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"A Mask and a Minivan" - Our Pandemic Road Trip (Part 5 - We Arrive)

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

This is the fifth post about the 5-month road trip my wife, daughter, and I took during the first half of 2021 in the middle of the pandemic. You can also go back and read a little of the background/ context behind the trip, or read about our time in Asheville, Lawrence, Kansas, Moab, and Great Basin.

We'd done it!

In a little more than two months, we'd made our way across the country, endured vomiting spells, the stresses of buying a house, and me getting really sick with shingles, to finally arrive in the Bay Area where my dad could meet his first grandchild. It had been a tough couple months, but I was excited for my dad and daughter to meet.

Our Stay


It was a sunny, late April day when we pulled up besides my dad's house in Santa Clara. The drive from Tahoe had taken a little under four hours and it was just before lunch time. My dad and his wife are avid gardeners and my dad was outside tending to some of his plants. I got out of the van first to greet my dad while my wife began packing up a few things in the van.

At one point I turned back around to look at the van. It was covered in dust and dirt. It looked out of place on this quiet suburban neighborhood, far from any dirt road that might lead to such a weathered-looking vehicle. I hugged my dad and we began unpacking the van.

My daughter had seen my dad a decent amount on Facetime. She usually warmed up to people quickly, but in the case of my dad, she started crying right away when I handed her to him. Food though, is the way to Eow's heart, and once my dad started giving her some oranges from his tree (her first!) she slowly started to warm up.

Eowyn's first orange. Fresh from the tree.

Eow warming up to my dad

A Setback

The first week in California went by relatively smoothly. I continued to work on east coast time, which worked well with having an eight month old who woke early. Given I was working, I didn't have as much free time as I would have liked, but it still felt great to see my dad with my daughter.

We had been in Santa Clara just under a week when, as my wife was nursing Eow, she called me over. "What's this?" she said pointing to a small bump on our daughter's scalp.

"Looks like a zit to me," I said, trying to convince myself. "I wouldn't worry about it."

It was only when my wife found several more of these "zits" that the undeniable truth dawned on us.

Our daughter had gotten chicken pox from my shingles.

The hits just kept on coming.

To make matters worse, neither my dad nor his wife knew for certain whether they'd had chicken pox and neither of them had been officially vaccinated from the disease either. Over the next several days there was a lot of added stress as my dad and his wife were tested for titers (my dad had them, his wife did not), we tried to quarantine in my childhood bedroom, and everyone was on edge. My dad's wife was particularly concerned about chicken pox since her adult son had just gotten them the previous year and had had a terrible time of it. Probably the low light of the whole affair was us driving around the South Bay on a rainy Sunday afternoon so that we could stay away without having to be quarantined in a single bedroom.

After driving across the country and enduring all sorts of challenges to do so in order to spend time with my dad, we ended up renting a nearby Airbnb so we didn't have to worry about Eow giving my dad and his wife chicken pox. We still would go over to my dad's house every day and hang out/ have a meal in the backyard, but the stay was far from ideal.

My Brother Arrives

It had been the plan for my brother, who was now vaccinated, to fly into San Jose so that we would all spend time in California with my dad at the same time. Since we'd made these plans however, a lot had changed. My face was still healing from my bout with shingles, my daughter now had the chicken pox, and we were all exhausted.

The additional elephant in the room was us buying a house in Kansas. When I'd first seen the house, I'd told my brother about it and he hadn't taken well to the idea, preferring instead for us to settle down in the Northeast (he lives in NYC). Given all the stress around buying the house, work, and coming down with shingles, I'd never told him that we ended up having our offer accepted (the closing actually took place remotely in my dad's backyard just a few days before my brother arrived in California).

Even though I felt good about the decision to buy a house in Kansas, I was nervous to tell him at the first dinner we all had once my brother arrived (this taking place in the backyard due to Eow's chicken pox).

"We have some news," I said, just as we started to eat.

No one said anything for a moment. Then: "I know already," my brother said. "Dad already told me."

This was disappointing as I'd wanted to tell my brother myself, and I knew that he was probably hurt about not hearing the news from me directly. Still, we'd made the decision, and there was no way I could go back and tell him about things sooner. This, however, was another stressor to throw on top of all our existing stressors.

Making the Best of Things

For the last two weeks of our stay in California, we tried our best to make the most of our stay. We'd go on hikes when I had time off, we went to our favorite donut shop, we visited my dad's house every afternoon/ evening.

Amongst the trees on a hike

The morning we were finally set to leave we stopped by my dad's house one last time to say our goodbyes before heading north. The feelings I had were a mixture of sadness at the visit not being what we'd hoped for and relief at being on the road again and not having the added stress of being with family.

I was reminded of that quote: "life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." It felt particularly true that day as we left the Santa Clara.

An Aside on Northern California

While my daughter's chicken pox ended up leading to us not going to Pinnacles National Park (we were hoping to see as many National Parks as possible on our travels), we did still manage to get out on a few hikes during our time in California. Every time I return to California I'm surprised by how beautiful it is. This is probably a strange thing to say because Northern California has a reputation for being an exceedingly beautiful place. I suppose that this is a case of not fully taking advantage of California's natural beauty when I grew up there. It's kind of like how many native New Yorkers never go to the Statue of Liberty. As a Bay Area native I never thought about the Redwoods and Big Sur and all the beautiful places within a few hours drive.

A hike in Castle Rock State Park

Next up: Crater Lake, Bend, Oregon and more mishaps...



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