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?

Day 11: We Finish Each Others Sandwiches (Epcot and Pool Time)

The headline of this post is a reference to our shirts for the day.

At the moment it is after midnight LaShera is off doing laundry and I just finished lunch and snack preps for tomorrow.

I also have this snazzy picture of our camper table. I think the kids feel special, since we never eat this much junk when we’re home. To our credit, the sandwiches, apple sauce, etc., are in the fridge until we pack them in the kids’ backpacks in the morning. And, trail mix and granola bars count as health food, right?

Our Day at Epcot

After the day we put in at Magic Kingdom yesterday, Epcot was a well timed second day. We were there early to hit the big ride experiences on the list plus character signings with Baymax (for Emmie), Elsa & Anna (for Libbie), Mulan (for all of them); and we adapted our plan.

The girls all thought that Soarin’ at Epcot was better than any of the 19 things they did at Magic Kingdom. Full disclosure — my oldest 2 girls are chickens when it comes to rides. So, they aren’t comparing against Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, or basically anything with mountain in the name.

As I’ve said many times — “Plan the trip, work the plan, be flexible.” I like rides with excitement, and Libbie (aside from LaShera) is the only one that enjoys them. Sadly, she’s too short for some of the more exciting stuff by about 2 inches.

I am, however, glad that all 3 of my girls are still at the stage in life where they enjoy the fantasy of people in costumes posing as cartoon characters.

When the day was getting long and hot today, snacks and the free cola samples at Coke Around the World were enough to buy us grace to stick it out straight through 3:30. Then, back to the camper for rest while the afternoon rain moved in.

Skillet Quesadillas — Another Meal Standard for Camping

The girls let off some unspent energy while I made skillet quesadillas, which is becoming a substitute go-to quick meal. These were cheese with fajita chicken. (The chicken is pre-prepped.)

If you go camping, I don’t think there is any utensil more crucial than our big cast iron skillet. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner; quesadillas, fajitas, tacos, burgers, breakfast burritos, hotdogs, etc.; our skillet has been well seasoned.

After our early dinner, Rather than going back to Epcot, we took naps. Then, around 8:30pm we went down to the resort pool. The girls had been asking since we arrived.

I’m beginning to think we’re checking off a list of swimming environments on this trip. So far, beach, spring/river and pool. I don’t think I have a Lake on the itinerary though.

As for tomorrow — we’re bracing ourselves for a long day at Hollywood Studios.

LaShera and Paula made shirts for each day of the trip. So, part of the fun for the girls is the night before — like opening early Christmas presents to see what their shirts for the next day will be.

Hint, tomorrow is Star Wars themed.

Day 10: We Survived a 16-Hour Day at Magic Kingdom

We were up at 6am this morning, on a bus by 7:15, on the ferry by 7:45, at the park by 8 when it opened, and it was off to the races from there.

Forgive me for the abbreviated blog entry, but I’m crazy tired.

We managed to do 19 things, which I understand is pretty great — especially considering that 2 of our fast rides broke and changed our schedule, and we had rain move in at 6pm which closed a number of the rides.

After a long day, even with the option of extra hours available from 11pm-1am that would have let us squeeze in a few more things, our children decided they were ready to go back for a shower and sleep.

All of them, except Libbie.

I was most concerned about Libbie hanging in there today. But, she seemed good to go for another hour, even after we’d been in the park for 15 hours.

My favorite moments of the day were with this turkey. She giggled the whole way through the 4D Mickey movie. She also ahhed everything in the fireworks show.

I’m writing this as we ride the ferry back to camp, and her head is beginning to bounce against my shoulder as her eyes fall heavy.

The most amazing moment of the day for the girls was the castle fireworks show. I must admit, it was impressive.

We succeeded on our budget goals for the day. We all had a Dole Whip toward the end of the day, after we had consumed our 2 carry-in meals and all of our snacks.

We brought insulated water bottles and filled those all day for drinks. So, we stayed well hydrated and I don’t think any of us suffered even a smidge of sunburn. Perhaps because I put sunscreen on everyone like a layer of cellophane.

I suspect everyone will sleep hard for the 6 hours they get tonight before we get up and do it again.

I think we’ll take it a bit easier tomorrow at Epcot. We’ll still get there early. But, we’ll take a mid-day break for a hearty meal and either a nap or swim before heading back. We’ll see how that plan shakes out.

The girls are hankering for a swim tomorrow night.

I’m pooped.

Day 6: Scenic in Savannah, the Random Tortoise, and Happy Bathrooms

As I begin today’s musings, I must mention one thing I neglected yesterday — Coosahachie. Most people think the name of Waxahachie, TX, is strange. But, when we drove into Georgia yesterday, we passed a place called Coosahachie. Even funnier, the initial sign was obscured behind trees. So, it took many forms by the time we saw the full word.

Coosa —
Coosaha —
Coosahach —
Coosahachie —

I think it ranks above Waxahachie, because it sounds oddly gross — like saying the word “moist.”

Now that I got that out of the way, let’s talk about today.

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Video: Forget the Bucket, Give Me a 50-gallon Drum

It’s already April, and that means that our family is only a couple of months away from our third summer migration. This year, we will head East toward North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and back through New Orleans. The early highlight will be taking the children through my old haunts in Mississippi — where I will gladly show them the “house with all the animals.” (More stories on that to come.)

Hopefully you have made summer plans of your own. Whether country or cityscapes are in your future, remember to take time. Remember why you choose to trip to begin with.

And, if you need a reminder, this video may help.

When your finally breath comes, what will you think on? Will you wish you had spent more time in the office? That you burned a few more hours watching videos like this on YouTube?

Will you stare into that last bright light and wonder, “What if I had worked a few hours more and spent less time with family?”

Life is to be lived — to be shared with those we love — to be passed on as a story all its own.

If my life flashes before my eyes at the end, I don’t want a short film. I want it to be like the Hobbit — full of music, dancing, travel, friends and unnecessarily long descriptions of characters and places.

I want a 50-gallon drum full of memories, not an unchecked bucket list.

I want to be able to picture those purple mountains’ majesties, feel those golden plains brushing my legs, smell the wildflower meadows, and hear the waves crashing the coast.

I hope that you and I see the beauty of ten thousand sunsets.

And that we remember:

Blessed were the curious;
Fulfilled were the adventurers;
Those who knew the glories of a life fully lived;
Who cast off the tethers of shore and set sail for new horizons;
Who discovered new oceans with the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Life is short. The world is wide. Go.

Wherever you go, go with your full heart.

Store photos with your mind. Collect moments with those you love.

We don’t travel to escape life, but for life not to escape us.

As for today — I haven’t been everywhere. But, it’s on my list. You should join me.