In this episode of Industry Focus: Tech, Motley Fool host Dylan Lewis, who had been on a three-week rafting trip and incommunicado from the rest of the world, shares his view of the shutdown from a unique perspective. The news from outside world was scarce and spread far between; there were some welcome distractions and routines which kept him busy. And he walks us through all the changes he noticed while returning back home.
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This video was recorded on March 27, 2020.
Dylan Lewis: Hey guys it's Dylan, your Friday Tech show host. It's Friday, March 27, and as you've probably figured out, or maybe you've been told by our producer, Austin Morgan, I've been out of touch for a little bit. On February 29, I left D.C. to head to the Grand Canyon for a three-week rafting trip down the Colorado River. And at the time there were about a 100 total coronavirus cases in the U.S., the S&P 500 was at about 3,000, and I think very few of us were really feeling the impact of any of that here in the United States.
And I set out for the trip knowing that it was likely that things would be worse when I got back, but frankly, I didn't anticipate this. And I also didn't know what was happening as it was happening. You see on the river, we didn't have cellphone service, we didn't have Wi-Fi; really the only contact we had with the outside world was a satellite phone and that was only really to be used during emergencies.
But we had this trip planned and we've been working on this for about a year -- you have to get permits for this trip and we were excited to go out and unplug and get into nature. The Colorado River is a really excellent place to raft and it has these legendary rapids like Crystal and Lava and these wonderful places you can explore like Redwall Cavern. And the hope was that this would be a good reset and a chance to get away from some of the things that can be stressful in life and kind of focus on being present and being in a place and really being mindful of all that.
And for about a week-and-a-half we were able to do that. You know, the real-world concerns were existent but kind of minor at the time and they were dissolved by going on sunrise hikes and staying up late and making s'mores and doing days of 15 or 20 miles on the oars on the raft.
About halfway through the trip we had a transfer day and we have three folks from our group hike out and we have three new people join us. There's a spot where you can do that over near Phantom Ranch; we were staying at Cremation Camp, for anybody who knows the Grand Canyon well. And the friends that had hiked in brought us stories about what was going on in Italy and how things weren't looking particularly good in California or New York. And I think the piece of news that really got across the gravity of the situation was that the NBA season had been canceled and they brought news too that the stock market was down big. And we were hearing this all secondhand, you know, we didn't have a lot of details, we didn't have newspaper clippings or anything like that to help us connect the dots, but it was pretty clear that things were a lot worse than when we left. And standing on the beach at camp, it was kind of hard to wrap our heads around all that.
I thought a lot about the office. I thought a lot about how crazy work must be and how Austin was probably putting in some serious hours to salvage the content that I prepared while I was gone. You know, I wondered how all of this was going to play into my plans to buy a house. The plan was to close this basically the week that I got back.
But, you know, those are kind of trivial things, the main stuff I was focused on was how are my parents in their 60s doing? How is Jess doing, is she OK? You know, I have a lot of friends who live in coastal cities, how are they doing? And it seemed like this thing had become just a runaway snowball and it was charging downhill and grabbing more and more people as it went and only growing. And I didn't really know, none of us knew, how our friends and family across the country were doing.
And as a group on the river, I think we did what we could to distract ourselves. You know, we had this routine of setting up camp and rigging and unrigging the boats and we were in the steady presence of rapids, and so that was keeping us busy. But at least personally, underneath all that, was a constant gnawing of worry and wonder about what was going on out there and how people were doing.
And three weeks into the trip we reached our Diamond Creek take-out point, and that was this past Sunday morning, and we were met by our river outfitters, the people who had given us all of our gear that we were renting. And so, you know, we were derigging these 18-foot rafts that we had rented and basically called home for the past 20 days, and taking all these ammo cans off and taking drybags off and Paco pads and just unpacking the lives that we had lived for the last three weeks. And as we were doing all of that, the outfitters explained to us that the world was not really as we left it. Bars were closed and restaurants were takeout- or delivery-only. Most people were at home and pretty much only at home unless they had some essential job that they needed to be at. They also told us that toilet paper and hand sanitizer were both talking points and scarce commodities to come by at the supermarket and that the stock market was down pretty big, 30%, something like that.
And so, we rode about an hour from that take-out point through the Hualapai Reservation in Arizona and we're chewing on these words. And they had also mentioned that there were more and more cases, that there are more and more deaths here in the U.S. And we were thinking about all that until we finally reached cellphone service. We're waiting, and, you know, it's kind of this tension of desperately wanting to hear from people but also a little afraid of what the news might be. And it's kind of a Schrodinger's cellphone type situation.
And finally, we started seeing cellphone lines and we decided it was time to try things out and, you know, taking your phone off airplane mode for the first time in weeks you get this frenzy of texts and notifications. And in that flurry, we were trying to send off our own messages and get things that were more up-to-date than that from a couple of weeks ago coming in. And as we were doing that, responses started coming back and, my phone got reassurances from Jess and then my mom, and over the next 24 hours I ended up hearing from pretty much every one of my extended family and found out that most of my friends back in the D.C. area were also all safe too.
