On going the distance

My boyfriend wants to drive across eight states to visit Yellowstone National Park. We’ll have to camp and stay in cabins, using public restrooms and probably a few coin-operated showers along the way. I think this is an awful idea, because we would risk exposure and because there would be a one-to-one ratio of driving to visiting the park. But he’s only got two weeks before he starts medical school, and he’s determined to do this. It’s going to hurt him when I let him down and back out of this plan, especially since I’ve already been ambivalent for the past few weeks and he’s felt frustrated about my lack of certainty. I feel so fucking guilty saying no. I know it’s shitty of me to have flip flopped on this, but I was fucking confused. How could he think this was a good idea? So I want to ask in case I’m missing something: what are your thoughts? Bad idea? Great idea? We won’t have a chance to visit a park together in the summer for the next four years at the minimum.

This kind of long-distance camping trip sounds like a waking nightmare under normal circumstances, so I would have said fuck no from the jump, but hey, different strokes for different Subaru drivers, I suppose.

I can’t quite tell if your ambivalence is genuinely COVID-based or if you share my general aversion to camping as a lifestyle choice. In other words, are you using the pandemic as cover for a fundamental compatibility issue? Is this dude too crunchy for you? Are you fully prepared for the intense emotional labor and unending string of compromises you will be expected to endure as the girlfriend of a medical student? Are you worried that he’s secretly bought a ring and is packing his best flannel shirt for a scenic trail proposal 100 miles from the nearest nail salon?

I hope I’m wrong. I hope you’re deeply in love. I hope the two of you wear matching Teva sandals and enjoy the same flavor granola bars. That would be adorable, and I would encourage you to join him on this trip to Yellowstone. However, if there are deeper issues that need to be addressed, let’s not avoid them by pretending your anxiety is due to the pandemic, because we both know you can safely visit a mostly-empty, middle-of-nowhere National Park by following some pretty basic hygiene and social distancing guidelines. 

Be brutally honest with yourself, and then be brutally honest with your boyfriend. Would you want to go on this trip if there were no pandemic? I can’t know what’s in your heart, and obviously I’m biased against any venture involving coin-operated showers, but your faltering tone is not lost on me. You and your boyfriend are at the cusp of a really difficult four years. Medical school decimates long-term relationships, and if the two of you can’t get your shit together over a little road trip, I wouldn’t bet on you being there for his graduation. That’s not me telling you to go camping. That’s me telling you to improve your communication and conflict management skills.


27 thoughts on “On going the distance

  1. Rose says:

    “because we both know you can safely visit a mostly-empty, middle-of-nowhere National Park by following some pretty basic hygiene and social distancing guidelines.”

    Wait… we can? I’ve been avoiding all travel for this very reason.

        • Rose says:

          Yeah I’m not trying to be all sanctimonious or anything, it’s just that I live in a major city and I’d hate to bring the virus with me to a smaller town.

          • Barefootsy says:

            Yeah. One of my closest friends lives in said smaller towns that has become an outbreak hotspot in the state and she’s beyond pissed.

    • Joanne says:

      Speaking as someone from the region of Yellowstone and other desirable National Parks, they’re far from empty. People are coming in droves and they’re turning cars away at the few entrances that are actually open. If you’re able to enter, people are required to wear masks, but not at all staying socially distant. It’s not that safe.

      Please everyone stay home. The parks will be here in the future. The smaller communities surrounding the parks can’t handle an influx of cases.

      • C. J. says:

        That’s interesting. Have you gone to visit the parks? Is the park/camping ground/cabins very close to the local town? I don’t know anything about it, but just wondering how it might be transmitted to the locals, because I thought camping was kind of isolated.

        • heather says:

          Camping in national parks is not isolated. You’re required to stay at campgrounds, which often have max capacity restrictions. Our national park has 100% of its campgrounds fill up every day for the past 5+ years, with no slowing down from covid except a month or so that the entire park closed. Over 3 million people visit this one-starbucks-town every year. After california shut down, my spouse and I attempted to take a scenic drive through the park one weekend. The crowds of people parking/at the gates was higher than what I see driving into most music festivals. no one had masks, or they weren’t wearing them over their nose and mouth, no one was more than a few feet apart, these were all strangers, at least 4 dozen we saw within a 100-foot stretch. We turned around and left.

        • Joanne says:

          Every park is different, so I’m speaking only of the two in my area; Glacier NP & Yellowstone NP. Between the two there are choices of proper hotel lodging, established campsites with amenities, and back country sites which are way out off the beaten path. They’re following CDC guidelines, so most of these options would be at a reduced capacity of what they normally are.

          Rangers and guides, concessionaires, housekeepers, and other workers mostly all live on-site at the parks, but they can still wander into the local watering hole/restaurant if they wanted to. West Yellowstone and West Glacier are towns adjacent to the parks, but each place doesn’t have a hospital with ICU beds, or enough local medical staff to handle cases of asymptomatic people who may have traveled in to visit and fell ill, or transmitted it unknowingly to the locals.

          The flip side of this is that economies of these two towns are almost exclusively driven by tourism, so they’re hurting. That said, I don’t know how to weigh human lives against tourism dollars.

