Cross-country quarantine trip, part 2.

Here’s the route we ended up taking.

When we left Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio on Sunday, May 10 we were aware that we would soon be leaving the eastern third of the country, excited to be heading straight west, to New Mexico.  We got onto I-70 and headed over the border into Indiana. As other full-timers have reported, the Indiana section of the interstate is in terrible condition, rough and uneven like a washboard.  I imagined that the inside of T2 would mimic the mayhem of Lucille Ball’s experience from the classic on-the-road cult 1954 movie, The Long, Long Trailer.  Fortunately, there were no boulders stored under the couch to roll around, as in Lucy’s escapade.  The by-pass around Indianapolis on I-465 was eerily jammed with tractor-trailers, a scene unlike any we had witnessed since leaving Florida.

The spring greens of Casey, Illinois was so sweet after Florida heat.

We stopped the first night in Casey, Illinois at a KOA.  With the COVID-19 sensibilities and Illinois travel restrictions that were in place, we had been notified we could only stop there for one night which was fine with us.  The campground, while nearly empty of occupants, was filled to the brim with the luminous shades of spring green on the newly leafed-out trees – oak and hickory – and the sweet new grass. Robins were busily jumping about, waiting to be noticed. We plugged into the power and water and immediately went out for a walk in the blustery, late afternoon sunshine, stretching our legs and rearranging the kinks and knots caused by extended sitting and driving.  The campground was located adjacent to the wide open, newly plowed and planted fields of soybeans, popping up out of the rich, black soil like little green toy soldiers, waiting for new orders.  The damp earth smelled of promise and possibilities.

Crossing the Mississippi River always marks a turning point in our travels.

Day 2 was a landmark day for us because we crossed the mighty Mississippi River, just north of St. Louis.  There is something completely liberating for us every time we cross the river and we never tire of it.  We stopped that night in Columbia, Missouri at a commercial campground we had first visited three years ago during a big University of Missouri football weekend and the place was packed with people.  This time, it was very quiet, the restrooms and showers were closed and the entire check-in process was no-contact, all done with pre-payment and site assignments that were completed before we arrived.  This time, it was largely occupied by temporary workers.  Our neighbor, in an Airstream, was from Florida and was one of those temporary workers. There was a tentativeness and a slight edge to the limited conversations that we had, all socially distant.

The wide expanse of Kansas included road images like this grain silo.

Day 3 brought us to Kansas which measures about 400 miles east to west, too much to drive in one day.  We had planned to stay in two different KOA campgrounds and add an extra night in the second one if we needed to rest up more.  We chose to route across the northern tier of Kansas because we wanted to avoid the meat packing town of Liberal, KS where the pandemic was more serious.  Our first night we stayed in Salina, a town of 40,000, where we needed to find a supermarket.  We discovered Dillons which had one of the largest fresh vegetable departments we’ve seen since Florida, which was good; but very few shoppers were wearing face masks, which was not so good. We filled up with gas at $1.39/gallon, just about the lowest price we found on the entire trip.  We watched the weather report, which in Kansas lasts about five minutes because of the sheer expanse of territory.  Peter reminded me that the weather is critical to the significant farming interests in the state.  There was a storm system moving in our direction later in the week and we decided to make our second night in Goodland, Kansas and then head immediately south through Colorado before dropping in to New Mexico.

Finally crossing into New Mexico!

Day 4, May 13, we crossed into New Mexico at the far northeastern corner of the state in the town of Raton.  The town is known as the home of Jimmy Gilmer and The Fireballs whose 1963 hit, “Sugar Shack”, was Billboard’s top song of the year.  Who knew?  We found the KOA easily because their distinctive red and yellow signs are always listed on the interstate exit signs.  The campground was small, immaculate and wide open.  The air was sunny and dry and what we have come to expect from New Mexico and we weren’t disappointed.  The bathrooms were closed here as well, which had not been the case in Kansas.  It made no difference to us because we are self-quarantined anyway in T2.

Day 5 brought us to American RV Resort in Albuquerque, a place we have stopped often because of its easy access on and off the interstate.  This was another no-contact check-in and we stopped by the office on our way in to pick up our receipt. We have a couple of favorite sites and were able to request and get one under a leafy canopy that provided lush shade and lovely, easy breezes at night.

The state had just re-opened so Friday it was take-out from our favorite restaurant, Andele, and it was as good as it looks!

