“Race” Report: Hurricane Irma … and A Decision

“Race” Report: Hurricane Irma … and A Decision

Damage from Hurricane Matthew (10/2016)

Hurricane Irma… What can I say? You sure did keep us on our toes, I guess. Look, I think I have a mild case of Hurricane PTSD from last year’s Cat-3 Hurricane Matthew which nearly killed Deb (when a palm tree came crashing through the bedroom window of the house we were staying in and sent dagger-like shards of glass flying across the room no more than a foot from her head) and destroyed the exterior of our home to the tune of $50,000 in damages. It was my first up close and personal experience with a hurricane and, honestly, I had no interest in a do-over. We moved into a condo back in June and we live on the 14th floor of a 15-story building that sits right on the intercoastal waterway. The prospects of riding out a major storm way up high on the river did not interest me in the least.

So when I started hearing reports of a monster storm chugging its way across the Atlantic, I paid attention. I tried desperately not to give a lot of energy to all the “what ifs” that were swirling around my head, but it was hard. Irma turned into a Category 5 hurricane and started breaking records left and right. Heck, there was even talk of adding a Cat-6 storm designation in her honor because she was such a big, nasty bitch! On Monday, as she churned through the Lesser Antilles leaving utter devastation in her wake, I started my mental preparations. Okay, I could book a hotel for the 4 of us out of harm’s way… But WHERE? NO ONE agreed on where the storm was heading! She may go up the east coast of Florida… maybe the west coast… maybe right up through the center of the state… maybe turn and head out to sea… maybe bypass Florida altogether and just keep on going into the Gulf… Nowhere seemed “safe.” On Tuesday, I started searching hotels and could not find anything in Georgia that would take our dogs, Kona and Pooka (happily, many hotels ended up waiving their pet policies for hurricane evacuees – kudos to them!). I finally found a hotel with 2 pet-friendly rooms just north of Charlotte, NC, so I reserved them – just in case.

I went out that morning and bought 2 cases of bottled water – because that’s what you do in advance of a major storm. I went to meet Megan to swim that evening and stopped to top off my gas tank (again, that’s what you do) and had to go to 3 gas stations before finding one that had gas – which was eerie and weird. Deb and I made the decision to bust our asses in the office, get everything wrapped up that we could, and if we needed to leave, we would head out on Friday morning. Then people started posting the pictures of the major highways which had turned into parking lots filled with people trying to get out of Florida… people posted that the gas stations along the highways were out of gas and people were running out of fuel on the roads with nowhere to go. AND, as all the spaghetti models of Irma’s path started to come together, it looked like she would be marching straight through Georgia and into North Carolina and Tennessee when she was through with Florida… SHIT! It also looked like she was going to come up the spine of Florida meaning that the entire state would be involved – hurricane conditions stretching from coast to coast and from Miami to Jacksonville – all at once!  CRAZY! But that also meant that she would lose steam as she went north with projections that she would be a Cat-1 storm by the time she reached us.

On Thursday evening, after a lot of soul-searching, Deb and I decided that we would ride out the storm here at home rather than taking our chances out on the road. I don’t know that my family back in Virginia or Deb’s family in Maryland were too happy about that decision, but it was the right call (in retrospect). On Friday morning, I headed to Publix to get provisions. I wasn’t terribly worried about finding food – it was unlikely that there had been a run on avocados and kombucha. 😉 I found everything on my list in record time. And here’s what I noticed about the people I encountered: Everyone was AMAZING! The Publix employees were terrific as always. The customers were kind to each other and helpful. I saw more than one person allow someone who only had a few items to skip to the front of the line. Tall people were helping “vertically-challenged” neighbors reach items in the back of upper shelves. People were smiling, going about their business with a purpose, and getting stuff done. I believe crisis brings out a person’s true nature and I believe that MOST people are overwhelmingly GOOD! I’m proud of my community. I’m proud of the spirit I saw shining through in the lead up to the hurricane.

