Hi everybody, a lot of time has passed since our last post. Only a few Instagram or Facebook posts.
We are in Tulum, Mexico. About 10000 kilometers from our last blog post. We didn’t travel directly here – that would have been too easy.
In search of a quiet place that would not sink into fear and panic of the pandemic, we drove from Sky Valley, the California desert to wild Montana – the big sky. Further to the lake-rich Minnesota and then to Iowa, to finally drive through the entire USA, again, to sell our motorhome in Texas. After long and nerve-wracking weeks we went south to Mexico.
A lot has happened since our last entry. Every day there were new plans, trying to adjust to the COVID nonsense was a filling and busy day’s job. Planning a trip and traveling when the whole world is under lockdown is difficult.
So now a little insight into what has happened so far …
The departure from SkyValley
The constant wind and the crazy regulations around COVID were the reasons that forced us to leave SkyValley. There was something else, oh yes the heat.
Do you have any idea how 44 Celsius/111 Fahrenheit feel? It. Is. Hot. It is so hot that all energies disappear after a few seconds outside. You feel weak and entirely without energy. After a short while, the skin feels as if it is burning. You can’t sit on the floor because it’s so hot. After 20 minutes you are thirsty no matter how much you just drank.
When we got into our little Fiat500, it felt like we were crawling into an oven. The steering wheel was so hot that we needed a potholder to turn it. You could literally bake cookies in the car. Just leave the cookies in a pan somewhere inside. The air conditioning just feels hot after several minutes even at full speed. All in all, not a desirable place to stay. It is terrible.
So I looked for an open campsite that was allowed to accommodate travelers without a home. That’s no joke. Around a million Americans live full-time in an RV. I spent hours on the phone with all campsites in California, south of San Francisco. There are a lot of campsites, I can tell.
I found a place in a sleepy place called Arnold, about an eight hours drive north from us. In 2008 we had the pleasure of spending a few days in this delightful little place in the Sierra Nevada. I called the campsite owner and he promised to clarify our situation with the local health department. He gave the green light the next day and we were looking forward to a greener and cooler environment.
In a few days, the quarantine for the local lake should drop and we could glide through the crystal clear water with our kayak. Everything turned out differently….
6 hours in the wrong direction
We started early. The previous evening we said goodbye to our new friends, whom we got to know in SkyValley last month.
Our path led us through the desert, past thousands of wind turbines to the west, past Los Angeles, then north, towards Sacramento. The traffic around Los Angeles was as usual. Bumper to bumper. Even COVID was no match for the metal avalanche that pushed through, around, and within LA every day. Nothing seemed to ever change that.
After 6 hours of driving, the phone rang. It was the owner of the campsite. The local health department officer had changed their mind. He had forbidden him to take us. No reason was given. He apologized and ended the conversation. He seemed embarrassing but said nothing. Did everyone go crazy? We could hardly believe it. What now?
We stood there. On the breakdown lane of the busy highway. We went through our options. Cars and trucks made our motorhome sway. We could go back to Sky Valley. But that would mean going back to the heat. So not a good idea.
I can tell you, these are the low points in everyday travel. Drive six hours for nothing and no place to stay. Walmart and Casino parking lots were also closed, as were all other free accommodations across California. The state with the highest paranoia in the United States. Many truck stops had also closed and the few that had opened were overrun by so many trucks that there was no space left for motorhome drivers.
Who could give us shelter?
Finally, we made a list of all friends in California we could stay with. Most of them had no space for an RV. Others, however, had fallen to the media and internalized the COVID doomsday scenario. To them, COVID seemed like Ebola. As ridiculous as it was on one side, as depressing as it was on the other. The contradiction between a supposedly clever and loving person and this unbalanced fear was not easy to accept.
We finally made a decision. We would find refuge with friends in Montana. The two of them had offered us a safe haven weeks ago. So let’s go – a 23-hour drive was ahead of us. We would drive back the way we came 4 for hours, then we would drive north to Montana through the states of Nevada, Utah, and Idaho.
