We have been so lucky to dodge storms and stay mostly out of freezing temperatures, but when you are going to face a storm, why not make it the biggest storm the area has seen in over 30 years?
While we were still in Conroe, just north of Houston, we knew we would be facing snow and cold temperatures at our next campground outside of Columbus, Texas. So, the day before we moved, we dove into preparation mode. We tried desperately (and futilely) to find a space heater, we filled our 2 bottles of propane and purchased a third, and we bought insulation to hang in all the windows. We did our best to prepare before even getting to our new site.
Once we arrived in Columbus, we filled the freshwater tank, emptied the other tanks, filled up on gas, and stocked up on groceries. At this time, they were predicting snow on Sunday night into Monday, with freezing temperatures until Tuesday, with a steady increase in temperatures starting on Wednesday and building to the weekend of 70+ degrees. If only that is how it had played out!
The temperatures on Sunday fell faster than predicted, the precipitation moved in earlier, and the snow was preceded and followed by freezing rain. We woke up Monday morning to only a couple inches of snow on the ground, but our water tank was frozen. The pipes in the campground were frozen. And the forecast was now calling for below freezing temperatures through Wednesday. Then Thursday. Until we finally actually saw 40 degrees on Friday without another dip below freezing.
We had some additional water stored in the camper, but 3.5 gallons does not go very far. We melted snow to flush the toilet. And we knew this was unsustainable. However, one of the purchases we made when we decided to go fulltime was a Berkey water filter. These puppies are not cheap, but they are good. They have been thoroughly tested and have been shown to remove bacteria, viruses, you name it. And the water is darn tasty. With some hesitation (from me), Will collected water from the Colorado River that runs along the campground. He filtered it with our backpacking water filter and what we drank also went through the Berkey. When I had a moment of panic, fear, and so much anxiety about drinking river water, Will asked if I would drink this same water from the backpacking filter if we were stranded on a hike. Obviously, yes, I would. Then he said: We are stranded. We did not hike to get here, but we are in as much need for water now as we would be on a hike. We truly had no choice. Also, he reminded me of the filtering power of the Berkey and that we do not take that on a hike, so I needed to stop worrying. I never really stopped worrying, though it may have lessened some.
The Berkey is not the only thing that paid for itself during the storm. We also bought a generator when we started out, not really knowing how much we would use it or if it would ever come in handy. Granted, we have used it several times when we have boondocked. But we needed it now. We lost power shortly into this adventure and had rolling blackouts until the wee hours of Thursday morning. While we can heat the camper with propane and the battery, the generator recharges the battery while also allowing us to charge our phones and computers (to keep up with work) and have all the luxuries (e.g., internet, TV, microwave, anything that needs to be plugged in). When the power went out one morning while Will was making toast, he ran outside and fired up the generator. When Little Bird wore us down to our very core, we could turn the TV on. The generator kept us going comfortably and ensured we stayed warm.
Having propane heat is literally what kept us not only alive, but comfortably so. Unfortunately, it became a hot commodity. Although we had 3 tanks, we are used to going through a tank in about 1.5 days when the temperatures have fallen close to freezing. But with the grace of God, 1 tank lasted almost twice that long. Whether it was the insulation we put in the windows or divine intervention (or a combination of the 2), we never ran low on propane. Initially, we were able to refill tanks at the campground, but once their supply ran out, we had to find other sources. Many of the options in the area were also out, but we always managed to keep at least 2 bottles full as backup. A true Godsend.
The lack of water and scarcity of propane certainly tested us, but the true test was keeping a toddler occupied in a 33-foot camper for 5 days without the ability to go outside for more than 20 minutes and no water. When we were running around Houston looking for a space heater, I randomly picked up a few things to add a couple activities to our repertoire. At that point, we were thinking we would be holed up for maybe 2 days. And I had like 4 new activities up my sleeve! We were going to be just fine.
But those activities did not last long, and we had to get creative in so many ways. We made bread in a bag, we painted with water, we finger painted in a bag, we made a card drop box, we pulled out the pipe cleaners, we had stickers literally everywhere (on the wall, on the bottom of shoes, on the dog, everywhere), we did coloring and coloring books, we ripped paper, we baked cookies. We have very little space to hold materials for activities and rely heavily on doing things outside, so thinking outside the box was a huge challenge. Also, I had banked on having water because a bath is always a crowd pleaser…and also, toddlers are messy, so many of the things I thought of along the way were off the table. We rarely have the TV on and just do not do screen time, but Daniel Tiger became all of our best friend. And we made it. Sure, Little Bird was not the only one to run down the road like a freed bird when Friday and nicer weather rolled around, but we managed to get by (perhaps with a little less patience and sanity, but I hear those are rechargeable).
The Lord truly blessed us during this storm, even if it wore us down, made us anxious, made us worry, and depleted our patience. We made out better than so many others, and that reality never left our thoughts. We worried about our family and friends in the area and we prayed hard for those less fortunate than us. We are beyond grateful for the family and friends who reached out offering us a place to stay or words of encouragement and those who we know were continually praying when there was absolutely nothing any of us could do.
We learned so much from this experience and feel like we passed our first true test (any prior so-called test pales in comparison). Weeks like this challenge us as individuals, as partners, as parents, and the more we are challenged, the more I know that Will and I make a great team. And now that we have gotten through this, I think we have shed our rookie status and can truly call ourselves fulltimers.