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When Jim and Marlene Davis set out from Santa Rosa, Calif., in their motorhome last month, they expected to experience the grandeur of Mount Rushmore, the thrills of Niagara Falls and the beauty of autumn leaves in New England. Sitting through a hurricane in a Prince William County, Va., parking lot wasn’t on the itinerary, according to The Washington Post.
Part of a group of vagabond RVers that were forced to hop across the county as Isabel approached last week, the Davises and four other rigs along for the trip were told to evacuate the Prince William Forest Park trailer village Wednesday (Sept. 17) amid fears the groves of tall trees could fall. They spent a night with the wagons circled in the Potomac Mills Mall parking lot, only to be booted by Virginia state police in the morning.
On Thursday (Sept. 18), Prince William officials welcomed the caravan into the county’s government complex, parking the large vehicles near Pfitzner Stadium, home of the minor league Potomac Cannons. There the group waited out the storm.
“We’re totally self-contained,” Marlene Davis said, as she fended off the rising winds with a red hooded jacket Thursday night. “We’ve got our water, we’ve got our power, we’ve got our shelter. We’re all set.”
The RVs – parked like a herd of cows, with their rear ends to the wind – sat still against the torrent of the big storm, their occupants enjoying a quiet evening playing cards, chatting and celebrating a birthday. Shad, the couple’s cairn terrier, a dead ringer for Toto, darted in and out of guests’ legs, begging for attention.
The unscheduled hiatus broke up a lengthy cross-country tour for the travelers from Northern California. They stopped in the Washington, D.C., area for 10 days, planning to see the White House, Mount Vernon and other historic sites. Then it would be on to Maine, where they would meet up with 17 more RVs for scenic tours of the fall foliage.
Battalion Chief Hadden Culp, a spokesman for the county’s Fire and Rescue Department, checked on the makeshift RV camp a few times Thursday night. Culp wanted to make sure they were doing all right, and to personally extend the county’s hospitality to the West Coast visitors, The Post reported.
“I think it was the best thing for them not to be in the woods, and it just so happened that where we were able to put them was a good place,” Culp said. “That personalized care is something we try not to lose as we become a bigger and bigger organization. To be able to help these people out was a great thing. They just seemed to roll with the punches.”
The visitors were a bit stir-crazy, wanting very much to get on with their visits to the Smithsonian Institution, Monticello, Williamsburg and several monuments in the District of Columbia, but still they were all smiles.
Louise Madden, a retired Napa Valley vineyard owner from Healdsburg, Calif., said she was just getting the hang of the Metro system and enjoyed shopping at Potomac Mills during their brief layover in Prince William. They also relived a special tour they had of the Metrodome in Minneapolis and were looking forward to their drive up the East Coast.
Isabel wasn’t going to spoil their fun. In fact, the storm was adding to it. They joked about getting T-shirts saying they survived the hurricane.
“Every day is an adventure when you’re traveling like this,” said Bev Pillsbury, another retired Napa Valley vineyard owner. “This is certainly one of those adventures.”
Standing in his living room as rain began to beat against the motorhome’s door, Jim Davis glanced at his itinerary and smiled.
“At least we’re all together,” he said. “But Isabel wasn’t invited.”