It's been four years since Raleigh, North Carolina has had any measurable snow. A snowfall of six inches was predicted about a month ago, so we purchased saucer sleds and winter boots in anticipation of a fun winter's day. Instead, we received less than half an inch…just enough to make the yard muddy. No sledding and no winter fun. The kids were frustrated as were my wife and I. The school was just beginning the winter break, so since we couldn't get winter to come to us, we decided to take ourselves to winter.
We had visited Massanutten, Virginia before. Massanutten is a four-seasons resort located near the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Our previous visits have been in the late summer since the cooler mountain environment offered us a respite from the hot and humid North Carolina weather. However, this time we weren't merely seeking cooler climates, but seeking snow.
Our journey to the resort was planned to begin on a Friday, but as our luck usually happens, my son caught the flu on Thursday. Luckily we caught it early enough and the flu meds kicked in enough to allow us to leave on Saturday rather than Friday. This was just as well because our packing efficiency is analogous to not only trying to get ducks to walk in a row, but to get them to do so in step and with synchronized wing movements. It's just not something we, as a family, do well. There was no way we would have been packed on Friday to leave before late afternoon, and I'm just not a real fan of late arrivals to any vacation destination. Trust me, we do it all the time and it's not fun. But I digress.
The route we chose took us six hours to travel...about 30 minutes longer than the course we chose last summer. This newer route was indeed longer, but was chosen because it was nearly all interstate highways and therefore fewer curves that might make the kids, particularly my son, get carsick. Our only real near-sick situation arose when we were in the deepest and most narrow-road part of the mountains. That's when my son announced calmly, "I really have to poopy." Curvy two-lane roads, hair-pin turns and towering pine trees were all that we could see for miles. And of course, we hadn't packed any toilet paper. The only choice was to press the gas-pedal and careen down the mountain, taking curves on 2-wheels in order to find any civilization. After a butt-clenching 15 miles in 15 minutes, we spotted those wonderful golden arches. As I ran out of the car with son in tow (and engine still running), we sprinted to the restroom. My son danced as we struggled with the zipper, his eyes welling with near tears and he finally sat down. And sat. And sat. "Hmmm…daddy, I think maybe it was just gas."
We traveled only another 20 minutes to the resort itself after fumigating Ronald's house. After a pleasantly brief check-in, we headed to our unit towards the top of the mountain. Our ears popped perhaps twice between the check-in center and the condo. We were most definitely in the mountains, and once we arrived, we had a spectacular view of the ski resort and buildings below.
As we looked at this view, two eyes peered back at us. Massanutten is known for the abundant deer population, and one was already greeting us. My daughter immediately named it Bongo. A second and third deer soon joined the first in grazing along the slope. These were named Sweetie and Tommy. I have no idea where my daughter comes up with names so quickly, but it's an endearing quality. Eventually, three others (unnamed) joined in, and we suspected we'd see the animals every day of our stay. As it turned out, this was our only sighting. But we soon realized that deer were not the only other inhabitants of the resort. In fact, we were not even alone inside the unit.
Tiny specs danced along the kitchen countertop. Ants. Not a ton of them, but enough to know there was a whole resort of them hiding away somewhere. We immediately called the maintenance guy who showed up with a can of ant spray. He sprayed the kitchen floor, the counter tops, and the cabinets. The kitchen glistened in bug-killing juice and the scent now replaced that of the clear mountain air. Taking a whiff, he called for housekeeping to come clean up the excess bug juice. As they arrived, we headed out to Pizza Hut for dinner (next to McDonald's where we really didn't want to make an appearance so soon after our previous visit) then we went grocery shopping for the stay's provisions. Upon returning to the unit, we unloaded the food into the refrigerator and cabinets and the kids passed out on the couches. We took them to bed and followed behind shortly ourselves.
On Sunday, we slept in a little, and then I got up to fix some breakfast. Being hungry, I decided to grab a couple fig newtons. This was an old habit of mine from before I started to diet, and I was really hungry, so I thought I'd sneak a cookie before breakfast. After all, even though it was cheating on my diet, it was vacation and I was allowed to enjoy myself a little more than usual. When I grabbed a pack of the cookies, I noticed something strange. The fig center of each cookie seemed to be moving. As I twisted around the sealed plastic bag, I noticed the figs weren't moving at all. Instead, it was the hundreds of ants inside that were moving. Somehow, the little buggers got into the sealed bag and feasted. To my disappointment, I tossed out all the fig newtons along with the one vice I hoped to embrace that day. Nothing else was touched, just my figs newtons. But to be on the safe side, all other cookies and snacks were placed in a plastic tote for the rest of the stay.
