Well, we got off to a bit of an interesting start...
On the drive to the city to pick up the van, we were slammed by a wild storm. The sky turned black and the blob on the radar went from red to purple. I insisted we stop and wait it out. So we pulled into a small Mexican joint off the highway and let the storm roll over us.
My dad and I made it to the dealership 10 minutes before they closed (he had came along for moral support). We had just enough time to get the key and pull away before they shut down for the night.
About a mile down the road we stopped for gas. Once again, the radar showed something ominous bearing down on us. As much as I wanted to just get the van home, I wanted to make it back in one piece even more.
Despite our best efforts, it was clear that we would be once again overrun by the weather. I pulled into the first random parking lot I saw... At this point we had made only it 3.7 miles away from the dealership! Nonetheless, this was the right decision.
Torrential rains and lightning poured down all around us. I could barely see out the window, but I could tell by the splashes on the street that the roads were quickly flooding. I pulled up the radar again and saw another purple mass headed straight for us. Suddenly, the pattering rain against the roof turned into full-on slamming.
Golfball size hail.
So we waited. The noise was too loud to talk over, so we just laughed at the irony for a small eternity until it lightened up. Eventually, the whole cell passed over and continued rolling towards the coast. I waited long into the clear before deciding to give the road another go. I would still have to drive the next hour in the unfamiliar vehicle... during rush hour Houston traffic... in the rain... in the dark, so I saw no need to rush.
I made the rest of the drive without a problem (albeit a little tense). I was rewarded with a lightning show for the books. Since I was driving behind the storm following in it's path, I had a front row seat to the action. Bolts flashed across through the sky and jumped from cloud to ground. Unfortunately, I couldn't record the dramatic scene since I was driving, but it was certainly one I will never forget.
The Lesson: know when to stop. I'm glad I had this experience at the start of my project to remind me of the limits of van life. Traveling safe is more important than traveling on-schedule. If you have a reasonable doubt about your situation, take the time you need to evaluate the position you are in and make the right choice. It's better to arrive late than not arrive at all.