          And I’m burying the lede here, but I have not gone to any of these parks recently, nor will I. I’m lucky enough to live in a place that I can wander around for miles on recreation trails and not see another human, so it’s easy for me to point fingers and tell people to stay out.

    • Chris says:

      As soon as we were allowed, the kids and I headed up to Niagara Falls. We stayed in a 3-room suite on the cheap, generally had the pool to ourselves twice a day, and were not crowded out of any of the nearby parks and gorges.

      We could not cross the border, though.

    • heather says:

      NO, you CAN’T! Coke, you’re SO off here. I live outside a major national park in California. The only local wal-mart has been out of most disinfecting cleaning products, hand sanitizer, masks, gloves, rubbing alcohol, cleaning vinegar, etc since MARCH. The resources here are SLIM. What we do get is picked off by the thousands of people who refuse to obey stay at home orders. The park itself had to be closed when hundreds of tightly packed people refused to obey mask and distancing rules. Ther’s very little running water or public facilities for hand washing. My spouse and I drive 3 hours every week to shop at better stores in suburbs. Our only hospital has 6 ICU beds, and they’re full. California has been helicoptering covid patients hundreds of miles away because all our local hospital beds are full. Our “small town” is very remote and was considered safe from Covid risk, yet me and at least 5 others caught covid at the end of DECEMBER, because theres usually a ton of international travel through here. The numbers of reported cases in the town have only increased since testing has begun, with more locals testing positive for covid every day. These are the “essential” locals, working at the gas stations, restaurants, and grocery stores. Yet still, a neverending train of cars from LA pour in every weekend, no one is ever dressed properly or brings their own food/water/etc. And they leave sick. And we can’t stop them from coming.


      And if you think I’m overreacting, I canceled my “birthday vacation” to sedona 2 weeks ago for obvious reasons. the rest of my family went and had a blast, didn’t spend much time in public and mostly went on solo hikes and whatnot. They wore masks everywhere, were super careful. A week ago, my aunt I was supposed to see now has covid, and I’m waiting to see if my mother, stepfather, and cousin develop it too.

      Lastly, I got covid 6 months ago and I still cough up excessive mucus every day and am having a really hard time keeping the giant painful bleeding eczema all over my arms that covid gave me under control, even with the help of my doctor.

      Don’t be stupid.

    • nomame says:

      I think what Coke means is that compared to other activities, visiting a park is pretty safe. Since regulations have to cater to the lowest possible denominator and a lot of people are careless, it’s best to say no don’t travel, but honestly if you maintain your distance, pack food, wear masks, wash your hands frequently and don’t act like an idiot, being in a park outside is fine. Taking a little road trip is fine.

      We know the virus spreads when people are in close proximity, not wearing masks and not getting tested or having conversations about the risky environments they may have been in (i.e. disclosing how often they leave the house, do they go to work, are they on public transit, did they go camping with a big group of friends and wore masks for the first day but then eased up). Say you quarantine, take a road trip and use maximum precaution, then quarantine again when you’re home, you very likely should be okay.

  2. Kelly says:

    “Is he too crunchy for me?” is such a valid and important question that I wish I had been smart enough to ask myself more in my 20s.

  3. Maria says:

    As someone who used to be the girlfriend of a medical student (and is now the wife of a doctor) please take Coke seriously on this. Med school and residency are not fucking joking around.

    The years ahead of you in this relationship are brutal. He’ll do the work and get the glory. You’ll likely be alone, take on his half of the chores, and be the breadwinner for the next decade. Despite this, everyone will think you’re a spoiled lucky doctor’s wife (or gold-digging girlfriend). You will miss him so much that you will long for the opportunity to be trapped in a car with him, have sex on an uncomfortable tent floor, or even just be in the sunshine together reeking of unwashed bodies.

    Also, if you think a road trip exposes you to viruses, just wait until he’s working at the hospital 28 days out of 30.

    It was worth it to me. Only you can know if it’s worth it to you.

    Whether you go or not, I hope he does. The years ahead of him are brutal, too.

    • Rosie says:

      I can only imagine. I was the wife of a graduate student getting his PhD and then moved around the world for his jobs. Everything we did was for his career. We focused on that and not our relationship and ultimately divorced. So yeah, I can’t imagine how much worse it is for med school and residency.

    • Cake says:

      Thanks for your insight. Can I ask what makes you say people think you’re a “spoiled lucky doctor’s wife”? I’m just curious, because a doctor often involves really long hours and lots of debt, so that just feels absurd. It definitely can allow a lot of comfort, and if you are able to go into medicine at all, there’s a high chance you grew up with comfort, but still. And how did you deal with taking on that kind of burden? Didn’t you feel frustrated at all of that one-sided-ness, like doing his chores and paying for everything? I’m genuinely curious.

      • Maria says:

        To your first question, people made nonchalant comments all through residency and fellowship about what we could afford (vacations, an enormous mansion, new cars) “because she’s a doctor.” Or, they asked when I was quitting my job (it was not a secret I hated it) for the same reason.

