COVID-19

A trip cut short and ​a high-risk return home in the dawning era of a pandemic

Delta is using fogging technology to help clean their planes and lower the risk of coronavirus transmission.

Photo courtesy of Delta Airlines

It began like many of my work weeks begin. This one was slated to include five flights, provide the opportunity to drive two new vehicles and participate in the red-carpet-like reveal of another, finish flight training for my private pilot's license, and take the required final "check ride" after three and a half years of study, before returning home after 18 days.

For some, these metrics are unfathomable. For many automotive journalists, this schedule is simply the way we show up to the office and conduct life. For me, the goal of becoming a private pilot along the way seemed an achievable aspiration. It was both fun and hard. It involves challenge and some risks. Just like life.

I knew this trip could be different. I did my homework. By this point, I was well-educated about the coronavirus and its worldwide trajectory. After a slow start in the U.S., I also knew that COVID-19 had picked up its pace.

I read a New York Times email newsletter concerning the virus as it hit my inbox and studied a multitude of news sources. I queried and listened to friends and colleagues. Some discouraged travel. Others said "go".

I knew things were already changing in our country. I knew my path could change. I had no idea how quickly it would.

No one was so much as coughing on my two flights to Texas on March 11. Years of being on the go in remote areas has taught me to travel with a veritable medical kit as well as extra gear and goods. I had hand sanitizer, hand wipes, and two masks. I thought I had my ducks in a row.

Delta airlines coronavirus Covid-19 Delta is just one of the airlines taking measures to clean their planes between flights.Photo courtesy of Delta Airlines, John Paul Van Wert

News came at a rapid-fire pace from two close friends late in the day on Monday, March 16, as I was filming a flight training video in the small community of Vernon, Texas. I grew more and more worried as the reports grew more and more ominous.

There were no positive cases of the virus in Vernon. Despite the shortage of toilet paper, water and hand sanitizer, and the news that ammunition was sold out, life seemed normal in this rural swath of the Lone Star State, in an area known for its authentic cowboy culture and where crops, cattle, and ranches dot the roadside.

When I had completed my test drives of 2020 Nissan Titan and 2020 Titan XD 200 miles south of Vernon in Midlothian, just three days previous, life still seemed somewhat normal.

Then the next leg of my trip, which was to take me to Los Angeles, was abruptly cancelled. Not a surprise.

My daughter had called my first evening away with concerns about my well-being and the worry for her father and in-laws; we are all post-60. My age put me at an elevated risk of contracting the virus.

I kept checking various apps and reading all the advisories friends were texting me links to. Flights were being cancelled left and right. The way home was getting less direct and harder to figure out.

I already knew by now that I did not want to take the risk of traveling on two airplanes and through three airports to get back home (that's the quickest way to go). But, I assumed that I would complete my flight tests and return home in a relaxed fashion.

Suddenly, I found myself as a pilot and professional test driver who stays in motion for a living, stuck in place in North Texas.

I made a call to a longtime colleague at Nissan who offered to provide me with a 2020 Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek Edition so I could drive home to Massachusetts from Texas with far less risk than what a commercial airline, Amtrak, or a Greyhound bus could offer.

Covid-19 sign highway Road signs across the U.S. have been advising drivers that they should not be gathering in groups. Photo by Getty Images

"Get in your car and start driving now," my friends directed. "It's all changing fast," they said. "Travel is getting riskier and restaurants and travel centers are closing. San Francisco has ordered new rules, New Jersey has a curfew—just go…please!"

According to the mapping app on my smartphone, the trip was projected to be a 26-hour drive of approximately 1,700 miles.

I was packed in 15 minutes. I had a navigation system in the Pathfinder and used it to be directed to nearest gas station in a small town to the north, then mentally made note of a rudimentary version of the directions presented to get me through seven states.

I was prepared to sleep in the car and not stop at restaurants along the way. My flight training instructor had thrown a blanket and pillow in the back seat and helped me pack water and food.

This was an extreme journey, but not the type of extreme I was used to. I've traveled to over 70 countries, raced more than 30,000 miles around the globe, been trained by some of the world's top survival skills experts, spent a month on slogs through the wilds of Borneo and Mongolia (just to name a few). I was once airlifted to Libya "for safety". I was on a team that was shot at in Thailand. I hid in a vehicle in the brush nine miles from the Algeria border for an overnight, when my co-driver and I were lost during a race in Morocco.

This was different. The enemy is invisible to the naked eye and the path forward was clear.

During my first hour-long, self-imposed full-stop at 11:30 p.m. the first night, I fueled the Pathfinder, used the facilities at a truck stop and, after hand washing and a couple of touch-base texts, locked myself into the SUV. Hunkering down in second-row seat, under the bright lights of safety and near a collection of motorhomes and big rigs, I shut down my brain that was full of questions.

