Normally, as we travel, I use my spare time to write about our experiences. But that hasn’t been the case so far this summer of 2020. But what has been normal about 2020? In fact, I’m writing this from home, and not from one of the many stops on our recent month-long road trip. There are two main reasons for this. First, I’ve had little spare time to get any writing done.
Second, whether you’re home or you’re traveling during a pandemic, there’s the very real chance that someone gets sick. And if you get sick at the beach it somehow seems more irresponsible than if you get sick picking up soy milk at the local grocery store. One activity is a little more essential than the other. With social media, we can go back through someone’s feed like amateur contact tracers, “See! They got sick when they went swimming at the cousins house! For shame!”
When we left Florida, people were alarmed when the state posted nearly 2,000 COVID-19 cases in a day. But it wasn’t long before we’d miss the 2,000 days as the count grew to 12-15,000 every single day. The chance of getting sick at our local Publix was a lot higher than on an empty beach or parking our RV in the mountains. But on social media, people would’ve looked at it and said, “See, they should have stayed home.” To which I would say, “Our home is a great petri dish experiment led by a Governor who hasn’t displayed any evidence that he attended Yale.”
With all my issues with vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, I’ve taken this seriously since the beginning. Since March, my main contact with the outside world has been grocery shopping with a mask on. That was no different on the road (look for a future post reviewing the rest of the nation’s lousy grocery stores). Having now completed the trip, I can tell you that over 30 days we used exactly 2 public restrooms and ate at three restaurants – outdoors in towns with mandatory mask ordinances. I developed a sixth sense for when our RV’s black tank was getting full (the gauge is not super reliable).
We felt safe in our cozy camper. Does that mean we couldn’t catch COVID? No. In fact, our daughter came down with cold/allergy symptoms when we arrived home. As I started writing this, we were waiting on her COVID test, which came back negative.
People who complain about restrictions, say they care about the economy. Of course we want everyone to be able to be open for business, but how do you open the more risky things (like bars and movie theaters) if we don’t make the everyday things (shops and restaurants) more safe? We spent a fair amount of time in Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and New Jersey and had first hand experience with the different philosophies on how to deal with the pandemic.
I can tell you that the states that used to be referred to as “the epicenter” of the disease (NY, NJ, Mass.), have no problem requiring masks, and life seemed most ‘normal’ where they’d learned to contain the spread through clear, strict measures. It’s so painfully simple, it defies reason why places like North Carolina and Georgia (and our home of Florida) can’t get on board. We walked out of businesses in Georgia and North Carolina where the employees or customers weren’t wearing masks. By contrast, shops in Virginia, New England and New Jersey posted their precautions without exception. We spent a lot more money in those places and stayed longer.
Forgive me if my account of our travels is colored by the pandemic. These are historic times.
Our first stop was Jekyll Island, on the coast of Georgia. The only place to camp is Jekyll Island Campground. I’ll admit that over the years I’ve scoffed at RVers crammed into their private campgrounds like sardines with constant the din of a hundred air conditioners. When we were tent camping, I avoided RV-centric places that treated tenters like second class citizens. But I have to take back those words, because with our AC humming and the blinds down, our proximity to our neighbors was irrelevant. And let’s be honest – you can’t sleep in a tent in the South in July. (Fun fact: General Lee decided to fight at Gettysburg because the weather was better than in the South and he needed a 30 amp hookup. Pretty sure he also wanted to capture their airport. Homeschool History 101.)
The Jekyll Island Campground is a shady expanse, and the spaces aren’t too crowded. It’s not a shantytown of semi-permanent fixtures like the parks that we often spot from the Interstate. The real attraction is its proximity to the beach, the historic town, and the miles and miles of bike trails circling the island.
Georgia’s beaches don’t get enough attention. Jekyll reminded me of Amelia Island, which we visited last year. It shares the characteristics of the “low country” in South Carolina. The second picture in this series reveals the reason I didn’t want slide-outs on our RV. Note that the unit behind us has a tarp over the slide the keep the rain out.
After the long drive, we jumped on the bikes and followed a canopy road to the nearest beach at the mouth of the Brunswick River. Monica donned her running shoes and disappeared, finding a graveyard of oak trees.
After four months in the constant presence of the same three people, I’m glad this is my family. Our kids are funny and sweet and they get along. And Monica… well… I feel lucky that I get to be the guy that doesn’t have to ‘social distance’ from her. The brief storm removed the remaining visitors, leaving us with the beach to ourselves.
That red hunk of metal in the background is a massive cargo ship laying on its side. Contrary to what you might assume, it did not overturn when the captain got distracted by Monica’s post-run swim. It capsized last year carrying over 4,000 new Mercedes and BMWs, which are still inside.
Those dead trees that Monica stumbled upon were on Driftwood Beach, where erosion is slowly claiming an oak and palmetto forest. It’s truly stunning, particularly as the sun gets low in the sky. We took about a billion pictures. Here are eight.
Jekyll Island isn’t just a pretty beach. The place is full of interesting history. Back in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, much of the world’s wealth had membership in the Jekyll Island Club, including names like Vanderbilt, Pulitzer and Macy. But even before it was a haven for the Bezoses and Musks of the horse and carriage days, it was the site of early colonial settlement. The museum was open and empty. But the island wasn’t perfect with their COVID precautions. We walked out of one ice cream shop after watching the maskless scooper exercise her freedom by leaning her face into the tubs of frozen dairy. We bought ice cream at the next shop where the woman wore a mask and they limited the space to 3 customers.
What you don’t see in these pictures are many other people. Even the “busiest” beach had plenty of room to spread out.
As we left the area, we hopped over to Fort Frederica on St. Simon’s Island. One frequent visitor in the 1730s was religious reformer and founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley. The park put together a cool scavenger hunt that mixed the park’s history while serving as a self-guided tour.
Jekyll Island was a great first stop and we’ll definitely be back. We had much of the place to ourselves. I have no idea what the crowds are normally like in the summer. Georgia could benefit from some clear safety guidelines, but we had no idea yet how big a difference simple rules could make on daily life.
Next stop: North Carolina.
“Don’t make me turn this van around” is written by Jonathan Kile, and approved by Monica Kile. Jon’s 2014 thriller, The Grandfather Clock, is available free for Kindle on Amazon.com and other eReaders at Smashwords. Reach him at email@example.com. Monica is a leader of a local non-profit, marathoner, baker, tour guide, and prolific bath taker.