We’re back home after nearly two weeks of traveling, visiting family and friends in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, with a slow meander home through rural Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Virginia. Several people asked us “how are things out in the world?” We didn’t exactly see the world, but for the small part we did see I thought I would share a few thoughts for those who might be interested.
For us, we went to visit family and friends, and before we confirmed our plans we checked in with everyone we were planning to see to make sure they were comfortable with “outsiders.” Everyone was OK with us coming (or too polite to say no!), so that solved our biggest concern. Other than that, we found that generally being aware of the rules in each state and being prepared was relatively easy.
Like it or not, masks are a reality and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future. Just about every state these days has some kind of mask mandate, so being away is really no different than being at home. The choices are (a) wear a mask, (b) don’t go to that place, or (c) go anyway and deal with whatever happens. I didn’t see anyone turned away for not wearing a mask, despite some headlines I’ve read. Knowing that whether we decided to stay home or travel there wouldn’t be much difference, we decided it was worth it and would ultimately not be a big deal.
When we’re traveling on back roads, we rely on fast food restaurants and convenience stores for bathroom stops. Probably the biggest challenge was knowing which fast food restaurants had their inside service and dining rooms open, and thus their restrooms. But there didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason, as each restaurant chain or franchisee is evidently on their own to decide. So there would be places where McDonald’s would be open but Hardees or Burger King would be closed. A few of the convenience stores said there were no restrooms, but I think they were just being grumpy. Most of the gas stations and convenience stores were business as usual. Along the interstate highways and turnpikes, all facilities were open, although many of the food vendors were not.
Our experience with restaurants was overall very good. We found that the restaurants that offered good food and service before continued to do so. Restaurants that struggled with service and quality before still struggled, assuming they were even open. And the places that have always seemed to be dirty and indifferent were still that way. We typically only stop at those places for their bathrooms anyway, so no biggie. We made a point of being extra nice and generous with our tips, since the people who were working are still handicapped by capacity limits.
We stayed in chain motels with the exception of our stop in Wisconsin. The hotel chains have stopped with their breakfast free-for-all, but all had coffee and some kind of pre-made grab-n-go food items. Sometimes it was a paper sack with a granola bar, fruit and water, and sometimes it was pre-made and individually wrapped breakfast sandwiches, fruit, yogurt and pastries. The hotel in Wisconsin had a full breakfast spread, which we enjoyed. We don’t generally get excited about hotel breakfast bars anyway, so as long as we could stock up on coffee and tea we were OK.
Traffic on the highways seemed to be typical summertime heavy. There did seem to be a lot of trucks on the road, but also plenty of cars hauling sunburned kids and luggage, both inside and outside (kids on the inside!). This is Orange Barrel Season everywhere, and there seems to be plenty of highway improvement money being spent. It was interesting to see a lot of bridge repair work going on, as we frequently came across one-lane sections of road where bridges were being repaired or replaced. For the most part, the freeway travel was congestion free, with the exception of Chicago, which I think has people that have been stuck in traffic since the 80s. We went far around Chicago but still encountered a few backups, primarily due to construction.
From Wisconsin to home we stayed completely on back roads, stopping in Jasper, IN and Bristol, VA. It was slow going, but very relaxing. We managed to see some interesting things along the way. I’ll post some more about those highlights in the days to come.
What’s next? We’d like to get out on the road again and get out West in August or September, but we need to keep an eye on what the various states are doing. Right now, most of the New England states and the City of Chicago – and probably other places I’m not up to date on – are requiring mandatory quarantine of travelers from states that include North Carolina. Other states are seeing surges in virus cases that may result in similar restrictions being imposed. And we have no interest in airplanes or cruise ships any time soon. So for now we’re going to bide our time, work on re-losing the few pounds we gained, and see what happens. Possibly some day trips or short overnights within our state, possibly a return to the beach if we can do it reasonably.
The world’s still out there and nature is still happening. Soon it will be fall and then winter, and with any luck we’ll be back out there again soon!