Point one: When the voice in the back of your head says "maybe you should do this thing just in case", you should generally listen.
In this case, it was "put a CB in the rental". I have a CB for my truck, but it's not a handheld. I don't happen to own a handheld CB at the moment. I thought about getting one to take in the rental with me, but I figured... "ehhh, what the hell, I probably won't need it". I also neglected to bring my handheld amateur radio, again thinking, "ehh, we're not going off the interstates, it'd be nice to have, but I probably won't need it".
I was wrong. I needed it. Badly.
Remember that adage, better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it? Yeah...
For lack of information and preparation, we ended up stuck in the midst of literally thousands of trucks, for 5 hours, and 40 miles, of cell dead zone; with no way of getting information about what was happening, or why; and no information about the incoming weather.
The rental truck was supposed to have weather radio, and it does, sort of. Unfortunately, it's not NOAA weather radio, it's satellite weather, and is dependent on the Sirius working. For some reason, it wasn't. We got several sirius stations, but not weather or traffic; and we couldn't call them to fix it. There was no AM or FM local traffic or weather coverage either (thank you very much clear channel), just sports talk, top 40, and spanish language; with no local news, traffic, or weather.
So, I'd made myself blind and helpless, with the wave of a hand.
If I'd been able to listen to the truckers, I could've got off the highway, turned around, and taken an alternate route... or just gone back to El Paso to hang out with Rod. And when it came time for the I-20 split, I could've heard their reports about the nastiness that was coming, and continued down the I-10 down to San Antonio, which stayed clear.
Yeah, it would've added miles, but they'd have been safe and clear miles, and I would've at least been able to make Dallas (or maybe stayed south for Houston) by stop time tonight.
Point two: Internet connected apps are great. Use them, enjoy them... don't depend on them. 5 hours in a dead zone, with no information, NOT FUN.
Similarly, and related, OnStar, SyncServices and other connected vehicle systems that offer emergency assistance, information, weather, traffic etc... don't work in cell dead zones.
We were using an android weather app for weather mapping. It's awesome. We can see realtime weather maps, radar, forecasts etc...
... except when there's no data connection, for hours...
Point three: Pack the Gear, Check the Gear, Maintain the Gear; so that when you NEED the Gear, you HAVE the Gear.
Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
When making long distance, cross country, or back country trips in rental/borrowed vehicles, make sure to prep the vehicle, with at least the critical elements, of the same gear and supplies you prep your own vehicle with.
If I get into trouble with my truck, I know that I have the gear and supplies to get out of all but the most severe situations. I can self rescue, or safely wait out to rescue. With this rental truck, as is... we've got SOME of the gear and supplies we normally have, but not enough to be confident.
Yeah, we'd be safe until rescue under normal circumstances... but what about abnormal, but reasonably possible, and easy to prepare for, circumstances?
... Like, oh, say, an ice storm in northwest Texas maybe...
So, first thing I did after we ate dinner, was hit up wally world for supplies and gear we'd neglected to transfer from our truck (just a few little things. The one thing I'm unhappy not having is some recovery gear, but it's a rental. If it needs recovery, I shouldn't be doing it, I should be calling someone from the rental company to do it).
Second thing, was to go buy a CB/weather radio, a 12v power lead, and an external magnetic mount antenna (factory rubber ducks aren't worth a damn, particularly in rough country. We radio geeks call them "portable dummy loads" or "flexible test resistors" for a reason).
I will not be blind and helpless again like that if I can avoid it.