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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.