It was Spring Break, and we had planned to spend a full week in Colorado. Some friends had decided to join us, and we were ready for a fantastic time. My husband was already out on the slopes, and I stayed with the kids as they finished up the last days of school before the break.
Just days before we were supposed to leave, the first wave of COVID-19 hit our state, and social distancing became a strong recommendation.
We went back and forth, but we ultimately decided to keep our plans -- we thought that skiing was a safe activity. We’d be outside, and we’d be wearing gloves and goggles. We agreed to only ride the chairlift with our own family, and we wouldn't ski close to people, so we figured we could maintain the required six-foot distance. We decided to not eat inside any cafeteria on the mountain; we would pack our own food and eat it on the chairlift or on a bench (after sanitizing our hands, of course). We agreed to cook at home and not eat out. These nonnegotiable ground rules allowed us to keep our plans in the midst of the pandemic.
On the flight to Colorado, everything seemed normal, much to my surprise. The security line wasn’t too long, and the airport was lively. I packed an entire plastic bag full of sanitizing wipes and put hand sanitizer in every carry-on bag.
Everyone on the plane wiped down their seats, headrests, tray tables, armrests, and window shades. Even the reading material in the seat pocket got a good cleaning. I also brought light blankets and put them on the floor so that anything we dropped wouldn’t pick up germs. I sanitized my kids’ hands repeatedly.
The plane was nearly full, and everyone was calm. Only a few people wore masks. The normalcy of it all actually eased my anxiety.
We got one day of skiing in before the governor ordered all the resorts in the state to shut down. It was clear during the two days we spent in the mountains that the pandemic was something like an avalanche.
We discussed whether to stay in Colorado or head back home. We listed out the pros and cons of being quarantined in each place, and, in the end, we decided it was best to return home. The kids could be in their own beds, and we could be with our dog. We rebooked our flights so that we could fly home as soon as possible.
The flight home was much different from the flight out just a few days prior. First of all, security was busy. I spoke with one employee who said that the airport was so quiet the day before that they had actually sent employees home. But as soon as the ski resort closures were announced, the airport was inundated.
People were clearly on edge. Anytime someone so much as sneezed, people would stare -- and visibly react. It was uncomfortable, but understandable.
After going through security, we boarded a train to get to our gate. I’ve taken this particular train a hundred times before, but this trip was by far the strangest. Just an hour before, President Donald Trump had announced that everyone should avoid being in groups of more than 10 people. And there we were on a train standing elbow to elbow with dozens of strangers!
You could feel the worry in the air. Someone eventually made an attempt at a joke, saying, “I think this is more than 10 people!” Some people laughed, but the apprehension was palpable.
The train ride was less than 10 minutes long, but it felt like an eternity. We told our kids not to touch anything, and we all hung on to my husband.
When the doors opened at each stop, it was an awkward game of pinball. There were so many people on the train that you couldn't help but bump into people on your way out. Once we were off the train, I found myself yelling to my family members not to touch anything. I’m sure it was loud enough for everyone to hear.
On the way to the gate, I sanitized hands, and then we went to the bathroom and washed our hands, then sanitized again. I felt ridiculous, but it gave me a sense of control. It was the only thing I could do to keep my family and other travelers safe. And indeed, I was as invested in the health of strangers as I was in my own family’s health.
Our return flight was also full. The ticket agent told me it was because people were trying to get home as fast as they could.
As we waited to board, I noticed more people wearing masks, more people standing far away from each other, and less polite chit-chat between passengers. Onboard, you could clearly see passengers sizing up others on the plane. Are they coughing? They look sick, I could hear them thinking. I felt like I needed to put my best, healthiest face forward, and I wasn’t even feeling sick!
I also noticed that no one volunteered to help with bags. Typically, if someone is having trouble putting their carry-on in the overhead bin, someone will stand up and help with the heavy lifting. But not this time. No one wanted to touch anything that wasn’t theirs.
One thing people did volunteer? Sanitizing wipes. I saw pretty much every passenger wiping down their seat and surrounding area. And if they ran out, someone would give them an extra wipe. It was a simple gesture that summed up what we were all thinking: We are all in this together, and we need to help each other stay healthy.
During the flight, I wiped down our seats every 30 minutes. I sanitized everyone’s hands, and once again, I laid blankets on the floor. Everyone was doing their best to remain calm until we landed.
The relief I felt when we taxied to our gate and got off the plane was immense -- only rivaled by the relief I felt walking into my house, taking a hot shower, and crawling into my own bed.
We have decided as a family to quarantine for the time being. We will not be seeing our parents or friends, because we feel it’s in everyone’s best interest.
In hindsight, I am not sure we should have traveled to Colorado in the first place, considering the amount of germs we were exposed to -- not to mention the anxiety the trip caused. But we made the best decision we could with the information we had at the time, and that’s what we will continue to do as this pandemic plays out over the coming weeks and months.