While we were in Key West we did not have any television coverage. As a result our only real source of news was Facebook and links to online news articles. We saw some things about the Coronavirus, but it was very light, a few memes on Facebook, and no one was very concerned about it. “Man with coronavirus seeks a woman with lime disease.”
We left Key West on March 10th and spent much of the next week at the Southern Comfort RV Park in Florida City, near Miami. As we watched TV for the first time in almost three months we saw press conferences about school closings and the Governor talking about closing beaches and other actions. Talk about a wakeup call! I had a friend in the campground and we were talking about doing a musical performance together in the park’s Tiki bar. After watching the news for a couple of days Pat and I decided that maybe we should just keep what would soon be called “social distance” and my friend and I decided not to do it.
Our next stop was Palm Harbor, near Clearwater, FL. There we stayed at the Caladesi RV Park and planned to see our niece, Robin, and her two kids. Her oldest daughter, Destiny, was home from college because COVID-19. That was a bit more information to alert us of things to come. We had the three of them over to our campsite for dinner twice and had a great time catching up. However, towards the end of our visit we and Robin sadly agreed that it was probably best to leave any more visiting for next year. We did get in some kayaking to Caladesi Island before the State of Florida closed all of the beaches.
One day we took a drive to MacDill AFB to do some shopping at the Base Exchange and Commissary. We had heard of panic buying in grocery stores, but were not prepared to see at least one third of the shelves in the Commissary completely empty. The wakeup call continues. This is what we saw when we shopped at Costco.
We had a good time at Caledesi. The park was nice, the weather was good, and it was close to the Pinellas Trail – a Bike/Walking Trail. Every morning we would ride or walk on the trail. We were able to shop at Costco and stock up on some items we weren’t able to get while in Key West. Our problem at Costco was that Pat wanted to order new eyeglasses and the Optical department was closed. My big thing was being able to give our trailer a good wash and wax job.
While at Caladesi we began to get the bad news. Our plan had been to drive up the east coast to end up in Bar Harbor, Maine. There we were to meet a group of RVers to do an RV caravan through the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Our first major stop was going to be the RV park at Joint Base Charleston near Charleston, SC. We saw in one of our Facebook groups that JB Charleston had closed to new arrivals, although anyone currently there could stay. A phone call confirmed that. We made new reservations only to have that park call us back to say they had to cancel. One after another our reservations were cancelled. We knew we had to come up with a Plan B.
We decided we should abort our trip up the east coast and head for Michigan. There we could “moochdock,” and “hunker down” at Pat’s brother’s place in Bad Axe, in the Michigan Thumb. We can set up near his big shed with a 30 amp connection and water.
Our most direct route would be generally north on I-75. We still wanted to kill some time until it warmed up enough in Michigan for us to be comfortable and Florida was getting too hot. The Uchee Creek Campground at Fort Benning was still open and we made a reservation for three weeks. We planned to leave on March 30th, but we got a call from them on March 27th advising us that they would be closed to new arrivals on the 30th, but if we got there on Sunday, March 29th we would be welcome. My response was easy, “We’ll see you on Sunday!” We immediately began to pack up and, after an overnight stay in a Walmart parking lot, rolled in to Uchee Creek on March 29th.
The park was about half full. Uchee Creek is a very spacious campground with plenty of space between sites so social distancing was not a problem, but was very strange. Normally I would be off to visit the National Infantry Museum, wander through the Ground and Tower Week training areas for the Airborne School, take a drive to Harmony Church to see the Ranger Department, and make at least one trip to Ranger Joe’s Surplus Store. On this trip none of that happened. We would bike or walk for exercise in the morning, read books, or watched TV for part of the day to stay on top of the COVID-19 situation. We did our Income Tax, completed the 2020 Census. I also resealed parts of the trailer, and generally took it easy. More than once I suggested we could stay longer if we wanted to do so.
I don’t understand why the military campgrounds decided to close. Many of the people that use them are retired members who are fulltime RVers or snowbirds that stay for an extended period. They are not transient campers that visit the campground for a weekend. With these parks closing, it leaves a lot of us with a rapidly decreasing number of options.
Normally we tried to engage with our fellow campers, but not this time. We even met a couple from Michigan, but other than waving as we walked past each other, we didn’t make any attempt to get to know them and they kept their distance as well. When we went on post we had to tell the people at the security checkpoint where we were going, no sightseeing was encouraged. We had to wear facemasks at the Commissary and Post Exchange. However, when I drove in to the nearby town of Fort Mitchell to get propane and some other supplies at the local hardware store, I was the only one there wearing a mask and everyone else seemed to be in a “business as usual” mode. It was like COVID-19 had never happened in this small town in Alabama!
Easter Sunday was an interesting mix of services. The FOX News Channel aired a program with Reverend Franklin Graham and singer Michael W. Smith broadcasting from the Samaritan’s Purse field hospital in Central Park in New York City. The Chapel at NAS Key West recorded a sunrise service and broadcasted it at 10:30. Someone on Facebook has recommended that we sing “Amazing Grace” at 10:00, so I made a recording of me playing and singing it and posted it on Facebook on Easter morning.
As we got close to leaving we looked at our route. We settled on a four day trip, calculated to have as little contact with people as possible. When we stopped at rest areas we didn’t use the restrooms, but used our own in our trailer. We stayed in a Walmart parking lot in Ooltewah, TN and didn’t do our usual shopping in the store, cooking our meal in our rig. Our second night was at the Walnut Meadow RV Park in Berea, KY. Our last night was at a Cracker Barrel parking lot in Findley, OH. There we did order a meal from Cracker Barrel and picked up donuts and coffee at the Tim Horton’s across the road. We ordered by phone and picked them up at the door while wearing our masks.
Traffic on our route was light all the way, but Detroit made the biggest impression on me. It was like driving through a ghost town compared to the normal traffic flow. We began to get a little worried about the weather as we entered Michigan as we were not seeing any signs of spring. When we arrived at Geri and Marcia’s place the weather was cold and windy. Geri came out to help us hook up our electrical and water connections, but otherwise kept the appropriate social distance. It seemed strange to not shake hands, go in for a snack, and catch up on family events, but that is the new normal (sigh). We did “attend” church with the NAS Key West Chapel via Facebook and were able to take Communion with the rest of their congregation. I guess this is the new normal?
So now we are hanging out in self-quarantine until we and Geri and Marcia are comfortable with closer contact. We always appreciate when Geri and Marcia let us stay at their place. Being able to use this as a “safe harbor” is a special blessing in this situation.
The future isn’t even cast in Jello at this point. Will we be able to do the Canadian RV Caravan? At this point no one knows. That decision will drive many other decisions. Welcome to the world of COVID-19.