We got back home to Minnesota late Friday evening after driving for three days with our small dog and a loaded down car. When we left California on Wednesday morning we did not know what to expect as far as food and lodging, or anything else, on the long journey home as the coronovirus crisis escalated.
The most direct route goes through northern Arizona and Colorado, but there were snow storm and even blizzard warnings for those areas. Last fall when we drove from California to Minnesota the GPS routed us on a series of smaller “highways” with many turns and small towns along the way. That was an adventure we did not need this time. Instead, in order to avoid the bad weather, we took a very southerly route through Tucson, and then on through New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota. We stayed on interstate highways where we expected there would be more services.
The short version is that yes, we were able to find gas, food and lodging the whole way home, but it was a very different experience than normal.
At the first gas stop in a rural area I cleaned my hands down with a wipe before entering the building to use the rest room. I used the facilities by hip checking the stall door open, then washed my hands thoroughly when done. I used a paper towel to get out of the room without touching the door. We needed something for lunch, so I selected a pre-made sandwich from a refrigerator case to go with fruit we had in the car. As the attendant processed the transaction, I asked her if they had any hand sanitizer. She said “no” but she had wipes, and offered for me to take one from a cannister while volunteering that she did not think the virus situation was “real”, but that it was something conjured up by “the government.” My mouth dropped open while I thought of how to respond. Finally I said “no, it is real”, and she responded with “you think so?” OMG.
The first day of driving through the deserts of California and Arizona featured heavy rain. The second day we passed through more rain with high winds, saw a rainbow, encountered sleet and snow, and later watched dust storms in the distance. Finally the last day was smooth sailing. One bonus was that gas was cheaper than we have seen for years, as low as $1.85 per gallon at one station. A strong tailwind also had us getting 43 miles per gallon.
There were many truckers on the roads and gas stations were open. It was clear customers were all trying hard to not touch anything, using hips and shoulders and elbows to push through doors. One mother of two small children was having a hard time helping them wash their hands after using the rest room. She was having them sing the happy birthday song, and repeatedly telling them not to turn the water on again, not to touch the garbage can, etc. We only stopped at one gas station with a make shift take out window that was not allowing customers inside the building, not even to use the rest room.
Fast food restaurants were open for either take out or drive through. This was not the most healthy journey. Larger truck stop gas stations were busy and had decent options for take out food. I was tempted to ask the fortune teller at one stop to let us know how long it will be before things start to get back to normal. I suspect life will never be the same.
Of course I had a knitting project along on the trip. I am working on a pair of socks which is good for the car since it does not take up much space, and especially while I have the dog on my lap, which is most of the time. You would think I would get more knitting done given the number of hours we were in the car. However, much of the time I was doing other things such as taking shifts driving, helping with navigation, watching beautiful scenery, reading, eating, or napping. I will write more about the sock project when it is finished.
Navigation using the GPS feature of a smart phone is one of the things that has changed my life for the better. I seem to have a sort of directional dyslexia so that I automatically turn the wrong direction when coming out of a restaurant bathroom or trying to reverse written directions when coming home from somewhere. Also I am hopelessly lost in any kind of amusement or nature park with intersecting paths, or inside the downtown Minneapolis skyway system. After a few minutes of walking around I have no idea where I am. I do like looking at a paper road map because you can see a bigger picture, but sometimes it does not help if you do not know where you are. I remember the days of the AAA TripTik where they made you a packet with paper directions for the entire route of a long trip, with suggestions for hotels and restaurants. My parents used to get a TripTik before heading out on a road trip. It is just short of a miracle now that I can turn on the GPS app to see exactly where I am and how to get where I want to go. Another feature that is amazing to me is being able to find hotels or restaurants or other services that are nearby or near a specific location you are headed to. We used a phone hotel app to find pet friendly lodging with no problem.
As we approached Minnesota we had to figure out where to get some provisions since we had been gone for an extended period and would be self quarantining once we got there, having returned from virus zone California. Since we would be getting home late in the evening, the best option seemed to be stocking up in South Dakota. Around dinner time we pulled into a grocery store parking lot. Wayne took the dog for a walk and then waited in the car while I went in to get food and other necessary items. I cleaned my hands with a wipe before entering the store, washed my hands again thoroughly after using the rest room, and then wiped my hands and the cart down with sanitized wipes near the carts. I could not remember what food we had left in the house, but for sure there was no fresh produce or dairy. I filled up the cart with fruit and vegetables, dairy products, eggs, and other food that seemed like it would work for meals over the next weeks. Most areas of the store were fully stocked, but interestingly the bread aisle was close to empty. We have a bread maker so had the idea of using that, but the flour was pretty cleaned out too. The bread maker uses “bread flour” but they did not have any of that, or any whole wheat flour either. I was able to buy a big bag of all purpose flour. I could not find any yeast in the regular location, but there were a few packets in the “organic” food section. I snagged a 12 pack of toilet paper. Yay! A full cart and $300 later I wheeled the provisions out to our already packed car. We moved some things around and then had to take items out of bags and shove them into any nook or cranny where there was some space. The things that needed to stay cold went in the trunk, an option when in a cold climate. When we were ready to go we looked like the Beverly Hillbillies.
Finally late in the evening on Friday we arrived home to 17 degrees and snow on the ground. We plan to self quarantine for at least two weeks. It is sooo good to be home despite it still being wintery here and having to cut short our snowbirding trip.