At the risk of repeating myself, I’ll start this post by stating again that we had a VERY different Leg 6 than we had originally planned. We had planned to visit Bulgaria, Serbia, Turkey, Kenya, and Dubai on Leg 6. We were going to hike a ton in Bansko, live a cosmopolitan city life in Belgrade, do a safari and a month in Nairobi and enjoy the beach in Mombasa, and wind up at the 2020 World Expo in Dubai. Leg 6 was going to be epic. Until it was COVID-cancelled.
With a little ingenuity and a lot of refunds from all of our cancelled plans, we were able to arrange a pretty great Leg 6 that included 9 national parks, over 250 miles of hiking, and many great experiences. Here are some of the things we learned on this leg:
Our 20-Year-Old Car Wasn’t Quite Up to the Challenge
When we sold many of our possessions in 2018, we decided to keep the older of our two cars, a 2000 Honda Accord, so we’d have something to drive during our times in the U.S. When we realized we’d have to make Leg 6 a road trip, we were extremely grateful that we had the car already. Yes, it had over 170,000 miles on it, but it’s a Honda and we’d taken great care of it. And it happened to be due for license plate renewal, so we needed to get it inspected anyway. It passed inspection and our mechanic gave it an oil change and extra check ahead of the trip. We felt we were good to go.
Unfortunately, the Accord was not quite a match for the mountains, though we luckily made it safely through the entire leg and back to Missouri in it. We had the first whiff of trouble not long after we arrived in Libby, MT, and drove up a steep narrow windy road to a high mountain trail for a hike. We didn’t even suspect anything was wrong, but when we returned to the car, the engine didn’t want to turn over. After a few tries, it finally did, but it was a bit unnerving since we were way out in the middle of nowhere with no cellular service in grizzly bear country. With some hustle, we could have made it down the road to where we could call a tow truck, but luckily that wasn’t necessary.
We decided to keep an eye on it and didn’t have any trouble at all until a month later in Seattle. At that point, we were able to diagnose that it might have something to do with the power steering. Chad checked the fluid and it was nearly dry. Luckily that was easy to buy and add at an auto-parts store so we took care of it and saved extra fluid in case it had a leak and went low again. We had the same trouble again one last time in a Moab parking lot at the very end of the trip, but the car made it home and into our local trusted mechanic. Who gave us the bad news that the car would require $1600 in repairs that may or may not fix the problem, and more issues like struts looming.
So we bought a car! The Accord survived long enough to get a generous trade-in from the Honda dealer and we spent a reasonable amount of money (thanks to Chad’s savvy negotiating) on a 2014 Honda CR-V. We think it will be all the more comfortable for our upcoming Leg 7 road trip. Definitely an upgrade! And the Accord definitely went out on a high note. It climbed dozens of mountains and probably logged nearly 10,000 miles on Leg 6.
We (or at least I) Really Miss Dining Out
We lucked out in Libby with great September weather and two really good restaurants that had outdoor dining. But all that ended once we moved on, except for a fun but otherwise not-too-memorable meal on the patio of an Irish restaurant in Missoula. We made good choices with takeout in Washington, Oregon, and Moab, but it just isn’t the same. All the research we’ve seen suggests that indoor dining is not a good idea during COVID (though I know plenty of people who regularly dine out indoors still and haven’t had a negative consequence). So as much as I miss going out for a really nice meal and/or drinks, I don’t think I’d really enjoy it until the pandemic is over.
We kept this preference for dining out in outdoor spaces in mind when we planned Leg 7, and I think we’ll have lots of great options by the time we reach them (though as of this writing, California has banned all in-person dining including in outdoor spaces; we hope this will change by the time we reach Palm Springs in February).
In a Pandemic, It is Worth It to Spend More on Your Living Space
We really splurged on our Oregon Airbnb on this leg and as I said in those posts, were so happy we did. Our Libby space was really nice as well. Since we’re spending so much more time each day in our living spaces rather than exploring our destinations, it is really important to make sure we get something good. We kept this lesson in mind as we booked our spaces for Leg 7.
We Can Create a Good Life Anywhere
Even when there’s not much to do, even when the weather isn’t great, even in the midst of a global pandemic, at each stop on our Leg 6 journey we had a really good time and enjoyed every single day. We have been so intentional in our travel life to create exactly the life we want to lead. In COVID times, so much is beyond our control that we’re definitely not achieving our ideal right now, but we are managing to cultivate a pleasant and comfortable existence with periodic opportunities for joy and wonder. I really can’t ask for anything more than that at this point. And, as I write this, the vaccine is being distributed (slowly) across the U.S. So we have a lot of hope that we’ll be back abroad in 2021.
We really made our modified Leg 6 work for us and got to see so much of our own country that we hadn’t seen before. The national parks were great, we enjoyed some epic hikes, and knocked quite a lot of places off our list of places to see. Though I’d give just about anything to make the pandemic disappear (or better yet, not happen at all and save those hundreds of thousands of lives), I think that we managed to make the best of it with this leg.