Day 6 brought us to our final stop on this marathon trip, Sunny Acres RV Park in Las Cruces.  We pulled in on Friday, May 15 in the mid-afternoon and were directed to the site that we had chosen last fall when we reserved the spot.  This time of year, it was in afternoon sun and we were disappointed to discover the seasonal reality.  The site is great but since we have to pay for our electric, the sunshine on an aluminum Airstream sounded ominous.  The office manager, who knew the drill, was great to us and asked if we would be interested in a site with more shade.  Yes!  After checking out the options he offered a site with much more shade and we decided to move when it became available on Monday.

We settled in for the weekend in our temporary site, planning to move on Monday.  Saturday was great because the state had begun to gradually re-open and masks are required in all public spaces.  Social distancing is also required and we went to the just re-opened Farmer’s Market downtown Las Cruces.

Thank you local farmers for providing the bounty for our Saturday lunch at home.

We found local raw honey, fresh picked baby spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and met some great local farmers.  Of course, our first day in town meant a drive-by to Lujan’s Bakery where last fall, we picked up the Mexican pinwheels and the biscochitos of happy memories.  They were open and allowing a limited number into the bakery at a time.  Well worth the wait, I can assure you.

We were giddy with excitement at finally being here after our long, tiring and occasionally tense cross-country drive.  We realized that after driving from Florida to Ohio to New Mexico for a total of 12 days, we miraculously ran into less than four hours of rain during the historically wet month of May.  It’s no wonder that we both recognize how blessed we are.  We are both well and happily moved across the park to our new mostly-shady spot at Sunny Acres RV.  We’ll pick up there next time.  Until then, here is the view from our new little community of the Organ Mountains which are about fifteen miles due east from us.  Somehow, the mountains continue to call us both…

Peter and Liz have settled at last in Las Cruces, New Mexico in their Airstream and they will be exploring the new community for another six month. 

 

Six states and our mobile COVID 19 quarantine unit

Exhilaration being on the road again, here heading north on I-75 in Florida.

A good journalist once said that when telling a story, focus on the personal stuff if you want to engage your reader.  After our first week on the road, here’s some of our personal shutdown story.  To re-cap, we left Estero, Florida on May 3 because we had a specific place to go (first Airstream in Ohio, then New Mexico) and felt we could safely travel there.  The day we left we were completely giddy with the sense of freedom and the joyful change of scenery.  Traffic was very light on I-75 north and we sailed along to our first night outside of Gainesville, Florida.  We reserved at a KOA and upon arrival, were met at our truck by the host who was wearing a face mask and gloves.  He led us to our site in his golf cart.  He did something we’ve never seen before: he wiped down our water, and electric connections at the site.  It was an immediate confidence booster.  He said the restrooms were open though we didn’t plan to use them.  The great curiousity in the campground was the one large family with six kids, two dogs and an inflatable wading pool who were in a tent set up near the restrooms.  Aside from that, everyone else was in an RV or trailer.  This random tent siting would turn out to be a complete anomaly in the nights ahead.  Every other place would have a ban on tents.

We skipped through Georgia, crossed inland to South Carolina, tipped into Tennessee, then Kentucky before hitting Ohio.

In planning our route, we rely on two sources: the daily COVID19 maps by state and county and the campendium.com website which has up to date information on which campgrounds are open.  Once picking a general route, it means making phone calls a day or so in advance of arrival to confirm the campground is still open since things are changing daily.  One day, a campground can show as open but a few days later, something has changed, like limiting stays to just an overnight.  Based on these two sources, we decided to route away from Atlanta with as little time in Georgia as we could do since the COVID numbers were rising there.

The Barnyard RV park in Columbia, South Carolina where we parked among the one-night-stand travelers.

Once leaving Florida, our only public stop was to gas up, masked and gloved.  Columbia, South Carolina was the next overnight.  The private campground had no-contact check-in which meant you pay in advance, arrive to find a site map with your name on it and then just head to the site.  Barnyard RV is a big campground and the front section was clearly for travelers like us.  You can tell the travelers because they don’t unload lawn chairs or the outdoor patio rug. There was a bath house for our part of the park which was open and Peter reported, it was clean.  The back part of the campground housed long term residents.  We didn’t venture there.

Because we stayed two nights to rest a bit, we did unhook the truck and decided to take a drive around the state capitol building.  In the unusually warm early evening, a few people were out and about.  Most had on face masks including two intrepid young people who were exercising on the lush green grass next to the public gardens, beautiful with the magenta blossoms of the redbud trees. There was a real consciousness to social distancing evident in the public park space.  It was not an unpleasant experience in the public spaces. On the way back, we filled up the gas tank for the next day’s trip.

Clouds of disgusting little things called “love bugs” covered the windshield of the truck and the top of the Airstream on day 2. Immediate removal was necessary by the clean-up guy.

