season doesn’t start till March in middle America. But that is middle America, and apparently the eastern side has a winter tornado season, which has been particularly violent as of late. Little did we know we would sit through the largest winter outbreak of tornados in recorded history.
That Friday storm produced several tornados to my surprise. None near us. I thought the worst was over on that Friday night but as we attended service at Sherwood on Sunday morning they announced no evening service because of the bad weather coming. What? I only heard about cancellations for winter storms not thunderstorms. What was coming?
They spoke about safe spaces within the church for those who may not have strong shelters. That was us. Heck, we were in a trailer.
I got really nervous sitting there and opened up my storm apps the moment service was over. There were tornados already dropped all over the neighbouring states.
That night was difficult. We were parked at the Walmart and on several occasions I had moved to park in the rear and unhooked the trailer with a quick escape plan in mind. I thought that if I parked the trailer against a large wall opposing the storm I could give the trailer some shelter and maybe it wouldn’t be destroyed. I would barely sleep that night as the NOAA weather radio kept going off with t-storm warnings. Then came the Tornado warning at 2am. We rushed into the Walmart but nothing came. After that night the following day was still producing large cell thunderstorms. On radar it looked as if it would all be over at 3pm. The last cell would be passing us soon. It even looked as if it may go south and miss us all together. It didn’t look threatening and I was feeling good, as if we’d survived the worst of it. I was on FaceTime with Tiago and Kelly 20 minutes before this last cell passed and was already telling our survival story; that is until I went outside. It was calm. The rain had stopped and the sky was an olive color to the south west. I was now parked out in front again and had this feeling like I should go to the back of Walmart once more. This would be the 3rd time in 2 days I would do this. Was it worth it for a hunch?
I thought it wasn’t worth taking the risk and decided to go to the back once more. As I finished unhooking I got a tornado warning on the radio and on my phone. Cynthia had got it too. It was heading almost right for us. We drove to the front of Walmart and took shelter. Just as we got inside the wind outside raged. Shopping carts were wheeling by and smacking into each other and vehicles. We were rushed to the back as the doors and glass shook. I pried open the door for 2 people trying to get in before heading back myself.vThe motion alarm on the trailer went off. I wasn’t sure if it was just shaking or if it had been blown over.
Within 5 minutes the wind had died down. Luck for us, it was just really high winds.
We quickly learned that an F3 tornado hit the airport just south of us and then veered right sparing us as it cut a 2km wide path north east for 105km. It had taken around 30 lives and completely destroyed many communities in the Radium Springs area of Albany.
What would have been our departure date ended up being the day we decided to stay to see how we can assist those affected.
We remained at the Walmart for a week and then moved to a camp ground that was nice and affordable in Chehaw Park. The kids had a great time helping out organizing relief supplies with Cynthia, as I would see what could be done in the neighbourhood for a few days.
This time here has afforded us a real camping experience as we finally made a camp fire, used our BBQ and camping chairs for the first time on this journey.
We met some great neighbours; Rose and Logan and their kids Alice and Jase. The kids got to play and be kids. It was God’s way of getting us into the wilderness a little bit and to make us useful by serving others, something we lacked on this journey so far. It also allowed us to connect really well with Sherwood church, as well as meet some of the people in the movies we’ve seen like Alex Kendrick, Ken Bevel and Steven Dervan, all great guys.
I should mention that we would get one more Tornado warning in our area a week or so later, but nothing touched down in Chehaw Park.
On the eve of our departure I realize there are only 6 weeks left before we need to be back in Canada. We need to get moving if we want to explore a bit more before re-entry.
I’m just hoping winter will be done with before we head north or else we will have to rework our strategy a bit.