When our story left off, I was on the road, having driven through Oakland in under ten minutes. That little bonus meant I was making good time: my ETA for arrival in Arcata was still before 9PM, if just barely. It would have been an insanely long driving day — over 800 miles and more than 12 hours behind the wheel, but the thought of a real shower was pushing me onward.

Let’s pause and discuss showers for a minute. I’m going to admit a horrifying truth: because I was worried about spreading germs in public bathrooms & because my propane didn’t work so I had no hot water & then because I didn’t have any water, I haven’t taken a real shower since leaving Florida. Wet washcloth and shower wipes, and that’s it.

To say I’m feeling grimy would be like saying the Titanic was a small boat. Most of it is psychological, really. Shower wipes actually do work quite well and there are people advocating for never washing your hair who have literally gone years without shampoo. I don’t think anyone would look at me (or smell me) and know how long it’s been since I felt clean. Still, psychological grime is still grime. I want a shower!

But when I stopped in Willets for my third tank of gas, I had a text message from Suzanne: the nurse next door wanted us to be safe, so I was going to need to isolate when I got to Arcata. Also, the driveway I was planning to park in, which is under repair, is going to need another month plus before being usable. It would be street parking and no shower for me.

Like that, my motivation to keep driving disappeared in a puff of exhaustion.

But campgrounds are non-essential and all non-essential businesses in California are closed. Hotels are non-essential, too. I spent probably fifteen minutes on the phone with an irrepressibly perky customer service agent who was sure she could find me a room somewhere before saying apologetically, “Um, I think all our hotels are closed.” Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. So no hotel, no shower; no campsite with water and electricity. Also no overnight parking in rest stops. And no overnight parking at Walmarts.

It was not my finest moment of van life.

But there was a BLM campground about 45 minutes back in the direction from which I’d come. Was I happy to be driving 45 minutes in the wrong direction? Nope. Was I even less happy when 30 minutes later I found out Apple Maps was trying to send me down a road heavily signposted with “No exit, no turn around, do not use,” signs? Yes! Am I getting my yeses and noes mixed up? Maybe.

I gazed at the signs for a solid couple of minutes, considering my options. Did I want to take my chances? Answer: no. With a sigh, I pulled up my camping apps again, found the next camping area that seemed like it might be open and started driving again, still in the wrong direction.

In the wrong direction and up the kind of narrow, winding, bumpy road that always makes for an exciting start to an adventure. At least it does at 9AM on a weekend, when you’re going camping with friends and the sun is shining and venturing into the unknown is part of the thrill. At 7:45PM on a cold and rainy night, when the sun is setting and it’s getting dark and you’ve been driving for 12 hours… not so fun. Truly, not so fun.

I drove and I drove, and every possible pull-off spot had a No Camping sign plastered on a nearby tree. By 8:20 PM, when it was full dark, complete blackness, I was driving about five miles per hour because I couldn’t see a thing. The GPS said my potential campground was still 3 miles away. I said, “The hell with it.” I pulled over in a No Camping spot, turned off the van, and crawled into my bed. I think I was asleep by 8:30. At 11:30 I woke up and spent the next two hours imagining my plaintive conversation with the police. Eventually, I fell asleep again and fortunately, no police officers ever showed up to send me on my way.

In the morning, I watched two deer delicately stepping their way past the van down the road while I was lying in bed. It was a lovely reminder of the positive sides of van life. And the forest I was surrounded by was quite beautiful. Also cold and foggy, but in an appealingly gothic way.

I considered, very briefly, finding the campground that I’d been looking for and settling in. Alas, I still hadn’t resolved my water problem so any settling in would have been very short-term. Instead I got back on the road, drove a leisurely three or four hours, and made it to Arcata in time for Suzanne to feed me avocado toast, sushi, blackberries and a GF chocolate chip cookie for dinner. From a safe distance, of course.

We discussed — also from a safe distance — the proper isolating timeline. Many states are requesting people do a 14-day quarantine if they’ve come in from another area. That makes sense to me, but with the exception of my attempt to find water, I’ve already essentially been quarantined for over two weeks. Plus, Suzanne is a postal worker — essential personnel — which means she’s coming into contact with far more people than I am, on a regular basis, from one of the states from which people are being asked to isolate. The general quarantine risk feels even.

On the more specific risk, I’ve already been sick and by the aforementioned CDC guidelines, I shouldn’t need to isolate any more. We settled on another three days without fever for me, which conveniently times the end of my isolation to her first day off. Obviously, if my fever comes back, the timeline changes, but except for a case of the sniffles — allergies, IMO — and the natural tired from some long driving days, I’m feeling okay.

I’m not sure how long it will be sensible for me to camp in her street, though. Driveway camping can be comfortable, but street camping is often tiring. People walking by, cars driving by…it’s slightly below parking lot camping, in my experience. But I’m going to take it one day at a time. Today the sun is shining, the van is warm thanks to my propane heater, my dog is happy, and I have some writing to do.

Stay safe!