Why and How we are Road-warriors in the Age of COVID-19

Every once in awhile, a friend will raise the question, “How are you taking a cross-country trip with your family in the midst of COVID-19?” Moreover, “Washington? Oregon? Really?”

I get it.

For many, the idea of traveling during the ultimate age of uncertainty is mortifying. ‘Rona is scary enough when you are at home. Adding the variables of travel could make virtually anyone feel like Monk in the great outdoors.

Admittedly, being a road warrior during the pandemic requires a bit more planning. You learn to view each rest stop as a recon mission into the battlefield. You put on safety gear for simple missions like pumping gas.

For perspective – it’s important to realize that every decision we make in life is about managing reasonable risks in relation to the values we hold. We get in a car every day to go to work so that we can take care of ourselves or our families. But, each mile in the car increases the likelihood that we could be in a life-ending car accident. We get on airplanes to see the world, even though tin cans shouldn’t fly. We go to the beach for respite from the stresses of life, despite sharks. We eat food from restaurants even though we can’t see them making our meals (and we’ve all read those stories). We trust complete strangers to drive us places in cars. We go to rallies or protests in the midst of COVID-19, because the lives of black people matter.

Every day, we make decisions about reasonable risk in relation to our values. Some decisions these days seem more acute because it is in our cultural consciousness.

Our family decided a half-decade ago that we wanted to visit every state of the US with our children by the time our oldest went to college. That goal wasn’t about a number. It represented a desire to spend time together as a family; to see things as a family; to collect memories as a family. It represented a desire to expose our kids to people and places outside of their own, personable bubbles.

One day, when we finish the 50 states, we may expand those travels to the country while our oldest is in college. Who knows?

At the end of the day, I understand people who want to stay securely at home in these scary times. I also understand people who feel a need to continue semi-reasonable daily lives, knowing full-well the risks.

And so, as I write this, our Texas family finds ourselves sitting along the Oregon coast enjoying 60-degree weather and listening to waves, as our friends and family face the inferno of Texas in June and July.

Here are the things we’re doing to stay safe on the road

QT Fast-food Baggies

This isn’t what you might assume. We learned long ago that those little plastic baggies people use to get a hotdog at the convenience store serve other purposes. In particular, when I am out of disposable gloves, they become a convenient glove for pumping gas that I can then dispose of.

Children Don’t Open Doors or Drink Cases

Our children have already learned that they are to look, not touch. For the majority of the trip, we already required water – simply because the children don’t guzzle as much and it results in fewer bathroom stops. But, on the final stop about 2 hours from our destination, we allow a special drink. They tell us what they would like, and we use some sort of hand protection when we open the cases.

Wipe Those Drinks Before Using

We have also developed the habit of disinfecting drink bottles before handing them to our children. We keep a steady supply of wipes available and take a moment before passing them back to get the plastic clean.

Wear Masks

It likely wouldn’t surprise you how few people around the country are wearing masks. We have found throughout Utah, Nevada and Oregon that we are often the unicorns. Still, we have our masks ready and put them on before we venture into any rest stop or restaurant.

Limit Showers

Some states like Oregon have already taken measures to limit how many people are using public restrooms. For example, the state campground we are in as I write does not allow use of the showers. That is certainly an inconvenience. But, we came prepared with full-body wash cloths that contain enough soap for a dry bath.

And, when that doesn’t quite hit the right level of creature comfort, we use the camper shower. It isn’t much. But, we turn on the water heater (which we normally don’t use), pull the cloth around the small shower area, and take turns feeling that wonderful warm water.

Full disclosure, however. We don’t swear off showers altogether. There was one fantastic campground on our route that had the cleanest showers we have every experienced. Plus, they had rain head shower fixtures! What?!

Still, in public showers, we always wear our flip flops.

Limit Use of Public Drinking Fountains

These water filters are amazing.

We drink a lot of water while camping, so we usually have a couple of jugs of water with us when we travel. It’s cheaper than bottled water. And, each member of our family has an insulated travel bottle that they use on the road.

