Our first couple days on the road largely consisted of driving and visits with good friends. We decided to begin slowing down our journey once we reached southwestern Virginia, which meant Van had to suffer through two longish days on the road. Luckily, these two days were broken up by visits to dear friends. We spent our first night just an hour south of where we left, visiting Brian, Amy, and their two spunky daughters, Mary and Zoe. I’m not sure whether Van liked the spontaneous dance parties to pop music (his favorite) or their play kitchen the best, but I know we had a great time seeing Brian and Amy. I realized that this will be the longest I go without seeing them, which makes me sad, but motivated to plan a longer visit with them next time.
We spent our second night down in DC, which gave Van the opportunity to have some final play time with his best bud Liam before hitting the road, and us some time to enjoy the company of Lauryn and Brendan.
After hitting the road and heading south, our first night camping in the van was a success! We were feeling like we were in the groove when we headed down to Blacksburg to have lunch with an old friend Cara and her husband Ean. During lunch we chatted about the area and I asked about snowfall. They mentioned that it hasn’t snowed a whole lot in the area over the past decade, but when it has, they’ve lost power for extended periods. With this information fresh on our minds and weather reports calling for another cold but likely dry night, we headed towards our intended campsite for the evening. Van fell asleep on the way and instead of stopping at the campsite, we decided to drive around for a while to give him a longer nap. Unfortunately, he tends to wake up when we stop the car. Along the way we spotted a collection of vacuum cleaners alongside a barn. This was not a yard with a lot of other random objects, so we could only guess why they had so many vacuum cleaners and, more importantly, why they were stored outside instead of inside the nearby barn.
During our drive it started to drizzle and then to sleet. There weren’t a whole lot of inside options to wait out the rain, so we made for a Wal-Mart and took a stroll up and down the aisles. Next thing we know, we’re looking out the front door at large snowflakes quickly covering up the cars. What?!?! This was not in the weather report and, judging from everyone else at the store, was not expected by anyone.
It has been years since I’ve been to a Wal-Mart, but in our trip planning we discovered that the company is very friendly to RVers and others on the road. Company policy allows folks to spend the night in their lot as long as you introduce yourself to the manager and the individual store doesn’t have a policy against it. Alan and I had discussed this at some length before we left, each of us with very different degrees of comfort over doing this. I figured that at some point along the way this would be the best option, but I did not think that would happen on our second night of camping. After some discussions over the fruitlessness of making our way to the campground and the bad road conditions given that no one was expecting this storm, we decided to stay put. We parked ourselves near a cart return and set up for our first free camp at a Wal-Mart.
All things considered, the night was better than I expected, which may be attributed to my low expectations. However, I didn’t give too much thought to how the lot would be plowed until I was awoken at two in the morning to feeling our van shake. I peeked out from behind the curtain and saw three small pickups, not much larger than my former pickup, driving very quickly and straight for us as they pushed the snow towards the edges of the lot. Over and over and over again they were inches (or less) from the van. Even though Alan and Van are lighter sleepers than me, they managed to miss all the action while I kept a lookout until our section of the parking lot appeared to be clear.
I eventually fell back asleep to the distant sound of plows and we awoke dry, warmish, and to clear roads in the morning. Our unexpected night was a success, but not one I’m hoping to replicate very often over the next year.