“When you come to a fork in the road … take it.” Yogi Berra
Railroad crossings in Alabama do not often come with a signal. Following a near miss, we were told that you must roll down the window and use your ears. As Vivian drove through a small back road to an intersection, we were so frazzled from the day’s drive that it did not occur to us that our rig would be standing over a railroad track as the truck came to a stop. Nor did it occur to us that an actual train would be whizzing down the tracks not so far from said intersection. In the nick of time, Vivian pulled out of the way but not before we both saw the whites of the engineer’s eyes. A railroad track only 15 feet from a stop sign makes you think.
Let me back up. Vivian had driven on various roads and highways that day before the train incident and much of it was done in white-out rain conditions. We had left White Oak River Campground on Lake Eufaula early in the morning with intentions of driving approximately 240 miles; so we figured about five hours at the most. It started out nicely, very little traffic on a four-lane highway and no grades. But then things started to change. More traffic, more hills and lots and lots of rain. At one point we were heading up a very steep wet road and cars coming toward us were flashing their lights. Our lights were on, so we had no idea why they were flashing us, that is until we crested the steep hill and could see an accident scene straight ahead of us through the torrential rain interrupted by the rapid movement of the windshield wipers. Thankfully, the truck brakes worked well (if you are wondering about the trailer brakes, go to my first blog, more on that later) and we avoided disaster within inches.
The day was not quite over as we bypassed the town of Gadsen, only a short 50 miles from our destination, Lake Guntersville State Park. By then, we had been on the road about six hours. Going 55 mph, we rounded a corner and encountered a moment of panic as we approached a covered bridge. No time or place to stop, we drove under and thankfully, no sounds of metal scraping were heard.
According to my research prior to our trip, the worse part of the route was ahead of us as I knew we would have to do some serious climbing on narrow winding roads to get to Lake Guntersville. Previously, I inquired on an RV forum if anyone knew the best way to get to the park as it appeared there were two ways to enter from Highway 227. Someone very familiar with the routes highly suggested we avoid coming in from the south and instead, enter from the north. His description of the drive is the following, “White knuckle would be coming in from Guntersville on 227 up and down a long winding grade with one turn about 90 degrees and a few places with nearly sheer drops.” In order to avoid that, we would drive about 20 miles out of the way and enter from the north side.
Seven hours of driving later, we approached a critical moment where we could continue to the “out of the way, but safer” route, or take the more “direct, but not recommended” route. Road weary, we decided to take the direct route. This led us to make a left turn onto Rives Rd. Soon, we realized that we were on a road that was barely wide enough for our truck and RV. It led us through private farms and ranches, all of which I am sure were equipped with a respectable arsenal of firearms. At least there were no dogs running out to the road. But there were chickens, the free roaming kind and at one point, we had to stop several times as the chickens played chicken with us. The horses in the field looked up at us with bewilderment, probably thinking we were coming for them. Driving on a road barely wider than a bicycle path made us cringe thinking about what was going on inside the RV with every bump and pothole. 1.2 miles later, we laughed with such relief as we arrived at a stop sign and turned onto a respectable road.
Vivian, having driven all day was glued to the steering wheel. A few more miles on some easy sloping roads led us toward the dreaded highway 227. We would do exactly the opposite of what was recommended to us. All my painstaking efforts to route us safely to the state park all went out the window. Soon, Vivian was testing our truck’s exhaust brakes up and down a 8% grade that went on for miles. Slowly driving, we accumulated several cars behind us, until we reached a straight-away and everyone quickly abandoned our convoy before the next sharp turn up a grade. Soon after, we arrived at beautiful Lake Guntersville feeling so much love for our diesel full ton.
It was a three-cocktail night for Vivian whose fingers had to be peeled off the steering wheel. Soon after hooking up and dealing with an unlevel campsite, we walked to the edge of Lake Guntersville while passing several deer grazing in a grassy area of the campground. The sun was still high as it began its evening descent over the water. Toasting once again, we, the RV traveling newbies, made it to yet another beautiful location. Roll with the tide, cheers Alabama.