We thought ahead. Montana is on the Canadian border. So we planned to spend the summer in Canada as soon as the borders would open again. We had a good plan. We had no idea.
An abandoned Las Vegas
We reached Nevada around midnight. We had been on the road for 15 hours and were completely exhausted. The usual parking spaces, which were suitable for an overnight stay, had all closed. Either the entrance was blocked or a security car stood there and made sure that nobody used the parking lot. We tried an unpaved side street but were chased away by a police patrol a little later. With eyes more closed than open, we drove on – directly through Las Vegas.
What a picture. No cars or people on the streets. Nothing and nobody. Garbage was everywhere, plastic bags floated silently across the streets, driven by the warm desert wind. Casinos, hotels, restaurants, everything was closed. Some hotels had written messages on their huge glass fronts. How? With the light in the rooms. For example, on one “Hope” on another “Together”, on another one was a heart. We couldn’t believe it.
The feeling was incredible. Like in one of those dystopian Hollywood films. In Vegas alone, 200,000 people lost their jobs within a few weeks. The big hotels continue to pay their employees despite no work. To give you an order of magnitude: MGM alone has 83,000 employees, Das Wynn Resort 30,000, Caesars Palace 65,000, and so on.
An hour outside of Las Vegas we finally found a place on a gas station between hundreds of trucks. We were dead tired and I fell asleep despite the still prevailing 32C heat before my head touched the pillow. Nina stayed awake for a long time. Too much had happened that day.
Through Utah with turned off cellphone
Utah, home to incredible natural treasures like Zion National Park and Bryce National Park, came up with something very special during COVID.
When crossing the border, the cell towers registered that someone had entered the state. They then send you immediately a welcome message with the request to register online. The registration includes the location of the 14-day quarantine, the solution that was conceived for the food supply during the quarantine (friend, neighbor, online orders, delivery with owls, etc.), and much more. If you do not register, the mobile phone will be tracked down and the owner will be punished. With this outlook, we took the SIM card out of the phone and simply switched off the dear thing for our 8-hour crossing.
Utah is considered the perfect playground for nature. Home to 14 national parks and monuments. Southern Utah is characterized by red rocks, sorbet-colored spindles, and an endless sandstone desert. The pine-forested and snow-capped peaks of the Wasatch Mountains dominate Northern Utah. Embedded are the remains of pioneers, old rock paintings and ruins, and traces of dinosaurs (all dead). This time we notice very little of the pulsating nightlife and the progressive restaurant scenes in Salt Lake City (SLC) and Park City.
We just stopped for dinner at the famous salt lake, just outside of SLC. We would have liked to visit our friend Walter in Salt Lake City, but the danger of being discovered was too great.
How we would have loved to see Idaho in other circumstances. It is arguably the most underrated travel destination in the western United States. Squeezed between Oregon and Montana, this huge state has 114 mountain ranges with the most rugged mountains in the lower 48. Over 60% of the state is public land. With a designated wilderness area the size of half of Belgium, it is simply breathtaking.
We stopped in the small town of West Yellowstone. The usually so busy and charismatic place at the west entrance of the famous Yellowstone National Park received us with suspicious looks and mountains of snow.
We were happy to find the streets free of snow when we continued our journey. Our motorhome was not a fan of lanes with snow. The next few hours we drove through a winter landscape. Buffaloes were on the roadside. Once a buffalo family decided to stop in the middle of the street and watch us. We stared back. A spectacle of nature that we enjoyed.
Montana and a little freedom
Finally, after three days of driving, we reached Bozeman in Montana and therefore our friends Mark and Janel. We parked right next to her house. Mark had water, electricity, and sewer connection for us. The two welcomed us like family. And that’s how we felt. It was nice.
