Been thinking a lot lately about the fall of our lives. Both of us are approaching some big milestone years so we started looking at round numbers and realized a couple years ago that we both only had one state left to see. Rick needed to see Kansas. I was missing North Dakota. Neither one are particularly close or convenient to where we live (Virginia) or where we have often traveled where our family is, so it was a challenge we had put off. We hadn’t gotten around to seeing either state and then the virus hit. We had plenty of down time AND no international travel for the foreseeable future.
The pandemic was in full force in early July 2020 when we set off on our 50-50 trip. We knew we didn’t want to go anywhere near a beach which would have been our tradition. We did our research and found a hotel chain we were comfortable with their cleaning standards and mapped out a minimal number of nights in different places. Plus, to be honest, we have always loved a good road trip. So off we went in early July. It happened to be the week of my birthday. We had notified the hotels that we were looking for some ideas for where to safely eat and otherwise we were just on the road.
We discovered that America is absolutely gorgeous. Of course, we knew that. We had traversed back-and-forth across the country many times in our lives. This time in 9 days we drove over 3218 miles through 15 states. We spent our time comparing silos and barns through lots of farm country and marveling at amazing clouds. We talked about the future. We talked about what was important to us. We laughed. We made jokes we’ve always made and a few new ones.
Since 1995, we have carried with us our national park passport book. It’s a very inexpensive way to collect your experiences. It is always in the car and we thought we would see what happens if we pulled into some national parks along the way. We understood the visitor centers were closed with limited services. Maybe there would be bathrooms available. But the parks aren’t about the visitor centers. We were delighted to discover four different parks virtually empty.
In southern Indiana we stopped at Lincoln‘s Boyhood National Memorial – what a beautiful place. Obviously, we were on the road. We were people with a mission. We weren’t going to spend hours and hours, but we did get off the highway for a nice stretch. We are thankful for the maintenance worker who I approached from a distance and asked if he could figure out how to stamp our book and he said “sure”, went inside came back out with the stamp and the brochure for the park. He told us we were the first people he had seen since March 15.
We were surprised to have had a similar experience in Independence, Missouri at the Harry S. Truman National Memorial. Again, we approached a maintenance worker busy carrying painting supplies into the visitor center and asked him if he would stamp our book. He practically cried with excitement, told us he hadn’t seen anybody since March 13 and filled us in on a whole bunch of details about the park. He stamped our book and showed us how we could visit multiple other locations related to the park while apologizing he couldn’t let us inside
We had long told people about our great trip in the middle of the 90s when we spent months and months on the road in a motorhome. Pipestone National Monument was our favorite national park in the entire system but to be honest, time diminished why we thought that was true, so we decided to take a detour and again remind ourselves. I’ll be writing a separate blog about Pipestone but their Covid response was a perfect example. They knew they couldn’t open the building, so they set up four tents all the way around it. There was one at the main entrance with the chief ranger undercover in the summer sun talking about the park and handing out maps and brochures. At the beginning of the path, was another tent with the demonstration that normally would have been inside. At the end of the path yet another demonstration and the fourth tent – the bookstore. They took it all outside.
We found Covid to not be a major problem on our trek although admittedly we didn’t eat anywhere fancy. The hotel chain was on the ball even in states that were not requiring masks. Staff was wearing masks, signs were posted. We missed a decent hot breakfast and instead were provided paper bags with muffins and bottles of orange juice and piece of fruit. Cleanliness was a priority and no touch entry made us feel safe. And we found cleaning products to make ourselves comfortable in every room. Pools were closed for safety; public areas were well sign posted and it was easy to avoid contact with anyone. As a matter fact in nine days we counted less than two people we had spent anything close to 15 minutes near even while wearing masks – our friends at our last stop.
We spent the majority of our trip grabbing food from drive-thru windows finding local when we could. In Louisville, Kansas City and Fargo we found outdoor seating venues to give us a taste of local color. We admit in Ohio we stayed with friends and ate very well with them.
We went in search of time together; of time away from news; of time in our little automobile bubble. We found vast, beautiful vistas and lovely people just trying to survive in the heart of America. It was a great trip- an excellent reminder of our personal and national resilience. And mission accomplished! We’re at 50/50 on states now. More on the trip later.