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 2021 Nissan Rogue is designed with families in mind.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Rogue has been redesigned for the 2021 model year. It continues to bring a lot of what families like to the table. As one of America's top-selling SUVs, the Rogue competes directly with the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Ford Escape, among others. Check out the Nissan's most compelling features by scrolling down.

Every Rogue comes loaded with safety technology.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety and driver assist technology comes standard on the Rogue. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, land departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

Additionally, the company's Intelligent Driver Alertness and Rear Door Alert technologies are standard.

The rear doors open wide.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's engineering team has enabled the rear doors on the 2021 Rogue to open to nearly 90 degrees. That not only makes it easy to get luggage and groceries in and out, but also kids and car seats. All three rear seating positions allow for child seat installation.

Keyless entry has been expanded to the rear doors.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

No need to pull out the key to open the doors of the Rogue. Traditionally the keyless entry function works for the driver's door (and sometimes the front passenger's door) and then the driver must open the door and press the unlock button to unlock the rear doors.

Now, the Nissan Intelligent Key will allow rear doors to unlock by holding the key near the door and pressing the button on the rear door handle. All doors can be unlocked by pressing the button twice in quick succession.

Remote technology keeps you and your family warm or cool, right away.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Avaialbe Remote Engine Start technology with Intelligent Climate Control allows parents to heat or cool the cabin of the Rogue from a remote location prior to entering the vehicle. This allows young children and others relief from enduring climate extremes.

Zero Gravity fills the Rogue's universe.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's ultra-comfortable NASA-inspired Zero Gravity seats are no longer for front-row passengers. For 2021, the Rogue gets the seats in the second row - standard. The seats feature low-fatigue spinal support and are available with heated seat functionality.

Privacy and comfort, please.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

You, your passenger, and your kids can enjoy the three zones of climate control in the 2021 Rogue. The front passenger and driver each have a zone while the third is for rear-seat occupants.

Class-exclusive pull-up sunshades help keep the sun out, aiding in climate control system functionality.

Cargo storage has gotten easier.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's team has redesigned the Divide-n-Hide cargo storage system for the 2021 model year, allowing it to provide hidden storage. On the inner right side of the cargo area (behind the wheel arch), there is a space for securing wider items like a. bag of groceries or a gallon of milk.

A motion-activated tailgate is newly available for 2021.

Cords are so last year.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Now owners can connect without cords. The 2021 Rogue comes with available wireless Apple CarPlay as well as a wireless smartphone charger.

If you're an Android user, then you'll have to use a cord to connect. For those users, there are USB Type-C and Type-A charging ports.

ProPilot Assist takes the wheel.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's ProPilot Assist technology doesn't allow for hands-free driving and it's not self-driving, but it does fuse together many functionalities that make daily drive functions easier, especially when your children are doing their best to distract you.

ProPILOT Assist combines steering assist and Intelligent Cruise Control to help control acceleration. It can be used in heavy traffic and on open highways.

For 2021, ProPilot Assist has been enhanced. It has next-generation radar and camera technology that is designed to allow for smoother braking, better steering assist, and improved detection performance when vehicles cut into the lane.

Rogue's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence.

2021 Nissan Rogue

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan has made the Rogue available with all-wheel drive. Those models also get five drive modes: Off-road, Snow, Standard, Eco, and Sport. The modes are engaged using the drive-mode selector mounted on the center console. The all-wheel drive system uses new technology that is designed to respond quicker when slippage is detected.

Production of the 2021 Nissan Rogue is underway now in Smyrna, Tennessee. It will arrive at dealerships later this fall.

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This autumn, Nissan celebrates the 40th Anniversary of its Maxima flagship sedan with a milestone-marking model. The 2021 Nissan Maxima 40th Anniversary Edition joins the company's stable and builds on the Maxima Platinum grade.

The Maxima is the longest continuous running Nissan nameplate in the U.S. It made its debut on American shores in 1981 as the 1982 Datsun Maxima, replacing the Datsun 810. The original Maxima had the engine of the 240Z and a 5-speed manual transmission.

2021 Nissan Maxima 40th Anniversary Edition

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Datsun brand's presence in North America was phased out just a few years later and for the 1985 model year, the Nissan Maxima emerged also sporting a new V6 engine and front-wheel drive. The 1988 model was the last to be offered in a wagon body style.

The third-generation Maxima was launched in 1989 with a 3.0-liter V6 that achieved 160 horsepower helping it keep up with the German cars of its time. By 1995 the model got larger and had a new engine, which resulted in a power boost.

Nissan's large car is now in its eighth generation. It debuted in 2016 sporting Nissan's fashionable V-motion grilled and a more aggressive design complete with a floating roof. The car received styling and safety updates for the 2020 model year.

A new Maxima 40th Anniversary Edition includes a unique two-tone Ruby Slate Gray Pearl exterior paint job with black roof, exclusive 19-inch gloss black aluminum-alloy wheels, black exterior finishers and trim badges, a 40th Anniversary badge, black exhaust finishers, red semi-aniline leather-appointed seating with 40th Anniversary embossing, red contrast interior stitching, Satin Dark Chrome interior faceted finishers, white speedometer and tachometer faces reminiscent of past Maxima models, and heated rear seats.

In addition to the 40th Anniversary Edition, the 2021 Maxima will be offered in SV, SR and Platinum grade levels. Every Maxima has a 3.5-liter V6 engine under the hood that is capable of achieving 300 horsepower. The engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

Pricing and on-sale information will be revealed soon. The 2021 Nissan Maxima will arrive at dealership lots this autumn.

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