At the end of Part One of this story, I found myself on the doorstep of my friends in Nyack, NY (about 2,800 miles from home), masked and confused. My feverish husband was sleeping in the car, newly infected with COVID. I figured I was not far behind.
However! If ever there was a right place in the middle of a 51-day road trip to get COVID, it was there. Our friends have a spacious and lovely house overlooking the Hudson River, and, most importantly for us, a large finished basement with two bedrooms that are used exclusively for guests. Equally important, they are great friends. If ever there was a Nobel Prize for Friendship, they should get it. We all masked up and they invited me in, and we ate lunch on opposite ends of the ground floor with all the windows opened. I took a COVID test myself (negative) and then I called my brother to say hi, thank him for his hospitality and tell him we’d just exposed his entire family to COVID.
Our Nyack friends told me to put my ailing hubby in one of the downstairs bedrooms to rest (he tellingly went without a fight), and then we’d figure out what to do. After I finally spit out my whole sad story, they offered us their basement and said we could stay as long as needed. With that, a quick stop for tuna fish sandwiches turned into a 9-night stay. My husband and I isolated in separate bedrooms downstairs, and I delivered food and supplies to his door. Suffice to say, he was not a happy patient and just wanted to be left alone. Incredibly, I never got COVID myself.
Unfortunately, the most disappointing casualty of COVID was our long weekend in Ithaca with our son. But, again, our Nyack Nobel friends came to the rescue and invited him and his girlfriend to drive down for a barbeque on their outdoor deck. My husband was feeling well enough to sit outside, distanced with a mask, and have some time with our son. As I said when we (finally!) left our friends’ house, their kindness was appreciated more than they’ll ever know.
Once my husband’s COVID was resolved, our two next planned Destinations were in Tennessee – Knoxville and then Nashville – to visit more friends. We toyed with skipping Tennessee and heading straight for the west coast, but ultimately decided to drive to Tennessee via the Interstates, to make up time spent convalescing. Our visit to Knoxville in particular had been long-planned and we hated to miss it.
Just when things were looking up, somewhere along the way, in Virginia, we narrowly avoided a crash. A car in front of us was pulling a boat trailer that began wildly fish tailing and landed in the center grassy median. And that night, my husband’s neck, which we thought had resolved itself with the long COVID respite, began hurting again. So we were again a hot mess upon arrival in Knoxville. After the first outing with our friends, my husband was in pain and skipped the rest of the activities our hosts planned. By Monday, after repeated pleas from me to go to Urgent Care, my husband finally listened…to our host….and agreed to go. Not surprisingly, the doctor said he was driving too much and was given muscle relaxants and told to rest.
After a brief rest, our next stop was a short drive to Nashville, where we had a great visit with my roommate from college and her husband. After that, we decided to skip the last two planned stops – Reno, NV and Mendocino, CA – which would require heading north and then west, and instead head straight for home. We both agreed that with the persistent sore neck (and other calamities that seemed to dog us) it didn’t make sense to prolong the trip any longer; and besides, we could always do a later trip to Reno and Mendocino when we were recovered. We determined to throw out our planned itinerary, and use the extra time to drive less per day, and spend more time at each stop. By this point in the trip, I was DONE, and ready to be home. With that new strategy in mind, our next stop was Memphis, a relatively short drive where we intended to find good barbeque, explore the city, and see the Duck Walk at the Peabody Hotel (look it up, it’s great fun!)
However, no sooner had we arrived in Memphis than my husband announced his neck felt better and began agitating to reinstate our stops in Reno and Mendocino. Given I was already blissfully envisioning sleeping in my own bed, I was not happy with this proposal. But I relented when he gave me those eyes and expressed sadness at “all he’d missed on our trip” due to his various ailments. I finally threw up my hands and told him he was now in charge of setting our course home. The now-daily process of calculating and recalculating routes and contingencies based on the issue de jour had completely exhausted me.
We did have a wonderful visit in Memphis. In hindsight, I believe the Peabody Hotel Duck Walk may have been one of the highlights of our trip. But the next day we took off for Springfield, MO, to start our longer, northern route back to the west coast. We contacted our friends in Reno (who we had told previously we were NOT coming) to tell them that now we WERE coming. I half-jokingly apologized that my husband was still not right in the head. We stayed on the Interstates to make up time and avoid all the intersections (where I had to look for oncoming traffic since I was the only one with a working neck) and got back on track with our original schedule.
We did have a lovely 3-night visit with our friends in Reno, and then drove to Mendocino for a 2-night stay and to pick up some artwork my husband had ordered. On the way home we stopped in Monterey, and had dinner with my brother-in-law in Santa Cruz. And FINALLY we got home, right on schedule.
I could not have been happier to be home; uncharacteristically, I had no sadness about the trip’s end or longing to get back on the road. I was just DONE. As my husband and I debriefed, there were some lessons to be learned. For starters, the trip was too long and we tried to do too much. We were gone for 51 days and drove 8,240 miles. More importantly, we’re now almost 10 years older than when I first retired, and we should be smarter about how we travel. As my husband’s neck problems demonstrated, our bodies can no longer take the long hours in the car.
I also didn’t have the benefit of guidebooks to give me research on things to see and do along the way. As a result, we didn’t see much or have many breaks in between Destinations. Usually I learn more, which is something I love about traveling. Normally, we browse museums, towns, hiking trails, places that give us some understanding of the areas we visit. The Roadside America app was fun, but unless you’re willing to make detours (which adds more time to the driving), many of the roadside attractions were rather dumb (big metal spurs in someone’s front yard, a giant yard UFO with Yoda, the world’s largest outdoor BBQ). Finally, this trip showed us how disruptive a mid-trip illness can be. For the foreseeable future, COVID is still with us, so we need to continue to take precautions and be prepared for the worst.
Traveling post-lockdown also feels different. We became accustomed to staying home, to controlling our environment, so putting ourselves back into unfamiliar situations can feel anxiety producing. The world in which we are now traveling also feels changed. There are different rules depending on what part of the country you’re in, and many establishments still haven’t recovered from the pandemic. This adds another layer of worry to travel that was previously a more carefree experience.
In retrospect, I wished we’d stuck with my original plan and flew to Atlanta and rented a car. We also might have cut down on the visits given the time allotted. In the future, we should: (1) avoid driving every day, (2) try to stay at least two nights per location in between driving days (3) drive no more than 150 – 200 miles per day, and (4) have things along the route to stop and see. In other words, the drive itself should be enjoyable, not just a means to get somewhere. This may mean taking a flight to the part of the country we are interested in exploring and then renting a car from there.
Of course, it’s hard to plan for or completely avoid the mid-trip illness (in our case, COVID) or other catastrophe (like car crashes) that can completely disrupt plans. For that, I am grateful for the timing, and for the hospitality, generosity, and patience of our friends along the way. This trip often felt like a test and, all complaining aside, we made it home safe…and still married. I’ll take that as a win!