Using some of the water fountains or spigots to fill those bottles can seem a little sketchy. So, we purchased these dandy water filters for our campsite faucets and use them as often as we’re able.

We Avoid Large Crowds

This one should go without saying. But, we avoid large crowds. Our friends know we’re not huge fans of places like Disney or Six Flags anyway. So, this is an easy one to manage.

Being in your small family unit in the middle of the woods adds a certain level of ease to social distancing. So, if you haven’t yet become a camping family, maybe now is the perfect opportunity.

Thanks for reading.

Yeehaw, Utawh (Days 1-4)

Leaving Home

This year, our summer trip began a bit unconventionally. We left our house for the last time, walking room-by-room to recount a few of the memories. Then, we locked up and headed northwest – primary destinations being Utah, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The route will likely be our longest-ever in terms of total miles. To maximize time, we did something uncharacteristic and decided to drive until evening and find a hotel room. I’m normally too much of a penny pincher to stay in a hotel, but we figured it was worth it to get further up the road, plus save time by not having to setup camp in the dark or tear down the next morning.

Day 1 – The Drive

Our first day put us 12 hours up the road at a Springfield Suites by Marriott in Gallup, NM. It was a nice, clean room with 2 queen beds and a pull-out sofa bed. We were mindful to exercise basic precautions in case Rona visited previous guests.

Day 2 – More Driving

The next morning, we pulled out early with priorities in mind – good coffee. Typically I make my own with a hand grinder and metal pour-over filter. But, since we didn’t stay in the camper, I didn’t have those handy.

We happened upon a small joint called Gallup Coffee. I’ve had a number of disappointing cups of coffee on our many adventures, but this one was a pleasant surprise. Their in-house roast was flavorful and just the right amount of fruity. It left me wishing I’d ordered more than a double cortado.

Then, up the road we went toward our first campground, Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah.

Kodachrome Basin

I don’t think I could have picked a more remote destination. The campground brochure seems to relish in the fact that there is zero cell reception. Thus the reason you’re reading this post days into our journey.

In total, we logged almost 1,300 miles in the first 2 days. Sadly, we thought our campsite had water and electric. But, it did not. Thankfully the June daytime temperatures were moderate. And at night – boy howdy did it get cold.

Setting up on the first night took a little longer than normal. Mostly because of a few repairs and upgrades we needed to make this season.

We added Velcro to our pop-up gizmos to make setup a cinch. We figured this was a must to protect the bunk ends from the Utah sun.

Plus, we put in a new faucet at the sink, and I replaced the fuse holder in the overhead vent, which had been inoperable since we bought the camper.

The first night, I woke up in the middle of the night shivering and had to add my long camping clothes. LaShera says these are the only times I like to cuddle.

Day 3 – Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Then, the next morning we opted for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument as our adventure of the day.


First off, we decided to drive Hell’s Backbone. An unfinished park road that rattles your bones.

We took a number of misadventures along the way. That included me doing what men supposedly don’t do – I found a boondocker and asked if they could point us the right direction, because the turns on Hell’s Backbone aren’t well marked.

Of course, there are happy accidents. We stopped to have lunch beside a freezing stream.

And our misadventures did lead us up to some impressive stands of white birch trees. Ghostly, beautiful soldiers on the top of a mountain. For me, these trees rival redwoods and sequoias, simply because of the stark beauty of the colors against the skies.

Finally, we found an opening in the trees and the view of the back expanse of Escalante. Best enjoyed from a small bridge (Hell’s Backbone) looking straight down on both sides. Apparently the original bridge was created by some adventurous souls who felled two pines, and then a brave man who decided he could drive a bulldozer across them with a rope around his waist for safety. Today, the bridge is far more sturdy.

The girls were a bit freaked out by the vision of their lives flashing before their eyes.

After nearly 4 hours on Hell’s Backbone, we emerged on the scenic Loop 12. And I don’t think we’ve seen anything as awesome as the front expanse of Escalante.