Was I already infected? Would I get sick? What would happen if I became ill along the drive home? What would be my resources if I had an accident or issues with my vehicle along the route? Exhaustion overcame the answers. Prayer settled the night.

Rested after a 40-minute sleep, I hit the road again. This was not a pleasure trip and I knew I needed to keep moving. By 3:30 a.m., my driving became less-than-perfect. Unlike most other models in the Nissan lineup, the Pathfinder doesn't yet have available advanced technology like the ProPilot suite of safety and driver assistance tech that is available in the Nissan Altima and Rogue.

Coronavirus updates clearned roadways Roadways across America have far fewer cars than normal thanks to travelers staying home to help flatten the curve. Photo by Getty Images

Pulling in to another fuel stop, I used the washroom to clean myself and used packed supplies to clean up few key touch points of the car and my credit card. Back to the second-row seat for more sleep. As I appreciated that my small stature made the seat feel like a twin-sized bed, I laughed at the notion of what ex-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn would think. He being the man who made worldwide news for sneaking out of Japan in a bassoon case.

Exactly 40 minutes later, my body woke me up naturally and I was back on the road. SiriusXM satellite radio became my lifeline as boredom set in. I found myself singing my way down the highway.

I ventured outside of my usual favorite channels and discovered Ecuadorian music from the highlands, Franco music that waltzed its way into my heart in French stanzas, and the news from CNN, and new-to-me me Fox (for equal measure), along with Doctor Radio, which was completely devoted to deep dives into medical news and has now become the coronavirus information channel.

Sunrises and sunsets have delivered some of the greatest joy in my life. When the morning light painted the world around me on Tuesday, I was midway through Missouri, having traveled through Texas and Oklahoma, and was nearing the Indiana border. It brought the vigor of a case of energy drinks and I began to know that I would remember the moment of this sunrise forever.

Charming signs, stunning vistas, and an ongoing picturesque collection of America's barns delighted my senses as I made my way through the Heartland. For periods of time, I forgot the woes of the present and simply remembered my blessings.

sunrise sunset With the sunrise came the dawn of a new day - the game had changed and the outlook is uncertain.Photo by Sue Mead

Navigating the roads was a bit surreal. The traffic, or lack thereof, was one of the unforeseen circumstances of the pandemic. It seemed as if Americans were heeding the road signs I kept seeing. Some were on overpasses or at the roadside, in electronic boxes where weather conditions, safety notices, and amber alerts are projected. A few were on rudimentary sandwich-board signs that typically direct travelers to specials at hotels and restaurants or deals for oil changes and new tires. "Stay home". "Stop the spread". "Save lives". "Flatten the curve".

Five hours from home, the orange orb of the setting sun illuminated my outside mirror. By now, I knew how much I didn't know. How would the world change? What would happen to me and my loved ones? Was my career over? The dark of night was approaching and all I knew was this: it was a new day. From here, forward.

Another road sign flashed "Stay home". Now I couldn't wait to get there.

Editor's Note: Mead has returned home safely and soundly to her family in Massachusetts and is not exhibiting any symptoms commonly attributed to Covid-19.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The BMW iX is just one model that is coming to American for the 2022 model year.

Photo courtesy of BMW

Many cars, trucks, SUVs, and minivans have gotten upgrades for the 2022 model year. There are a a variety of terms you'll frequently see associated with a description of a vehicle for its annual changeover. Here's how AutomotiveMap defines them:

  • New - These models are entering the market for the first time.
  • Carryover - There have been no major changes from one model year to the other. It is common that the year after a new or refreshed model is introduced, it will be a carryover.
  • Refreshed - Commonly occurring three to four years after the new generation of a model is introduced, a refresh usually includes new fascia, perhaps an engine lineup change or tech upgrade, and usually the addition of safety system upgrades.
  • Redesign - This term signals a generation change in the model. This usually requires an architecture change and all new body panels, engine lineup, tech offerings, and the introduction of new packages, trim levels, and pricing. Redesigns typically happens every seven to nine years.

The models on this list are new or have either been redesigned or refreshed for the 2022 model year. This list will grow as more information becomes available. Click here to see the 2021 models that were new, refreshed, or redesigned for the year.

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG​

Volkswagen announced a refreshed version of the Tiguan SUV in late 2020 but made it known that the model wasn't going to make it stateside until late 2021. The European version (shown above) of the SUV has a new grille that combines with standard LED headlights, VW's new logo right up front, new rear bumpers, redesigned lettering, and a pretty decent tech upgrade in its cabin.