We spent the next few days in the passion for cooking. Each of us charmed up one dish after the other. Whether steak, salmon, breadless burgers, pho, ramen, creative salads, cakes, and many other things. It was a feast. Also, there was Mark’s homemade espresso, which was considered Italian espresso. Finding such an espresso in the United States was about as rare as finding a cake without sugar. Between meals, we explored the city and the surrounding, which looked almost normal. Restaurants and cafes were open again and we could move around without the annoying face mask. Feels good.
Insomnia and bad weather
We felt comfortable in Bozeman. What we hadn’t considered – Bozeman is at 1500 meters above sea level. Nina had problems sleeping above a certain height. A kind of mini altitude sickness. The sleep decreased over the next two weeks and so we decided to leave. It was not easy to leave a safe haven. There were only two directions. Head west, Oregon / Washington, or east toward South Dakota. Due to the COVID madness in Washington and Oregon, we decided to go to the free State of South Dakota.
Our way into the Boundary Waters – First Stop Badlands NP
Our first destination was the Badlands National Park, which opened its doors to visitors a few days before we arrived. The landscape of the Badlands National Park is a spectacle of steep walls and spikes that pierce in the normally dry air. When we arrived it was raining – a lot. The country was called “Mako Sica” (Badlands) by the Native Americans. The bizarre formations and the waving walls around the park resemble an ocean that has dried out thousands of years ago.
The best thing about traveling always happens when people talk to each other without fear and move freely. Like this time, amazed at a stop in the middle of Badlands National Park. We met new people. A couple from Colorado. We talked, drank tea, and ate homemade cakes, followed by a yoga session. Wonderful.
We left after two days. While googling for a nature experience without quarantine, I came across the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota. The legendary remote and untouched Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) is one of the world’s leading canoe regions and has been on my list for a long time. More than 1000 lakes and streams “stain” the full of pine trees, 1.1 million acres area. Nature lovers like us make travels from all over the world to seek solitude on the 1500 mile canoe routes. It’s just us, between rich wildlife, like moose, bears, wolves and the famous loons.
About two hours before Minneapolis and five hours before our destination, a tire on our little Fiat burst. I had never seen anything like it. It seemed as the tire had exploded. Large pieces were missing. So I started changing the tires on the side of the road. I quickly realized that the spare tire, which was attached under the small Fiat, could not be removed. The mechanism was broken.
The only thing left to do was to remove the tire and drive the camper to a tire dealer. They could then put new rubber on the rim. The idea was good, the implementation – not. 36 (!!) phone calls – thirty three – later we found the only shop that had the right dimensions for the little Fiat – the Fiat dealer in Minneapolis – 2 hours away.
So we drove our Motorhome to Minneapolis for 2 hours to get the right tire. We left the Fiat behind, just on three wheels and a jack. 7 hours later we changed the tire and drove to Minneapolis again. We are already masters in problem-solving!
The dealer also advised us to change the other tires because the metal was already visible. So we left the little Fiat at the Dealership and continued our journey to the Boundary Waters without our red runabout.
At that time, we didn’t know that the #blacklifematters movement started just a mile away. Life is better without news.
Boundary Waters Canoe
7 hours drive, an online permit for the wilderness area, and a fisherman license later, we assembled our kayak at a parking lot under violent mosquito attacks. After a night in the parking lot, the next day started at dawn.
Two weeks of wilderness. Adventure. Our kayak slipped through the morning mist that had spread across the lake. We were well equipped for our trip. Our big tent, a fine air mattress, sleeping bags, and a ton of groceries. I planned to provide us with fresh fish with an $ 18 fishing rod that I bought at Walmart. We found a camping spot where we set up camp for the night. There were a fire pit and piles of wood. It was wonderful. We decided to stay. Pure nature.
Then we hit the paddles into the black lake and explored the area. There was wilderness here. Just us, a few other paddlers and fishermen, elk, lots of water, and the cry of the loon. It was wonderful.