Ridges of mountains. All different shapes, colors and formations.

After a long day, we returned toward camp. But, not without one last highlight to the day.

There is a song I sometimes play that the girls hate. It’s called Sunday Drive by Hello Dearie. As we were fueling, the song was playing. A car pulled up next to me with a couple from Colorado. In his tattooed glory, he commented on how epic the song was. (It isn’t, and he was being ironic.) Then, he asked the artist and song so he could torture his significant other. She also rolled down her window to ask if we were crossword puzzlers. The answer she was looking for – “a 3-letter word for fish eggs.”

And then, back to camp we went.

Day 4 – Bryce Canyon National Park

I don’t have the words. Honestly, I didn’t expect much from Bryce Canyon. You tend to hear more about places like Zion National Park. And, we chose Bryce Canyon for Father’s Day, because we figured it would be the least trafficked and the shortest of our park visits.

We were right regarding it not being busy.

But, we did not expect the beauty of that first span from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point. It was one of the most glorious views I have ever seen. It ranks up there with the upper peaks in Yosemite.

To make it better, we had opted for a lengthy hike around the upper rim and then down into Queen’s Garden below. The girls were troopers through the first 90% of the hike.

But, what goes down, must come up. And that journey back to the rim of the canyon about did everyone in.

Since the crew were solid sports, we stopped off in Bryce Canyon for some ice cream as a treat afterward.

And then, back to camp.

What’s up for Day 5? Time to visit Zion National Park and see how it stacks up.

Look for the Cottonwoods

During Spring Break 2020, we visited Big Bend National Park. It was a desolate place. Arid. Red rocks. Sand. The desert isn’t one of my favorite ecosystems.

Still – any fan of nature knows that even in the most extreme places, life finds a way. Even in some of the ugliest terrain there is beauty.

Often, when traveling through the desert you will see clusters of soft green trees – groves seemingly out of nowhere. The first time I saw them from a distance, I assumed they were sagebrush. Instead, they were Cottonwoods. And, cottonwoods in the desert equal hope.

Nomads with parched tongues know to look for cottonwoods, because if there are cottonwoods, there is always water just below the surface. Where there is water, there is life.

These days, we all live in a desert. In a world packed with bad news about COVID-19, racism, riots, and polarizing politics, life can feel incredibly desolate. Like traveling in the heat of the desert with the sun sapping every ounce of energy.

Everyone around us seems to be pointing at the dry dirt, cactuses and desolation. After all, it is easy to see the desert.

But, it takes discipline to look for the cottonwoods. The signs of the good things in life, the water just below the surface, the source of life even when all seems lost.

Which type of person are you these days? When you look around, do you see the arid desert? Or are you one of those people who looks for the cottonwoods?

Boys & their toys: Grown men bonding over goofy stuff

I don’t buy new camping toys often. In a word, I’m a bit “tight.” I happen upon things at the store that would be cool to have. I even carry them in my hands as I make my way to the register. Then, that little penny pincher in my brain tells me to put it back on a shelf by whispering, “That’ll end up in the junk drawer at home.” Most of the time, I listen.

Last week before our weekend camping trip, I roamed the aisles at Atwoods. Most of the time I don’t do much more than wander. There is something about strolling around a farm supply store that makes me happy. That musk of wood chips, latex, and 2-cycle oil transports me to a calming place.

This time, in my aimless wandering I succumbed to impulse when I happened upon a toy I had never seen before that solved an old problem. I have often found myself camping and wondering whether I had enough propane left in the canister. While traveling in chilly weather, this can be a particularly important bit of information. My wife doesn’t enjoy sleeping in freezing temperatures.

And, so, I had mental justification to buy the Mopeka propane sensor. I quickly googled a price comparison on my phone. The $21 price was below anything I could find online, so I bought it.mopeka-monitor

That little guy traveled with us to the woods of Arkansas so that my bestie Joshua Martin and I could give it a go.

