The COVID-19 Mad Dash Home

The hiking and camping in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument had been chilly, rainy but sublime. That’s canyon country. Sublime, regardless of the weather. We hiked canyons, neoprene socks keeping us warm in swollen creeks. We read books by campfire. Scrambled up slickrock overlooking the desert. Sniffed the sage. Photographed the Henry Mountains. Star gazed. Fell asleep to coyotes howling. We frolicked, sauntered and skipped. Napped.

After those blissful two weeks of camping and hiking in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument we rolled into Bluff. The town was quiet. Quieter than usual. We drove to the visitor centre very much closed. I turned on my phone, a message from my sister waiting. She was wondering where we were and if we knew what was happening. She suggested we come back to Canada as the impact of COVID-19 was growing, and growing swiftly.

Southern Utah was closing and Moab and Bluff was urging travelers to stay away. We live in the Yukon, full of small, isolated communities so we understood their concerns.

Obviously, we didn’t want leave. Spring had just arrived. We were headed for Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa, to spend a few weeks camping and hiking there. It’s one of our favourite places in Utah. Temperatures were reaching +20C. How could we leave now?

We sat in the parking lot of the Bluff visitor centre, googling COVID-19 and listening to NPR. It didn’t take long to understand the situation we had just driven into. There was only one responsible option.

We filled our water jugs in Bluff and headed North, stopping in Moab only for gas.

The drive from Bluff, Utah to Tagish, Yukon is nearly 4500 kilometres. There is a lot of splendid wilderness and it was achingly difficult to drive by it all without exploring, without even stopping. We drove past a few wildlife refuges, several national forests, a couple national parks. It seemed so blasphemous not to visit. John and I don’t like to drive more than 100-200 kilometres a day when we’re traveling. Now we were driving 800km a day.

And if the mad dash back to the Canadian border with a looming pandemic wasn’t worrying enough, we were camped in a national forest just outside Salt Lake City when the 5.7 earthquake hit. We were listening to a podcast about the locusts in Africa when the truck started shuddering. Fortunately, we are somewhat accustomed to earthquakes living in the North. We laughed at the sense of an imploding world. What else could we do? Locusts, a pandemic, an earthquake. We got up, cooked up some oatmeal, made coffee and continue North.

On top of the great distances we were driving, we were traveling on Interstates since they are most direct. 130km/hr speed limits, however, seem excessive at the best of times and in times of a pandemic, seem absolutely outrageous. Now was not the time to get into an accident. But pandemic or not, earthquake or not, people were going, and going as fast as they could.

We played a lot of Neil Diamond to soothe our agitated souls. Our 4-Runner has her original tape deck so we pick up tapes in thrift stores. Neil Diamond and Brian Adams have been with us for six years and we still haven’t tired of them. A few weeks before going into GSENM I bought ABBA, Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray.

The day we returned in the Yukon we stopped at Little Atlin Lake, to stretch our legs, finally able to relax. A raven flew overhead, croaked at us. A lynx strolled by, weaving among the poplars.

We were home.

And we were happy, even if we arrived at the beginning of an unseasonal cold snap that would end up lasting the two weeks we would be self-isolating in a cabin.

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