Driving Through a Montana Super Car Wash on I-94

CarwashWindshield wipers pound on the highest setting. Rain plummets to explosive splashes obliterating any view of the highway. Gray skies blackening then bursting with red lightning. Thunder with every bolt deafens us. But we forge on. We make this decision together because so many times in the past we drive out of the messy weather.

But maybe not this time. After every lull in the storms along I-94 in Montana, we get another blast.

We have confidence in our machine, our beloved Big Bets, our Roadtrek 210. It weighs about 9,500 pounds fully loaded and it rides on four of the best Michelin tires money can buy. And those four tires, not six because our rig does not have dualies help us in this driving. All that weight on the four small patches of rubber that meet the road means more weight on each to push water away. Six tires have 50 percent more surface to hydroplane on and do so at lower speeds than do four tires with the same load. At least, that is what I tell myself, and push the Roadtrek’s sleek fuselage forward to near the posted speed limit. As long I have a view of the road, the road is empty and no water is pooled ahead, we push on.

Torrents now pour down on us. No wipers can keep up with this load and we are re-thinking our decision to push on. But now we are committed and navigating this storm is our fate. Outside the wind buffets the wipers making them nearly useless. Slow back down again. The craft is stable and we press on.

The wind changes and forces rain to hit a body strip right near my head. Its peculiar ping-ping-ping makes me wonder if the hull will hold together. The wind shifts. No more ping. Safe again. Clouds have thinned and we feel freer of the gloom through which we travel. Damned deceptive sky. Somehow, more lightning is transmitted through this light gray sky than ever seemed to climb down from the clouds. Wondrous to think about. 20 million volts. Raw. Unleashed. Seeking a target, and finding none on the ground, resorts to shooting across a mercurial sky.

Finally, in frustration the storm hurls a solid sheet of water upon the earth. We slow. We sigh. We press on. Fully two minutes later we begin the long slow descent into a shallow in the prairie. The sky has finished expelling its waste and we are glad.

Now, ahead are red tail lights in an orderly, but unmoving line. We sidle up to the group to survey the scene. An accident? A stalled vehicle? Couldn’t be. Traffic on both sides of the freeway have stopped. And before us the flooded lanes and median lie. Our good fortune at having outrun the rain has run out. The rain has run down the hill, running down both lanes and the median. The lanes traveling in the opposite direction are fully ten feet above our lanes.  The upper lanes are spilling their contents into the median, and the median is spilling its contents into ours.

floodAll traffic stopped. All five cars on our side and about twenty on the other. The water rose. I futilely planned my escape to higher ground by backing upward, against traffic, to save my wife, my van and myself.

But flash floods are so named for a reason. The water level ceased to rise and, immeasurably at first, began to recede. Large diesel transports and a macho hummer and several high rise pickup trucks began to plow their way through, splashing tons of water out of the road and over the sides.

More and more tall vehicles splashed their way through. Finally, we were the only ones left after I had watched all manner and size of car and truck go before us. I had gauged their progress and so we began ours. Slowly, raising no wake in order to keep our generator dry and safe, we crept across the water. Fifty yards out of it we pulled over to try to start our precious boondocking resource. A little prayer. Three revolutions of the motor before a strong perfect start.

Checking behind us, I pulled out onto the freeway and continued on our adventure. We weren't sure when we would reach our destination, but we joked that the Roadtrek had probably had the bath of a lifetime.

And having now arrived, my trek could probably been slower and safer. But once again our Guardian Angel was able to fly as fast as required.

Never drive faster than our guardian angel can fly…