We had to sell one vehicle, purchase another; after much research, see doctors, gather medications, and pack for a family for several months. Future appointments were made with a promise to return to our community in late October. After months of isolation and much preparation we embarked on a cross country journey to visit family for the summer out west.

In the spirit of optimism and hopefulness we decided not to have a specific destination for each night’s stay. We wanted to be able to take in the sights; a countryside that we had seen before but ached for the newness of it after being sequestered for so long.

Heading north into Tennessee and closing in on the border, we decided it was time to retire for our first night. We quickly realized that all the state parks were closed to camping, some only open for day use. All their waterfront areas and playgrounds taped off with bright yellow reminders for potential trespassers. We observed masks at the gas pumps and Walmart had a modified entry as well.

These free accommodations are usually very noisy, being open 24 hours a day, but now they were closing at 8 p.m., thus ensuring a peaceful night’s sleep. We continued through Kentucky, observing more state park closures and more masks and lines. Once through Iowa and Illinois, seeing much of the same, we drove into South Dakota, one of my favorite states.

It was in Mitchell, South Dakota, that we met our first Corona casualties in person.

One set of neighbors had been on the road for over a month and could not wait to get back home to Washington, still three states away. Her father had had a stroke in the middle of the pandemic, and they had to drive all the way to North Carolina to be with him. The other couple were young and preparing for training as the new camp hosts at the same RV park, as all the others were full. They had jobs at a national park but left quickly as they realized that there were too many strangers from around the world in quarters entirely too close for comfort. So, they opted for a safer lifestyle at an RV park.

Down the highway, still in South Dakota, in Rapid City, we played a round of miniature golf. At this pirate themed amusement park everyone had a difficult time staying 6 feet apart. At the eighth hole we were met by a large sign touting “Social Distancing Legend” with a photo of Blackbeard, the elusive pirate, on guard and ready to strike. I had to laugh.

We thought we would stop at several national parks along the way and spent almost an hour on the phone to learn that camping was only available for those that had reservations after the opening date. Fewer campgrounds were available now to limit the volume of visitors. She told us to expect delays as we drove through any of the parks. She shared that the number of sightseers has been down 50% to 75% from last year because reservations before the opening date were canceled. She would gladly however, help us make a reservation for next year – ugh!

So, driving through the parks would have been our only option on reportedly congested roads with minimum access to restrooms, as there are fewer staff to clean them. We opted to keep driving.

Finally, in Montana, we saw signs of normalcy. Large groups of people congregating together with hugs and the shaking of hands, a hopeful sign. The lines into buildings had all but disappeared. I was feeling so encouraged. In Wyoming, digital highway traffic signs advertised gleefully that all state parks were now open for camping, but reservations were required. I was thrilled and certain that by the time we reached our destination, a speck of a town in Idaho, all would be well.

We made it in record time with nothing to distract our travels and settled in with relatives. This state was wide “open” — and within four days of our arrival, the number of cases jumped higher than ever before since the perilous virus had arrived. The governor felt that tourists, vacationers and people opening their summer homes from other states probably were the reason for the large and unexpected spike.

So here we are again, self-quarantining for at least two weeks, perhaps longer, as cases continue to climb. Some of our relatives are at extremely high risk, so even visiting 6 feet apart poses a risk for them. Meanwhile, I did not bring enough books to read, thinking I would be too busy visiting with family.

There is a silver lining though. I am, for the first time in six months, resting comfortably on my dirt patio amongst the pines. I have taken many long deep breaths of gratitude. Praying that all of you are well and out of Corona’s way.

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is bettyannschaaf@gmail.com.

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