Monday, October 10, 2016

On The Run From Matthew (A Road Trip Recap)

Today I had originally planned to post about my October goals because, you know, I haven't yet done that this month. But then Hurricane Matthew happened, so I decided to post about my experience with that instead.

(This will probably end up being a long post. Sorry in advance!)

Last Monday, I flew back to Florida from Maine after a impromptu visit home. I hadn't wanted to go back to Florida on Monday, but a certain airline was being a pain in the you-know-what about it. I won't name names, but here's a hint:

So, fine, whatever. I flew back to Florida last Monday and jumped immediately into hurricane prep because there was this not-insignificant hurricane working its way toward us. I very diligently went out to stock up on bottled water, batteries, candles, matches, food that neither had to be refrigerated or heated—that sort of thing. You know the drill. Batteries and bread were the biggest challenge and required me to visit multiple stores to find them because mostly, the shelves looked like this:

It took entirely too many visits to entirely too many stores, but I finally amassed myself a nice, little collection of hurricane supplies. Which was good because on Wednesday, we went from a hurricane watch to a hurricane warning. So The Man and I very diligently prepared the yard as best we could—bringing in or securing anything that could be picked up by a strong gust of wind and thrown through someone's windows. Evacuations were called for in parts of our county, so I very diligently packed emergency get-up-and-go bags for The Man and me, as well as my pets. As Wednesday progressed, the forecast grew more and more scary, so I spent the vast majority of Wednesday night looking for a place we could go, should it become necessary. I was really pushing to leave at this point because I honestly didn't want my animals to have to go through that experience. (The Gator Girl can't even deal with a normal thunderstorm. I can't even imagine how I would get her through a hurricane of any size.)

But The Man thought we could stay. As we were just thisside of the mandatory evacuation zone, we planned on staying and riding out the storm. Much to my mother's delight.

Then came Thursday morning. Approximately T-minus twelve hours until things were scheduled to get scary.

I was up early (mostly because I couldn't sleep because I so badly wanted to leave), needing and wanting to hit just a couple more store to get just a couple more things, and making plans to further protect ourselves from this ever-growing storm. Our home has a few large, exposed windows, and we lacked a way to protect them. No hurricane shutters, no plywood. Nothing. So I made The Man help me strip the bed and use our mattress and box spring as protection:

Yes, those are unpacked book boxes holding the mattress in place.
Yes, I was semi-prepared to sacrifice them in the name of
protecting the house.

Definitely not great protection, but I thought it would be better than nothing.

The only rooms in our house with no windows are a walk-in closet and the laundry room, and I intended to set them up as shelters in which to spent the night, as that was slated to be the worst part of the storm. The Man and the dog of his choice would be in one, while Fat Cat, the remaining dog and I would be in the other. Again, not terrific protection, but better than nothing.

Then we watched the latest forecast.

Not only was a strong category four hurricane making its way up Florida's east coast, but it was predicted to make landfall in our county. On our county. The Man and I looked at the map, listened to the weatherman's not-at-all terrifying predictions of life-threatening catastrophic damage, looked at our proximity to the ocean, then at our our complete inability to protect our windows, our pets, and ourselves, and said,

So the question became where would we go? County shelters were out, because they were reserved for people in the mandatory evacuation zones, which left hotels. But here's the thing...when you're traveling with three animals, your options are limited. When one of those animals is a 100-pound German Shepherd, your options narrow even more.

I contacted the few big dog-friendly hotel chains in areas without a hurricane warning, and farther and farther out I had to expand my search because there were no rooms available at any of them—with or without dogs.

But finally, I found one.

In Mobile, Alabama.

An eight-hour drive away.

That's eight hours in good weather. When a good chunk of the county's population isn't re-enacting the above Monty Python scene.

But I wasn't in a position to be picky. Plus, the reservationist kindly took pity on me and waived the hotel's two-pets-per-room policy so we could have all three animals in one room, instead of having to reserve two separate rooms. I booked the room, we packed up the babies, and got the hell out of Dodge. Much to my mother's delight.

