The alarm went off in my hotel room in Elizabethtown, KY in time to get me to Kelley Beekeeping in Clarkson by the time they opened. My room’s window looked out over the vinyl windows above the hotel’s pool and the rain hitting that surface sounded like a torrent. I looked out over the morning and the rain was steady but not brutal though the sky was foreboding. However, when I arrived in Clarkson the rain had let up and with the help of the incomparable Mike Curry we had loaded the trailer without a drop falling on us. I covered the trailer with a sturdy tarp and a few droplets of rain began to fall as I got into the car and started off toward home. I had the passing thought, “some time my luck is going to run out.” As I drove northeastward across Kentucky the tarp billowed toward the back and obscured the view from the rear view mirror but I had my side mirrors and I watched the temperature of the bees in the trailer and it held steady at a temperature of a cellar. (When we deliver packages in lousy weather we advise beekeepers to keep their package in the cool dark of a cellar until conditions improve enough to put the bees in a hive.) All seemed well and it reminded me of the first time Jim and I had come to Kentucky for packages. We had driven home through temperatures in the fifties, clouds, and occasional drizzle. It had turned out to be the perfect conditions to get the bees home safely. After a couple hundred miles I stopped for gas and found the back end of the tarp had torn off from the wind of highway speed. I had no idea when it came off because of the obscured rear view. But I recalled the trailing edge of the tarp had frayed on our first trip and at this first gas station stop all the bees looked just fine. I had been looking in on Weather.com at points along my route for days and as of my last check the forecast had told me once I got clear of the threat of thunderstorms in western Kentucky I should encounter cloudy skies turning to sunny around Pennsylvania (though I’d be hitting Harrisburg just after nightfall if everything went well.) Everything did not go well; my luck was indeed about to run out. As the highway wound through the mountains of western West Virginia the rain got steadily heavier and the temperatures dropped to the low fifties, then into the forties. I kept convincing myself the skies looked brighter around the next bend and the next, hoping for the forecasted clearing (and foolishly not wanting to take the time to stop and double check.) By the time I stopped for gas in central West Virginia I realized the tarp had frayed a critical few inches more and several packages on the very back and exposed corners had gotten sprayed with rain and mortally chilled . I called Meghan who was just finishing up the day at Command and Control and she took a close look at the updated (and much diminished) forecast for the upcoming miles of my journey and after much consternation we decided the only thing to do was to cover the trailer with the backup tarp, sit still so the bees can keep themselves warm, and wait till it stops raining. The best case scenario is the rain will let up around 11:00 tonight and if it doesn’t get too cold I can press on and keep an eye on the trailer temperature. Otherwise I’m stuck here in the ironically named Pleasant Valley Road in Fairmont, West Virginia till the sun begins to warm things tomorrow. Thanks to the wonders of technology and the wifi hotspot function on my phone, I am able to write and post this while sitting in a car parked on a frontage road by Highway 79. I was also able to check Facebook. I have a friend in Alabama who I hope is about to stop worrying about tornadoes (and I’m grateful that is not on my list of worries here.) Friends in Virginia are commenting about the insanely cold temperatures there. One friend from Maine has posted, with what I assume is dismay, a photo of his necessarily blazing wood stove and I can’t think of anybody who isn’t looking forward to seeing the taillights of this year’s endlessly foul weather. I know I am.
*Coda: If you ever have the opportunity to stay in Fairmont, West Virginia (and you have a choice as to whether or not) just keep on driving. After much hemming and hawing and consultations with Command and Control it was established that I was needlessly sitting idle in the car, unable to get any rest, and still have a long road ahead of me. Though it stopped raining at about 10:00 I looked at the overnight weather forecast for where I was and where I was heading. If I were to leave now the temperatures would continue to drop until I was in Pennsylvania in the wee hours and the lows would be dipping into the mid thirties. That and what promises to be still damp roads would not be the best way to keep these bees alive and healthy. So it was decided I should find a bed and get some proper sleep. After all, we haven’t promised anyone I’d be back before The Honey Exchange opens on Monday at 10:00. So I drove up to the Holiday Inn Express, mostly because it was the first driveway and also because I like those ads where the guy does amazing things at when asked about his great skill he says only, “I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.” I wanted to be that guy. But when I approached the desk, there was a little sign saying “back in a few minutes.” After waiting well longer than the requisite “few minutes” I went out to snug up and dry off the tarps on the trailer to give the bees the best chance at staying warm for the night. I went back in to the Inn and waited another ten or so minutes. There was the sound of crickets and I swear out of the corner of my eye I saw a tumbleweed blow past. Disheartened, I got back in the car and drove across the parking lot to the neighboring Super 8 Fairmont. At the desk was a little sign saying, “back in a few minutes.” I waited a few. A guy came down the stairs and my heart soared until I realized he was a guest, he looked a bit haggard, and he was holding a little baggie with two prescription bottles full of blue and white pills. He loped through the lobby, looped around the entryway, then headed back upstairs. A while later a pizza delivery guy came in. He went upstairs to deliver the pizza. A few minutes later he came down, went down a side hallway to buy himself a soda from the machine (and why he didn’t bother to just get some soda from his place of employment remains a mystery), saw me and said, “still nobody?” “Nope.” A young, tired-looking couple came in. I told them I’d been waiting for a very long time and I wasn’t sure if anyone worked at the hotels in this town. Mind you, I’ve been checking in to hotels for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 years and I have never waited for more than a moment before at least being told if there was a room available or not. I went back out to the trailer and was puttering about and adding some extra zip ties to the tarp in preparation for pushing on up the road when the tired-looking young man of the aforementioned couple waved me in. After he and his wife had finished checking in the front desk clerk looked up without so much as a “sorry for keeping you waiting”, wordlessly, with eyes that said “what do you want?” I asked if there was a AAA rate and she replied “$70, you need one bed or two?” I said, “one” and she checked me in, handed me two room keys and I was on my way to a cigarette-stinky non-smoking room where I had to turn on the heat.