Back at the beginning of the pandemic, in the name of not having to share restrooms with the public, we upgraded from our Instagram-worthy Volkswagen Eurovan camper to a full size RV, complete with bathroom and AC. We sacrificed the “Vanlife” lifestyle for a more conventional (read: comfortable) road trip; more Cracker Barrel, less Coachella. We hoped the RV would help diminish our chances of catching COVID.
But what if we did get COVID – a thousand miles from home – with four people and two pets in a 24 foot RV? How would we bear up? It wasn’t until the third summer of COVID – last month – that we found out. One night, nestled in a wooded valley in the Catskills, I woke with a fever. A rapid test confirmed a real case of clammy-cough-achy-fatigued COVID. (Full background: I have a serious vascular condition, called VEDS, that has made avoiding COVID important, so I’m fully vaxxed, boosted, and practice reasonable levels of avoidance in public without being insufferable.)
Fevers have always produced mild hallucinations for me, and this time was no different; fitting given the fact that we’d spent that day exploring the town of Woodstock. I can’t pinpoint where I caught COVID, but suspect number one was the lady coughing her lungs out near – of all places – the polio exhibit at the FDR Library. Or it may have been one of the many Gilded Age houses that we’d toured in the Hudson Valley (once a reliable place to avoid the Spanish Flu).
To prepare for what I knew would be – at best – a challenging week, I drew upon the wisdom of several books I’ve been reading on the Stoics. We think of being “stoic” as approaching things without emotion, but the ancient Stoic – capital S – philosophy is eager to take joy in life’s pleasures, while preparing ourselves so that we don’t wilt when we’re confronted with life’s challenges. I took my COVID episode as a chance to put this Zen-light philosophy to work. Instead of lamenting my situation, wallowing in negative thoughts and ruminating on the injustice of having our trip interrupted, I accepted it and moved on. I was grateful I wasn’t more sick.
Quarantining in an RV was a challenge. As a gesture, I put on a mask, and Monica moved a few feet away to our daughter’s bed (which is also the dinette). But, to use a buzzword from 2021, this attempt at distancing was “performative.”
“Oh, God,” Monica said the next morning, “We were kissing last night.”
“Wait,” our son said in disgust, “you guys were making out?” He then gave us the pre-teen TED-talk about how making out is only for people who are dating, not for married people. We responded by singing him the “Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees” song.
Forging ahead, I publicly declared my optimism, took some Tylenol and proceeded with packing up our campsite. The Zen quickly fled my body as I wrestled with the stubborn high-end camp chairs that have tested my patience since we invested in them five years ago. These “most comfortable” chairs are supposed to withstand a 300-pound human, yet they never opened or closed properly for my 175-pound frame. I destroyed that chair like Pete Townshend smashed his guitar at Woodstock.
“Very stoic,” Monica said, as I returned from depositing the mangled metal and canvas in the Dumpster, whistling “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
But I digress. Within two days, Monica and our son also tested positive. Only our daughter and our pets were spared the scourge. The good news: we got relatively minor cases. Monica lost her sense of smell which isn’t such a bad thing when you eat and sleep near a cat litter box. With two weeks left in our road trip, and complete uncertainty as to when we’d be able to resume our daily romps, we decided to start the long journey home. I approached the 25 hours of driving with the Stoicism I lacked when battling the camp chair.
After seeing people on social media get stranded indefinitely in overseas hotels waiting for a negative test, I’ve concluded that the RV isn’t the worst place to have COVID. With a full pantry (and a full kitchen and bathroom) we were able to eat, sleep, and travel 1,300 miles home without having to risk exposing anyone.
Three days later we were back in St. Pete – planning to resume our trip in August. I could moan about all the additional gas we’re going to have to burn because COVID interrupted our plans, but that wouldn’t be very stoic.
By the way, does anyone have an extra camping chair?