Gator Girl, falling asleep in the car
while nursing on her security fish.
She's so weird.

Eleven hours later, we finally arrived at our destination. I went inside to check in, and discovered that the room I reserved was on the third floor, as far away from the elevators and the exits as it could get. Which is fine, if one is traveling on one's own, but when one is traveling with a thirteen-year old, 100-pound German shepherd with severe mobility issues, it becomes a problem.

Big has a degenerative disease that is slowly paralyzing his back legs. He cannot walk long distances. He can walk short distances if you hold up his back end with a sling (which we made from one of those reusable canvas shopping bags), but he still can't go far and looks like a drunken sailor when he tries. It's hard to get him in and out of the car. It's a two-person job. We're looking to acquire a wheelchair for him, but  we haven't acquired it yet.

But again, the hotel staff took pity on us and bent their pets-can-only-use-this-one-entrance rule and told us we could use the side door that led straight to the elevator.

Didn't matter.

We got Big out of the car and into the hotel, but we hadn't even gotten close to the elevator before Big went down and wouldn't get up again. I don't blame him. It had been a long day, and I know he got stiff spending all that time in the car. I was stiff, and I don't have a problem with my legs or spine. 

So we stood there for a while, waiting for him to rest up, and wondering how we were ever going to get him to the elevator, then down the hall to the room. And then back and forth every time he would need to go out.

Fortunately, a fellow hotel guest came to our rescue and suggested the use of a luggage cart. I don't know her name, but I will be eternally grateful to her for the suggestion and the chicken tenders she swiped from the hotel dinner buffet to bribe Big onto the luggage cart. She even fetched a luggage cart for us. The Man and I lifted Big onto the cart, then wheeled him down the hall to the elevators, rode to the third floor, then wheeled him all the way to the other freaking end of the hall to our room, then lifted him off.

It's not a great picture, but this is Big on his chariot,
the homemade sling wrapped around his back.

Then we had to go back and get the other two animals.

It was an exhausting day.

(Now, please allow me to indulge in a bit of a braggy moment here: my babies, though total spazzes at home, are remarkably well-behaved in hotels. Even the damn cat, who is the most annoying creature on the face of the earth (myself, included...), is well-behaved in hotels. Some days, I would like to live in a hotel just for that reason.)

Every six hours during our stay, we would load Big onto his parade float and wheel him through the hotel to take him outside. (Part of his condition is that he doesn't know when he needs to go, or even when he is going, so we have to take him out frequently to avoid messy accidents in the house. Or hotel rooms.) As you can imagine, we garnered a lot of stares from employees, other guests, pizza delivery guys—even people driving by the hotel all stopped to stare at us as we rolled Big to and from the room. Is he all right? they would ask. Here are a couple of my responses:

  • Yes, he's fine. He's just super lazy.
  • Yes, he's fine. He just prefers to travel in style.
  • Yes, he's fine. He's just working on his audition for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Meanwhile, the Gator Girl slept. It's amazing how tired she gets when there's any sort of change to her routine. (I should really change her routine more often.)

For two days, we did this. (I'm pretty sure the hotel was selling tickets to watch us by the end of our stay. We were quite the attraction.)

And the hurricane decided it didn't want to make landfall on the Space Coast after all.

Stupid hurricane. (Except, no, thank you for not making landfall on the Space Coast, Matthew. I would be writing a very different blog post, if you had.)

Saturday, we started back. The hotel staff was very sad that their live-in entertainment was departing, and told us to come back soon. No offense, kind accommodating hotel staff, or the people of Mobile, but I kind of hope that I never have to make that trip again.

The return trip took ten hours, and was nerve-wracking because we didn't know what we would be coming back to. (This is what I get for never getting to know my neighbors. I have no one to call to say, "Hey, is my house still standing, or is there just a sink hole where it used to be?") Knowing that the storm didn't actually make landfall, and knowing that the few other people I do know in the area didn't sustain major damage and already had their power back, I was cautiously optimistic.

I am pleased to report that I was right to be.