And once all those status updates were done, [laughs] everyone started looping us in on the jokes and the memes of the semi-quarantine kind of life that we're in. And the e-happy hours at the Zoom cyber bar and the fact that Netflix had rolled out a new Party feature. And apparently there had been a New York Times op-ed profiling a canyon group that had launched a week before us and was talking about the absurdity of their reentry into society, and frankly, it was exactly what we were dealing with.
And my friends mention that they've been keeping busy, Lina was baking bread, and Tuck and Laura had gotten a puppy. And all the updates I was getting had ranged from insane stuff, in a macro sense, to pretty mundane stuff on a personal level, but that boring was good, it meant that the people in my life were OK.
Once we got back to civilization and we were in a major metro area, we started looking at flights and trying to work through how we were going to get back. And after some rescheduling and then some re-rescheduling, I was able to get back on a nonstop flight from Baltimore to Las Vegas. And just a handful of days earlier, the entire city of Las Vegas had effectively been shut down.
Before we went to the airport there though, we decided we'd walk the strip a little bit and stretch our legs and pick up a couple of things from CVS that we kind of wanted. And it was totally empty, it was not at all how I had pictured my first trip to Las Vegas. You know, there was still the montage of hotel signs with their lights on, but none of the rooms had their lights on, everything was vacant, and you could really feel it in a city that was so built on entertainment that the lack of people had totally deflated the balloon.
And then we got to the airport and had, I think, probably the easiest boarding I've ever had in my life. We were flying Southwest and the woman at the counter didn't even bother with boarding groups, she just told all 15 of us to get on the plane, because, you know, what was the point in any formality there.
We landed back in Baltimore a couple of hours later and Jess picked me and a friend up at the airport. She was a champ for coming out and getting us. And she jumped out of the car and she hugged me and she told me that she was so happy to have me back. And, you know, I said the same. And that really, I felt her say that, and I think she felt me say that, and I think we both felt the worry kind of wash away from both of us now that we had finally seen each other in person and known that things were OK.
And I've experienced that across the board with friends and family. And over the past few days I've been catching up and seeing what I missed and connecting with coworkers over Zoom and Slack and connecting with family over FaceTime.
And for everything that was going on in the world, my reentry has been pretty boring in the grand scheme of things. I came back to friends and family that were healthy and they were relatively happy, and a company that was still paying workers. You know, we're still doing our thing, we're just doing it digitally and from home. And that boring is really good. It could've been a lot worse and I'm sure there are folks that are listening to this who are experiencing far worse than that.
I wanted to share the story I guess for a couple of reasons. I didn't think that I was the most qualified person to talk about what was going on in the world after missing so much for so long. I figured I can kind of get back to our regularly scheduled programming next week once I'm a little bit more up to speed and have had some time to do a lot more research. But the main reason that I wanted to share it was because, coming back to all of this felt so good. And the reason it felt so good was, when it came to all the stuff that really mattered, everything in my life was OK, and that's the important stuff.
Throughout the journey back and the surprise layover in Las Vegas and the extended period that we spent not being back home, nobody that I was with checked their online bank account, nobody checked their brokerage account, nobody checked their retirement account. The focus was on family and friends and being at least digitally where we needed to be. And for me, it took about three days before I logged into my brokerage account and got a sense of what things look like. And they weren't great, you know, I was down about 20% from recent highs, and had I looked earlier, it would have been a lot, lot worse I'm sure; I got the benefit of a couple days of bumps before that.
But if that's what I'll have to worry about, things are pretty good and I can be pretty OK with that.
I'll be back with more of our usual programming next week, but I figured maybe you guys will give me a pass this week, since I just got back. In the meantime, though, I would love to know how all of you guys are handling stay-at-home life and for the folks that are essential, you know, how things feel for you being out in the world.
And really, we put out a call all the time to get questions for show ideas and be able to answer listener questions, and I think at a time like this, it's more important than ever. We want to know what's on your mind and we're happy to do the research on your behalf. So, if you have anything that you think would make for a great idea or something that you're really worried about, just write in. We're [email protected] and give us a heads up. And we have a good deal of time on our hands and we're happy to dig into stuff on your behalf. So, we'll be looking out for those emails and those stories. I hope, if nothing else, people are getting some more quality time with the people they love and care about, and hopefully are connecting with people via FaceTime and Slack and Zoom and all these platforms maybe in a way that they hadn't in the past.
And otherwise, I think that's going to do it for this episode. I owe a huge thanks to Austin Morgan for everything he does on a daily basis, but in particular, for what he's done over the last couple of weeks keeping us up and running with being remote and getting guests all over the place and Zoom and mailing out equipment to people and everything. He has been absolutely fantastic and has just done an amazing job.
And I know this was an unusual episode, but I did mention a couple of company names, so I do need to read the disclaimer.
As always, people on the program may own companies discussed on the show, and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against stocks mentioned, so don't buy or sell anything based solely on what you hear. Thanks for listening in, Fools, and I hope that you don't have too much to worry about these days.