Join photographer Emily Fisher and her family on a journey around the United States during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.
So, in late summer 2020, amid the escalating COVID-19 pandemic and with the threat of another year of remote school and work, my husband, Murray, and I decided to pull our three kids out of school, buy an RV and hit the open road. As long as we had to quarantine at home, we might as well make it a mobile one.
We bought the pre-owned 32-foot Sunseeker RV from a website, sight unseen, and drove it off the lot a few days before our departure. We planned to see the country, visit friends and family in Colorado and California and go wherever the road may take us.
We fast became a team and everybody had a job. Murray and our 9-year-old daughter, Grayson, became skilled and efficient at “hookups” — connecting us to the water, electric and sewer lines at the RV sites. Once parked, I would pop out the “slide-outs” and make dinner. Our 5-year-old twin boys would clean up the dining area and set the table.
We realized early on that we needed a smaller get-around vehicle to run to the grocery store and for day trips to hiking trails. Murray bought a used jeep in Colorado after seeing it in a yard sporting a “FOR SALE” sign. It was a ‘wonderful’ choice my husband made—wonderful in that we were full of wonder as to what possessed him to buy such an impractical car for this family of five. Not only did it have no seatbelts, it had no back seat! It was meant for mountain climbing, not street driving, and had only a partial roof. While it came in handy a few times, it mostly served as a hazardous appendage to an already oversized RV. I won’t forget driving around Moab with our kids getting snowed on in the newly installed back seat. “It will toughen them up,” Murray claimed.
I’d spend my days looking out the window for things to photograph while Murray was busy driving, white-knuckled, with the sole objective of returning his family home, in one piece, at the end of it all. We followed a very loose itinerary and stopped whenever we saw something interesting or found a nice hike, often booking that night’s RV site only hours before. Flexibility was key as some places were worth staying a few days while others served only as a place to sleep.
We had plenty of mechanical mishaps (mostly user error), but one morning in Moab, Utah, we woke up to a 2-inch flood covering the RV floor; water drenched the rugs, comforters and the family’s entire shoe collection. Luckily it was fresh water from the cracked plastic toilet. Thankfully, there happened to be a mobile RV repairman in Moab who met us at our RV site within a few hours and installed a new and improved porcelain toilet.
We picked up the RV a few days before our departure which didn’t leave time to get a license plate for our new vehicle before the trip. I was unable to make an appointment at the DMV due to COVID so I dropped off the paperwork with a note asking that they mail the new plates to my sister’s house in Boulder, CO. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, our paperwork wasn’t complete (my husband hadn’t co-signed the title), so that half-baked plan fell through. We were never in one spot long enough for them to mail it to us during our travels so we spent the entire 80 days driving with expired tags.
In the last 30 minutes of our trip, we got pulled over. After 11,000 miles of driving with expired New Jersey temporary tags, towing a Jeep with the previous owner’s Colorado plates, and our kids in questionable seatbelt configurations in the back, this would be our reckoning. We thought, “Okay, we are finally going to get all of the tickets that we had coming to us over the past few months.”
We sheepishly rolled down our window, ready to confess all of our violations, when the officer asked, “Where are you headed?”
My husband responded, “We are headed to our home in Bedford after being on the road for almost three months.”
The cop asked, “Do you realize you are on a parkway and there is a bridge a mile ahead that would have taken the entire top of this RV off?!”
My husband– distracted by the kids fighting in the back—and had missed an important exit.
The officer said, “You’re lucky, there’s one last exit before the bridge.” We thanked him effusively for saving us and our trip. He replied, “I’m not going to give you a ticket this time.”
Shaken and relieved, we resumed the final leg of the trip without incident.
Reflecting on our 11-week adventure, the road was often bumpy: we got stuck in an angry person’s yard and had to be rescued by emergency vehicles; we got blindsided by a blizzard and were forced to traverse the steepest windiest switch-backed mountain passes that no RV should have any business on; our pipes froze; we found our propane tank empty at the most inopportune times; and we had an emergency dental visit in Vegas, of all places. But we also climbed all over Mother Nature’s playground. We saw tumbleweeds and roadrunners, hoodoos and arches, petrified wood and dinosaur footprints. A rattlesnake rattled at us while hiking and we found seashell fossils in the middle of the desert. We soaked in hot springs in the buff, sledded on sand and we fell in love with a miniature donkey named Eeyore.
We hit 24 states and explored some of America’s most extraordinary parks along the way: Grand Canyon, Great Sand Dunes National Park, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Sequoia National Park, Yosemite and Joshua Tree, among others.
For most, this pandemic has turned our lives upside down, creating a life of isolation, fear and hardship. But the silver lining for us was that it also provided lots of family time, a little freedom and a nearly empty calendar that enabled us to experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure while (re)discovering the magnificence and beauty of our vast country. The road was a rich classroom for the five of us filled with history, nature and exploration.