Accident and hospitals
We stayed for two nights. On the morning of the third day, I was fishing when I heard a scream. Nina. I ran to our camp and found her whimpering on the floor. “I broke my foot,” she shouted. Fuck, I thought. We were in the middle of nowhere, hours away from any civilization.
I carried her to the water to cool the foot. She cried out in pain when I picked her up. Her hip and neck ached. I went through all the options. Packing Nina in the kayak to paddle to our RV and then finding a clinic that would take us in COVID times could take hours – at best.
I climbed the big rock that protects our camping spot and looked around. Then I saw a fishing boat. I shouted “we need help!” and waved both arms over my head. The boat responded incredibly quickly. In 5 minutes they had started the engine and came to our campsite. “What happened?”, one of the four asked. I explained the situation. They would help us.
Three of us carefully lifted Nina onto the boat. I quickly grabbed the cell phone and our credit card and then we raced through the wilderness. After only 40 minutes we reached a lodge. An ambulance was already waiting for us. One of the helpers had organized everything with his radio.
Together with the paramedics, we pushed the portable bed under Nina and carried her to the ambulance. Next, she got a face mask. Of course, what else. COVID regulations. Nate, one of our rescuers quickly wrote down his number, and then we started driving. On the way to the emergency room, I contacted our travel insurance. I was afraid that the insurance coverage had expired due to COVID. I had been trying to get an answer from our insurance company for two months. Without luck. The good news – we were insured.
Emergency Room during COVID
The person who answered my call was incredible. Friendly, understanding, and professional. Only half an hour after we arrived at the tiny hospital in ELY (pronounced eeelllliiii), I already had an insurance card. There are some hospitals in the United States that did not provide treatment when there was no insurance card. This wasn’t one of them, but I was glad that everything was organized so well.
I wasn’t allowed to go to the emergency room with Nina – COVID regulations. So I sat in the waiting room with George, a 90-year-old. He had also taken his wife to the emergency room and was afraid of her. They had been married for 70 years. 70 years! That was incredible. If I ever thought I had only so few years left in my life, George showed me that there were still many years to go.
After two hours a nurse showed up and informed me that nothing bad had happened. Diagnosis: nothing. We should just take care of everything and if it doesn’t get better, we should go to another hospital.
Two hospital employees drove us to our Motorhome in a private car because taxi companies were not allowed to work and at least one of them was already bankrupt.
Getting our stuff from the island
I carried Nina on the coach, cooked her something to eat, and hitchhiked back to our island with the next fishing boat.
When I got to the boat ramp, a fishing boat with three older men had just returned. I explained the situation and asked me to take us to our island. They immediately agreed. Two got out and wished me all the best. I showed the third person on the map where our island was – roughly. We found her after a few tries. He said goodbye and wished Fairwell.
I sat on our rock for a few minutes and thought about the day so far. An experience that I would think about for a long time. I didn’t know what the accident would mean for our journey. It would make everything more complicated, especially in a country paralyzed with fear. An immediate problem was that campsites in Minnesota would be closed for another week. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
But instead of worrying about a situation that I couldn’t change, I looked ahead. And so I disassembled our tent and cleared our wonderful camp space. I would miss the Loon’s cry, I was sure. This cry is the verbal expression of Wilderness to me. After an hour I hit the paddle into the almost black water of the lonely lake and returned to the RV.
It took me until late night to put everything back in the Motorhome. Despite Deet (a devil’s weapon against mosquitoes), I had at least thirty bites. 29 of them on the forehead. We spent the night again in the parking lot.
The next two days we found shelter in a camp for veterans. It was technically not a campsite and so the owner let us stay there after hearing our story. It turned out that it was also the lodge of our four rescuers. As a thank you there was a Viennese apple strudel and a bottle of wine.
Duluth – a strange city
After two days, Nina’s foot had swelled to three times its size. So we drove to the next hospital in Duluth, three hours away from us. Duluth is an adventure in itself, which I describe a little more.
