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Couple quarantined in RV in Arizona made nearly 3,000-mile journey back to Connecticut

After traveling about 2,740 miles in an RV from Yuma, Ariz., Terri Arsenault and her husband, Paul, are finally back in Connecticut.

The couple, who retired two years ago after owning Paul's Service Center in Groton for 30 years, set out in October in their 40-foot camper on a cross-country trip with their two Cavalier King Charles dogs to visit and help family in California.

After spending time in California, they planned to travel through the southern United States, and then meet their daughter, her husband and three kids, who live in Ledyard, for spring break in Tennessee in April, before arriving back in Connecticut at the end of May.

Terri, 56, and Paul, 58, Arsenault stopped at a Yuma, Ariz., campground where they intended to stay for a month, but ended up extending their stay as the coronavirus pandemic changed their plans.

Terri said they started getting cancellations for their reservations along the route to Tennessee, and state parks began closing. Their son-in-law, who is a senior chief in the Navy, returned from overseas and so he and his family planned to quarantine and wouldn’t be traveling to Tennessee. Tourist attractions they planned to visit were closing down.

Terri and Paul, who met while teenagers in Groton and will celebrate 40 years together in October, decided their best option would be to hunker down in the private campground in Arizona while social distancing from other people.

“We decided we’d better just stay put here instead of keep moving and exposing ourselves,” she said.

The couple had frozen food, such as homemade spaghetti sauce they made for their trip, stored in a large freezer in the camper’s cubby, as well as a refrigerator and freezer inside the trailer. When they heard about the COVID-19 cases in California and Washington, they had stopped at Costco and Sam’s Club so they would have supplies and food to last so they wouldn’t have to go out in public. They ordered dog supplies from Amazon and had them delivered to the campground, and only went out to the grocery store a few times when necessary.

Staying busy, keeping in touch

To occupy her time while quarantined in the camper, Terri went from one cabinet to another and cleaned, organized and decluttered, did her taxes and kept up with book work for several properties she rents out.

She had owned a scrapbook store and also owned the auto repair shop with her husband — now run by their son Christopher — so she said they were used to a “go, go, go” lifestyle. But she said she started slowing down about six years ago, when her health started declining.

Still, she said it was an adjustment to learn how to just sit still and self-quarantine in the camper, and, while she’s not the type to stress out, she also had financial worries with the challenges brought on by the coronavirus.

But Terri said her sense of humor helped her keep her spirits up and she posted jokes on Facebook.

While away, she texted back and forth with her family and FaceTimed with her grandchildren to talk about how they were doing and how their home schooling was going.

She hadn’t seen her son’s children since Christmas break, when they visited them in California, and she hadn’t seen her daughter’s kids since leaving Connecticut in October.

“My grandkids even if I don’t talk to them for two or three days, I will still get a goodnight text and it’s usually 'goodnight Grammy' and 'When are you coming home?'” she said. “It’s something to that effect, like 'Where are you now? How close are you?'”

Her daughter’s two oldest children and she also mail each other letters. “We’ve already passed back and forth 10 letters each since October,” she said.

She offered reassurances to her grandchildren, such as if the grocery store ran out of bread, she said they could go back to the “old days” and bake bread, as her grandmother used to do.

Back in Connecticut, Terri's daughter, Jenn Hanner of Ledyard, said her kids keep in touch with their grandparents through video calls, texts and letters and mostly talk about what they’ve watched or read, something they did outside or a game they played or if there’s anything with their little brother, who is 2 years old.

Hanner said like for everyone, the coronavirus “has pretty much stopped everything.” For the family, that meant the cancellation of her oldest daughter’s first play, chorus concerts and, so far, spring sports, as well as the spring break trip.

The girls both had their birthday while at home, so they were unable to celebrate with friends and family.

Hanner typically stays home with her 2-year old, so the main difference is having her two older kids at home during the day and adjusting to new apps and routines for school.

“My girls obviously really miss their school and friends and teachers but they’ve adjusted really well to working at home,” she said.

Her fifth-grader has taken charge of her school work and needs little to no reminders to get her work done. Her second-grader also figured out the app pretty quick and also is great at making sure her work gets done, but Hanner usually sits with her to make sure she stays on task.

She has limited the amount of information she’s told the kids about the pandemic so they don’t worry.

“They know that it’s all over and not just our little town that’s been shut down for awhile,” she said. “I’ve answered a few questions they might have if they’ve seen news anywhere but otherwise I haven’t wanted them to worry until we’re on the mend from this and then I can tell them more while making sure they know that we’re over the worst.”

Traveling back

When Canada moved to impose border restrictions and Canadians staying at the private Arizona campground left, crowds dwindled. But as more people arrived, more groups started to hang out together and people largely weren’t social distancing, Terri said.

It became difficult for the Arsenaults to take their dogs on a walk without people walking up to them, she said.

“It was getting to the point where we just didn’t feel as comfortable and we were like if we’d just drive home, we could be on our own property where we know we’re not touching anything anybody else has touched,” she said. She added that they also worried about a crush of traffic if the state closed the private campgrounds and everyone headed out at once, she said.

After weighing what to do, the couple, who had been quarantined in the campground for weeks, decided to drive back to Connecticut in the RV and only stop for fuel and to sleep.

When they stopped for fuel, they paid using a mobile app and put on a mask and gloves to use the pumps, Terri said. They then put the mask in a zip-close bag, their gloves in the trash and shoes in a tote and washed up and came inside. When they slept, they pulled into rest areas and Cracker Barrel parking lots so they could stay inside the trailer.

Wearing masks and gloves, they stopped at a Walmart along the way to stock up on essentials so they could quarantine on their property without having to leave, Terri said.

She felt a huge sense of relief returning to Connecticut on April 14 and they are staying at one of their properties in Groton. Even though she does not plan to see her family until after her quarantine and it is safe, she said it was still good to know that she was nearby, just in case an emergency arose.

The campground they typically stay in told them it will be shut down at least until May 30, so they will have to play it by ear and see how many cases there are at the time.

But Terri said safety is her guiding factor and she is encouraging other people to take health precautions seriously and stay home.

“Camping’s going to be there. It might be there in a month, it might not be there for three months but ... just don’t worry about it,” she said. “Just deal with the now, the seriousness of now.”

“Just stay home and, if you don’t want to do it for yourself because you think you’re invincible, do it for the other people,” she added. “Just don’t put yourself first.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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