London, Kentucky was campground three and a very different experience.  This private campground was behind the Budget Host Motel.  Hmmm.  One 5th-wheel trailer was in the campground, two spaces over from us on the section with pull-through sites.  I had to go into the motel lobby to register.  Upon entering, I seemed to be interrupting a jovial gathering of three women who were sitting around a low table laughing and drinking Coke.  I was the only one with a face mask on. My presence at the plexiglas divider appeared to have been a slight annoyance.   One of the women got up to meet me and simply said: “NAME”.  It really wasn’t a question as much as a command.

The only way this pilgrim will travel these days.

I answered and she passed me a form and a ballpoint pen which I was apparently supposed to use.  Next command: “CREDIT CARD.” I passed it to her, placing it on the counter.  After she picked it up, turned it around for what seemed an eternity, she passed the card and the receipt back for me to sign.  I have to say during the entire ordeal, which lasted perhaps two minutes, I was imagining what my risk might be with all of this interaction.  Had the virus managed to hop onto the pen, or hitchhiked on my now infected credit card as if it were a flying carpet providing transport to my unguarded hand?

When I got back in the truck, I went straight for the Purell. Peter was somewhat astonished at the amount I had squirted into my hands, asking if I were OK.   I don’t remember if I answered him because my entire focus was on an aggressive hand cleaning. After we got to our site and connected to fresh water, I set about washing them again, singing about a dozen “happy birthday” verses leaving my hands pathetically dried out.  It was an unnerving experience and yet, we are living through a pandemic attempting to manage the best we can.  It wasn’t one of my calmer moments.

T2 back at the mothership for service. We stayed in the parking lot due to COVID19 restrictions.

From that trip to the dark side, the next day, Thursday afternoon, we arrived in Jackson Center, Ohio marking the end of the first 1,200 miles of our move. This is our fifth year to the service center and it was eerily deserted.  There is a full hook-up area reserved for customers, but it was closed off.  One of the service managers was in the yard when we drove in.  He was helping another customer while wearing a face mask and clearly staying 6′ apart.  He gave us the drill pointing us to a place we could get the electric hook-up for our trailer.  We rarely travel with the full weight of onboard water when we expect to have water  on site.  We explained this to the manager who understood and was able to accommodate our need for water, running a hose from the shop outside so we could fill our tank.  We were all set for a good night’s sleep in T2 right in the lot.

Peter got lots of reading done while we spent the day in the waiting area at Airstream. Everyone was wearing face masks and social distancing.

Friday morning we showed up at the service area to check-in.  We were met by a service person, reminded of the need to wear a mask, asked to fill out a short questionnaire about our recent health and any symptoms. They took our temperatures and then we were allowed to go in.  One customer at a time, we met at the plexiglas window with one of the service managers to go over the work we wanted done. New rules included no talking to techs unless they come out to the service waiting room, no admission to the shop where the repair and service work is done, social distancing required in the waiting area and occupancy limited to 20, which is about half the historical levels.

There were probably no more than six other customers getting service that day.  The shop had just opened on May 4 after 6 weeks of shutdown.  Some of the staff is back. Manufacturing is doing a slow re-start.  It’s just a skeleton crew in service. It was a peculiar unsettled time but it was clear the techs were happy to be back at work.  We were so grateful that the timing worked out for us as it did.

What goes around comes around. Airstream provided the temporary quarantine unit for NASA after the Apollo missions.  Now T2 is our mobile quarantine unit.

We have lots of confidence in the quality of their workmanship and it was once again supported by this visit.  There was one potential problem which they identified and repaired, and all of our smaller repair items were addressed.  Tires and brakes are in great shape and the heating, cooling, and water pump were good.  The repairs took all day and while waiting, I went ahead to repeat the research for our next 1,500 miles to New Mexico.  One of the places I had found last week was now closed (in Illinois).  I found another one, about 250 miles from Airstream, for only one night, Saturday night. It has full hook-ups which means we can be comfortable and showered and run the heat as needed.

We may be in quarantine but stores still have the essentials…

Based on the COVID19 maps, we did another re-route to avoid the south and central parts of Kansas where the meat packing facility COVID19 outbreaks are ravaging communities.  We are taking a more northerly route on I-70 through Missouri and found a campground in Columbia (one night only, no-contact registration, no bathhouses open); and two more across northern Kansas (two KOA campgrounds about 300 miles apart) where the pandemic numbers are much lower.  Just writing that is disarming, isn’t it?

