What was supposed to be our 35th-anniversary trip this past May, turned into a fall adventure this October. As a newly retired teacher, this is my first trip during “school-season”. With Covid-19, though, I really wasn’t thinking we should travel beyond our safe confines of home. And while most of our reservations made for May were able to be canceled, we had one VRBO rental that wouldn’t refund our money but allowed for us to rebook. “October, yes, that will be a safe time,” we agreed last spring never thinking that this virus would be actually raging in every state but three across our country.
After doing a few backpacking trips away from home but still in our state, we decided that we could use enough precautions to remain relatively safe. We packed our car with everything we’d need to be mostly independent. We brought some freeze-dried backpacking meals and our Jetboil backpacking stove for meals on the road and vowed to eat at establishments that respected mask-wearing, leaning towards those that had outside dining available.
As we drive across the country from Michigan to Utah, I’ve decided to write about how I’m handling the trip healthwise as well as notice how the people in each place we visit are handling the pandemic. I will be using this month’s October prompts from A Chronic Voice: Producing, Acquiring, Switching, Disappointing, and Forming. Being I have spotty Internet access, I’ll be writing a bit here and there and hope to capture the complexity of this moment.
Time to Transition From a Time of PRODUCING
“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.”
The summer months are a time of producing with September being the time of harvest. The fall is a time of slowing down, reflection and letting go. I have spent this summer focusing on producing a quality blog and becoming a patient advocate for those living with chronic illness. To do this, I switched from a free website platform (Blogger) to a paid platform (Lyricalhost.com) which has bumped up the level of what I can do on my website. Devoting time to learning new technology, becoming involved in groups that focus on supporting those with chronic illness, and developing new connections within those groups has been greatly enriching for me. The time and effort I’ve given to this gives me a purpose and helps me to grow an area of passion.
With last month being Pain Awareness Month, I poured extra time and effort into producing, reaping new connections and skills. Instead of one post a week, I wrote six total: two of which were interview posts (my first attempts) and one was a collaboration with another chronic illness blogger. A Facebook Group that I help to moderate, Chronic Illness Social Pod has started a new Instagram group @cispfriends. It’s in its infant stage, but I’m excited to be a part of it. I had to make a 1-minute video to help explain the purpose of the group. It took me about 3-hours to create and two-minutes in length, ha! ha! Besides all of that, I spent many hours learning new skills for blogging as well as connecting with others from the chronic illness community and sharing out on my social media. This can consume a lot of time, energy, and focus.
So, it’s been quite a transition into stillness as we’ve traveled from Michigan, through Iowa and Nebraska, to Estes Park, Colorado, and on into the National Parks of SE Utah. Literally, I would say most of each day has been a forced detox from all things digital. Not only is there no Internet connection, often no phone connection, but we also haven’t been able to listen to the radio. I do have a downloaded audiobook that I have listened to as well as off-line Pandora and Calm guided meditations. But, mostly, we have quiet. This has led to simple yet meaningful conversations between my husband, Kelley, and me as well as just hunks of silence as we soak in the scenery.
By the time we’ve gotten to our place to stay each night, I have been too tired to do much of anything online. At first, I was feeling a bit guilty for not keeping up with my “blogging work”, but I’m seeing this time of being unplugged as a good time for reflection as to my goals and savoring the connection to Kel and our time in nature which we both find restorative.
ACQUIRING Respect for Mother Nature’s Power
I saw old Autumn in the misty morn stand shadowless like silence, listening to silence.
Since early March, those of us in the USA have come to acquire a new respect for Mother Nature. In this day of technological advancement, we get the wrong-headed notion that we are in control. 2020 has shown the world that, no, we cannot control the march of nature. COVID-19 will run it’s course whether we try to intervene or not. Yes, we hope to be able to contain it through health protocols of wearing a mask, social distancing, and washing our hands more often, but it will do as it will do, much like the fires that are burning much of the west. Viruses, fires, murder hornets, hurricanes…have all shown us that we are not the ones in control.
My husband, Kelley, and I had one scary event that brought home just how powerless we are. We were on our drive from Estes Park, Colorado through Rocky Mountain National Park to our next destination, Moab, Utah. At the very top of the mountains 12,000 ft elevation via Trail Ridge Road, we lost all connection, even the ability to make an emergency phone call. What we flatlanders of Michigan (and other states like Nebraska) don’t always consider is the lack of oxygen at that level. Kelley and I were somewhat adjusted to it due to the hiking in the park at Bear Lake Trailhead to Emerald Lake at 10, 000ish ft elevation which was a gain of 600 ft. However, getting out of our car at the various scenic pull-offs into the bitter winds on top of the harsh tundra at the top of Sundance Mountain was still a challenge.
