hroughout our entire nomadic journey starting in March 2021, my favorite place to live was a toss up between New York City and Ljubljana. So when we found ourselves back in NYC at the end of our cruise, we decided to stay a night and explore our old haunts.
After a week stuck on a boat, all three of us were glad to walk through Central Park on a warm, sunny day. Skutull explored our old running route and even tried to take us home to the apartment we lived in almost a year earlier. We hoped he’d run into his border collie girlfriend, Bonita, from the summer before, but we did not see her.
We popped into a hip Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side for dinner. I told the guy we needed a patio seat since we had our dog with us. He replied, “Is he a service animal?”
“No,” I said, defeated.
“I’ll ask again, is he a service animal?” he asked with a wink.
“Yes!” I said.
“Come right this way.”
We enjoyed a delicious meal of fresh pasta and cocktails, then wandered down the street to our regular gelato shop. Skutull devoured his gelato. I got the sense that he felt like he’d earned it living on the boat and this was the least we could do to compensate him.
We rented a car, packed up our belongings one last time, and began our journey west. Our route started slow, with a two-night stop in Lititz, Pennsylvania where I have a friend I wanted to visit.
It also just so happens that there is a restaurant in Lititz called Tomato Pie Cafe that I love, so we ate there and I stuffed myself full of tomato pie and a blue peaflower latte. When we ate there the summer before, I had discovered blue lattes for the first time. I was enchanted by how much they tasted like the milk after a bowl of fruity pebbles and had spent a considerable amount of time since trying to recreate the flavor without success. I took this opportunity to ask one of the employees how they make their blue latte, and she told me they use butterfly peaflower powder and lavender syrup. I’m excited to have another go at a recreation once we settle in somewhere.
Our next stop was Columbus, Ohio, where we stayed in a new Hilton-branded hotel that clearly caters to millennials like us. The hotel was dog-friendly and all the rooms had giant TVs, a dozen outlets, and tons of storage, but other than that, they were super basic. The furniture was simple and cheap. There was a nice fitness center with TRX bands, kettle bells, and several other exercise items I’ve never seen in hotel fitness centers before. I have to say, I was a fan of the concept and hope more places like that pop up. Traveling with a dog in the US can be challenging.
I was excited for the next leg of our drive because we were scheduled to arrive in St. Louis the next evening, then drive to Kansas City the day after, both of which are meccas for BBQ lovers like me. We’ve passed through KC and St. Louis many times over the years, so I had a mix of new BBQ joints and trusted favorites lined up for our lunches and dinners.
We entered eastern Missouri around dinner time and my mouth began to salivate thinking about the tender brisket that would soon caress my tongue. About an hour outside the city, we saw dark clouds ahead of us.
Shelby had checked the weather earlier that day and there were no warnings of severe weather forecasts in Missouri, though there were some further north in Illinois and Wisconsin. Still, she asked me to check the weather just to make sure since we were traveling in the heart of tornado season.
I attempted to load my weather app, but did not have enough service. “I can’t load anything,” I told her.
Then our phones exploded with beeping sirens. The warning on my phone said something along the lines of “Tornado touchdown near you. Take cover immediately.”
Well, we were on the interstate and the sun was still shining on us, but the clouds we were quickly approaching were dark green in color. The next exit wasn’t for a couple of miles and there was a fence in the median of the highway that prevented us from turning around. The storm was moving toward us, so we had no choice but to continue forward to the next exit.
We drove down a hill when it became apparent we were about to cross the threshold into the storm. The weather went from being calm and sunny to windy and a downpour in a split second. We could see dense rain falling onto the highway ahead. Shelby slammed on the breaks as we smashed into the wall of water. It was like driving into a waterfall, I’ve never experienced anything like it.
Shelby cranked the windshield wipers to the highest setting, but we still had no visibility. We considered pulling off into the ditch beside the highway, but the other cars around us were continuing on, so we figured trying to get to the next exit was our safest option. Shelby had to use the rumble strip on the edge of the highway to guide the car down the road because we couldn’t see where we were going.
Soon, the wind also picked up, blowing branches and bushes across the road. The car shook back and forth as we creeped ahead. Thunder and lightning struck constantly. At first, Skutull managed the storm well, but he soon became frightened.
I’m not sure how long we drove down the highway like this, but it felt like at least several minutes. Shelby luckily noticed the faint lights of a gas station price sign on the right side of the road and was able to find the exit. The side of the road was full of cars and semis. We parked our car under the awning that protected the gas pumps. A young guy in a tank top hollered at us from the bed of his truck, “There’s a tornado commin’!” He lifted a lawnmower over his head and ran off with it, I presume to stash it somewhere where it wouldn’t blow away.
The people at the gas station were very friendly and tried to help calm Skutull down, who was shaking uncontrollably. They gave us updates on the radar. About ten minutes later there was a lull in the storm and a bunch of people ran outside and drove off. I went up to the counter and asked the lady looking at the radar if she thought it was safe to continue on to St. Louis.
She and her coworker made eye contact, then he said, “You’re not gonna like the answer,” and walked off.
She showed me that the back end of the storm was still coming from the St Louis direction and wouldn’t pass through the area for at least another hour.
So instead of eating my cherished BBQ for dinner, we got Subway sandwiches from the gas station and waited out the storm for a couple of hours.
We did make it to St Louis later that night and learned from the news that there were multiple touchdowns near where we were, one of which crossed the highway and went right past the gas station we were hiding out in. It was an F2 tornado about 250-yards wide. We’ll never be certain, but I’d bet money that just before we found the exit on the highway, we were in the middle of the tornado. I’ve never seen anything like what we were driving through. The wind and rainfall was relentless.
That night, we looked up the weather forecast for the remainder of our travels. The next day was supposed to be mostly clear, but the day after that had chances for severe weather again. Our scheduled itinerary was to drive from St. Louis to Kansas City, then Kansas City to Boulder, but if we stuck to that plan, we’d be driving through Kansas and eastern Colorado during the bad weather in two days time.
So instead of risking another traumatic experience. We woke up early and drove all the way from St. Louis to Boulder in a day. It was a long and boring drive. We didn’t even stop for BBQ in Kansas City since we passed through before lunch time.
As we entered Colorado, the slow-moving storm that was supposed to cause severe weather the next day in the midwest was hovering over the Front Range of Colorado dumping snow. The last few hours of our drive was in a snow storm, which at times afforded us little visibility. I didn’t care, though. I was going to get home. And after surviving the tornado, the snow storm felt easy. I grew up driving in snow storms.
We pulled into my parent’s house a little after the sunset, exhausted and ready for a long night of sleep. Skutull was beside himself when he saw my parents and their dogs. Unfortunately, he got pretty riled up playing with toys that night and somehow broke one of his front teeth. We’re still not sure what happened, but Shelby found the half of his tooth that broke off on the ground.
Our first day back home Shelby took Skutull to the vet where we found out he would have to undergo his second surgery of the year to remove the root of his broken tooth.
Despite Skutull’s new goofy look, it felt peaceful and restful to finally be home. We spent 441 days on the road and traveled 35,000 miles. Along the way, we lived in 26 states and 13 countries, all with our buddy, Skutull, by our side. It was was one of the great adventures of our lives, and now we’re ready to see what the next chapter holds for us.