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Ali Carr-Chellman September 10, 2020
Ali Carr-Chellman embarked on a 2,600-mile journey during a pandemic with her family — and without public restrooms, snack shops, restaurants, grocery stores or hotels — to become UD's new dean of the School of Education and Health Sciences.

Before COVID-19 was even a whisper, university activities were moving along at the usual pace. The University of Dayton was busy hiring a new dean for the School of Education and Health Sciences, and I was busy applying for that position. I completed a Zoom interview, an airport interview, an on-campus interview, paperwork for visits and a real estate tour. In February, I was delighted to accept my new role as dean. 

It’s always a challenge to pull up stakes and make a career change, but in the first months of 2020 our family didn’t have a clue about the adventurous road ahead of us. We decided that my husband, three children and I would move to Dayton, Ohio, by July 1. To that point, COVID was not part of the calculus, and the process had been quite normal.  

Her sons show off their UD welcome packetsOnce our arrival date was set, we planned a trip for our daughter to visit Dayton and look at local high schools while we also looked at possible homes. Our twin boys were already accepted as first-year students at the University of Dayton.  Our plans seemed to be unfolding smoothly.  

As our visit drew near, though, COVID became a worrisome presence, making it clear that we could not return to Dayton later in the spring to finalize housing. We packed weeks worth of work into that three-day trip. We toured schools and homes days before Ohio shut things down. As we left Dayton, we knew we had found a wonderful school for our daughter. We bought our house from seat 12a just before take-off on our return flight. Flying from Dayton to Moscow, Idaho, it became clear that our upcoming relocation would be unusual: an intrepid cross-country move in the midst of a pandemic.

“Our upcoming relocation would be unusual: an intrepid cross-country move in the midst of a pandemic.”

Family photo with the etwo dogsCOVID aside, there were many of the usual experiences and emotions that come with a move — it’s just hard to leave a place. There is always a bit of sorrow with change.  As the weeks and months of lockdown rolled by, we missed opportunities to say goodbye, really say goodbye, to close friends, colleagues, church communities, scout troops.  COVID made it impossible to engage in the usual grieving rituals or graceful goodbyes. These first steps were emotionally difficult; our next series of challenges were physical and logistical.

We needed to cross nine states, traveling more than 2,600 miles without public restrooms, snack shops, restaurants, grocery stores or hotels. And of course, trains, planes, boats and all other forms of transport were off the list. There was only one solution — an RV! We were blessed to find and buy a large, older RV that would transport our five family members, two dogs and supplies.

RV in the drivewayWe called each state we planned to cross, altering our route several times based on where disease was higher or lower. We surveyed state transportation departments to find that a few states were turning people back, so we had to re-route but then restrictions were lifted, and we re-routed again.

“Feeling a bit like we’d stepped into Noah’s Ark, we piled the family and pets into the RV and began the journey.”

Feeling a bit like we’d stepped into Noah’s Ark, we piled the family and pets into the RV and began the journey. The RV was 37 feet long and 12 feet tall, so a fairly prescribed route was necessary. As anyone who has driven something so large knows, it very easily turns into a giant sail with an engine. The miles through Utah, Wyoming and Nebraska brought hours of unpredictable 60+ mph winds. But each day on the road got us that much closer to our new lives, and we were filled with hope and expectation for our new city, new house and this great university. The days held hours of driving, caring for anxious canines — and keeping the food inside the cabinets when we would sway or turn. 

The family with their RVThe evenings were blissful, though, full of reading, playing Heads Up, cooking and eating together — memorable family time. Likely the stuff of family legend. We stayed at colorful RV parks along the route, safely distanced from those around us. We watched our viewscape evolve from bison and towering mountains to cornfields and ancient hills and prairies. Somewhere in central Nebraska, we felt the dramatic shift from dry to humid and noted, with familiar amusement, the increase in bugs and the lush vegetation.

At last we arrived in Dayton, to our home in Oakwood. We were grateful for our safe journey in the RV, but we learned that 2,600 miles was enough for us, so we sold it.

“2,600 miles was enough for us, so we sold it.”

It was a good summer to sell an RV, for obvious reasons. Some might ask, “Why not delay a year? Or at least until you could travel more safely?” But we were driven — literally and figuratively — to start our new lives back in Ohio. 

For me, it was a homecoming, getting back to where I’d started (I grew up in Columbus), back to family and familiarity. Like salmon swimming upstream, we made our way from Idaho to Ohio. And now, with our RV adventure in the rear-view mirror, the work begins.

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