The power was out (it's obviously back on now, though), and our trees and gardens took a very hard hit. (But it wasn't like they looked so great to begin with. I am in charge of keeping them alive, after all. Probably nobody even noticed the damage.) Part of our neighbor's fence came down into our yard, and a part of our fence is leaning badly. (The Man keeps telling me I need to fix it. And I'm like, "With what? Duct tape?" because I literally have no skill with any other tools.) There was a small lake in the sun room, and a little bit of water in the living room. The roof sustained no damage at all (Thank you, arborist who trimmed the trees back just a couple of weeks earlier!) except for a couple of spots under the eaves that The Man has already managed to repair (See, he should be the one dealing with the fence.), but the satellite dish is currently in the garage, waiting for the handy-dandy satellite repair man to come and reattach it. (Friday, between noon and midnight, I think is our appointment time. Looks like my Netflix account will be getting a real workout this week...)

So, all and all, we were very lucky. Just, incredibly lucky. I can't even stress how lucky we were. Are.

Now I just have to hope that no video of The Man and I rolling our dog around on a luggage cart shows up on YouTube. (Haven't found one yet, but I keep checking...)

That's going to do it for me today. If you were in an area affected by Matthew, I hope you and your family are okay!

See you on Wednesday, when I just might get around to talking about those pesky October goals...


  1. Sorry you had to make such a long trip. Hopefully there are no YouTube videos.
    Glad your house was still there when you returned.
    You didn't get hit full force because Matthew was saving himself for our state instead...

    1. Thank goodness it lost some of its steam before doing so. Hope you're safe, Alex.

  2. What a rough time! So glad everything worked out okay overall.

    The whole experience is really scary, especially the first time you go through it.

    1. I've gone through three hurricanes in New England, but generally by the time they get there, there's not much left of them.

      This was an entirely different experience altogether.

  3. I am glad you are safe and that you found kindness in your journey!

    1. I am, too. Everyone was so kind and helpful. It was much appreciated.

  4. What an ordeal. We've been through numerous hurricanes but fortunately never had to flee. You would've been a bundle of nerves had you stayed. You would've been laying there listening to the wind and wondering "Was that the roof flying off?" (That was our first hurricane experience!)

    1. Oh yeah. I'm a bundle of nerves on the best of days, so I can just imagine what I would have been like in the midst of that storm. :)

  5. What a crazy mess. I know of your ordeal, because as you know, we live in the same area. I thought it was going to get BAD, but it didn't. Stupid Matthew is right. But so many people got hit hard.

  6. So glad to hear you came through it okay. We've heard from our friends and family and so far everyone made it through with minor property damage and loss of power. It was one big whopper of a storm. Your dog looks so happy on his chariot or was that the chicken tenders?

  7. That was downright scary! So glad you came through safely albeit exhausted. Poor Gator Girl. I feel for her. I get sluggish when my schedule's changed, so I can commiserate with her.

  8. I was so worried about you and my other Florida friends. That must have been so scary for you to go through. Poor Big! He's just an old puppy. I'm glad all five of you are okay.

  9. I'm glad you were able to get out and be safe. Poor Big. I bet he's glad to be home and have this over with.

  10. Glad everything worked out. Luckily, I live on the west coast.

  11. I'm so glad to hear the house is still standing and everyone is all right.

  12. I hear you. When the storm veered east, it spared us from any damage, and I can't say I'm disappointed by that. It was definitely a nerve wracking time.

  13. I'm so glad that it didn't get as bad as predicted. That hotel sounds wonderful. Too bad you didn't get to go there under better circumstances.

  14. I'm glad that you and yours are okay, and I think you were wise to get out.

  15. Yikes! I've never had to deal with a hurricane, so I can't imagine how nightmarish all this was to go through. Thank goodness things didn't end as badly as expected!

  16. Wow, what an adventure. Glad you were safe though, and your house survived.

  17. This sounds like such an ordeal. Glad to hear everything turned out alright.

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  21. Wow. What a trip! I'm glad you and your man and animals are okay. Did you secure the lizard in the mailbox too? Hopefully he didn't invite any buddies over to ride out the hurricane.

  22. Hope all is well and life is getting less crazy!