Pandemic Road Tripping

Some family members of mine are currently roadtripping across the USA in an RV. So are a lot of folks, apparently. RV sales are “skyrocketing” and sites like RVShare reported a 1000% increase in business. That’s one-thousand-percent, not a typo.

Taking a cross-continent trip in an RV is a little outside my comfort zone, but there’s little that seems safer during the pandemic than driving somewhere scenic in the sealed box that is my trusty car? After months of going nowhere but on a weekly grocery run, what motivated me to finally go farther afield was a once-every-800-years event, the arrival of comet NEOWISE.

Having identified the state park at Mount Tom in western Massachusetts as the best place to try to view the comet, my family and I checked the weather for the weekend, identified Saturday as the best chance, packed a picnic dinner and snacks, as well as binoculars, bug spray, and camp chairs, and set out in the mid-afternoon. Mt. Tom has a nicely paved road with scenic views of the valley. Picnic areas, the Bray Tower, and scenic overlooks are all open, even though the visitors center is currently closed due to the pandemic.

We tailgated by our parked car until about a half-hour after sunset, and then hiked on foot up to the first overlook (the road is closed to vehicles at 8pm). From there we had a successful comet viewing. About a dozen others were there, and folks were friendly, but wearing masks and maintaining social distance. Around 10pm it started to cloud up, and we headed home.

The experience being quite positive, I started researching other road trips we could take that would allow us to get away from our work-from-home lives for a bit while still staying safe. The outdoors have particularly been deemed safe by medical experts, so an uncrowded beach, a nature trail in a wooded area, these seems like good destinations to plan.

I Googled “scenic drives in New England” and came up with numerous sites (like TripAdvisor, or the new-to-me with lists of recommendations.
Next in the planning stage: making sure my car is ready for the drive. This is a crucial one, because with the car mostly sitting unused every since March, it might not seem like it needs maintenance. But actually it probably needs it more than ever. The dealer where I bought my car is kind of far from me, and their website said nothing about what precautions they’re taking during the pandemic. I found another dealer nearby, though, with details of their “contactless dropoff” that could be scheduled online. While looking up what other contactless maintenance might be available, and Google searching for tips about road-tripping during the pandemic, this page on seemed more than relevant: “How to Road Trip Safely During the Pandemic.” (RepairSmith basically comes to you and fixes your car where you are, like a house call veterinarian for cars.)
Their tips include the following: “To avoid gas stations, eliminate as many unnecessary stops as possible through pre-planning. Pack your own food and water and fill your tank at your neighborhood gas station. While using gas pumps, wear disposable gloves, and discard them before getting back in your vehicle.”
In addition to wearing my mask, I always bring a pack of disposable gloves and disinfecting wipes with me when I leave the house. Most transmission of the novel coronavirus seems to take place via the air, and being within breathable proximity or downwind of an infected human. This is why it’s crucial to avoid indoor spaces with other people, who can spread the virus before they show any symptoms. So no bars, restaurants, movie theaters, or other indoor destinations for me.
When we trekked to Mount Tom, I also packed our own toilet paper, wipes, extra ziplock bags, etc. so that we could avoid using public rest stops or rest areas. “Back to nature” is the name of the game!
The thing about asymptomatic transmission, though, is that if I’m really going to take a trip that will bring me into contact with other people, which will inevitably happen if I need groceries or assistance of any kind, or if I stay somewhere overnight, is that I should get tested before I go to make sure that *I* am not the one spreading the virus around. This is a point made clearly by the Lonely Planet list of “9 Expert Tips for Road Trip Safety During the Pandemic.” They also point out that it’s important to research where the virus is low and where it’s hyper-epidemic at a given time and recommend using the Johns Hopkins Tracker to see where the hotspots are and avoid them. New England is looking pretty good!
I’ll be getting my test this weekend, and probably hitting the Mohawk Trail toward the end of the month!

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