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When friends don’t put her in a hotel room and she doesn’t have a house sitting gig to fall back on, Amanda Finley lives in a tent in Weston Bend State Park.
Make the tent, plural. Her main tent, which she saved for $ 7, has a leak, but it’s roomy enough for her air mattress. The other tent is small and doesn’t drip, so she hangs it over the larger tent. Finley thinks the combination is a big win, even if it doesn’t look like it from the outside.
Finley tries to claim the campsite closest to the little red cabin with toilets and laundry, but the real appeal is the power outlet – it allows her to charge her phone and computer and stay connected with the rest of the world .
Finley’s long journey into these woods began on a Friday in March 2020 when she collapsed with a cough.
“It went so far over the weekend that I was so sick that Monday that I couldn’t move,” she says. “And I realized I needed help.”
This was before COVID-19 testing became widely available. At that time you still had to qualify for a test – if the providers even existed.
Finley lives in Missouri, but she is part of a global community of long-distance COVID-19 patients seeking answers.
Finley went to a free clinic where she sent her for a chest x-ray. The images of her lungs showed the tell-tale “frosted glass”, a cloudy white speckled pattern that is common in COVID-19 patients. “It’s pretty different,” says Finley.
Up until then, Finley – who is in her forties – had been working as a grocer. She had spent a lot of time in the car listening to news of the rapidly developing pandemic.
So Finley went home, locked the door, and went to bed, determined not to come out until she felt better.
Finley stayed home for months while enduring the long history of what is now recognized as “long-haul COVID.”
It should be noted that Finley is not inherently a couch potato or shrinking purple. Finley, a bald former opera singer who prefers light lipstick, jumps on stage like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. She loves to enjoy company – when she has it – with stories from many previous lives, professions and adventures.
“Back then we didn’t know when and when I would stop being contagious? too, “explains Finley.” I just got into this mindset, ‘I’m an indoor cat now.’ “
Even before COVID-19 forced her to quit, Finley was financially on the brink of collapse.
Check-in at Weston Bend State Park campground still reminds visitors to keep 6 feet between groups for safety.
“My income that led to it was gig work,” she says. “There is no paid free time when you do gigs. You work or you lose your home. I thought to myself, ‘I have to think of something. I have to think of something I can do from home.'”
She taught online courses for children for a while, but tiredness kept coming. “I ran into a wall for a couple of months where I just couldn’t,” says Finley. “When the long COVID really struck and I could barely sit down without falling asleep.”
Finley spent the summer of 2020 in the fog. As autumn approached, Finley had defaulted on her rent, and since her lease was still a month and a half, the management of her apartment complex informed her that it would not be renewed.
“There was nothing to complain about,” she says. “It was the end of the business deal.”
Finley was now part of a close-knit online community of fellow patients. In search of support and information, she founded a Facebook group called COVID-19 Long-Haulers in July.
“I started the Facebook self-help group and realized, ‘Oh my god, I’m not alone, I know two other people,'” she recalls. “‘Let’s start a group. We’ll find 50 people and we’ll be unhappy.'”
Even today, the long haul financial burden of COVID may be less valued than the physical burden. With persistent illness preventing many long-distance runners from getting back to work, Finley’s community of thousands became more than an information clearinghouse – it became a mutual aid society.
Finley says the colors blue and yellow represent long-term COVID awareness.
After losing her home, Finley crashed on more than one other long-haul plane. She jumped house to house until fear of cramped living conditions – in a pandemic that had already cost her so much – made her pack.
One night after dark in June 2021, Finley left a friend’s basement she was staying in and made his way to Weston Bend State Park, about an hour north of Kansas City.
“I just thought, ‘You know what, when I’m in a tent, nobody breathes my air,'” says Finley. “I’ll just go to my happy place. Weston Bend State Park has always been my happy place.”
It’s no exaggeration how much Finley loves this place: she’s been coming here regularly for 26 years. Nestled in rolling hills with a magnificent canopy of leaves overhead, the campsite is in the extensive park where Lewis and Clark were once famous.
“For other people it’s just, ‘Oh my god, is that safe?’ Of course it’s safe, “she says. “There’s a gate up there. It’s locked at night.”
Finley stopped driving due to neurological problems – she becomes disoriented – but her energy has increased. She says that one day she will find a new way to make a living, but it won’t be a grocery delivery. “It didn’t work at first,” she says.
Meanwhile, Finley works from her tent – or sometimes a hotel room – doing video testimonials on social media about the experiences of long-distance COVID drivers like you.
As she regains her energy, Finley is delighted to be photographed without looking lost.
“I’ve started leaving video comments instead of typing them like, ‘No, you will look at me. You will see my face. I will tell you something, you will listen’ to this. ‘”
Finley’s videos caught the attention of CNN International’s Michael Holmes – who interviewed her in April – and Atlantic science writer Ed Yong – who quoted her in an extensive article on long-haul vehicles.
Finley wants to remind the world that long distance COVID drivers are still here, that anyone can join their ranks, and that their wellbeing requires a more robust solution than friends helping friends in emergencies.
Many long-distance riders Finley knows are worse off than her: A friend in Texas died this summer because he didn’t have $ 60 for medication. “We literally die because we can’t afford life. It’s unacceptable,” she says.
Right now, Finley is embroiled in some sort of financial fiduciary failure and is standing up for the legal profession without knowing what will support her and for how long. Something falls through, something else is added.
She doesn’t have her own apartment, but she does have a picturesque view of the Missouri River. When she takes me there, she is beaming with joy. “This is my river!” Finley screams.
But at some point this idyllic landing site may no longer seem so idyllic. The leaves change color and swirl to the ground.
Winter is coming and this little hut with bathroom and laundry room? It’s just closed for the season.