Should I Stay or Should I Go?
As a full-time vagabond, that’s been the refrain of my last few weeks. States are unlocking, people are starting to get out of their homes. But, and this is a huge but, is this the right thing to do? Is it the right thing for *me* to do? That’s really the question.
I’ve said it before that I’m a firm believer in data-driven decisions whenever possible. The data, though, can be, and often is, a mess. The US is a huge country, and data is collected differently in every county, every state. In Florida, for example, the governor has ordered medical examiners to not release causes and counts of COVID-19 deaths; their counts were running about 10% higher than the “official” state counts. Why? The state doesn’t count non-residents who are infected and/or die in Florida. Why the hell not? They were here when they got it, they died here, so they should be counted as “person in Florida” rather than ignoring them. Honestly, it makes no sense to me. But I digress…
Where’s the Data?
If you remove NY from the US statistics, the counts of infections and deaths have continued to rise over the last few weeks. We’re losing somewhere between 1600 and 2000 people a DAY to COVID-19. That’s a very sobering data point right there.
I’ve started tracking the counties of places I might camp at, collecting the data daily from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 map (link). It’s hard to see data trends (how many people over weeks) so I’m making my own little charts that concentrate on the counties I might visit.
What are the Risks?
I’m healthy, no underlying health conditions, no regular medications. But I am 64 years old (or as my great-aunt Zilpha would have said, 64-and-a-half!) so there’s that data point to consider. If I am exposed and I do get sick, it’s just me out there on the road. Could I get to a safe haven where I could depend on friends to help me out and put me up, without putting them at risk? If I started feeling sick, how fast could I get back to Gainesville?
Given those questions, I started looking at places within a two-day drive of Gainesville, so somewhere between 500 and 600 miles. For me, a 200 mile day is usually a long one. Given the incentive of getting home quickly, I could bang out a longer day, say 350 miles and then a second day of 250 miles, as a reasonable case scenario. That gives me a range up the Atlantic coast to South Carolina, then inland as far as the southern border of Virginia. Decent enough range to have some variety and places to escape the heat and humidity that is the South in summer.
Where Could I Go?
Then I looked at places that are (A) open and (B) wide open campsites with plenty of room between them (social distancing, campground style) and (C) either at the coast or up the mountains because Southern summer is not to be trifled with. Places that meet those three criteria are mostly places I’ve stayed at before, and so I’m familiar with the campground layouts and the local communities, including grocery stores and gas stations (which is all I really need under normal circumstances).
One concern will be what is open in the places I want to go: is the campground still open, and is the local community around that campground open and welcoming to out-of-state visitors? The three Florida state parks closest to me still isn’t open, even for day hikes. I wanted to camp close to home for a few days to test out my new rig and be able to get things changed up, or have stuff delivered to the house if needed. Do I feel OK about having my first day of towing with my new pickup be a 200 mile day? No, I do not. I guess I could hitch up and drive it around the block, up the road, and back but that seems a bit silly when there are perfectly good campgrounds within a 30-minute drive. So I’m not sure what I’m going to do about this.
How Am I Preparing?
While I may not go, or not go far, I’m trying to cover the risks of vagabonding during this time.
1. I’m buying a few extra cloth masks so that I can wash and dry one while wearing another one. Masks are a “herd immunity” thing – if enough of us wear them, then the transmission rates are lower. A mask protects me and it protects you. It makes sense to have more than one. What if I’m washing the lone mask I have and a camp host knocks on my door?
2. I picked up a portable dump tank to empty my grey and black tanks after 3-5 days. Normally, when I’m at a campground, I use their toilets and showers, but those are considered virus magnets now. Instead, I would use my own facilities, although that means I fill up my tanks faster. I hate to stow everything, pull up stabilizers, and hitch up just to drive a 1/4 mile or less to the dump station, so the portable tank means less hassle emptying tanks. I’ve seen other people use these portable tanks for years, but never felt the need for one. Now I see the utility of it in a different light.
3. Before I go, I’s hit up my local grocery stores for as much as I can in the way of staples (beans, rice, pasta, canned goods, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.) so that I don’t have to buy as much on the road for a while. Especially in small towns, supplies may be limited and I feel like the locals should have first crack at things, rather than vagabonds and travelers.
4. I am accepting that my 2020 travels (if they happen from this point forward) will be different than my previous travels. Visitor centers may not be open. Rangers won’t be leading hikes or night sky talks. People won’t be as eager to meet up and share a campfire. The South wasn’t my first choice of where to spend most of 2020, but it’s looking like the smart choice. If I can get out for a few months of vagabonding, that may be all I get.
5. I pay attention to the news, the data, and analysis from epidemiologists. If there is a second wave this fall, or if COVID-19 combines with the normal flu season to hit hard and hit early, I’ll be scooting back to Gainesville pretty damn fast, trust me. State closures, campground closures, are both something I’ll be keeping an eye on.
What Are My Options?
I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It’s still too early to make a decision. Several Southern states have lifted lockdown but experts say that it will take 4-6 weeks for those effects to show up in COVID-19 statistics.
Right now, I’m considering three options:
– Go vagabonding from June to October, up the coast, then over to the Blue Ridge.
– Take a few weeks of “vacation” on the coast and then return to Gainesville
– Swelter in place in Gainesville and not go out at all.
Best case is the June-October option, but I’m about 50/50 on that actually happening. I’m hoping for at least a vacation fling to the coast, but a lot depends on how things look over the next month. I’m slowly facing the idea that sweltering in place right where i am now might be the safest, smartest choice.
What Will I Choose?
When my February fell apart with a bout of piriformis that required several days of bedrest and then the infamous sway accident, I thought for sure that month would be the worst one of 2020. In retrospect (and we’re not even halfway through 2020 yet), my February doesn’t seem that bad at all.
I was a bit concerned way back in early March about towing my Alto with a new vehicle. And whether I would have some level of PTSD about sway as I headed out again. Now? I’m way more concerned about whether or not I should move at all. Even if Florida lifts all the restrictions currently in place, and Alachua County (where Gainesville is located) does the same, it’s still my choice to go or not go. It’s still my decision on how safe I feel going outside my protected little bubble.
Different people in different situations will make their own choices. I’m weighing my personal freedom against the pull of the open road. I’m weighing my personal desires against community needs and the country’s health. It’s a tough set of decisions.
We all face these choices, vagabonds or not. May we each choose wisely, thinking of the long-term, the weak and elderly, the unemployed and the overworked.
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Or the one.
Spock and Kirk (Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan)
It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.