When the 2020 COVID winter’s short days and cold nights sucked away at our souls until we started ripping into each other, we knew it was time to go. But where? Good question. Anywhere that wasn’t here and was COVID free. But that doesn’t exist. We agreed on a socially distant, health responsible road trip. To where?
We went Southwest.
Rosinante, the 22-foot RV we got a dog ago, when we planned to celebrate our Gypsy’s last winter with a road trip, has been wilting in the driveway for two years. Gypsy didn’t make it to the winter, and Rosinante didn’t get to make the trip. But the time had come.
Her better days came when our worst did. We loaded her with everything, from frozen home-cooked meals, Tide pods, bags of quarters, and canned soup, to every junk food known to man. We hit the road, heading South with a vengeance. We rushed towards above-freezing weather and toilet flushing territory. We flew through NY, NJ, and MD into warmer VA, then GA, FL, and T-shirt weather.
Socially distancing was a no-brainer. At home, it was hard to say no to friends and neighbors who wanted to meet. But down south, nobody wanted to see us. In one month, 11K miles, and 20 states, we socialized once. My friend Chris and his family wintered RVing in Texas. They treated us to Ceviche and Pickle Moonshine while keeping six feet apart. All of us, but Guinness and Finn, whose budding romance flourished by smelling each other’s assets.
Steve never went indoors, except for a couple of hotel rooms when we were too tired to drive. He never bought anything but gas. I masked when provisioning or when talking to people I couldn’t avoid.
Every day brought a new challenge, from avoiding fire ants in Florida and boondocking in Nevada to finding free dump stations along the way. We ate fried chicken and biscuits for breakfast in Georgia, drank Peach Bourbon in Alabama, and found out that you’d better like Mexican food in the south. And barbecue.
Interacting with the natives was another challenge. They didn’t do masks.
In Florida, I ordered take-out from a barbecue joint. I put on my mask and went to get it. A well-fed family of five enjoying dinner on the porch stopped chewing to stare at me. I gave them a wide berth and stepped in. The restaurant was jam-packed with happy people chatting over chicken fried steaks and Texas toast. As I entered, the place fell into silence. You’d think I was a masked robber with an AR15 rather than a graying woman looking for her baby back ribs. They stared at me with wide eyes. I struggled to stay out of the way. They clearly knew I was deranged; they just didn’t know what I’d do next.
Parents covered their kids’ eyes. Old couples leaned closer to each other. Everyone stopped chewing. I was the life of that party. I didn’t get an entry like that ever since I went to a fancy-dress party in a full Ebola suit.
My food showed up. When I left, they sighed with relief. So did I.
Steve was waiting back in the camper.
“How was it?”
“You know that Florida has a 20% positivity rate?”
It was remarkable to be there while we, up North, think there’s a pandemic. People were friendly, polite, and social, just like we used to be before 2020. They laugh, eat out and behave like this COVID thing never happened. They were even kind to deranged people like me.
It was disturbing to see how far apart are the parallel realities we inhabit. I ponder this as we drive past vans advertising mobile COVID testing and listen to Governor DeSantis reassuring Floridians that their vaccines are on the way. Travel is always an eye-opener, even when you travel in your own bubble, since every now and then, bubbles intersect. Seeing these people, you understand why they don’t believe in COVID. Nobody else there does, to the point that you question your own sanity.
For those of you interested in traveling, I’ll answer a few recurring questions. Feel free to ask more. For those of you interested in our trip, stay tuned for more.
1. What was your itinerary?
We went south to Assateague, MD, where wild ponies still roam free. They’re the great-grandkids of the colonists’ tax-dodging horses. Then further south through the Chesapeake Bay, dodging suicidal seagulls, then further south through GA all the way to Key West (don’t bother). Back through the Panhandle, then west, to San Diego, and North to Death Valley before heading back home through Tennessee, WV, and Pennsylvania.
2. What did you take with you?
Frozen and canned food. Dog food and snacks. Fruit. Water – lots of it. Wine and Bourbon. Snacks. The winners were pretzels, boiled eggs with hot sauce, microwavable popcorn and cheese and crackers. The loser: salad. It all went bad.
3. What surprised you the most?
Texas. It’s clean, generous, and polite.
4. What did you find most useful?
Rada: The unlimited data and the apps. Thanks to them, we found places to spend the night, launder, get propane and dump our black tank for free. I love Campendium, Recreation.gov, and JustAhead. The Lifetime Senior America the Beautiful Card saved us hundreds of dollars in park fees and campgrounds.
Steve: NPR FM radio.
5. What was the hardest?
Steve: Driving between the lines. An RV doesn’t track like a car. It needs to be steered all the time. Any time I glance away, it goes elsewhere.
Rada: Traveling with a puppy is nothing like traveling with an old dog, especially when said puppy manages to snag herself in barbed-wire. Turns out that I forgot the first aid kit. That was the lowest moment on my trip. Thank God for Duct Tape.
6. What did you enjoy the most?
Steve: Big Bend State Park. I loved sitting in my lawn chair sipping Bourbon and looking at the Rio Grande.
Rada: The change. Every day was a challenge; every night was different. I never got bored. I even fell behind on my writing since I couldn’t switch off.
7. What did you hate the most?
Steve: Driving through cities.
Rada: I didn’t love Virginia.
8. What did you learn?
Steve: Propane tanks fill very slowly, and few places do it. Our success rate was 1:3. Three tries before getting the tank filled.
Rada: Sanitary wipes work wonders when there’s no water.
9. What would you do differently next time?
Steve: Skip Florida.
Rada: I’d have a first aid kit that could cure cancer. Or close.
10. Would you do it again?
Steve: Absolutely. Will do it again.
Rada: We’re planning for Alaska this summer.
11. What would you tell someone who’s never done it?
Rada: Be flexible. Every day is different. Make sure to have paper maps for when the internets get iffy. Be prepared to spend the night along the road.
Steve: Get off the interstate and travel the back roads if you want to see what it’s all about. It takes longer, but it’s so worth it.
12. What is a must in your book?
Rada: Assateague. Texas is amazing. Organ Pipe Cactus. Death Valley. Steve:Barbecue. Not that good, but it’s a must.
13. The best food on the trip?
Steve: Barbecue. Hilton in North Carolina. Boy, did that guy know how to cook.
Rada: Indian food in a truck stop where they played cricket.
14. Any advice you want to share?
Steve: Don’t hook up hoses when things may freeze. For that matter, don’t bother with hookups. They’re nothing but trouble.
Rada: Beware of getting locked in together for a month in a space the size of an elevator. Lots of togetherness with no place to go. But boy, does being home feel luxurious!
Stay safe and stay sane. See you all on the other side.
P.S. Let me know if you’re interested in an ARC, Advanced Reader Copy of my new book, BECOMING K-9, a bomb dog’s memoir. It’s the story of a puppy’s training written from the point of view of the dog. You could get a free copy before publication if you agree to leave an early review.