Debating to stop for a bathroom break, Kelley started to slow down when we saw an older woman waving her arms at cars as they passed. I have to say, things are a bit surreal in my memory, seeming to move slowly and out of reality. We parked as she quickly walked over to us, out of breath and visibly upset. “Thank you for stopping. I didn’t think anyone would. My husband has passed out,” she pointed to the heavyset man slumped in the driver’s seat of their van. “He has COPD. I don’t know if he’s breathing. He is making some gasping noises now and then.” Kel and I rushed over, seeing that the older gentleman was indeed unconscious but thankfully breathing, as his chest was rising and falling. The shaken woman explained that they were from Nebraska and hadn’t been in the Rockies for many years, “We haven’t been in the mountains since he developed COPD, among other issues. We just thought this would be a safe get-away because we were afraid of him getting the virus.” She asked if we could call for help because she had no service. I knew we didn’t either, but I had thought the 911 would work; turns out it doesn’t in remote places like this. Just then a white Rocky National Park truck with FIREFIGHTER on the side went by. I waved and jumped, but he continued on, not seeing us.
We then looked to power-up the man’s C-Pap, but she didn’t have a converter that would plug into the power sources of her car. That was when we realized that the only thing to be done was to get them down the mountain to where the air was more saturated with oxygen. She said she’d be able to drive, although, “I’ve never driven in the mountains before,” she explained, obviously nervous and worried. We decided to move him from the driver’s seat to the passenger seat just behind. Moving the seat back and sliding open the side passenger door, we prepared the area by moving their beagle and his bed over enough so the elderly man had a place to sit. However, Kel and I knew trying to pick him up was going to be nearly impossible for us. Luckily, he “woke-up” although he was pretty incoherent. We were able to explain what had happened, and he agreed to move to the back with our help. Kelley took his arm and with a bit of lifting and guidance, he was able to get him slid into the seat. We got a pillow that they had packed to prop under his head. He thanked us and assured us that he was okay for them to drive back down to Estes. Kelley told her just to take it slowly, and it would be doable to drive down the steep and winding road. We watched them drive off as we headed down the other side of the mountain, leaving us to worry about how they fared.
Another fall, another turned page: there was something of jubilee in that annual autumnal beginning, as if last year’s mistakes had been wiped clean by summer.
We planned to be careful as we drove the 1,776 miles between Michigan and Utah: stay to ourselves as much as possible, eat out in places that had outside seating and safety protocols, and sleep in higher-end hotels that were taking the protocols seriously and had the means to thoroughly clean rooms.
However, dead tired after driving 8 hours our first day and 2 more to go to get to our first hotel, we stopped in a small town off the highway in Iowa to fill up on gas and get dinner. After having face-mask order in our state of Michigan (as well as the other precautions), I was really shocked when we stopped at the gas station to see so many not wearing facemasks. Then, when we drove into town hoping for a meal, we came upon the only non-fast food restaurant that was open. The reviews on Google sounded good, so we went in. No one was wearing masks; however, they were social distancing the tables. I’m sorry to say that we gave in and had our meal, sitting as far away as we could from others and close to the door, but I didn’t feel comfortable at all and have been worried ever since. 14 days later, thank goodness, we don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19.
After that experience, we committed to not being caught off guard again. Luckily, every hotel we’ve stayed at along the way has had good safety protocols. The National Parks, all have had mask requirements, ensuring as much social distancing as possible by requiring reservations for shuttles and only allowing a certain amount of people in enclosed spaces at any given time. They are also providing hand sanitizer in almost every public place of gathering. I’ve been thankful to the other visitors who are being respectful to give distance on trails and in open spaces and who wear masks whenever we can’t be 6ft apart.
On our first night in Utah, we stayed in Moab. We were able to go on a Sunset Cruise on the Colorado River to view the canyon walls and night sky (a designated dark sky zone). Before the cruise, we had a delicious “cowboy” dinner in which safety protocols were followed. Before the boat ride, we had time to use the restroom that was outside of the dining area. My husband, known for his sneezing fits whenever he looks into the sun, took a step out onto the patio leading to the restrooms. The sun was still bright and like clockwork, he began to sneeze. He had on his facemask. When the gentleman more than 6 feet away noticed me looking uncomfortable about Kelley sneezing, he said “Bless you!” Then, he went on to say, “Before COVID, we said ‘Bless you.’ Now, we say ‘Oh Shit!'” and he jumped out of the way to emphasize. We all started to laugh. I kept laughing at that for some time and am snickering as I write, imagining his body contortion as he dodged Kelley.
One small town where we stayed two nights at a wonderful bed and breakfast (being careful to take care of it’s travelers by timing out breakfast, social distancing, and providing hand sanitizer), we ran into problems with no COVID-19 prevention protocols being followed. This town population of 240 and its county of fewer than 3,000 souls are deemed “green”, thus not needing to follow facemask, social distancing, etc. within their businesses. However, this is a town of TOURISM being it’s so close to Capitol Reef National Park (and others). So, it is crazy for them to think they’re safe when people from literally all over the world are coming there (some because it IS a GREEN COVID-19 area). Kelley and I were prepared this time. We went one night without a meal, too tired to pull out the Jetboil. My stomach was upset anyhow, so Kel ate his GORP and called it good until the wonderful breakfast of eggs and potatoes the next morning at the bed and breakfast. The next night, we called one of the restaurants to see if we could get take out, feeling that would be okay, the owner actually told us they did not provide that service but tried to convince us to come in for a meal. We instead, found a burger and ice cream place that had outside seating and the staff was wearing masks. When Kelley told the worker who took our order behind a plexiglass guard that we appreciated them taking the care to do the protocols when no one else in town seemed to be, she said, “Well, we get a lot of visitors from all over here. We’re protecting ourselves and our guests.” Yes! That’s exactly what I thought should be the sentiment.
