Cross-Country Road Tripping During a Global Pandemic

On my blog I write about what I love to do: Teaching. I have another activity that I truly love, which is driving to see local destinations or driving cross-country, aka road trippin’. I’ve driven cross-country a total of 5 times, and each trip is unique and full of sights I never saw before. This post may not be about teaching, but it is about something that teachers have the unique opportunity to do, which is take several weeks of vacation without worrying about work. Whether you’re moving, which is why I traveled from coast to coast this summer, or just looking for a good time, a road trip can be everything you thought it would be and more. However, this road trip was unlike any other because of the novel Coronavirus and the global pandemic. 

This cross-country trip was distinct in a few ways, the most obvious being the face masks that we wore and that were required in many places along the way. My husband and I wore masks reliably since we were ordered to shelter in place in March 2020. We wore them to the grocery store, and one time when someone came inside to paint the door of our unit. We didn’t wear masks when taking long walks in our neighborhood for exercise, or on the trails at a local park. This felt safe until we went on a hike the week before we moved, and there were so many people on our descent. We had to pass people, large groups and big families, while sharing just a narrow area of dirt. I wore my mask, even though it was difficult to breath. After encountering all those people I felt irresponsible for going on the hike, and I was concerned for the first time that I would become sick with the virus. I had this feeling again a few times on our road trip this summer. 

Looking back it does feel like a big risk, driving cross-country amidst a pandemic. Both my husband and I have older cars, around 15 years or older, and we were concerned about how well they would fare. Prior to leaving, we took both cars into our favorite mechanic for a full check-up. My husband’s car needed some work, but mine needed a lot, nearly $3,000 worth. My car and the moving expenses were a lot, which definitely added stress to the experience. There were two incidents on the road involving our cars. Mine happened very early into our trip. I’m not sure now when I started to hear the noise, it might have been just as I was pulling out from my old house, but the sound was distinct and obvious when I was driving through the Mojave desert. If you haven’t been, the Mojave desert is a very dry and hot place, even hotter than when we visited Death Valley in July. In addition to the sound, there was another obvious problem: the air conditioning didn’t work. Not a great situation to be in when you’re driving through the desert in 115 degree heat. We passed many cars along the way that were pulled over on the side of the road with the front hood propped open. I’m so grateful that I wasn’t one of them, knowing what I know now about my car and the problem that would eventually need repair.

The sound only happened when I started or idled the car, and it sounded like a trilling sound. I had to mimic the sound to a handful of mechanics, and I drew inspiration from CardiB, if you can imagine. Also, the air conditioning wasn’t working, which really helped the mechanics with the diagnosis. The first person I took it to observed under the hood as the car was running, and identified the AC compressor as the damaged part. He explained how it was a belt that could affect other parts of the car, like the clutch. Thankfully, we were in the great town of Cedar City, Utah, where the people are so nice and there are a surprising number of mechanics and car repair establishments. Hmmmmm I wonder why, being just on the other side of the Mojave desert? We spent an afternoon calling and stopping by places until we found someone who could do the work the next day. We had to stay another night, which meant that we were off schedule, and would no longer be able to drive through Arches National Park, in Moab, Utah. This was a big disappointment for me and my husband. I was grateful though that I didn’t break down on the side of the road, and I knew how important it was to get my car fixed. An unexpected extra evening of lounging in the hotel watching Ridiculousness, a long hot morning and afternoon waiting for the call, and $750 dollars later, we hit the road again.

The people were so nice in Utah, but it was impossible to ignore that no one wore masks. People wore them consistently across the country in most of the hotels we stayed at, which were mainly the same chain which is a big and well-known global company. But outside of the hotels at the gas stations, grocery stores, and other businesses, we encountered many people who did not wear masks. At the time of our trip, cases were surging in Florida and on the rise in California. Every state is battling Coronavirus in some way, even the states we drove through where masks were not required. At first, I felt odd wearing my mask while everyone else didn’t. We went to a UPS store in Utah and I thought they were closed because the employees inside didn’t have masks on. It was also comforting in a way, to see people who felt so secure that they weren’t in danger of the virus. It’s like how things were before the virus. I hope the numbers remain in control in those places and everywhere else, but I think if we’re out in the world then it’s only a matter of time before we will interact with the virus. I’ll take all of the precautions I can, including wear a mask in public, in order to stay safe.

So while this road trip had me more on edge and a little less carefree than others, it still had some of the quality road trip essentials. First, we drove through some scenic and historic areas. If it weren’t for the virus I would have stopped to see so many more things. One of my favorite stops was Custer State Park, in South Dakota. We went off the main road onto one of the numbered roads and when we drove over a hill…a herd of buffalo! We stopped and watched them with the other cars. They chewed grass, laid down, walked around, and made plenty of grunts and bellows. We watched this herd for over an hour, just in awe of their activity and their interactions with each other. Some were mere feet away from the road. At one point after we continued our scenic drive, we were stopped for at least 20 minutes while two buffalo crossed the road ahead of us. I went to Custer State Park on my very first road trip in 2010, so it was really fun to go back, and I saw way more animals this time! The last time the wild mules came up to the cars and tried to stick their heads inside to get food. We did see some mules, but they were further into the park and we wouldn’t have seen them if we hadn’t taken the numbered road off of the main road.

Some of my other favorite stops were hot springs in Colorado, and the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. My husband and I had thoroughly enjoyed the natural hot springs the previous summer on our honeymoon road trip from Virginia to California. The pools are the largest in the world, and were so big that we had plenty of room without coming into contact with other people, and it was outdoors in the sunlight. After an hour, more people were coming to the springs and it felt a little crowded, so it was time to go. But the pools were so relaxing, especially the therapy pool which is 104 degrees. The scenery was idyllic with beautiful red mountains with green shrubbery, and bright blue skies with puffy clouds.

