The car’s at the mechanic until this weekend so I’ve finally got some time to take it slow on this national parks road trip. I left last Saturday, knocking out mind-numbing drives through Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and Nebraska in about 16 hours. We arrived in Colorado and started setting up camp in the waning hours of sunlight at Pawnee National Grasslands near the Wyoming border.
The howling winds kept us up almost all night, but the howl of the winds was nothing compared to the howls of a bobcat we experienced our last time camping. On the bright side, we were finally able to see the Comet Neowise swooping through the night sky. We wrapped up the drive to the Rockies the next morning, settling in a campsite near the small town of Nederland. However, as we passed through Fort Collins, a seemingly minor setback proved to be a harbinger of things to come.
After nearly two years of lack of use, my car was undoubtedly feeling a bit rusty. Traveling internationally full-time meant that my car was a bit out of work back home. It took about two months to get it up and running again, and after another couple months, it seemed ready for its third cross-country road trip. It held up pretty well during the lengthy drive to Colorado. Unfortunately, the engine stalled at the supermarket parking lot in Fort Collins, just two hours away from our destination. After wiggling a few wires around the hood, it was back on the road again. It’s been about a week since that incident and the deterioration of my red Chevy, named Lightning McQueen, has been faster than I could have imagined.
I’m posted up in a small town called Leadville, where I’m fortunate enough to have a friend to crash with until the car problems get sorted out. This small town of a few thousand people happens to be the highest city in the entire United States. Surrounded by 14’ers at every angle, it’s hard to believe that I’m typing this at 10,200 feet above sea level. I’m posted up in a cafe passing the time until the car gets looked at. Regardless, the first week of the road trip has been a lot of fun, although in the time of Coronavirus, far different than any other road trip I’ve taken in the past.
Let’s start with the positives. Sitting at home all the time, I had too much time to indulge the news and the media. Four months living in a small town in Missouri doesn’t really give you a full grasp of the situation outside of what I see on Twitter. From what I imagined, the U.S. was in complete shambles and lawlessness as maskers and anti-maskers battled it out on the streets. Sure, there are pockets of that around the country, but for the most part, I was surprised at how on board most places were about mask-wearing.
It is the simplest thing to do, and one that I never had any issue with. Thankfully, it seems like the majority of Americans feel that way, too. Despite all of the Karens and anti-maskers constantly going viral on social media, those are the worst of us Americans. We should not let them define us. The vast majority of us are pretty cool. As self-aware and critical I am of America, we are much better than portrayed on the media.
Even in National Parks, mask-wearing was at about a 70% rate on the trails. On public transport and inside buildings, that number was definitely close to 100%. With Colorado being a blue state, I’d imagine that makes a bit of a difference. However, with Rocky Mountain National Park being the closest outdoor adventure that my fellow Midwesterners and I have, it was good to see that the hordes of Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, and Iowa license plates were also on board with the mask-wearing for the most part.
More positives? People are itching to get back to normal, I get that. But honestly? We are getting pretty close to normal if everyone is wearing masks. I’ve been able to safely go to restaurants thanks to the distanced seating and mask-wearing requirement once you leave the table. If we stop wearing masks, then it’ll be a long time from now before things get back to normal. It seems like masks are the only things allowing businesses to reopen. So if a negligible piece of fabric over my mouth can help me get back to living my life, then why wouldn’t we all wear one? Refusing to wear a mask is the quickest way back to lockdowns.
Controlling crowd sizes has also proved to have some unforeseen benefits, especially for nature. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the busiest national parks in the country. They’ve implemented a timed-entry system which requires visitors to make a reservation before visiting. This limits the number of visitors not only overall, but especially during peak hours. The trails aren’t quite as overrun with hikers and the lines and crowds for the Park and Ride system aren’t overwhelmed with hordes of people. I visited Emerald Lake two years ago in late June at around 6 AM. I visited again last week at around 2 PM, and encountered less people at 2 PM than I did in the early hours of the morning.
Nature is able to take a breather and recover, even with the influx of people heading for outdoorsy national park vacations in the absence of international travel.
As far as negatives go, I really can’t think of too much. Maybe I’m just thankful to be on the road again, but any inconveniences having to do with the pandemic has been worth the adventure so far. Airbnbs and hotels have extremely discounted rates, although I’ve yet to stay at one. Camping and couchsurfing at friends’ apartments has proved to be sufficient for at least the first two weeks. While I haven’t done much of the ~ partying ~ part of my blog name, I haven’t really cared all that much. I turn 26 next month, and have already been gradually moving away from the mega clubs and more towards a celebratory beer following an epic hike.
Thus far, I’ve avoided big cities on my trip. I scraped the outskirts of Fort Collins and Boulder, instead opting for littler towns with small populations. While Estes Park proved to be quite crowded and touristy, I’ve been able to find a nice, peaceful balance along the way.
I’ve also been able to meett with a few friends, all of whom are looking on the bright side of how the pandemic has forced us to rethink and readjust our lives. My friend in Denver was able to come stay with us in Estes Park in the middle of the week thanks to the movement towards working from home. Another friend realized just how much freedom remote work gave him, and despite his office being in Chicago, has opted to reserve Airbnbs at monthly rates and live in a different city each month. I’ve been traveling with my sister, who is quickly realizing just how many opportunities are out there for an alternative lifestyle, especially with remote work as prominent as ever.
Despite the pandemic, the car problems, and all of the other mishaps along the way, this road trip has proved to be an exciting and eye-opening one. It’s also been reassuring, seeing that the desire to travel and see new places is still very much alive. I’ve often wondered if I would have to rebrand or move to a different niche to maintain my livelihood as a nomadic travel blogger, but hopefully, waiting out the storm can be an option.
Here are some highlights of the road trip so far.