Here’s how it works. The sensor adheres magnetically to the bottom of your propane canister and syncs to an app on your phone via bluetooth. Then, in regular intervals, it sends a signal into the propane canister to measure the depth of liquid propane and report the fill level to your phone. You can even set up an alert so that when the propane dips below a pre-defined volume, it notifies you.


Even in the 30-40-degree temps, the reader worked as promised. Not bad for $21.

Of course, the far more valuable thing was the time spent geeking out about the little thing with a friend.


Joshua and I tinkered while the old women (my wife and Anissa) looked on mockingly.


I suppose it is a little funny that even at 40 years old, grown boys bond over toys. And, that was worth far more than the $21 I spent for the sensor.

Forecast 2020: Northeast to Prince Edward’s Island

As we wrap up MacBeTrippin 2019, I begin to turn my eyes toward next summer. Reminder — our goal is to reach all 50 states by the time Addie goes to college.

As of this summer, we hit the halfway mark.

Presuming no extenuating circumstances or major life changes, next year would carry us through to only 9 remaining. Plus, we would tack on one locale in Canada.

The trip in total would require roughly 28 days to execute the plan.

Here is what our progress map looks like so far.

Day 21: A Ride in the Florida Everglades, then Northbound

When we woke up on day 21 in the Everglades, there were 2 goals. First, get in an airboat ride through the Glades. Second, drive northbound to civilization to give ourselves a chance at fixing the air conditioning.

If you read day 20, you know I already covered the AC repairs.

As for the Glades, we woke up early to break camp. By 8:45am, we were at an airboat company that LaShera found online. Normally, for a family of 5, those rides cost anywhere from $120-$350. The company LaShera found had a father’s day special that was free for dads. They also had an honor roll discount for children, making it free for A/B students.

The specials aren’t suppose to be valid with other offers. But, when Shera registered online, their system allowed it. So, we got 5 tickets for $54. Score.

The drive of the airboat was a bit of a daredevil. He enjoyed whipping the boat around in the open-water areas, which resulted in quite a bit of salt spray coming over the side of the boat to get the girls wet.

It was impressive watching him navigate the mangrove canals. Clearly, he had navigated them many times before. Often, he would turn directly toward a tree, causing some of the passengers to get worried expressions. But, then the tail of the boat whipped around and we found ourselves going into another narrow canal.

We saw several gators up close in their natural habitat.

Afterward, we visited the visitor centers for Big Cyprus and Everglades. Then, we traveled 3 hours northbound to camp.

Aside from the fiasco of fixing the air conditioning, the rest of the day didn’t provide a lot to write about. We took it easy.

This last leg of the journey will involve a lot of beach time and relaxation before we rejoin civilization.

Day 20: Sometimes Things Go Wrong — Terribly Wrong

If I haven’t said it before, not everything in these cross-country trips goes according to plan. I’ll state our family motto again:

Plan your trip. Work your plan. Be flexible.

On Friday morning, the plan was to make a leisurely drive from our home in the Keys up to the Everglades. The drive was only about 4 hours, so we planned to stop a few times along the way.

Before we left the Keys, we had a very bold morning visitor. With a few more Cheerios, I bet we could’ve gotten her to come inside.

I think the girls would gladly give up the dream of having another puppy if they could have a pet deer instead.

When we finally made it onto the road, I knew I wanted to taste some key lime pie before we left the strand. Success, thanks to the Blonde Giraffe.

Next up, we knew that we wanted to visit Biscayne National Park. It was a fantastic little national park. When we arrived, blue land crabs were frantically skittering across the pavement. About a half-dozen iguanas threw a welcoming party as well. The girls were ecstatic. There were the red-tailed Agama lizards, an invasive species of territorial lizards. There were the two lizards I caught in the act of love. Biscayne was a success.

Our little Junior Park Rangers.

Then, with about 2 hours before the sun went down, we were on the final leg toward the Everglades.

