Our last visit to San Francisco last January included a trip to Mendocino, a picturesque village with a strong alternative culture in Northern California. While Martin learned the hard way that the sea really is too cold to swim in, I wandered around the village, and took lots of photos, including this curious shot of a stairway with nothing but sky behind it. It seemed so obviously symbolic of something. But what? I’d been told by a travel writer friend that the key to any travel story is an intriguing photo. I just had to wait for a story to present itself.

Within a few days of our return to San Francisco, Martin and I were both hit with high fevers, razor blade throats, sinus and headaches. Covid was the prime suspect, of course, which was especially worrying because at that time clear PCR tests were needed for re-entry into Australia. We were holed up in our Airbnb for almost two weeks, too ill to even leave for supplies. Without Door Dash we would have starved. On the wall opposite our bed was a giant TV that we never turned on, too unwell to watch anything. During the day, we would sit propped up on pillows, staring at the blank screen, our wan faces staring back at us. Sometimes Martin read or slept while I tried to come up with a story for my stairway photo, but nothing came. Day after day, I tried to focus my foggy fevered brain on that story. Still nothing. Instead, I fretted about all the things we weren’t able to see and do in San Francisco, about the wasted airfare, about the fact that we were confined to the four walls of our Airbnb.

The day of departure was approaching. Our fevers had subsided and we finally had the strength to get out of bed and sit at the small table in the bay window. Sun streamed in, warming our faces. I found myself gazing up at the expansive blue sky, the same blue sky pictured at the top of my photo. Where did that stairway lead? It was only now that my brain was beginning to function again that I understood. You’re not going anywhere! This was the polar opposite of a travel story. As we boarded the plane with our clear PCR tests, I gave thanks that I am not a travel writer. The pressure would kill me.

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