Minneapolis friends, John and Linda, provided the following account of their recent travel-trailer trip to Los Angeles, September 22 – October 18, 2020.
“Our daughter, her spouse and their 22 month-old little girl live 2,000 miles away, in Los Angeles, a Coronavirus hotspot. The pandemic had precluded our seeing them since early this year, but at our vulnerable ages (mid-70’s), we were not about to use air travel. In fact, we’ve reached the age where our grown kids sometimes dictate to us, and our daughter told us no way she would let us get on an airplane. So what to do?”
“They were equally opposed to flying themselves in the midst of a pandemic, unwilling to manage a 22-month old in an airport and on an airplane, where they (especially their daughter, who likely would show no symptoms) could pick up the virus, then infect us during their visit. We were equally unwilling to drive out there using motels, restaurants and gas station bathrooms. Our answer to this dilemma was to use our travel trailer to make the trip.”
“Our travel trailer is quite basic — 21 feet, one room with a bed, small kitchen with propane stove and refrigerator, and a tiny bathroom. We bought it in 2013 so we could travel to and stay in the ‘back country’ more comfortably than in a tent, and that’s how it’s been used — trips up the Alaska Highway to remote parts of Alaska and the Yukon, trips out to the remote reaches of Newfoundland and Labrador, trips into some of the more remote regions of the American southwest, etc. But we now realized that our trailer could serve as a mobile “shelter in place” bubble if we towed it out to Los Angeles. With advance campground reservations, we could even pull into and out of campgrounds without ever being indoors or even within 6 feet of another person outdoors.”
“We took the southern route, down through Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas to Oklahoma, then west through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, in order to avoid serious wildfires raging along the shorter northern route through Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Sticking to 2-lane roads and state parks whenever possible, we were able to relax with our ‘bubble,’ untroubled by any evidence of the virus as we worked our way through iconic rural and small-town America. We had stocked up on groceries before we left, with bacon & eggs for breakfast and meat and veggies for dinner, cooked on a propane grill that attaches to the side of the trailer. During the day, we’d look for a nice pull-off where we’d make sandwiches for lunch.”
“Our driving days also provided some respite from the emotional intensity of the election. The campgrounds where we stayed had no TV hookups (thankfully!), but we subscribed to Sirius radio so that we could occasionally tune in to Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) and other news stations while we were driving.
“Political signage dominated the roads of rural Minnesota and Iowa (Trump signs vastly outnumbering Biden signs), but we saw surprisingly few political signs for either candidate during the rest of the trip, which was through mostly ‘Red’ states. However, the ‘Red’ states were clearly not requiring or even encouraging protective masks.
Although we never had to go inside of gas stations (we had our own bathroom), they were very busy, and we could see that virtually no one was wearing a mask. Restaurants and bars in the small towns also appeared to be open, busy, and mask-less, including one boasting the unforgettable (and unappetizing) name ‘Bucksnort Bar & Grill.’ On the other hand, we could see that the national chains in the small towns — McDonalds, Dairy Queen, etc. — had signs on their doors requiring masks and were allowing only drive-up orders.”
“And while RV enthusiasts are usually stereotyped as conservatives, the handful of RV’s we saw with political bumper stickers only slightly favored Trump. One monster truck pulling a 5th- wheel travel trailer with South Dakota plates — which we assumed would be a Trump supporter — boasted this bumper sticker: ‘Republicans against Trump — You can’t fix stupid, but you can vote it out.’”
“That said, RV campers have enough in common outside of politics to make for interesting conversations even in the middle of a heated election and a politicized pandemic, and it’s easy to enjoy safe outside ‘social distance’ chats in a campground. The guys talk about ‘tow vehicle’ capabilities, tricks for managing the ‘black water’ tank, and maintenance challenges (which are never-ending with a travel trailer), while the wives trade stories about the travails of trying to guide their tone-deaf husbands in backing their trailers into campsites. Of course, we also share tips about where else to travel and camp all over North America.