Before we left Friday morning, I discovered that the campground I had on schedule didn’t have electric hookups. On this trip through 102 heat index in some places, we didn’t want to spend the night without air conditioning. So, we re-routed to the one Everglades national park with electrical hookups.

By the time we arrived, it was raining outside — not so much that we couldn’t setup — just enough to be slightly wet outside.

When Things Go Wrong…

We had the camper about 75% setup when I decided to plug in the AC to pre-cool the camper. The AC came on, then promptly died. We tested some other outlets as well, and they weren’t working.

We reset the breakers in the camper — no luck.

We reset the breaker on the campground electrical box — no luck.

The person next door was a local and said that the electric boxes at that campground short out sometimes when it rains. So, we tore down the camper and moved to the spot next door. It was annoying, but would be worth it if the electric worked.

We setup the camper and turned on the AC. Nothing.

Defeated, we knew we were going to endure the Everglade weather for a night and then move down the road after the next morning’s activities.

We went to bed in the muggy, 90-degree Everglades with no AC. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well.

The air felt thick and moist. I hugged the unzipped windows most of the night to draw in some of the outside air which was at least a couple of degrees cooler, but not getting close enough for a mosquito to suck my blood through the screen. (When I woke up this morning, there were mosquitos swarming the screen trying to find a way in.)

Plus, I was restless because I went to bed defeated. I didn’t know what the problem was in the dark of night, and I knew the day would bring new challenges.

Because of the circumstances and the Everglades lack of proximity to any real town, we opted to head north toward St. Petersburg a bit early. I’ll post separately about the day’s activities. But, I spent most of today’s trip obsessing about what could be wrong with the camper. It could be the fuses. It could be that the AC went bad. It could be the inverter. It could simply be that the electrical hookups at that campground were bad. I hoped it was the latter.

The first campground we tried to snag a site at was full. So, we had to push further north.

When we finally arrived at a suitable campground, we popped up. I waited to plug in the electrical until the last moment to put off my sadness.

Still — I was sad. The AC didn’t come on at the new site either.

So, methodically, I stepped through the electrical systems of the camper.

Then, we made our trek into a nearby town to Home Depot.

As we returned to camp, the skies opened up. Obviously, I couldn’t work on anything electrical outside. So, I fed all related wires and cables into the camper to get to business.

Ultimately, this connector plus is what I thought was the culprit. Note the burned connector. I suspect that the rain at Everglades got the port wet. Electric plus water equalled a short. At least, that’s what I hoped.

And, that meant I was going to need to do a bit of rewiring. Thankfully, I got some pointers on that from my father-in-law Bobby Snider back in 2017 when I was having electrical issues on our first pop-up. I put that knowledge to use.

Sadly, the rain persisted most of the evening. So, it was a couple of hours before I could venture outside, thoroughly dry the port, and test my work.

I plugged it in, switched the breakers, turned on the campground power, and then nervously went inside the camper to the AC unit.

I am happy to report that, at least for now, we are cozy in our cool camper on the midwestern side of Florida.

Day 19: Front Porch Sittin’ in the Keys and a Whole Lot of Nothin’

We’re at that point in the journey where I always get a bit sad. We’re about 2/3 of the way through. We reached our furthest destination. Everything from this point on is technically part of the journey home.

Our journey will still take us to the Everglades for a fan boat ride. Then, we’ll enjoy some beach time in St. Petersburg, Destin and Louisiana before arriving home.

Still — I can feel the trip winding down, and a little bit of melancholy is creeping in. Of course, sitting around the campfire with these views doesn’t help.

One day I’ll make a great retired person. I’ll take my grandkids to some of these places and think back fondly to these moments spent with my kids.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, we have about 8 days left to milk for all they’re worth.

So, we did a bit of rooftop swimming.

We did a little bit of feeding the key deer. These critters weren’t the least bit shy. In fact, they often ate out of our trash can like dogs. So, when I went to hang my swimsuit under the back bunk to dry tonight, and I saw movement in the dark, I had a bit of a scare.

