CUTCHOGUE, NY — For many, the coronavirus pandemic has been a time rife with anxiety and uncertainty as families struggle to adjust to the new normal. But for Tanya McDowell of Cutchogue, the last months have been a pivotal turning point — and have meant a life shift that sent her packing up an RV and hitting the road with her two daughters on the adventure of a lifetime.
McDowell left this week with her two girls to explore the United States. In the past few days, she’s posted photos on social media of meals cooked outdoors at campsites, of wide open vistas and of her daughters, grinning happily with their mom in a series of joyful selfies.
For McDowell, the coronavirus crisis meant a new beginning. “I’ve been a bartender and restaurant manager for years on the North Fork,” she said. “I also have been a hair stylist for over 25 years. So when COVID started, all my jobs closed.”
Looking for a way to make ends meet “during this crazy pandemic,” McDowell began working with Nu Skin Enterprises, selling skin care and other products. Being able to work from home, she said, was a win-win, she said, because she has a compromised immune system.
“As work started reopening I only went back to my hair business and decided to not return to the brewery and restaurant I was working for pre-COVID,” McDowell said. “I spent more time with my online business and it’s really been the biggest blessing for my family and myself.”
Her my oldest daughter, Madison, found that her dorms were not reopening this semester so she decided to part from Johnson & Wales University in Providence this year and attend Suffolk County Community College remotely online, McDowell said.
Her son George Ethan also decided not to leave for his first year at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and is attending SCCC remotely, as well, she said.
“We have always talked about traveling around in a van but between my jobs being busiest during summer and fall and the kids’ schools, we never had this opportunity,” McDowell said.
With her youngest daughter, Ava, a seventh grader at the Mattituck-Cutchogue Union Free School District, where a new learning model was also unveiled, McDowell said: “We decided that it was finally our time to take advantage of traveling this gorgeous country. We pulled my youngest out of school and have started home schooling. That’s probably my biggest fear of being on the road, how I’m going to do as a teacher for her —but so far, we are doing pretty well,” McDowell said.
And the memories are priceless.
McDowell and her daughters — her son decided not to take the trip; “too many girls for him!” — headed out on the open road on Sept. 22 and toward Omaha, Nebraska to pick up a family friend from the airport so she could join them for the trip.
“We will head up north and across the northern part of the country, stopping along our way at campgrounds and boondocking,” McDowell said.
They plan to visit the Badlands in South Dakota, make their way to Olympic National Park in Washington, then head down to California, if they are able, due to the wildfires. And then, they plan to head through Arizona, “where a cattle drive awaits us,” McDowell said.
Mom and daughters make sure to include time for work and school assignments, sitting at a table outside the RV.
‘The time we get to spend together is priceless,” McDowell said. “Being on the road with no plan except where the wind blows us. Playing cards by the picnic table or cooking over an open flame without any distractions, all while seeing this beautiful countryside, is what life is all about. Quality time.”
Coronavirus changed her life, in many ways for the better, McDowell said.
“The fact that COVID happened made me rethink how much I had been working and not enjoying life. COVID helped me take a step back and realize there is more to life than the daily grind. So I found other options for an income that allowed me to have the freedom I was searching for,” she said.
Her son and his dad will fly out and meet the group near Lake Tahoe, McDowell said.
For her daughter Madison, who has wanted to camp on the beach, the trip is the perfect opportunity to begin the photography business she’s interested in pursuing; her dad bought her the camper so she could explore the country.
So far, Madison has taken photos at stops along the way, including the Ohio Caverns.
McDowell knows the days on the road with her daughters are a rare, fleeting chance for memories — a unique moment in time created by the pandemic that affords the chance for precious togetherness.
“We will be returning home in time for Election Day,” McDowell said. “We have six weeks to see as much as we can see.”
This article originally appeared on the North Fork Patch