After 5 months sequestered at home, the desire to leave the nest for a few days had reached a fever pitch. Our oldest was getting ready to move out & our youngest would soon head back to Chicago, to play hockey (Empty nest…bittersweet Yay!). The window to do something together was rapidly closing. We researched (& wrote articles about) the many guidelines to safe(r) travel. After looking at several weekend getaway ideas, we decided on a trip to the mountains.
While life offers no guarantees, we felt we could exercise enough precautions to mitigate the risks. And to be honest, the lack of mental stimulation & change of scenery was taking a toll on the four of us. Simply talking about weekend getaway ideas lifted everyone’s spirits.
We felt a mountain getaway would allow us to control our environment, be socially distant, & have some fun.
Weekend Getaway Ideas – “It’s Complicated”
Planning a vacation right now is complicated; a worry inducing decision process. The way we look at getting away is so different from just 6 months ago. And there’s nothing wrong with holding off, to see how this all plays out in the months ahead. As for our family, we were going to be apart for the next several months. We made the decision to move forward, relying on one another to make the journey safe.
The Smoldering Elephant in the Room
As I’m writing the recap of our trip, the western US is literally on fire. We were fortunate to get through our trip without an issue. If the mountains might be a good weekend getaway option, check the fire safety & air quality Index before you go. Poor air quality is more than annoying. It poses a risk to your health.
There are still a handful of people (including one in the White House) that dismiss climate science as a hoax. If you’re still on the fence, here’s a good article from the USDA & the Forest service addressing how climate change impacts the length & severity of fire season.
Also, our friends at NASA have a great site that provides an uncomplicated overview, if you want to brush up on the latest climate science.
“Nobody will ever deprive the American people of the right to vote except the American people themselves and the only way they could do this is by not voting.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
OK, stepping off the soap box…
Which Mountain for a Weekend Getaway?
Fortunately, there are several majestic mountain ranges across the US to choose from. Many major mountain resorts now offer year round activities. For our destination, we chose Mammoth Lakes, CA, in the Eastern Sierra mountain range. Mammoth Lakes is a beautiful, year round resort. They are known for great skiing in Winter & hiking biking, golf, fishing, rafting, kayaking in Summer. If you’re up on your earthquake trivia, Mammoth is also home to the San Andreas fault line & a dormant volcano. The town of Mammoth Lakes sits at 8000 ft & peaks at 11,200 ft. It’s easy to get a little winded on day one!
With stops, the trip to Mammoth is about six hours from Los Angeles. We left after work on a Thursday. As many people in LA still work from home, traffic getting away from LA wasn’t much of an issue. Less traffic & better air quality (minus the fires) are the only pluses to covid.
There was a growing energy in the car as we got further & further away from home. A renewed sense of freedom was rejuvenating!
Whatever your weekend getaway idea is, a road trip is easier in terms of a controlled environment. Our car, filled with food, drinks & sanitizer would be our pod for the next several hours. Gazing out the car window afforded a welcome change of scenery, in route to Mammoth.
As our car’s an EV, we had a couple of charge stops along the way. I’ve grown to like charge stops. A stretch break every 150 miles or so keeps you fresh. Maybe I’m becoming more patient as I age? After a 20 minute charge & bathroom break at the local market, a brisk game of “Hacky Sack”, we were back on the road.
It’s good to have masks, hand sanitizer & wipes handy during the drive. Each stop involved re-sanitizing before getting back underway (a simple, but beneficial step). It seems like carrying sanitizer/wipes in the car/plane/boat would still be a great idea, post covid. Who wants to catch a cold or Flu on a vacation?
Check in & Accommodations
We chose to stay in a 2BR condo managed by Mammoth Village. The Village is a cool enclave of condos, restaurants, shops & a grocery store. You can park your car for the duration of your stay. In the Village, everything is a short walk. If you’re a skier, the gondola is also in the Village. That makes the beginning & end of the ski day really easy.
Check in was routine but modified with safety glass & masked desk personnel. Hand sanitizer on the counters & 6 ft demarcations on the floor were much like check out at the grocery store. As we got in around midnight, we were the only group checking in.
Condo versus Hotel
When doing our research on accommodations, Mammoth Village checked all the boxes we felt were important for addressing covid safety.
- Enhanced cleaning/sanitizing of all rooms according to CDC guidelines
- 24 hour gaps between room rentals
- All Staff wearing PPE & safety glass at all counters
- All guests must wear masks, everywhere in the village
- 2 people at a time in elevators (unless with family)
- Only outside dining
- No large community events
- Hand sanitizer all over the village
For additional safety some resort amenities were also closed. If these are creature comforts you look forward to on vacation, it might be a while before they return.
- Hot Tubs, Gyms & Game rooms closed
- No room service
- No daily cleaning service
While I think ether would have been fine, we felt the condo offered more ways to control our environment. The convenience of a full kitchen allowed us to pack groceries & dine in more often. This reduced trips to the store & restaurants.
