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Carpe Diem in a Pandemic: 24 Hours Away From Home

By Anita Saesing


Sitting on the sand in Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Can you truly be happy without adapting? This question has been haunting me this month—which is absolutely perfect since it’s the season for all things that go bump in the night. Please cue the influx of philosophical phone calls, emotional FaceTime chats, and life-altering messages from friends and family.


It all began when my Belgian friend, Gianni, messaged me through Snapchat. He asked me if I was happy living in self-isolation. I stared at my iPhone, thumbs hovering over the touchscreen keyboard. I replied with my standard, COVID-19 mantra: “I have my health, a roof over my head, and food in the fridge. I should be happy.”


He pressed on, asking me if I’m going to settle with my isolated, COVID-19 lifestyle.

I wanted to scream. Didn’t he understand I can’t have my pre-pandemic life right now? It seems dangerous to throw caution to the wind. For my own sanity, I reminded myself my main goal was to survive. I must adapt and avoid the coronavirus.


Yet something about our conversation had me spooked. Uneasiness and anxiety crept into the corners of my mind. Was he right? Am I giving up and settling for this lifestyle? I have acknowledged COVID-19, but was self-isolation the only way of adapting to it? If life is a game and the rules have changed, am I still playing or have I sidelined myself?


So, a week later, I walked into my boyfriend’s office and said, “I’m getting back in the game. I’m going on a day trip. You can either join me, or I’m going by myself.”


My risk-adverse boyfriend groaned. He said, “It’s still not safe to travel.”


“It’s been seven months. No one knows when this is going to end. First, it was going to disappear by Easter. Then, the media said the summer heat will eliminate COVID-19. News flash: It’s October. I agreed to live in self-isolation because I thought it was only going to be for a few weeks. I can’t live like this anymore. I need to re-enter the world. I can be outside—away from people. We live in Arizona—it’s mostly desert. How hard could it be?”


He sighed, “Fine. This is a test run. If our first day trip goes well, we can continue to venture out.”

Planning an Escape Route


First, we had to decide where to go. Most Navajo sites are closed due to COVID-19, so that ruled out Monument Valley and the Four Corners. We didn’t want to test our luck yet with hiking in national parks, since our friends have told us people have been flocking to them. So I had to cross off the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park and the Petrified Forest from my list.


“How about Horseshoe Bend?” I asked, “It’s in northern Arizona, close to the Utah border. The website says it’s open and the entrance fee is only $10.”


My boyfriend Googled it. He said it was about five hours north of us, and the drive seemed doable. Always thinking ahead, he purchased sleeping bags just in case we needed to camp in our car. Along with trash bags, toilet paper, a bucket, snacks, hand sanitizers, masks and a cooking pot, he bought an inverter to power our hot plate from a battery.


As he was packing and checking items off a list, I went onto Instagram. I searched the hashtag #HorseshoeBend and filtered it to recent photos. Then, I commented on a few people’s photos asking what time they went and if they were able to avoid crowds. They all replied back and said they went on a weekday morning, because that was the least trafficked time.


So, it was settled. We were leaving Friday, October 9th at 2:30 in the morning!

On the Road Again


Before we get into the nitty-gritty details of the trip, I want to preface this with an explanation: I pride myself in my ability to organize and execute plans, whether that’s corporate meetings, household chores, college assignments, or so on. But when it comes to personal travels, my overactive brain slows down, allowing me to enjoy the journey. What I mean by this is I tend to plan about 60% of a trip, and then I let fate do the rest.


So, for this trip, my boyfriend and I were supposed to only visit Horseshoe Bend in Page, Ariz. Halfway there, we decided we might as well drive to Kanab, Utah. It was only an hour and 45 minutes more. Feeling pleased with our spontaneity, we arrived at Horseshoe Bend in good spirits. We paid our $10 entrance fee, parked the car so we could mask up, and walked a little more than half a mile to the site. Fortunately for us, there were only a handful of people there.\


Masked photo of me walking to Horseshoe Bend
Horseshoe Bend photo

Once we returned to our car, we removed our masks and threw them into our “COVID-19” bin. We like to reuse our masks after letting them “quarantine” for three days. I read that infected droplets can survive on surfaces, so I just assume they can survive on masks as well.


On our way to Utah, I Googled state parks in Kanab and convinced my boyfriend to visit Coral Pink Sand Dunes. The entrance fee was only $10 and the parking lot was 50 feet from the dunes. The most surprising thing about this location was how fine and cold the sand was! Besides a few people sandboarding, we were the only ones playing in the dunes.


Walking in Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

Running a little low on energy, my boyfriend and I decided to take a lunch break. I asked him if we could drive to the Belly of the Dragon to have our oatmeal and crackers. It was about 20 minutes from the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. He didn’t object, so we made our way to the parking lot of the Belly of the Dragon.


Entrance to Belly of the Dragon

Other side of Belly of the Dragon

After our quick break, my boyfriend asked me if I felt like going home. I hesitated. It was the first time in roughly six months I’d been out of the house for more than an hour. I knew what was waiting for me at home—the lifeless routine of chores and boredom. I shook my head.


He laughed and said, “I have a friend who lives near Zion. We have to drive through it to get to his place. If we wear our masks and stand six feet away, maybe we can say hi.”


Before he could change his mind, I typed Zion National Park into Apple Maps. We packed our things and drove off.


When we entered the national park, we were so relieved we didn’t plan on hiking. There were so many cars and people everywhere. No one wore masks and people were fighting for parking spots along the road.


Driving through Zion National Park

After saying goodbye to my boyfriend’s friend, we decided to head back to Arizona. His friend said the best route was to go through Las Vegas. We laughed—three states in one day, why not?


It took us nearly five and a half hours of driving, but we made it home safely. Somehow our day trip turned into a full 24 hours of exploring—we truly seized the day. Dead tired, I crawled into bed and fell fast asleep, leaving behind my anxieties. We finally shattered the monotonous curse of self-isolation.


Anita Saesing has always been nomadic.  She was born in California,, but spent her teenage years in Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Before she graduated from high school, an elderly couple from her previous apartment complex invited her to live with them in Arizona.  Four days after her high school graduation, she packed her bags and joined them on their cross-country road trip.  She spent her college years working at various places including a childcare center and hospital HR office.  She was the first in her family to graduate debt-free from college. Anita graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from Grand Canyon University.  One day, she desires to live in Italy and “do as the Romans do.”   

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