A special treat on this trip was meeting three other couples who, like us, were on journeys to visit their children and grandchildren. In fact, reports in the media about the explosion in RV activity are accurate, as we saw a lot more of them on the road than usual for this time of year, and the campgrounds were always near capacity.”
“Our campground outside of Los Angeles — where we spent two weeks — was surprisingly open and rustic. We had feared the worst, given LA’s density, but this campground was near the foothills some 30 miles east of downtown, with spacious ‘full hook-up’ sites overlooking a large regional park with mountain views. Unfortunately, this view was obscured off and on — especially later in the day — by smoke from one of the many wildfires raging through California, the nearest one only 20 miles away, but reportedly fully contained.”
“After seeing so many news reports before we left that showed raging fires, evacuations, and homes consumed by flames, we were surprised at what seemed to be a lack of concern about the fires on the part of our daughter’s family and campground neighbors. There had been an evacuation just 10 miles north of our daughter’s home, but she said there was no concern that the fire would spread that far south, and the awful air quality seemed to be a nuisance to be endured by just staying indoors. Our campground neighbors said pretty much the same thing. They expressed the same concern we did about the unusual extent of the fires and the urgent need to deal with the root causes — global warming and inadequate resources. But they felt no sense of personal danger, nor did they express any desire to move out of California.”
“We were glad that we had brought along an air purifier. We were also happy that our trailer had an air conditioner, as the daytime temperatures every day during that first week topped 100 degrees! Our days were simple: coffee, of course, together with breakfast cooked outdoors over a camp stove and enjoyed with our lovely mountain view, then drive 30 miles on the LA freeway to our daughter’s house — sometimes congested and stop & go, but mostly open, with six lanes of traffic impatiently roaring around us at 70 to 80 miles an hour.”
“Our daughter and spouse have both been extremely careful and have been working at home during the pandemic, so we had no concerns about catching the virus from them. Dinner with them was all take-out, with the grandparents (of course) picking up the tab. The restaurants they used seemed quite busy when we stopped to pick up our orders — and absolutely everyone was wearing a mask. On several days during the second week, which was cooler and less hazy, our daughter’s family came to spend the day with us. We picnicked at the trailer site, then enjoyed the nearby park playground, where no other children were playing. Our granddaughter hit it off with us right away, despite having not seen us for 8 months or so, and it was idyllic having nothing to do every day but hang out with her, enjoying her antics and totally unfiltered efforts to talk to us.”
“Our two weeks went by much too quickly, but this turned out to be a perfect way to minimize the risk of the pandemic, spend some quality time with our little granddaughter at a very precious age, and enjoy a nice camping trip — a true ‘three-fer.’”
“In fact, at the end, we decided we wanted to come back in February for a much longer stay, using the trailer for a winter get-away, both to visit our daughter’s family and just enjoy the warm weather.
This decision required leaving the trailer out there, since we had no interest in braving winter storms across the Great Plains to tow a travel trailer from Minnesota to California in February. Fortunately, we discovered that acres of huge warehouse buildings are available out there to accommodate all of the RV’s that people own in such a densely populated area. Some of them even offer valet service, delivering the RV to your door when you want it, cleaned and ready to go, then picking it up when you’re done. They’ll even take it to and from one of the regional campgrounds for you. We didn’t opt for that extra bit of luxury, but we had no trouble finding a place to store our little trailer until March.”
“So now the challenge was to drive home with minimal pandemic risk. The solution was to limit ourselves to 3 motel nights (4 driving days of 500+ miles), obsessively sanitize our motel rooms upon arrival, and avoid restaurants and gas station bathrooms. We wore our masks whenever we were outside the car, and we found that the interstate rest stops and truck stops not only had large and well-ventilated bathrooms, but required their patrons also to wear masks. We even carried in and ran a HEPA air purifier in our motel room for several hours after we checked in, and we had pizza delivered.”