After the service manager returned our T2 to the parking lot, Peter took the truck across the road to the local Casey’s mini-mart to gas up.  He came back and hooked up the truck and trailer.  We had a light supper, luxurious hot showers and crawled into bed by 9:30, completing the first 1,200 miles.  We’ll pick up our story from here next time.

Peter and Liz are heading now to New Mexico in their Airstream.  They plan for a now-extended exploration of Las Cruces and the surrounding parts of the Land of Enchantment.

 

 

Our lessons of grace in the shutdown

The past two weeks of the pandemic shutdown in Estero have brought some new challenges, surprises, and accommodations.  First, the challenges.  Last time I mentioned the record-breaking heat that we were experiencing the week of April 13. We wanted to have our air-conditioner checked because the heat was really oppressive and we were running it nearly all day and into the night.  We had made an appointment months ago for our annual Airstream service, but that was off since the factory in Ohio was on shutdown. Continue reading

T2 updates from Estero, Florida

Sometimes we feel like we are living in a Petri dish here in Estero, Florida. Is the universe conducting some great experiment in human adaptability and flexibility? We are finding ourselves called to perform daily course-corrections that might test even the elasticity of Gumby.  There are two variables at work here.  The first is the new reality of COVID-19 which continues to color our lives now affecting many of the scheduling details from shopping trips, to food planning and prep, to our morning walk, to the search for the essential face mask. It’s an influencer, but it’s not the only one. Continue reading

Moving on down the road, 2.5 miles

It’s remarkable that my last post was just two weeks ago because so much has happened in our lives.  As noted last time, we had gotten an OK to stay in the park and finish up our respective programs, even though the park had officially closed. The week of March 23, we started doing administrative stuff and began to feel like things were heading into a good direction for the interim. One week ago, we decided to look into renting a spot in one of the planned communities in the area since we decided once we left the park, we did not want to get on the road for a couple of months.

Continue reading

From Estero, FL, the paradox of these times

These days, a trip to the Publix Supermarket in Estero, Florida is a surreal experience with understocked shelves and the haphazard displays of the kinds of frozen pizzas that people don’t want to buy.   As I attempt to find words to describe this, my memory takes me back to my days as an English major at the University of Connecticut. One of my last semesters, under the guidance of my academic advisor, Professor Blanchard, I took a nineteenth century British literature survey course.  There, I regularly walked the Hogwarts-like hallways of the University’s bricks and mortar library, encountering Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontë sisters, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Lewis Carroll. Continue reading

Day trips around New Mexico, part 2 and it’s a wrap.

Sierra Blanca with its first snow when we visited in mid-November.

For years, we have heard about the high country and remote beauty of the land around Sierra Blanca, one of the four sacred mountains to the Mescalero Apaches standing at 11,981′.  An artist-friend of ours had talked of the nearby little town of Lincoln calling it especially lovely and filled with a very colorful history. We decided to take a day and check out the land and learn more about Lincoln. Continue reading

Day trips around New Mexico, part 1.

During our time here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park we have had time to explore more of New Mexico. I wanted to share some of our discoveries, hoping that some may make it to your bucket list of things to do here in the Land of Enchantment.

Visitor Center at White Sands National Monument.

Last post I mentioned that we visited White Sands National Monument.  I wanted to comment on their Visitor’s Center because it is really worth a stop.  It is architecturally  interesting having been built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s.  The traditional Pueblo-Revival style building includes a center courtyard, native plant garden, museum, a lovely gift shop and a theater that shows a wonderful orientation film called A Land in Motion, which tells about the formation of White Sands.  The film is shown on the hour and half-hour and its very well done. Continue reading

Camphosting in New Mexico

Early morning light on the alluvial fan of the Sacramento Mountains creates dramatic shadows highlighting the desert greenery.

Our time here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park in Alamogordo, New Mexico is flying by.  As I write this, we are just over the halfway mark of the ten weeks we are here serving as camphosts. There is one other couple here sharing the daily assignments with us in this 44-site campground.  And for those inquiring minds out there who remember reading about our summer camphosting on the Cape, thankfully, cleaning bathrooms is NOT one of our responsibilities here! Continue reading

A place that forever changed the world.

Lining up at 6:45 in the morning at the Tularosa High School for the 60 mile caravan, under military escort, to the Trinity Site.

There are only two days a year that Trinity Site in New Mexico  is open to the public and we were able to be there for one of them, October 5.  We had just arrived in the Alamogordo area for our volunteer gig at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park and were told about the bi-annual open house.  After investigating the details, we asked for the day off, and decided to go.  It was a powerful experience and we were both deeply moved by it.  This blog chronicles our experience. Continue reading