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross

2021 Toyota Corolla Cross Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Corporation

Word on the street is that the new Toyota Corolla Cross could be coming to the U.S. as a 2022 model. That's unconfirmed at this point. If it were, the Corolla Cross could fill a gap in Toyota's lineup between the RAV4 and CH-R, similar to where the Hyundai Kona fits between the Santa Fe and Venue. Stay tuned for more information.

2022 Nissan Ariya

2022 Nissan Ariya

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2022 Nissan Ariya is a 300-mile all-electric crossover with a $40,000 price tag. It might be replacing the Murano in the company's lineup as the brand strategically weighs production versus an electrified business model. The Ariya has unique, minimalistic design that uber modern. Stay tuned for more information as it's announced throughout 2021.

2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer

2020 Grand Wagoneer Concept - Details Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

When the Grand Wagoneer concept debuted in late 2020, it was touted as coming soon and nearly production ready. The model fits into FCA/Stellantis's multi-year product plans as a 2022 model with production expected to kick off in 2021. Check back for more information.

2022 Hyundai Kona

2022 Hyundai Kona N Line Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor Company

The Kona is already old enough to have undergone a model refresh. They grow up so quickly! The new design infusion gives the 2022 Kona new cladding, a freshly stretched hood, new grille shape. The lower bumper has a skid plate while intakes dominate the corners of the face. At the back are new taillights with a horizontal graphic. Below is a new bumper. The revised Kona rides on updated 17- or 18-inch wheels, or the 16-inchers that have been carried over from previous model years. The model also gets Hyundai's 10.25-inch infotainment touch screen.

2022 Audi Q5 Sportback and SQ5 Sportback

2022 Audi Q5 Sportback Photo courtesy of Audi AG

In their seemingly never ending move to fastback everything, Audi is making the Q5 Sportback and SQ5 Sportback a reality for the 2022 model year. The two models get basically the same equipment package as their squared-off counterparts and has about the same capability.

2022 Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing

Cadillac Blackwing launch

Photo courtesy of Cadillac

Cadillac will soon be introducing its new performance-centric sedan. We'll update this information when it's announced.

2022 Kia Carnival

2022 Kia Sedona

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The Kia Sedona name is gone, replaced by the Kia Carnival moniker for the 2022 model year. That's not as big of a deal as it sounds, the van has always been known as the Carnival to global markets. For 2021, the van got a generational upgrade overseas, but those changes won't make it stateside until the 2022 model year.

2022 BMW 4 Series Cabriolet

2022 BMW 4 Series Convertible Photo courtesy of BMW

The 4 Series is a distinct creature. For the 2022 model year, a cabriolet version of the car will be made available for sale that's lighter and has more cargo space and a lower center of gravity than its predecessor. Like its hard-topped relatives, the 4 Series Convertible is available with a variety of packages but only one engine is available, a 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine that produces 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque.

2022 Volkswagen Taos

2022 Volkswagen Taos Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

Volkswagen is introducing the Taos to the U.S. market for the 2022 model year. The small SUV is akin to the Hyundai Kona in size and the Volkswagen Tiguan in styling. VW made this model explicitly for the U.S. market where SUVs are dominating the sales conversation.

2022 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

2022 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

In 2020, the automaker revealed the 2022 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, which has been refreshed inside and out. Most notably, it has a refreshed face and redesigned hatch. Minor interior improvements are designed to help make the Mitsubishi more palatable to buyers.

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

2022 Volkswagen Golf R

Photo courtesy of Volkswagen AG

The 2022 Volkswagen Golf R is the most powerful Golf to date and yes, it's coming to the U.S. The performance variant of the Golf family delivers 315 horsepower, a 27-horsepower boost over the outgoing model, and 310 pound-feet of torque up from 280). Each Golf R gets a turbocharged 1,984 cc four-cylinder engine hat is paired with a standard six-speed manual transmission. A seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is available.

2022 Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing

Blacwing launch

​Photo courtesy of Cadillac

Cadillac will soon be introducing its new performance-centric sedan. We'll update this information when it's announced.

2022 Hyundai Tucson

2022 Hyundai Tucson Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

The Hyundai Tucson has been completely redesigned for the 2022 model year and it's impressive to say the least. The upmarket two-row SUV comes with high-tech features, comfortable seats, and a seriously budget-friendly price tag.

2022 Infiniti QX55

2022 Infiniti QX55 Photo courtesy of Infiniti Motors

The long-awaited Infiniti QX55 is finally a reality. Like many of the other vehicles on this list, it's a small SUV. The QX55 takes the place of the QX30 in the automaker's lineup and is designed to offer a premium drive experience that's engaging and fun, similar to the Infiniti FX of the past.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic Prototype Photo courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc

A new generation of Honda Civic is on the way. The company recently revealed a near-production prototype of the car (as seen above) and a fully operable next-gen version is planned to debut soon. Stay tuned.