On Friday, we brought in everything off our balconies, did laundry, prepped food, made big bags of ice, filled the bathtubs with water, figured out how to turn the circuit breakers and water off in our condo – just in case, charged every laptop, cell phone, battery bank, etc. in the house. We were as ready as we were going to get. Josh’s 15th birthday was on Saturday and although we couldn’t give him the birthday we wanted to, we did the best we could. On Friday evening we went to Dick’s and he picked out the sneakers he wanted for his main present. We tried to go bowling, but the lanes closed early. 😦

On Saturday morning we woke up to a cloudy but beautiful day! We took our cars to our friend’s house and put them in his garage where they would hopefully be safer. We took Josh and Nicki out for burgers at The Daily Grind and then for dessert crepes at Cinnamon Tree Cafe (Josh’s bday choices). Josh opened presents (a Garmin from us and the new Rick Riordan book from Nicki) and then Nicki took us home. There wasn’t much more to do but wait. We piddled around the office, watched videos, played cards, ate good food and went to bed early.

On Sunday morning the storm was turning toward Florida. The wind was starting picking up here and the water in the canal next to our building was much higher than usual, but we were still able to take Kona outside with no worries – she was such a good girl through all of it. We fixed a big breakfast, turned down the fridge and freezer temps (in advance of losing power), made grab and go piles in the fridge that we could transition to coolers quickly if/when the power went out, and then just tried to enjoy the day. Irma was not scheduled to arrive in earnest until nightfall – which was a creepy prospect, but it was what it was.

The wind really started blowing around dinner time. Kona was pleading with us to go outside and no amount of coaxing would get her to use the training pads we bought. So we tag-teamed… we went downstairs to the parking garage and I held the door while Deb and Kona went 15 steps outside to the grass. Kona was thankfully very quick. By 8 pm, the wind and rain were coming straight at our unit from the east. We could see the hurricane glass in the sliders flexing. For the first time, we decided to turn on The Weather Channel and see what was happening and just like that I wanted to stress-eat ALL my hurricane snacks! Among the reports from the crazy weather people who were outside during the storm, there were tornado warnings popping up all around us. We weren’t afraid of the hurricane any longer, but tornadoes are another matter. We decided to pull mattresses into our interior master bathroom and sleep there. It wasn’t bad at all and the awful noise of the wind was muffled in there. We actually got several hours of sleep. Josh slept like a rock – per usual. 🙂

At 4 am, Deb and I both woke up and ventured out to see what was going on. Even though it was dark outside, you could see that the river had completely taken over the condo pool and was all the way to the parking garage. Through the kitchen window, we could see that the small neighborhood to the south was completely underwater and the river was all the way out to US 1! I felt so bad for the people in those houses, but the river will not be denied – it goes where it wants! I couldn’t go back to sleep so I got up around 5:15. The river was retreating by then. I could see the white tile outline around the pool and see that the neighborhood was not as swamped as it had been an hour before. The wind was still fierce, but by 7 am when it was light outside, it was starting to die down. We never even lost power, which was shocking!

Daybreak brought clarity on the damage – which was minimal for us in the grand scheme of things… The brand new condo dock (which was just finished and inspected in July) was destroyed. The pool is a mess, but nothing an industrial pool vac and a little chlorine can’t fix, and our carpet got a little wet around the big slider to the east balcony. That said, Deb and I were both chomping at the bit to check on our house in Ponce Inlet (which is under contract for sale, but not yet closed). We spoke to our old neighbor who said there was no visible damage which was a big relief. Turns out we lost the chimney cap and one small strip of soffit, but other than that, no issues and not a drop of water inside! Thank you, Baby Jesus!


I know this was not the case for everyone in Florida and my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the storm. I am just beyond grateful that our area was spared the worst of Irma’s wrath.

Now, in other news, I have an announcement… Megan and I have decided not to race Great Floridian this year. She is injured and me, well, to be perfectly candid, my heart just hasn’t been into training this year. I’ve tried to kick my butt into gear, but I’ve been so into the business – it always seemed like there was something more important to do than swim, bike, and run. I haven’t been a complete sloth, but I’m not terribly interested in throwing up a Hail Mary for 92.6 miles. GFT was a HUGE knee-jerk reaction coming off of IMFL last year. It was the closest thing I could find to another Ironman – without actually doing another Ironman – and it made sense in my brain at the time, but I’m just not feeling it. I don’t even feel bad about it. Taking 2017 off from hardcore training was probably one of the best things I could have done for myself, and now I’m excited about the 2018 season, which looks like it will include IM Gulf Coast 70.3, IM Augusta 70.3, and POSSIBLY another shot at Ironman Florida – I’ll make that call after Gulf Coast. 🙂