My Night As A Climate Refugee Sucked

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What I thought would be my last day on the road turned out to go nothing like I planned. Not only did I have some problems with my EV glamping trailer (you can learn all about that here), which needed a repair before I could go on, but then the road I was planning on taking was closed and all of the hotels in the region got booked out solid. The cause? A climate-exacerbated fire that made a whole town in New Mexico evacuate.

Delays Kept Me East Of The Mountains

As we packed the car and trailer after a night in a hotel in a town that was too hot for camping, I noticed pretty quickly that I had made a very stupid mistake: leaving my inverter under the hood on.

The car’s main battery had plenty of charge, but the 12V battery was too depleted to close the contactors and get the Bolt on the road. Some very nice people helped me jump the battery, but the Bolt’s computer was apparently too traumatized by the low battery to want to act right. Instead of showing the 15% range I knew it had, it showed zero range, zero charge, and wouldn’t turn on, no matter how good the battery’s voltage was.

The roadside assistance people said they’d need to tow it to the nearest Chevy dealer for a reset of some kind, so I had to unhook the trailer and get it ready for a tow while they took care of another call.

But, while I stood in the shade of a tree and drank some water, my brain kicked back into gear. It dawned on me that I probably just needed to reset the computer by removing the negative terminal. With my multi-tool, I did this, put the power back, and then tried to start the car up. Success!

Sadly, my troubles for the day weren’t over. When I was putting the trailer back on the hitch, I noticed that two welds on either side of the coupler were in the process of breaking. It looked like a big bump I had hit in Texas the previous day had done some damage and found the welds on the Harbor Freight trailer to be the weakest link. If the welds finished breaking (they eventually would), the trailer would have come completely loose of the vehicle, leaving my car with a small piece of metal to which both the coupler and the safety chains are attached!

Fortunately, I was able to find a skilled welder willing to help us get back on the road. He took the piece off the trailer, bent it back into shape, and then added some reinforcement and additional welds to make it stronger than before. This let us get back on the road!

The other problem was that my Harbor Freight tires were running out of tread, with one about completely bald. After burning through two sets of those tires on this trip (about 1600 miles per pair), I decided to upgrade to something better. Online reviews show that these tires often don’t last very long. Discount Tire didn’t have anything, and wouldn’t be able to get anything in for days. So, I had to get Harbor Freight tires again, changing them myself in the afternoon heat. Fortunately, the last tire I had bought was still within the 90-day return window, so I got part of my money back!

With fresh tread and a coupler that was safe to pull the trailer with, we left Clovis. Unfortunately, the dead 12V, accompanying computer issues, broken coupler, and bad tires had eaten up almost the whole day. We figured we’d get as far as Roswell and then need to spend the night. We hadn’t made any reservations because we weren’t sure how long everything was going to take.

What We Didn’t Know Messed Us Up

While all this was going on, we weren’t aware that a fire had started early that day in the mountains west of Roswell. Because summers are getting (on average) hotter and drier and the monsoon season hasn’t arrived yet, the little fire found ample opportunity to grow. Dry air, dry wood, and a little breeze was about all it took to turn the little flames into a fast-moving and raging inferno.

Around the time we were wrapping up with the tires in Clovis, people living in the mountain town of Ruidoso were getting notifications that they needed to leave, and immediately. They had no time to gather possessions, pack clothes, or do anything else to prepare. The fire cut off all roads to the south, west, and north pretty quickly, leaving only the highway to Roswell for an evacuation route.

People quickly reserved every motel in Roswell, and then started fanning out in every direction looking for a bed to sleep in. One of my mom’s old friends found Artesia to be full, and then found Carlsbad to also be full. She ended up driving all the way into El Paso to find a motel, while many other people went all over the eastern side of New Mexico filling up the motels as far north as I-40.

The Francis Energy charging station at the Allsup’s in Fort Sumner, NM. The wildfire smoke can be seen in the upper right part of the sky.

We found out about the fire while charging in Fort Sumner, and I realized pretty quickly that I probably wasn’t going to be finding a room in Roswell. I ended up having to do basically what people evacuating did: call and check online until I found something. This was a long process, and we ended up letting the Bolt EUV charge to full while we tried to figure out where we’d go for the night.

The only room we were able to find was in Santa Rosa, and only because the owner of a “vintage” motel (read: old motel in need of more remodeling/repair) didn’t do any kind of reservations, online or by phone. He had some rooms available, so we were able to drive up there and get a place to sleep for the night. This put us an hour further away from home instead of closer, and with charging that ended up taking a lot of time the next day.

Not A Great Thing To Experience, Even In Small Ways

I know what I experienced as someone passing through is small compared to what the people living there had to deal with. All I had to do was find a motel, while my house on the other side of the mountains is still safe and habitable. So, don’t take what I’m saying here as some kind of embarrassing attempt to get attention for this relatively minor inconvenience.

That having been said, not knowing where you’re going to go for the night was a stressful and awful experience that I’d still rather I didn’t have to deal with. My mom and my wife were a little terrified by it. At one point, we were thinking we’d have to either drive home all night or find a place in the desert to pitch a tent. We were offered a place to camp in a church parking lot at one point, and I was considering finding some public land north of the flames that was cooler for camping if all else failed. We very nearly experienced a night of homelessness in the heat and narrowly avoided it by staying in a terrible little motel an hour in the wrong direction.

In the future, I’d like to avoid being impacted by climate-related events like this, but the sad and potentially terrifying truth is that this is probably my first experience with climate disruption and not my last. Next time, it might be my house that becomes uninhabitable. The time after that, my family could be among the refugees. I don’t want this for my family or anybody else’s.

Worse, many parts of society don’t want to pump the brakes on this. So, our work here at CleanTechnica is important. Future human suffering far beyond what I experienced and what the people who left their homes experienced is at stake. With my tiny taste of it, I’m not interested in contributing further to the problem if at all possible.

All images by Jennifer Sensiba. Featured image shows wildfire smoke from the fire that kept us from going where we wanted to sleep for the night.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 2018 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba