We are always the last to leave the beach house. Our tradition is to have breakfast at our favorite place on the oceanfront as soon as they open and then hit the road for our 14 hour trip home. This year I watched the sun rise, cleaned out the fridge, finished up the packing and started on the same trip we’ve taken for the past six years.
Turned out, it wasn’t the same at all.
As we started out of town, I texted my sister who had left around 4am to see how her drive was going. She mentioned that small towns west of Richmond seemed to be experiencing power outages from the Friday night storm – they had a hard time finding a place to get gas but that otherwise things were uneventful.
About an hour later, we received a text from my brother – they had left around 6am and said they couldn’t find any place west of Richmond to stop for breakfast because of power outages. They recommended we fill up our gas tank before getting too far from Richmond. We had just over half a tank but we were also just west of Richmond so decided to take their advice before going any further. The gas station was mobbed with people. It was weird but not enough to make us too concerned.
It wasn’t just an area west of Richmond. It was all of Southwestern Virginia, nearly all of West Virginia, Ohio and Eastern Kentucky.
Within an hour of getting gas we received a phone call from my brother. They had coasted into a small town in West Virginia after unsuccessfully searching for gas for hours. They had less than 15 miles in their tank and with three small children (4yo, 2yo and 3 months old) they couldn’t risk going any further. They found a hotel that was letting people hang out in their lobby. No air conditioning or power but running water and certainly a far better place to be than the side of the interstate on a 98 degree day.
We headed their way of course. Got there with about a half tank in our car and realized the situation was indeed a serious one. There was no power and thus no working gas pumps for miles and miles. It was time to come up with a plan. First up, making sure we had supplies. There was a drugstore down the street that was open on a cash-only basis. They bought formula for the baby, a box of pop tarts, a loaf of bread and peanut butter.
We determined that going south in search of gas was our only option. Our car had at least 150 miles of gas in it. The town of Princeton, WV (90 miles away) reportedly had gas so my husband & brother headed that way. If they couldn’t find gas, they’d keep heading south until they could. The rest of the adults (me, my sister-in-law and my mother) stayed behind in the hotel with the six kids. We spent just over three hours playing, keeping the kids calm, sweating, going to the bathroom in the dark and rationing out food (it seemed silly but there was real potential that we’d be stuck there at least overnight).
Thanks to my sister’s resourceful use of the Internet & phone, they found gas (she was home at this point having unknowingly gassed up at the last possible city in VA and thus having enough to get through the no-power zone). The stations by the interstate were out but she directed them to a station further in town and was able to call around and find them gas tanks to bring it back. The boys then drove the 90 miles back with the windows down, gas fumes, 98 degrees and all.
Now our car had enough gas to get us through to Kentucky where the situation was better. My brother’s car had enough to get the 90 miles back to Princeton – we hoped. With no thought at all, we knew we were following them south – after all, what if they encountered a traffic back up and ran out of gas? What if they got there and the stations had sold out? So south we went. We gassed up in Princeton, ate dinner at 9pm at the only place we found – a McDonald’s and then called ahead and found hotel rooms in Knoxville. We arrived there at 1:15am ready to crash.
The next day we filled up in Knoxville. Drove a few hours to Lexington, KY and filled up again because there were reports of outages between there and Indianapolis and we didn’t want to risk it. The rest of the drive was thankfully uneventful.
We originally planned to be home around 9:30 Saturday night. We rolled in at 6:30 Sunday night instead.
The whole situation was surreal. People were whispering and talking in groups – “Did you hear? Sulfur Springs has gas but they closed the exits because traffic had lined up on the Interstate.” “I think the rest stop on the WV Turnpike has gas if you can get there – but they’re only selling 7 gallons to each person.”
Luckily our car had enough gas to get us to a place that had what we needed. It might have been out of the way but when every path between you and home declares a state of emergency – out of the way is far better than stranded.