2022 Subaru BR-Z

2022 Subaru BRZ Photo courtesy of Subaru of America, Inc.

The sister of the Toyota 86 has gotten a full blown generational change for the 2022 model year. The 2022 Subaru BRZ keeps its pin-sharp handling but has gotten a significant makeover inside and out. It's also gotten Subaru's standard EyeSight driver assist and safety technology.

2022 Genesis GV70

2022 Genesis GV70 Photo courtesy of Genesis Motors

The Genesis GV80 just landed on U.S. shores but its smaller brother, the GV70 isn't too far behind it. The GV70 carries over the premium looks and features of the GV80 into this smaller, and more budget-friendly package.

2022 Acura MDX

2022 Acura MDX exterior Photo courtesy of Acura

The Acura MDX may be one of the first 2022 models to make it to market. The next-generation MDX has gotten significant enhancements to its interior quality, drivability, and comfort for the new model year. Engineers are also planning a sportier version of the MDX so stay tuned for information about that.

2022 GMC Hummer EV

2022 GMC Hummer EV Photo courtesy of GMC

The GMC Hummer EV finally debuted in mid-2020 but it won't make it to buyers' homes until late 2021. The first editions of the model are slated to be the most powerful and priciest with the cost of each topping $100,000. GMC's first all-electric model combines the comfort of an SUV with the styling of a beefy truck as it attempts to become the ultimate utility vehicle.

2022 GMC Sierra

2022 GMC Sierra Denali

Photo courtesy of GMC

It's been rumored since its interior design fell flat at its debut that the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado were having interior redos hustled through the design process. GMC gave the first indications that this is true when they announced that the Sierra Denali is getting Super Cruise driving tech for 2022. Stay tuned for more info.

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Chevrolet teases refreshed 2022 Bolt EV, new 2022 Bolt EUV

A refreshed Chevrolet Bolt EV is on the docket for 2022. Chevy has been teasing the model left and right over the last few months so we should know more concrete information soon.

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

A crossover version of the Chevrolet Bolt EV called the Chevrolet Bolt EUV will be coming to market as a 2022 model as well. Information is pending on the model but several clues have already surfaced.

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander

2022 Mitsubishi Outlander

Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

Mitsubishi is teasing the next-gen 2022 Outlander ahead of its February debut. Stay tuned for more information about the SUV.

2022 BMW iX

2022 BMW iX Photo courtesy of BMW

The 2022 BMW iX is an all-electric SUV slated to arrive in the U.S. later this year. The iX will be the first bit of BMW's future EV plans to reach U.S. shores and bring with it the latest and greatest technology the company offers.

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Snake Pass is one of England's most beloved driving roads.

Britain's Snake Pass takes you though some of England's most scenic topography, curving in and out of the Derbyshire region of the Peak District. The weather there isn't always favorable - it's frequently closed due to snow or flooding - but when it's open, and you have the right car, it's a driver's dream.

The road has a rich history. It was opened as a toll road in the early 1800s and remained as such until the 1870s. It was the primary route between Sheffield and Manchester until the 1980s.

Porsche recently traced the route using its free-to-download Roads by Porsche app, which gives drivers the means of finding the best roads to travel. The route was recently voted onto the app by fans of the roadway.

Snake Pass Porche Cayman 718 Porsche recently test drove the road, which was added to its Roads app by fans.Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

The preferred route starts east of Glossop, a town just outside of Manchester. All 11 miles of the path are in a national park. Fro Glossop, the roadway climbs into the Pennine Hills reaching 1,680 feet above sea level at the point the route passes Pennine Way. A public house, the Snake Pass Inn, sits nearby. The road passes just north of Kinder Scout, the highest point in England, and through the towns of Knowsley, St. Helens, and Warrington.

The winding scenic roads naturally draws comparisons to Hells Canyon Scenic Byway, which runs along the Oregon and Idaho boarder. The U.S. route offers some of the most breathtaking views roadway views you can get in the country, and provides plenty of technical driving opportunities.

Traversing Snake Pass is technically tough. There are plenty of hazardous bends and blind summits. Fog rolls in quickly at times. Cyclists, professional and far from it, compete for roadway.

Porsche Cayman 718 at Snake Pass

Photo courtesy of Porsche AG

On the flip side, the road offers perhaps the best views of the Manchester area you'll ever see. The scenery goes from moorland to forest to flatland as well.

But, you won't be able to look long because of the road's perils.

Once through the forest, the road opens up again as you near Sheffield. Drystone walls feature while sheep politely munch their lunch nearby. The route draws to a close at Ladybower Reservoir at Ashopton but there's the option to continue. The A57 carries drivers on to Sheffield, dispersing them to the cities near and far via any number of more major motorways.

Or, you could turn around and traverse it once again. It's only 11 miles, after all.

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