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Traveling amidst a pandemic is stressful -- even more so as masks and social distancing are increasingly politicized. When the COVID-19 pandemic started in the USA, I was beginning a cross country camper van trip to Washington DC, where I planned to fly to Europe for the Summer. The trip ended early and abruptly with the pandemic, and I was forced to quickly find an RV park for shelter-in-place.
This post shares the story behind my decision to quit vanlife for a tiny home in Bend, OR.
Let’s rewind to the end of March when public lands closed to camping due to the coronavirus pandemic. My partner, my dog, and I were stranded in Barstow, CA where temperatures rise to 100 degrees by the end of April.
We were just kicked out of a BLM campground by the police due to a last minute shut down and found an RV park to crash temporarily while searching for something more permanent.
Only RV parks allowing monthly stays with special cleaning services for restrooms were allowed to remain open. The closest open RV park and monthly stay we could find was Carmel Valley RV, 6 hours away!
April in Carmel Valley, CA was cool and rainy. Like everyone else, we self-quarantined. The RV park was mostly empty -- our only human interaction was grocery shopping every two weeks and a casual hello to other RVers caught in a similar bind.
Experiencing the Pandemic from an RV Park
The difference between my quarantine and yours, if you’re a stationary home dweller, is that instead of staying isolated at home, I was highly exposed to traffic coming through the park. As the weather warmed in May, the crowds arrived… especially on weekends!
One afternoon, while sitting in the van working on my new e-Book, a woman scolded me for not wearing a mask while inside the van. She was more than 20 ft away.
Not more than 10 minutes later, a man walked straight up to our open van door and asked for a tour. He was not wearing a mask, he did not ask to approach, and he was not inclined to socially distance.
This became the norm. Often, travelers arrived wearing masks and scolded others for not doing the same, even while keeping a safe distance and occupying their own space. By the end of the weekend, the same traveler would be playing corn hole, unmasked, with the weekend neighbors and hugging them goodbye.
While walking my dog on a Friday evening, a man from Arizona took my mask as an obvious sign that I had opposite political views from him. He told me how Bill Gates created the coronavirus to undermine President Trump, how my childhood vaccinations injected me with tiny robots, and became agitated when I wouldn't agree with him.
I was 'saved' from the conversation by a neighbor-for-the-weekend who ran up and “hugged” us to prove that coronavirus was not a threat. Thankfully, we are not in the vulnerable class. However, as two people with chronic illnesses, we understand the importance of taking ALL necessary precautions to prevent virus spread.
If you're asking yourself "what just happened here?" That's a good feeling to describe most of our interactions at the RV park.
By the end of Memorial Day weekend, I was feeling violated, harassed, exhausted, and on edge from experiencing all ends of the ‘mask wearing’ spectrum in rapid and unpredictable succession. The final 10 days, we took refuge in the van with the door closed to avoid harassment, which means we shared 10 square feet of standing room between two people and a dog.
Time to move on
As our nerves and patience waned, we decided it was time to move to a more familiar spot in the Pacific Northwest and find an airbnb to shelter ourselves from the increasing political tensions and angst.
We found two options: a totally normal Airbnb in someone’s basement in Vancouver, WA, and a cute tiny home outside of Bend with some additional quirks (which I’ll share with you another time 😉 )
As you know, we chose the more interesting option -- a quirky tiny home and community outside of Bend, OR!
Having the option to be inside and isolated when I need space PLUS access to hot water and showers is a welcomed change!
If you are thinking of traveling by RV or camper van this summer, I recommend shorter, local trips in communities that you know. Campgrounds continue to open and close quickly, and you want to be near home if needed.