life on the road during quarantine
story: mike bezemek

It was mid-March when ust ambassadors Andrew & Olivia realized something bad was going down back home.

After an epic 2-month trip to Asia, where they trekked a frozen river in the Himalayas, surfed in Sri Lanka, studied yoga in India, and skied and snowboarded in Japan, they boarded a flight for the U.S. which was barely half full. Upon arrival, the passport control line was practically empty. And instead of picking them up as planned, Andrew’s family had parked their vehicle at the airport in Lexington.

After driving through the night, the two camped in Pisgah National Forest, near their shared house in Asheville. The next morning, they talked things over by phone with their housemates, one of whom was particularly at risk and worried about the rapidly spreading Coronavirus. Olivia and Andrew agreed that it was safest for all involved if the couple didn’t go home for three weeks. They might very well be asymptomatic carriers. Retrieving some gear, they headed into the mountains still forming their plan.

a looooong trip
“At the end of a long trip, constantly on the move and adapting to new places and cultures, we were ready to come home and chill out,” said Olivia. “Instead, the craziness just continued.”

Within a few days, Pisgah was being overrun by tourists coming for Corona vacations. So, the couple stocked their vehicle with what they could find and made a circuit, visiting the Nantahala Gorge, Tsali Recreation Area, the Little Tennessee River, and the Tellico. Most stops were rivers where they could paddle and run their own shuttles by foot or bike.

Luckily, there was plenty of runoff for paddling. But that meant it rained most of the three weeks while camping by the river. The couple found themselves constantly improvising to stay dry.

“We used a camp tarp for everything,” said Andrew. “We slept under it. We tossed it over our bikes. We used it as a hang-out shelter on the side of our vehicle, always with a good view of the river.”

backwoods creativity
Some challenges were more easily overcome, like filling drinking water containers from gushing mountain springs. As an alternative to hand sanitizer, they rigged a handwash station on the side of their vehicle. Other issues required more effort and backwoods creativity. Due to deteriorating cleanliness and viral concerns, they avoided public bathrooms. Also, stores were sold out of toilet paper. So, they tramped into the woods during rainstorms, collected particularly soft leaves, and dug cat-holes—always a minimum 200 feet from running streams.

One thing they worried about was running out of critical supplies, like batteries or matches. For their headlamps, they had carried a bag filled with AAA batteries throughout Asia and back to the U.S. They were often scrutinized by airport security screeners for this suspicious bag of flammable objects. Ironically, they never used a single battery, abroad or at home. Instead, they recharged their headlamps from outlets and their portable powerpack.

In the dripping woods of North Carolina, wet matches were luckily never a problem. They fired up their stove with a pushbutton start and used it to heat water.

golden memories
In three months, the couple went from freezing temps on an ice river in the Himalayas, to sweating buckets during 100-degree heat in Sri Lanka, to living under a tarp in the dripping rain of the Appalachians.

“The tarp saved our quarantine,” said Olivia. “Anything that has multiple functions, that’s gold.”