We set off from Ely at 32C and reached Duluth at 12C three hours later. Our navigation system led us directly to St. Lukes Hospital. A complex of several buildings in the middle of the city.
I stopped right in front of the emergency room that leads out onto the street. So I stopped in the middle of the street and blocked the traffic. Which was no big deal – we are the only car in Town. I carried Nina to the emergency room, then jumped back into the RV and looked for a parking space. I didn’t find one. To small, to low. So I drove to the Walgreen parking lot and asked the manager if I could park here. He immediately said yes when he heard my story. Then I rushed towards the hospital.
I met Nina in the emergency room without having done anything, and after five minutes I was asked to leave the hospital – COVID regulation. When I went out I asked if they had a parking space that would be suitable for our motorhome. A security guard pointed me into the parking lot. He warned me not to leave the motorhome unattended, that there were bad people here. If I felt unsafe, I should contact the hospital security service. I hope it doesn’t happen and we could be on our way by tonight. I had no idea.
Two hours later, a security man knocks on the RV. Nina would be ready to pick up now, she had an appointment for tomorrow morning. We were allowed to spend the night in a guarded parking lot. I picked up Nina, carried her into the RV, and followed the security man, who led us by foot on the empty street to the guarded parking lot. There was a neglected church right next to the parking lot. The windows were covered with wooden boards and a few homeless people had made themselves comfortable in the rundown entrance area. With a shopping cart and tent – as it should be.
In the morning I carried Nina from the parking lot to the clinic and put her in a wheelchair. I didn’t have to leave the clinic today – new staff. A security man led us through the entire clinic building to the appointment. They had a COVID Station as well – empty.
The doctor who could not see us
We had to give the Reception there all data again. As if we were in another facility. An hour later we saw the doctor entering the examination room with a visor and a mask. He looked like he was from a SWAT Team. The whole situation was surreal and somehow hilarious.
While Steve was talking to us, his visor got mist up. So we couldn’t see him anymore and I was pretty sure that he couldn’t see us either. We couldn’t understand him either, because firstly he was wearing his thick black mask, which looked more like a wetsuit, and then his visor helmet over it. And so he examined Nina’s ankle. He meant the same thing as the doctor in Eeeeelllliiiiii – all well. We asked for an MRI. He was not happy. It was about the cost. The person responsible for insurance would ask our insurance to clarify. We then had to make an appointment with another person. Steve wished us a nice day and touched himself out with his mist visor.
We received the MRI appointment at 9 p.m. So we waited in our parking lot. I went shopping – on foot. The half-hour walk to the grocery store was an adventure and an experience. If I had to describe the city in one word, it would be “rundown”. But there was more. To paint a picture: After a bad virus (I mean a really bad, bad, and deathly virus) wiped out 99.9% of humanity, zombies moved to the city. These would have sucked the last bit of life out of the city and then disappeared. What was left was a cluster of rundown houses and a few survivors who sat in their rocking chairs behind fences and looked without life out on the street. At the bus stop just outside the store, homeless people had started a fire in an old BBQ grill and were warming up there.
After the MRI we slept again in the parking lot. It was almost completely calm. No cars were driving, and the residents of the devastated church also seemed to be asleep – or were out to eat dogs.
The report was available in the morning. Ligament tear, two torn, one completely through, plus broken bone. Low point. What now? The treatment according to the USA model did not suggest surgery, the treatment method from our old home, probably surgery, or not. We got a lot of opinions from different doctors. Some were all in agreement that ligaments would no longer be fixed in surgery.
Off to the Midwest – You betcha!
We never thought we would see the state of Iowa. Iowa was known for, for, mmh, … well, actually for nothing. So why go to Iowa? Our friends Mark and Janel, who had already given us shelter in Montana, helped us again and invited us to Okoboji. So we spent two weeks in Okoboji.
Would you like more about us, visit the About us site.