I decided to look into the situation more. I found out that the town had had only two infections up to that point- a child and an adult. However, they also only have a traveling doctor who visits two days a week. The bigger towns with tiny-sized clinics are about 50 miles away. At the time we were there, the news showed that Utah’s COVID-19 wards were near to full and cases were climbing in the state. Being much of the state if VERY rural (no services in many areas), there just isn’t a lot of fully-equipped hospitals with skilled personal. Should the little town of 240 be hit by the virus, oh boy…I can’t imagine! One resident who was elderly and had health issues wrote to the local papers that she wouldn’t be able to participate at all in her community because they weren’t going to put in the simple protocols of mask-wearing and social distancing. How lonely and scary that must be for her and others whose home is in that town and county.
And in the last couple of weeks, we have learned that the mandates set by our Michigan governor had been narrowly voted down by the Michigan Supreme Court. So as we prepare to head home, we are essentially going back to that town in Iowa that won’t be following any safety protocols. This is beyond disappointing. This is dangerous. I’m thankful to hear that the school districts I’m in contact with are keeping with the protocols they established at the beginning of the year and that the health departments are stepping in to give guidance. I just wish that our national government would put safety protocols in place so that traveling through our country wouldn’t be such a gamble.
SWITCHING From Fear to Awe and Pain to Peace
If a year was tucked inside of a clock, then autumn would be the magic hour.
I have to say that being in Utah this fall has been pretty magical. I mean this on several levels. The scenery (which really isn’t a just word for what we’ve seen) is inspiring to say the least. My mood has gone from fear to one of peace and joy. Seeing these immensely awe-inspiring rock formations that have happened over billions of years has helped me to put myself and this time into perspective.
Physically, I am feeling better than I have in quite a while. Just before our trip, I had been in a Fibro Flare for three or so weeks. That included higher levels of pain, brain fog, fatigue, and depression. But in the past 16 days, I’ve been feeling next to normal. Yes, I have pain (I always have it nearly everywhere on my body), but I’ve been able to manage it. In the car, as we drive from place to place, I’m using my two Yogu balls under my thighs, my back from shoulders to lower back, under my bum and hips, helping to release the tightness of my muscles. I also have my Renpho massager which is battery powered, fully charged for in the car. I use this on the tops of my thighs, stomach, feet, calves, chest, and neck. I brought my newly purchased YUYU hot water bottle for in the car which I can fill up with hot water using our Jetboil stove.
Each day, we’ve hiked between 6-9 miles many times with elevation changes- some as little as 100 ft and others as much as 800 ft. I had one down day that had me really feeling unwell and had taken me by surprise. After that, though, we’ve made better plans to pace, taking rests during the hikes more consistently (using my FitBit to watch for changes in my heart rate) and taking full days for rest, like I am today. When we get back to our home spot (with electricity, water, and Internet), I’m using my heating pad, massager, and shower. During our hikes, I stop and do yoga-type stretches, using my walking sticks to help with that. As well as I am taking moments throughout the day to do short breathwork meditation.
I’m not fully certain why I’m doing so well. Is it the dry air of the dessert that everyone says can ease joint pain? Is it the medication change I made? I’m now taking my Low Dose Naltrexone two times a day (instead of one time at night). I now take 2.5 mg at bedtime and 1.5 mg on waking. Or is it, as my husband thinks, the fact that I’m being more physically active? Could it be spending most of my waking time in nature and not connected via the Internet and phone? I don’t know what it is, but I sure am thankful for this time of being able to live more FULLY.
- The Benefits of Nordic Walking for Those Living With Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain
- Five Steps to Take When Your In Pain
- Come So Far! Last Summer to This
- Confession: I’m Not Well Today
Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sitting on a boulder next to the Virgin River in Zion National Park, I sat in wonder at the development of the rock formations that surrounded me (and those I’d seen on the rest of our journey through this area). Ever so slowly, patiently the elements have carved out these spectacular, seemingly impossible places of beauty and tranquility. One luxury I carried in my waist pack was my journal and pen. Feeling, finally, the spark to write, this came tumbling onto the page.
My hope continues because of this. No matter what we face, if we persist, no matter how weak our efforts seem, we can, in the end, form a new and brighter dwelling place within ourselves, our communities, our world. We can’t give up. We must not give in. We must fight for what we know is right, for our own selves (as in taking care of our bodies), for our disenfranchised communities, our fractured countries, and most importantly our hurting Earth.
What are your thoughts on traveling during the Pandemic? I am really glad we took this time to see areas of the USA that we hadn’t. I’ve found new inspiration and hope through what we’ve experienced.
The format for this post is thanks to A Chronic Voice linkup. This month, the topics were Producing, Acquiring, Switching, Disappointing, and Forming. Each writer takes the given topics and gives them their own spin. Check out these wonderful writers at October 2020 Linkup (scroll past the prompts to find the linked up posts).