Another road trip essential while you’re driving is entertainment. Books on tape, podcasts, music, there’s so much great stuff out there, and I never had a shortage of amusement. I mostly listened to books on tape, a bunch of podcasts, and on a few occasions some music lol. I first listened to The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell. It was an interesting listen, but at times I thought I would prefer to read a hardcopy of the book instead. I earned PDUs for reading the book to put towards renewing my PMP, so that was an added bonus. Another book I listened to was the Lady Gang’s Act Like a Lady by Keltie Knight, Becca Tobin, and Jac Vanek. It was a great listen. At times it was laugh out loud funny, and it was really entertaining. It had my full attention while I was listening, which I can’t say for every book on tape I listened to on this trip. I appreciate the wide range of stories, and they were told with great detail and humor. One thing I pulled from the book came from Keltie, which is to write a manifest list each year. By writing down achievable and realistic goals, she found that she was accomplishing them. It reminded me to have more focus on the things I want to achieve in life and have more purpose with my actions. Keltie writes a new list at each New Year, and sometimes keeps goals on there that she’s still working on. I was thinking of writing a belated manifest and continuing the process each year on my birthday. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Another book I listened to was Incomparable, by Brie Bella and Nikki Bella. It was at times compelling, and at other times not as interesting, like when they described their early transition into wrestling. It reminded me at times of Daniel Bryan’s book, Brie’s husband, and some of the lengths he used to describe little things. While I learned a lot and enjoyed hearing about his unique experience, I haven’t gone back to finish it yet. Still, I learned a lot of details from Incomparable that I never knew from listening to their weekly podcast and watching a dozen seasons of the Total Divas and Total Bellas shows. The book was narrated by someone else, and at times I couldn’t remember or tell whether it was a Brie or Nicole section. While I was listening I remember thinking, Ok, if they say ‘ultimately’ another time…or if they say, ‘in retrospect’ again…but they shared some really good stories with a lot of personal details and lessons, and they kept me company for a whole day of driving. 

Another book that I listened to was Open Book, by Jessica Simpson. This book was beautifully written and gave me chills sometimes. She shares many deep and personal experiences, and reveals her tremendous life-long reflections without holding back. I identified with Jessica Simpson in how she has kept journals throughout her life. I think she journaled extensively, more than I have, and it is evident in the many details and memories she shared. I was absolutely glued to the speakers while listening to most of the book, and made sure to rewind if I missed something. I was listening to this book on my last day of driving through Iowa, West Virginia, and Virginia. I thought I had plenty of time to finish Open Book, but when I was about 2 hours from arriving I realized that I wouldn’t be able to finish the last 30-45 minutes. I decided instead to crank up the tunes and really get the adrenaline flowing for when I rolled into my new town. I was also extremely tired, having driven well over 12 hours that day. Before that, I drove all week like it was my job. The energy of the music kept me going until the very end, when I pulled in around 10 pm. 

A highlight of a lot of road trips is the food, but this trip wasn’t very exciting. We each had groceries in our cars to eat, and together we had some fast food meals when we stopped. They’re tasty, but after a week, the high sodium and fat takes its toll and I wasn’t looking or feeling my best. Because of the pandemic, we tried to avoid people so we did a lot of drive-thrus. My favorite would have to be Burger King. They have the impossible burger, which tastes like the real thing. The beyond or impossible meals at Taco Bell or Del Taco just don’t do it for me. Although I don’t regularly drink caffeine (OK except some weekends and over the summer time), I drank caffeinated coffee and some iced tea on the trip. The air conditioning blowing in your eyes and the narration of the book on tape can be hypnotizing, so having the extra pep was helpful. Another beverage staple? Sparkling water. Whether it’s plain, or flavored lime, pineapple, or berry, I enjoy sparkling water and I drank a lot of it on the trip.

Before the trip I was concerned about going to the restroom. Would the rest stops be open? Would gas stations let people come inside and use the bathrooms? It turned out not to be a big deal. There were two occasions when I stopped for gas that I wasn’t able to use their bathroom. I found that the best strategy on this trip was to fill up my gas tank every time I reached a half tank, and stop at the rest stops whenever I needed to use the restroom. It felt at times like a lot of extra stopping, but it also felt like the safest option. The gas stations were often crowded, and many people were coming in and out. At the rest stops, there were less people, they were mostly outdoors, and they were kept incredibly clean. 

I was exhausted when we finally arrived at our destination. In fact, I was exhausted several days before we finally made it. Something we hadn’t anticipated was adjusting to the time change across the country. We found it harder and harder to get up in the morning and get an early start as we pushed further and further east. We had some unexpected car trouble, delays, and too close for comfort encounters with people (like at Mount Rushmore) along the way. We knew it wasn’t an ideal time to move cross-country, but as I wrote about in my End of Summer 2020 post, the timing was right and it needed to happen. It’s a relief to be back on the east coast, with this big trip behind us. My move isn’t over yet, because we will continue to quarantine a little while longer before we move into our new place. We still need to unload and unpack our lives from all those boxes. It’s a relief to be back on the east coast and closer to family. Being nearby to support our parents in case anything happens with the virus is one of the reasons we moved back. I saw some cool stuff on this trip, but it didn’t have the same feels and thrills of my road trips in the past. It will be a long time before I take any kind of trip in the near future, driving or otherwise. We don’t know what’s going to happen with the virus. This road trip brought a lot of my concerns and fears to the surface, and I want to do whatever I can to stay safe and healthy. To everyone out there, drive safe, stay safe, and wear a dang mask. 

Published by How She Teaches

I teach Biology and Earth and Space Science in high school and middle school. I want to share my personal experiences and teaching milestones with anyone who wants to learn.

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