On the road with relentless rain

Karen Martin
Karen Martin

BENTONVILLE -- There's a difference between driving in the rain and driving in a drenching deluge.

A recent journey to Bentonville, which took place on an overcast windless 50-degree afternoon, was a delight: little traffic, Spotify on the speakers, bagels and Monster energy drinks on board, and a pleasant break at a rest stop on I-40 west of Ozark so that fellow traveler Paris could stretch her short doggish legs and take care of business.

We got to NWA in about three hours, eager to take on a busy schedule in one of our favorite Arkansas cities.

First stop: A visit to "Seeing One Another: New Views on the Alfred Stieglitz Collection," on display through Jan. 1, 2024, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

Its 19 photographs, paintings, and other works on paper are divided into works by American artists, European artists and African objects. They're all from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, co-owned by Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., and Crystal Bridges.

Stieglitz, a photographer, gallery owner, and champion of American Modernists, was the husband of artist Georgia O'Keeffe. He died in 1946; in 1949, O'Keeffe donated 101 works of art to HBCU Fisk. You can read all about the exhibit in April Wallace's excellent feature story posted March 9 in the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (www.arkansasonline.com/news/2023/mar/09/at-crystal-bridges-stieglitz-exhibit-refocuses/).

That visit was followed with a long walk through Crystal Bridges' grounds, with spring foliage popping up all over, followed by hotel check-in, a couple hours of online editing (copy editors and writers can't get away from digital access), another walk along super-busy Walton Boulevard, and a take-out dinner.

Predictions of rain overnight failed to materialize,

The next morning centered on attending a press preview of "Diego Rivera's America," which opened March 11 at Crystal Bridges. We debated how to handle Paris during the two-hour event--I could walk her around the CB grounds again while Philip joined journalists and others for the press event, or I could stay at the hotel with the dog, eat more breakfast, and do some more work, and he could fetch us when the event was over.

The weather was cloudy and quiet; rain was predicted at 9:15 a.m. Rather than get stuck in having to spend a lot of time in Crystal Bridges' covered parking lot (most visitors don't know that it exists), I decided to err on the side of caution and stay at the hotel (free Community coffee was an extra incentive).

Precisely at 9:15 a.m., rain began to fall.

Philip returned around 11:30 a.m., and we hit the road south. Almost immediately, a torrential (I don't use the word lightly) downpour started pelting our car. Practically blinded by the force of the rain and wind, we battled our way along the multiple-laned segment of I-49 toward Fayetteville.

The rain was bad enough, but other vehicles were worse, with drivers swerving in and out of lanes, speeding merrily along and seemingly oblivious to the increased lack of visibility caused by big trucks kicking up even more water. We couldn't see the hood of the car.

Somewhere around the Devil's Den exit, the cloudburst backed off a bit. Then it cranked up again, ruining my favorite part of the journey of coming down from the mountains to flat I-40. Fog blanketed the wooded valleys on either side of the road.Visibility was awful.

Stopping and waiting it out was not an option; there were reasons to get back to central Arkansas as well as knowing that lurking on the side of the road and fretting would not go well. So we pushed on, thinking conditions would improve on I-40.

They didn't, but at least the eastbound route is mostly two lanes and used by mostly better-behaved drivers.

Being aware of these suggestions from various automobile associates will help:

Slow down; drive at or below the speed limit.

The humidity that comes with rainy weather can cause windshields and car windows to fog up and impair vision. Try using the defroster function to help, and don't start driving until you can see clearly.

Make sure your lights are on, front and back. Don't turn on your hazard lights, which signal that your car is stopped and will confuse other drivers.

Leave extra room between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Six seconds (double the normal amount) is advisable.

Don't tailgate.

Drive in the tracks of the vehicle in front of you.

Passing isn't recommended, but attempt to avoid getting trapped behind large vehicles with tires that are spraying up even more water and blocking vision.

If you feel your car move after a big wind gust, hold onto the steering wheel and don't panic. Make slight adjustments to stay in your lane.

Never use cruise control.

Beware of hydroplaning; if your car starts to slide, take your foot off the accelerator and steer in the direction you want to go.

We made it home intact--Paris snoozed through the experience and didn't seem to mind missing her homeward-bound rest stop--and managed to include a stop at The Fresh Market in west Little Rock for supper supplies ($5 sushi on Thursdays).

Future adventures may offer more of the same. According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the most pressing climate-related concern for Arkansas is the increase in heavy rain events, severe flooding, and storms. Heavy downpours and increasing annual rainfall will make road trips less carefree.

So be careful out there. Get there, and back, safely.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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