        To your second question, I dealt with it because I signed up for it, and in my relationship, we don’t keep score. I love my wife and really truly just want her to live her best life. There are a surprising number of straight girls doing the chores and paying the bills, and I’ll be a monkey’s uncle before I let their men get ahead of my girl for want of a little money or time. Now that we’re on the other side, I can be a stay-at-home mom, which is my dream that my wife supports just as much as I support hers of being a doctor.

  4. Chris says:

    If COVID is your real concern, stick to it. If it’s an excuse, prepare to have it thrown in your face every time you head out to 7-11 to cure a little boredom.

    As said already, maybe you just don’t want to go on a horrible camping trip when you can map out Marriots along the way.

    Regarding the virus, you’re not thinking twice about him sitting in a classroom full of sick medical students, or of him wandering a hospital floor. Yellowstone is probably the healthiest place you can go. A hotel usually isn’t, but they’re cleaning the hell out of them because people are so afraid.

    See if he’ll compromise, and see if you will, too.

    Best to get this out there, and be prepared for him to be upset because you’ve handled this so poorly. Own it, and move forward.

    • Heather says:

      National parks have airbnbs, not hotel rooms. Your air bnb was cleaned by an underpaid person who is not on payroll, has to answer to nobody, and mostly will just change the sheets, throw out trash, and windex the counters. They aren’t sterilizing anything. They know all you out of town morons who won’t stay home are sick, and they try to leave as quickly as possible to avoid getting your germs.

      Small towns and rural areas are not the healthiest place you can go. They have no resources, no ICU beds, bare shelves in the cleaning supply aisles, and they’re mostly in red districts full of covid-deniers and other conspiracy-munchers who willfully refuse to obey any CDC guidelines. Even though masks are mandatory here in california, at least 1/3 of people are still only wear them around their chin or not covering their noses. Our small town with a national park was one of the first places in the U.S. to have covid infections (in december), and the infection rates are still going up every day.

      But yeah, tell yourself it’s healthy because it isn’t in a city that is heavily regulated to ensure it’s obeying CDC guidelines. Come on down, cough on someones retired old grandpa and kill them. Hope that you don’t require medical help because you’re going to have to get helicoptered 100s of miles to northern california where the nearest available ICU beds are. As I said, it’s been happening here for 6 months. My friends father died. My father in law nearly died. Most of my friends and family are or have been sick. Most people who caught the virus have ended up being the people with long-term side effects that won’t go away.


        • Heather says:

          Good for you. The OP said she intends to camp and stay in cabins. Plus, as someone who lives near a huge tourist trap and a couple hours from vegas, I guarantee you, hotels are petri dishes. the local papers used to publish the number of new covid cases at them every week until the hotels paid their way out of the bad press.

          • Chris says:

            I agree with you, but that’s easy since you’re not a liar.

            My experience was at a different destination (mentioned above) which I thought you were referring to.

            I used to watch the chart in the Washington Post, but they stopped posting the daily. Makes me wonder what’s up.

  5. heather says:

    For those of you who still may not be taking my warnings to stay the fuck home and out of parks seriously:

    “I can’t tell you how much pee and feces were littered along the trail,” Mora said. “It’s disgusting.”

    “Even through a mask, it smells like you’re at Disneyland,”

    “The businesses here in Cameron [Ariz.] get negative feedback because tourists get mad about having to wear masks and use hand sanitizer before they come in stores,” Henry says.

    “It’s been decimated by people who have never hiked before, coming back there with no morals,” she says. “It’s insane to see people acting the way they have, like the end of the world.”

    “A lot of tourists who come through here, they think it’s unfair that we’re trying to have a lockdown and that we’re trying to keep outsiders out,” says Alberta Henry, a member of Navajo Nation who operates a camping rental business outside the Grand Canyon. “A caucasian man from Tennessee came onto the reservation and told my nephews, ‘Get those effing masks off! What’s wrong with you?’ People are openly racist, even in front of my children.”

    Yeah, go ahead and be the asshole that comes in and stresses an already overstressed town. Make excuses as to why YOU and YOUR trip are ok. How YOU are healthy and wont notice if you send another one of my native american friends to the icu with double pneumonia. Just remember, these small towns are full of impoverished mentally ill people who escape society, some of whom do a lot of meth, many who have untreated mental illness, and as someone whose lived near national parks for a decade, not a month goes by where i don’t hear at least one story of a meth head attacking a random tourist, often in public, mid-day, in crowded spaces, sometimes lethally. There are no cops out here, if you call one in an emergency, expect to wait 3 hours to arrive, if it’s a slow day.

    • Chris says:

      This sucks. My trip through NY was nothing like this. For one, bathrooms were open because the state started opening, which is when/why we went. Both in Niagara Falls and with stops at lakes, waterfalls, etc.

  6. Rachel Gibbs says:

    I think the real problem here is that she’s dating a soon-to-be medical student who is completely disregarding how dangerous this entirely non-essential trip during a global pandemic is….he just wants to go because he wants to go. What an asshole. I feel sorry for his future patients, that’s all I can say.

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