By Annie Lindgren, Sunshine Ink, North Forty News, and New Scene Magazine
March 9, 2020, I left Fort Collins for a road trip to desert country. As pandemic spread, I decided to ‘stay gone’ and social distance on the road. I returned home for the conclusion of my trip on July 2, 2020. In that time, I covered 15,000 miles of road, traveled through 11 States, spent 93 days sleeping outdoors, hiked countless miles, and saw far more new plants, animals, and scenery than I have pictures to prove. All the while living out of my Subaru Outback with my Golden Retriever ‘Maverick.’
During this time, I had the opportunity to see what was happening in other states, learn what was happening at home, and experience my own struggles. Here are some reflections on life during a pandemic, from the eyes of a traveler.
As pandemic swept across America, we all struggled with the sudden change in life as we knew it. Every day with new information. On the road, I listened to the news, and at camp I read about it, watching as numbers rose and restrictions changed. I faced difficult decisions on what to do. My employer sent a letter stating my essential worker status, and a press pass, for if I got pulled over.
I didn’t want to return home, because I didn’t want to give up my freedom. I had outdoor spaces to myself for months, and there was no end to the number of new experiences. I worried that home would mean feeling stuck. I have never been one to handle ‘restrictions’ well.
After a while, I had to take a break from all the information. Few things sounded hopeful. A new sense of fear swept through after the death of George Floyd. The political discourse was never-ending. I felt disappointed in my nation and unsure of how things would move forward. Being out in nature felt safe, a peaceful space where life went on oblivious of the pandemic.
Pandemic added new elements to the constant need for monitoring safety, that accompanies solo adventuring. I feared coming in contact with others, or their germs, as anyone could be sick. I had to be careful whenever I needed to resupply, or even get fuel. I feared to get in trouble for being out. The towns I passed through looked like ghost towns. So many of my campsites had me in spaces where I was the only human for miles.
I never got in trouble for being out. All the officers I came across, mostly BLM and National Forest officers, were friendly and encouraging. Strangers were helpful. I remained safe and have not been sick. I did grow exhausted with the lifestyle of living out of a car, and I got lonely.
I made a lot of sacrifices staying on the road, as campgrounds, visitors centers, and many rest areas were closed. Running water was hard to come by. I made masks out of bandanas and hair ties. I collected hand sanitizer and antibacterial cleaning products whenever I could find them. There were always weeks worth of food in the vehicle. I gained a strong understanding of why humans created houses.
My friends and family were all coping differently. Some don’t want to see me because I haven’t been isolating at home. Some are essential workers witnessing the virus’s impact through the eyes of the populations they serve. Some don’t want to wear masks. Some are dealing with much stress in their relationships at home, with their children, and in work-related uncertainties. Some are very lonely. Everyone impacted in some way, some just worse than others. The struggles often lead to growth, collaboration, and positive change, and I saw that too.
Humans have genuine needs for socialization and human contact. It helped to have friends communicating with me along the way, but I would go weeks without having in-person communication with anyone. Longer without seeing a familiar face. Being home also felt lonely because I was near my favorite people but couldn’t see them. Thank goodness for dogs.
I was out when everything closed down and subsequently opened back up again. Each State is handling education, marketing, restrictions, and guidelines differently. Hotline numbers, symptom checklists, interstate message signs, posters at trailheads, restriction signs posted on doors, closure guidelines, were all different from State to State. Businesses everywhere have adapted quickly, and I didn’t step into a single one without seeing signs of how they were addressing health safety. Some even met my needs without having me step through the door.
During this time, I made two short trips home to Fort Collins, and I kept up on the news. At first, I thought things were being extra restrictive, but in the end, I felt grateful for coming home to a community where ‘wearing masks’ had become the norm. Of the 11 states I passed through, I saw very few people wearing masks. The only other State I observed taking things as seriously, was New Mexico, where I had the pleasure of spending six weeks.
I learned some valuable lessons. I had to give up planning, and instead base decisions on the factors of that day. It forced me into a heightened level of mindfulness for the here and now. I felt gratitude for the most basic of things. I learned so much about living a lifestyle of full-time travel, including that living out of a car with a 75lb water-loving dog is not sustainable. I learned what is important to me and the sacrifices I am willing to make to have the life I want to live.
Most importantly, I learned that I am not alone in my struggles during this time. This is a challenging year in history. Everyone is doing the best they can to cope right now, and we should all have grace with ourselves and others. Reach out to those who may be struggling, because a little validation could go a long way.Annie and her dog Maverick will return to the road in a newly acquired Scamp camper at the end of this month. To learn more about their travels, visit her website at SunshineInkLLC.com or follow Sunshine Ink LLC on Facebook or Instagram.