Thunderstorms and threats of a tornado blew through the St. Louis area Saturday night as we wrapped up a quick trip to Amy’s hometown for a death in her family and gathered with friends at a sports bar to watch Miami thrash Virginia Tech.

The tornados passed over the area and finally touched down in Evansville, Indiana, and Henderson, KY, causing widespread damage and leaving at least 15 dead.

Slept in Sunday morning and packed the Liberty before heading out of the Hampton Inn parking lot shortly after 8 a.m. CDT and turning East onto Interstate 64. The Garmin GPS estimated arrival back in Floyd at 7:28 p.m. EST. Light traffic on a Sunday so I set the cruise control on 74 and let the Liberty eat up the miles.

We bought the Liberty in November of 2001 and it has turned out to be one of the most reliable cars I’ve ever owned. About two-thirds of the 67,000 miles on the odometer came from frequent trips to St. Louis and back while Amy tended to her sick mother and then for closing out the estate when her mother died in 2002. The SUV is comfortable for long trips.

Amy sacked out just East of Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and I turned on XM radio’s 60s channel for company while the miles went by. We crossed over into Indiana before 10 a.m. CST and I bumped the cruise control up to 79 to accommodate the Hoosier State’s higher Interstate speed limit of 70. Evansville lies about 20 miles south of I-64 so I couldn’t see any storm damage from the highway.

By the time we crossed over the Ohio River and into Louisville, the Garmin had readjusted the arrival time to 7:10 p.m. It read 7:06 p.m. when Amy awoke and we stopped for gas in Frankfort, Kentucky, and – with lost time to gas – read 7:16 when we headed back East on I-64. By Ashland, the time was down to 7:11.

At Huntington, West Virginia, traffic came to a halt. Bridge construction near the city’s regional mall limited Eastbound travel to one lane and the backup stretched for miles. As we inched along, I watched the arrival time rise to nearly 8 p.m. So much for making good time.

Cleared the congestion and kicked the cruise control back up to 77. Heavier traffic between Huntington and Charleston but managed to get the arrival time back to 7:25 p.m. We would lose four of those minutes at the three toll booths on I-77 South, otherwise known as the West Virginia Turnpike.

Driving out on Thursday, the Garmin recommended U.S. 460 from Christiansburg to Princeton, West Virginia, as an alternative route but on the return trip the routing suggested staying on I-77 to Wytheville and then I-81 North. We stayed on I-77 and stopped for gas and a quick dinner at the Truckstops America terminal in Wytheville. By the time we turned on to I-81 north, the ETA slipped to 7:51 p.m.

But lighter-than-usual I-81 traffic let us make up some time until we turned off at Radford for the shortcut over to Virginia 8 and the last leg home. But the driver of the car ahead, obviously stoned, crept along at 35-40 mph and we lost time again.

The road opened up again on Rte. 8 and we hit Floyd at 7:40 p.m., turned left onto Oxford Street, then another left on U.S. 221 and cruised home, pulling into the driveway at 7:50 – 10 hours, 40 minutes and 686 miles from the Hampton Inn in Belleville, Illinois.

At home, we found everything in good shape. Our three cats wandered out of the darkness and greeted us with sleepy eyes. On Monday we will pick up the dog and kittens at the vet. The electricians apparently finished up most of their work while we were gone and we now have lights in the gazebo and utility shed along with outlets in the shed and the wiring in place to add outlets in the gazebo.

Mail included the usual bills and the anticipated but dreaded notice that our health insurance premiums would rise more than $100 a month next year. Amy unpacked and tossed the clothes from our trip into the washer. I opened the mail, checked my email, and promptly fell asleep on the couch.

After dry cleaning, my black suit will go back into the closet to wait for the next funeral. With luck it will stay there, unused, for a long, long time.