Even though we got in at midnight, the first thing we did when we got to the condo was to sanitize. We opened the windows & then wiped down the door knobs, light switches, clickers, phones, fridge handles, kitchen drawer handles, faucets handles, window latches & night stands with sanitizing wipes. It took the 4 of us about 10 minutes.
To be fair, the management company is already using enhanced measures to sanitize the condo. They also arrange for a 24 hour gap between rentals. Is this a paranoid reaction to our new environment? Probably… but it requires precious little effort to include this extra layer of protection.
Socially Distant in the Great Outdoors
Mountain resorts offer an abundance of outstanding outdoor activities. That’s why the idea of a mountain getaway ranks high on our list of places to escape during covid. From very relaxing to high energy, you can tailor socially distant adventures to suit your level of motivation. We went non-stop for 3 straight days.
If you haven’t already, E-biking is a great way to get around. Mammoth rents mountain bikes & cruiser bikes for the 100 plus miles of paved & single track trails. You can E-bike at whatever level of exertion you like. If you’re looking to burn calories or just relax, pedal assist is highly adjustable. Plus, pedal assist lets you cover far more ground than you might normally have, in a mountainous environment.
We toured many of the lakes in and around mammoth by E-bike. With a 40+ mile battery range per charge, it’s hard to use up the battery. When we used “turbo mode” we were lightly pedaling, going uphill at about 15 miles an hour. E-bikes work in much the same way as regular bicycles. You can adjust your assist mode, up or down, at any time. The Bike rental company sanitizes your E-bike before you start (& your helmet) & immediately after. They also adjust the bike for your comfort and give you an overview of the bike and trails.
First experience with Fly Fishing
We took the kids lake fishing when they were little. My most vivid memory of our outing was untangling fishing lines… and then untangling fishing lines so more.
With adult kids & inspiration from “A River Runs Through It”, we thought we’d take a shot at Fly Fishing. Man, we loved it! Fly Fishing was socially distant, quiet, calming & competitive & surrounded by beauty.
A Guided Experience
If you’re considering trying something completely new, a guide can make all the difference. We hired a guide (shout out to Pat Jaeger, from Troutfitters, Mammoth Lakes!) to teach us the basics & take us to a spot where the fish were biting. In a pre-trip interview, I let Pat know that we were complete rookies & a beautiful location ranked just as high as catching fish. He said “that’s perfect. Get your fishing licenses and we’ll see you shortly!”
At 8am, we followed Pat by car to a remote campsite; about 25 minutes from the Village. After a half hour of instruction, we hiked another 20 minutes from the campsite, following the stream. Pat’s philosophy was to provide the basics, then teach more details on the river, as we fished.
The first location Pat selected was beautiful (as promised) and not another soul to be seen. Using the wader boots Pat supplied, we ventured out into the river, polls in hand. We gradually made our way up river.
The Big Payoff
Standing in the middle of a clear, gurgling river, majestic mountains on all sides, was a reward in itself. Catching trout would have simply been icing on the cake. The pristine location brought an immediate sense of calm. I was thankful to have this experience with my family.
Over 4 hours, Pat patiently explained the art of casting & hunting for trout. While it took some time to create a casting rhythm that pleased both Pat & the trout, we each caught (and released) two or three fish.
Having a guide that knows the area, teaches to your level & has the gear was well worth the $384 for a ½ day experience. Fly Fishing doesn’t require a great deal of athleticism or endurance, which is a great equalizer. Perhaps a little patience helps.
We’ll keep Fly Fishing on our list, for post covid activity.
Squeezed in nine holes of twilight golf at the Sierra Star mountain course. If you’re a golfer, you need to play in the mountains. The thin air makes the ball travel much farther. You’ll feel like a golf god! The course staggers the tee times, creating a great deal of space between players.
Hiking Mountain Trails
There are hundreds of miles of hiking trails in and around Mammoth. On some of the more popular trails, we ran across other hikers. Most folks were respectful, pulling masks up if you cross paths. Hiking shoes certainly help if you’re going deeper into the woods or off the path.
Much like the rest of California, dining is outdoor only. For a couple of dinners, we dined outside, far from other tables. Speaking to our waiters, they felt the Summer business was going well… all things considered. They were very concerned about the coming ski season. Dining outside in February is a more complex issue.
In a NutShell
As weekend getaway ideas go, a Summer trip to the mountains was a welcome break. There are mountain resorts all over the country, with the same great variety of things to do. Mammoth Lakes offered a momentary sense of normalcy & provided socially distant activities. For us fly fishing was a wonderful new way to recreate together. A new experience at a time when our mind numbing home routine is the norm.
While I’m not ready to jump on a plane, I would seek out another road trip to an outdoor oriented destination.
Again, each of us has to decide how we can create the balance between doing our part to control the spread of COVID & keeping our spirits up.