I thought I was handling the pandemic better than a lot of people. For most of 2020, I maintained a positive outlook while the world grappled with a health crisis. The doctors and scientists would issue new safety protocols and I would adhere to them to the best of my ability. But as the weather shifted from fall to winter in New York City, there was a shift in my mental state. Sessions with my therapist became almost exclusively about my anxiety around all things COVID. Weeks would go by where I wouldn’t leave my apartment over fear of exposure. My boyfriend and I would make plans to spend time with friends and then panic would set in. I was becoming comfortable living a reclusive lifestyle, which is why I came to the decision that I need to get away. Mohonk Mountain House provided that escape.
Traveling wasn’t a simple decision. I know at least a handful of people who have gone on trips during the pandemic and it always seemed like such a risky move...not to mention ill-advised and a bit selfish. There have been plenty of articles written about people who have been publicly shamed for vacationing while so many others are dying every day or struggling to get by for one reason or another. But when my mental health was starting to suffer, it became clear that a change of scenery was necessary. We narrowed down our destination to somewhere within driving distance of New York City since I don’t plan on getting on a plane until most people are vaccinated. It also needed to be a place that had stringent COVID rules in place where we could also maintain social distancing.
Mohonk is located about two hours from NYC, but the scenic wonderland that surrounds the property makes it seem worlds away. As we gained some distance from Manhattan, I could feel the weight of the city lift off of me. The constricting feeling of basically living out a real life Groundhog Day situation day after day in my Brooklyn apartment suddenly dissipated as the buildings were replaced by trees and the discolored snow banks that line the city curbs became powdery white blankets once again. By the time we pulled up to the Mohonk gatehouse and they took our temperatures, I knew we made the right call.
The fact that you’re not allowed to drive up the mountain without proving you don’t have a fever is just the beginning of the resort’s safety procedure during the pandemic. Guests are also required to fill out a standard questionnaire regarding their potential exposure to COVID-19 and wear masks in public spaces (even outdoors when in the vicinity of other guests.) There’s a dedicated staff of “touchpoint cleaners” who work around the clock to sanitize things like elevator buttons and light switches. Rooms are scrubbed down with hospital-grade cleaners between check-ins and housekeeping will only re-enter your room during your stay if requested. Those precautions definitely put me at ease, but my main concern was meal time. I hadn’t eaten inside a restaurant since the “before time.” When booking the trip, I planned to have most meals in the room but changed my mind upon checking in and seeing how meticulous they were about the whole thing. Under normal circumstances (and in warmer weather) the all-inclusive meal plan allows guests to eat in several settings on the property but it's currently limited to just the main dining room, which has three alternating menus – all equally delicious. The ample space in the dining hall allows for proper social distancing while adhering to the state’s indoor capacity guidelines. One day I watched a family ask to be moved to a table with a better view and the server still wiped every surface down at the original table even though they only sat for a few minutes. The resort also installed the government recommended MERV 13 air filters in the dining room and other public areas in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus.
With my anxiety temporarily subdued, it was time to let my hair down and try to have a little fun. Is fun allowed during all of this? Seriously, I want to know. Every time I laughed or let my mind wander too far from the current state of the world, I would come back down to earth and start to feel the pressure weighing down. I did my best to brush that aside and focus on the fresh air and my gorgeous new surroundings. Although hiking isn’t usually my go-to pastime, any excuse to keep me outside was a welcome one. Mohonk has 85 miles of trails to explore and they offer free ski and snowshoe rental to guests so you can trek through the snowy paths with ease. When I say “with ease'” I’m covering up the fact that I stumbled and fell on my skis every time I got to a small slope – but it was good just to feel something again, ya know? I fared much better on skis than on ice skates though. The skating pavilion with the huge inviting fireplace seemed like a good idea, but I made it around the rink once (while getting lapped by several toddlers) and decided it wasn’t for me. Looking back, I recognize it was more about the experience and not my skill level. That was the point of the whole weekend...to experience things again. By the time we reached the final day of the trip, I was comfortable enough to treat myself to a spa visit. I did end up wearing a mask while a stranger massaged me, but it made perfect sense to me at the time. I had faith in Mohonk’s safety protocol that it wasn’t as high risk of an activity as it might seem, but that little bit of doubt in my head told me to keep the mask on while I buried my face in the face cushion. Baby steps!
By the time I was checking out three days after my arrival, I had achieved a peace of mind I hadn’t experienced since before quarantine. I was never much of a winter person, but feeling the cold air on my face and hearing the sound of fresh powder crunch underneath my feet calmed me in a way that no snowy stroll had ever done for me before. In its 150+ year history, Mohonk Mountain House has been a lot of things to a lot of people. Each season offers something different for visitors, whether it's the fall foliage, spring flowers starting to bloom, or summer fun on the lake. For me, it provided a well-needed retreat during a brutal winter at the end of a mentally draining year.
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