By Valarie D’Elia

Under normal circumstances, travelers might create a checklist when preparing for a road trip, but as I learned, you can’t plan for every fork in the road.

When I was offered the opportunity to test-drive a new 2018 Chevy Equinox for a trip to the Florida Keys in exchange for a review, I took for granted the fact that gas is relatively cheap and plentiful.

And then came Irma.

The trip was right after Labor Day.

The pick up point for the Equinox was Miami International Airport, as my boyfriend Ron and I were looking forward to the drive south on the beautiful Overseas Highway, between Key Largo and Key West, after a stay at the Margaritaville Hollywood Beach Resort.

We knew a hurricane was brewing, a pretty bad one, but thought we’d take our chances.

The weather forecast had been flip-flopping for days.

I have a condo on the Gulf Coast, so the worst case scenario we thought, would be a detour west.

We learned the Florida Keys were being evacuated just as soon as we touched down in Miami.

So it was on to Plan B. After the Hollywood stay, we would cross Alligator Alley to Naples and take I-75 north to Tampa.

All over the state, people were talking about gas shortages. Where stations weren’t flat-out closed, gas lines were already forming.

We saw it with our own eyes, and we waited. This wasn’t someone else’s hurricane. We now owned it.

Luckily, Chevy provided us with a full tank at pickup. Our strategy was not to wait until it was empty to fill up. It became our mission to continually top it off.

With a fuel economy of  25 MPG combined city/highway, it’s just about average for a small size SUV, which ranges from 18 to 34 MPG.

The annual fuel cost for the 2018 Equinox is estimated to be $1,700.  According to the paperwork that came with the car, that’s $1,750 more spent over 5 years compared to the average new vehicle.

Our single minded focus became finding gas, and we managed to keep the tank full all the way up to Treasure Island where the weather report said the coast north of St. Pete Beach would be clear.

It was not to be.

The forecast for the tempest that was slamming the Florida Keys as a Category 4 hurricane suddenly put the Tampa area in its cross hairs, where an epic storm surge was expected.

We were faced with yet another evacuation.

We quickly prepared the condo for impact and decided to high-tail it inland, to Orlando, where flooding was expected to be minimal. Hurricane Irma was now our constant companion in the comfy confines of the Equinox.

Next, we headed east, to what we thought would be safer ground. We set the GPS  for Disney World!

The Contemporary, one of Disney’s iconic resorts, was built by US Steel Corporation.  I was told that Disney has a series of canals & retention ponds to collect excessive run-off water. What could be safer?

The Disney Magic, the pixie dust, the unparalleled hospitality. Mickey Mouse & his pals, comforting us like a warm, dry blanket. It sounded too good to be true.

As soon as we arrived, so did news, that now, the diminished hurricane took a similar turn, and would hit Orlando as a Category 1.

So the hurricane we anxiously tried to stay in front of, finally caught up with us, but with less gusto.

Keeping the $33,000 Equinox in one piece when we were out of it was our newest challenge.   Although Disney offers practically anything you can ask for, it apparently does not have any covered parking garages.

With a hurricane baring down, our loaner vehicle would be at the mercy of the elements parked overnight in the Contemporary lot.

We weighed our options.

A few feet away from the palm tree in the divider island?  In a spot without any cars around it? Not too close to the alligator-infested lake?

The hurricane hit around 2:00 a.m. and lasted for a couple of hours with strong winds and driving rain.

We were very fortunate that it blew in and out quickly with very little damage.

Not a dent on the Equinox.

The monorails that were parked inside the Contemporary starting moving again when Disney World opened after being closed for two days.

We went to Future World at Epcot and found ourselves at Test Track by Chevrolet.

We were not all that surprised to find another 2018 Equinox there, center stage, on display in all its glory.

After a seven day goose chase, we returned our car to Tampa International Airport a couple of days late. All Chevy asked from us, of course, was to return it with a full tank of gas.