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Going the distance: Family drives from Arizona to Washington County to escape coronavirus
Hometown column

Going the distance: Family drives from Arizona to Washington County to escape coronavirus

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DRESDEN — When Brooke Smith first told her Mesa, Arizona, friends she was taking her family to New York to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic, she got some strange looks.

“All my friends in Arizona were like, ‘What are you thinking driving to New York? There are huge cases in New York,’” said Smith, who has lived in Arizona since 2007.

Once she explained she would be driving to her childhood home in the remote woods of Dresden, hours north of New York City, they understood.

“I always joked with my mom and dad that if we ever had an apocalypse or something we’d be the first ones in our car heading back to Dresden Hill, because there’s no one here and they have tons of acreage, and they have a well and everything’s sustainable,” Smith said. “So that was always a running joke in the family that if anything ever hit, we would be in the car back to New York.”

When Arizona closed schools for the year, Smith and her husband, Chris, packed up their three kids — Easton, 11, Graceyn, 8, who has Down syndrome, and Karsten, 4 — and headed for home.

“It wasn’t even 10 minutes before the ‘are we there yets?’ started,” Smith said.

The family spent more than 57 hours in a car with no stops at hotels or restaurants along the way to limit their interaction with people. They left Arizona on March 31 and arrived in Dresden at the end of the day April 2.

“We slept in the car, we had a cooler of food, we had a port-a-potty, we had pillows and blankets and stuff,” said Smith, who slept in the front passenger seat of their Honda Odyssey mini-van while her husband slept in the back with the kids.

When it was time to eat, they would take the luggage out of the back of the van and have a picnic. They let the kids run around in empty parking lots to burn off energy.

Smith said she is aware that upstate New York officials do not want visitors during the pandemic. But her family’s safety was more important to her, particularly the health of her middle child, whom they call “GG,” who has endured eight surgeries.

“I’ve seen her on life support. She’s medically compromised,” Smith said. “A little bit of negative comments aren’t really going to affect me at all.”

Since staying with Nani and Papi Huntington, the kids have been hiking, gardening, swinging and jumping on the trampoline. Her oldest daughter learned how to drive a tractor. They are still doing their schoolwork from Dresden.

Smith and her husband are also working remotely from Dresden. She is a behavior interventionist at a middle school and Chris does student support on a reservation.

The family lives in a densely populated area in Arizona with 40 people on their cul de sac. There are three playgrounds, but it was difficult to explain to her 4-year-old son why he couldn’t touch anything.

The family usually spends time in Dresden every summer anyway, but they usually fly. To Smith, it was a “no brainer” to get in the car and head to New York.

“The kids can be outside, there’s literally no one around, we have no neighbors. They can be on the swings and the trampoline and run through the woods,” Smith said. “It was just a better overall option for us.”

Call me the good news girl. Are there special people in your community worthy of recognition? Tell me about them. Drop me a line, a tip, a note, or send a press release and photos to ghochsprung@poststar.com or simply call my desk at 518-742-3206. I look forward to hearing all your good news.

Call me the good news girl. Are there special people in your community worthy of recognition? Tell me about them. Drop me a line, a tip, a note, or send a press release and photos to ghochsprung@poststar.com or simply call my desk at 518-742-3206. I look forward to hearing all your good news.

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