We did a little bit of sitting around the community fire pit. The girls also hung out along the shoreline looking at fish and brightly colored crabs hiding among the rocks.

I had a little hitchhiker on my water bottle.

The day was crazy hot. So, we spent quite a bit of time in the clubhouse playing pool, ping pong, and Rummikub with the girls. The air conditioner in the camper worked. But, when the weather feels like 99 outside, the AC unit isn’t going to be able to keep up — at least not until I buy those Pop-up Gizmos for the bunk ends to help reflect solar heat.

All-in-all, it was a nice, leisurely day.

Tomorrow, we head up the keys toward the Everglades. Hopefully we’ll see some more alligators, iguanas, snakes, or whatever other critters make the Glades home.

It’s hard to believe we’re already leaving the Keys.

Somewhere along the way, we will stop at a key lime store. We figure we stopped at Peach World in Georgia, we need to find a Lime World and an Orange World while we’re in Florida.

Day 18: The Dry Tortugas, Egg Farts, and Speedo Stan

Since the trip began, I have longed for the post-Disney camping in the Florida Keys. More specifically, I looked forward to the ferry out to Dry Tortugas National Park, the 3rd-farthest national park in the country. It is roughly 100 miles from Cuba, 70 miles from Key West, and 300 miles from Mexico.

Basically, we taxied out to the middle of nowhere. Just us and an old, crumbling Civil War-era fort with coral growing along the walls.

To begin a day in the Keys, you need the right shirt and a cup of fruity coffee. So, I finally got my Jimmy Buffet goin’. I’d been waiting for the right moment to wear that shirt.

We began the day with another bright and early wake-up — rise at 5:30, in the car by 6:00, to drive to Key West and board the Yankee Freedom III for a 2-hour ferry out to the islands.

The old fort was a fascinating sight in the middle of the ocean with nothing else in sight.

After a tour of the fort, we got our snorkel gear from the ferry company and added another new experience for our family. We snorkeled in the shallow reef around the island. It was interesting seeing all of the little fish in the area. When hiking the upper walls of the fort, we even saw a few large barracuda swimming in the reef below.

Addie was disappointed that we didn’t encounter any sharks or sea turtles on the trip.

Speedo Stan

We did, however, encounter a different living creature — Speedo Stan. At least, that’s the name I gave him.

On the ride out, he was as concealed as they come. Jeans, baggy shirt, cap. But, on the island, all bets were off — as were most of his clothes. Speedo Stan was there to make the most of the occasion in nothing besides a little blue Speedo and his — ahem — snorkel.

Libbie thought he was hilariously gross.

Egg Farts at Camp

Jumping back to our arrival in the Keys, we were struck by, of all things, the smell. It was an aroma we encountered last year in Yellowstone when we stood beside the sulfur pots. The girls regularly refer to the stench as “egg farts,” like when someone has eaten too many deviled eggs at a family reunion.

At first, the girls attempted to lay SBD blame on LaShera.

But, soon enough, we discovered that it is something specific to the shallow waters of the keys and the bacteria that live in the muds below them. When the wind turns just right, it smells a bit eggy.

I even turned the propane off during the night because I was concerned that if we did have a leak, I wouldn’t be able to detect it.

The stench doesn’t follow everywhere in the Keys. But, we haven’t quite figured out the differences in geography that cause it in key locations (pun intended).

Key Deer

The campground does have a healthy population of key deer. They aren’t the least bit shy. The girls walked outside our camper door to feed them some grapes.


Even after a day in the hot sun, the girls were intent upon us going to the campground swimming pool. Since the grounds had just wrapped up happy hour, everyone else in camp when back to their campers. We had the pool to ourselves.

Then, one of those south Florida rain storms rolled through with a bit of lightning. So, we bounced out of the pool. After a change of clothes, we spent the event playing ping pong, pool, and cornhole in the campground clubhouse.

While I’m not the most enamored with our campsite at this campground, they do have great facilities. Plus, the ocean is about 30 yards from our back bunk.