Jim and I are moving to Austin at the end of April. Although it’s coming up in a little over a week and we’re well into making plans, it still seems distant in my mind. What adds to the surreal feeling of it all is COVID-19 and its associated measures.
People have their perspectives about whether one should be traveling at all right now and I was afraid of being judged for making this move. Fortunately no one made me feel uncomfortable about it, other than myself as I can be so sensitive to what others think of me.
When I shared the news with my family, it was interestingly uneventful.
- My brother was unfazed really.
- My sister was similarly lackadaisical but she also just had a newborn. “Austin? That’s cool … ” She said over the phone, distracted.
- My parents seemed to have gotten wind of it before I told them. “How long are you going to keep living like this?” My dad asked. In response, I said, “Mmm … maybe a few more years.” What I meant to say was, “Forever.”
What’s it like planning a semi-cross-country move during the time of a pandemic? It takes a bit of consideration.
It’s like we’re in a dystopic, post-apocalyptic story planning which cities to avoid and where the safe zones might be; Jim likens it to the Stephen King novel, The Stand, where there is a big migration west during a pandemic.
To set the scene, this is the what’s so about our move.
- Our vehicle is an old and hardy coupe. Great gas mileage with a roomy-enough trunk, and still, a two door all the same.
- We have minimal possessions: each of us have a ~60-70L backpack with some spillover like shoes and jackets. We both love to cook and eat, which means we have a sizable “trunk pantry” of staples. This is the greatest bulk we carry and, in consideration of downsizing as much as possible, we’ve committed to only purchasing some fresh produce until we get to Texas.
- For sleep, a tent and sleeping bag are perfect.
Change in Plan
When we first decided on the move at the end of March, I assumed we would follow the Eastern Seaboard.
Living in La-la Land, I imagined we could visit my brother for a fun lunch in DC, say hi to family in Maryland and Georgia, and cut through to New Orleans, a city I romanticize as masked balls, Creole magic, and haunted bayous. You know, like a fun road trip! Oh, how my mind wants to cling to normalcy, preferring delusion over reality.
As the lock-down grew in the US and across the world, however, this route became less and less appealing, let alone viable.
Major cities, like New York City and Washington DC, are out. For one, we do not want to risk being near so many people – Petri dish, anyone? Also, metropolitan districts have greater bureaucratic regulation by nature. With interstate travel concerns on the rise who knows what the climate might be like for out-of-state plates?
When we caught up with our house sit host earlier this week, she cautioned us about New Orleans and its status as a hot spot for the virus. As it turns out, the governor of Texas declared restrictions and roadside check points on all travel into Texas from Louisiana the day before. This called for a complete revamp of our route, which wasn’t a huge deal, given our only constraint is that we be in Austin by April 26.
Mapping the Route
Instead of following the Eastern Seaboard, we decided to head into green space where states like West Virginia and Arkansas, places I ordinarily have zero affinity for, took on a new charm.
The Tri-state area of New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey are a danger zone, being the hardest hit in the country so it looks like Interstate 84 West is our ticket: through upstate NY and Pennsylvania, and into West Virginia.
From there, lies a swath of land between major cities of Louisville, St. Louis, Memphis, and Nashville that is a series of forests and parks, from Daniel Boone National Forest to Land Between the Lakes to Quachita. This is our route, ceremoniously dubbed the Green Trail. A total of 37 hours and 2,194 miles.
The camping situation in state and national parks is not agreeable to our purposes. We found that many have already closed down all campgrounds with permission only for day hikes, while some banned all overnight camping. It is hard to say how this will affect the ease and flow of our trip but I am confident that with resourcefulness and flexibility, we will find places to post up for a night wherever we are.
While I was looking into parks, Jim hopped onto his Couchsurfing account to see what other options are available. Searching for minor cities along the general route like Frostburg, MD and London, KY, and avoiding major cities, I was surprised that even in these seemingly small towns, Couchsurfing.com and its spirit of travel and community, are alive and well.
Jim sent some messages asking whether we could pitch a tent in a yard or if there are any places that might be available and while there hasn’t been any offers yet, it’s nice to be in communication. For example, we learned that there’s a 6 pm curfew in one of the cities. Bizarre!
In about 12 days, we leave our current house sit on Lake Pawtuckaway, New Hampshire. From there, we head to the Cape to stay the night with Jim’s family, say hello and goodbye, and drop off/pick up some things. After that, we head to Connecticut to see my family and friends to say hello and goodbye.
New adventure awaits us around the next bend.
I suspect this will be an interesting journey. The current conversation about this pandemic is strange to me. Popular media will have us know it as something to be feared and therefore, it is crucial to follow all regulations and government bylaws in response to the crisis. And by all appearances, this is so. I certainly do not want to put anyone in danger, including myself and loved ones. It makes sense.
However, the implications of this event, its subsequent effects on the economy, governance, and daily life for not just Americans, but the world, already appear to be far reaching. It feels Orwellian and totalitarian. Times of crisis afford governments with the perfect opportunity for controlling the masses. Last month, I read Noam Chomsky’s, Media Control, an essay about popular media and am witnessing parallels between what’s going on now and what’s happened in the past. You can read my report on the book here.
There is a hint of nervousness as I write this post. Today, I saw a clip of the mayor of Los Angeles encouraging residents to report any violators of the stay-at-home ordinance, “Snitches get rewards”. This move could rub someone the wrong way. Someone could report us. What if something happens to us. And it is this strange feeling that confirms that this needs to be shared. Fear is the enemy. This is our tiny rebellion.