After breakfast and some lazing about, we went to a time-share presentation and sales pitch for 3 hours. I hate those things. It's a high-pressured atmosphere and just plain not relaxing. But the reason we attended was to earn 100 resort bucks that helped us to pay to take the kids to the water park later in the week. (At 28 bucks a pop for the evening session, it was worth the 3 hours of my life to pay for my kids' enjoyment). The tour was a high-pressure sales pitch as we expected, but we got the resort bucks as well as a free lunch out of the deal. The sales lady was some old German gal named Petra who reminded me of our Danish neighbor back home, but much, much more annoying. I must have used the words, "yes, it's a great deal, but no, we're not going to spend eleven thousand dollars on a timeshare now…thank you" up to fifteen times before she finally gave up the fight. Truly, this was a miserable experience, but again, this time…and perhaps only this time, it was worth it.
Once the Petra sales pitch was over, we took the kids to the indoor swimming pool and found the water to be freezing. The kids jumped right in while it took my wife and I nearly 20 minutes to ease ourselves to shoulder depth. I have to wonder at what age does the annoyance of freezing cold temperatures supercede the thrill of the swim. Certainly not at age 5 as the kids gleefully splashed around the ice caps. I made a mental note to myself to get the kids swim lessons this summer so that we don't have to go in with them in the future.
We wore our swimsuits under our bundled winter clothing as we arrived. However, before we left, we had to dry and change into dry underwear and clothes in the locker room before leaving. I can't vouch for my daughter's reaction, but this was my son's first experience in a locker room with others changing clothes. It was hard to keep a straight face to watch his face and keep him from pointing at other naked people. A mixture of personal modesty and curiosity sent him into a flood of whispered comments. "That boy is wearing a towel" "Can they see me naked?" "Why does that man have a hairy butt?"
We ended the day heading back to our unit as light flurries began to fall. The kids were thrilled to see the white stuff falling, but I figured the flurries would be all the snow we'd see. Raleigh had made me grow quite cynical to snowy forecasts.
Monday morning came too soon as the sun was barely shining into the valley below. However, an excited whisper coaxed me awake. "Daddy, our backyard is covered in snow!" Our backyard was a 60-degree slope to the condo below, but sure enough, it was covered with a good inch of snow. We were all excited, so rather than have a leisurely morning of coffee and breakfast, I made everyone get dressed without showering and we headed out to play in the snow a bit. Snowballs flew and street skating commenced as we enjoyed this rare and new experience for the kids. We had brought our aforementioned sleds with us and decided to drive to the park at the bottom of the mountain to hit their slopes. Unfortunately there was no snow at the bottom, only at the top of the mountain where there was no place to sled. Instead, we drove through a winter wonderland to the very top of the mountain to look at the incredible view and throw a few more snowballs. Eventually, the kids began to experience the main side effect of snow-play…they became cold. So we headed to the condo for hot chocolate and breakfast and an eventual lazy day around the unit.
We had thought of visiting the snow tubing park that day, but saw that the next day, Tuesday, was a half-price day. We decided to take advantage of the savings and wait a day...a decision we later regretted. Instead, we bided our time playing games and reading books. The kids learned the rules of checkers and also that checkers can be a very long game if played too defensively. I'm not sure if we ever finished a game. My son brought along some clay, so colorful rainbows and flowers soon decorated our unit. The condo itself was a pretty basic two-bedroom unit that one would find at most timeshares. However, there was one outstanding feature…the Jacuzzi. This tub easily sat four adults comfortably and was surrounded on three sides by full-mirrored walls. I searched around for the disco mirror ball and shag carpet. Regardless of it's party reputation, we soon found it to be the perfect entertainment for a family of four to bathe together. And this time, the water wasn't freezing.
Afterwards, we made sure the kids napped in the afternoon as we prepared to visit the indoor water park that evening. The water park turned out to be awesome. There was a nice lazy river, slides galore, and absolutely no way to remain dry if one ventured into the play space of tipping water buckets (the largest holding hundreds of gallons) and spraying hoses. Of course, the water was cold, but much easier to adjust to the temperature within the 84-degree environment. We floated in the lazy river for a few laps and then went into the play area. The kids chickened out of the larger (but not huge) slides but enjoyed the much smaller ones. The rest of the family ended the experience by floating and soaking in the warm springs (not too hot, hot tub). Admittedly, I enjoyed this warm soaking, but screams and splashes across the building beckoned me for one more wet experience.
The "thrill ride" of the water park was to venture through the long water tubes. These tubes extended outside of the building and led back into the pool inside. When one approaches the building from the outside, one can hear screeches of delight echoing from the tubes. I just had to experience one.
I grabbed an inner tube and walked up the 5 stories of stairs. At the top were three choices…each one was a hole in the wall with rushing water flowing into the darkness. I randomly chose one, sat on my tube, and was thrust into the darkness by a giggling attendant. The ride was in pitch darkness with no indication of where the tube would turn next. It was quite a blast as I expected the end of the tube and light of the building to greet me any second. But the ride seemed endless. Then suddenly, the most unexpected sensation occurred. Weightlessness. The tube dropped what seems to be straight down, although I'm sure it was no steeper than the drive to the condo. I have no idea if I screamed like a school-girl, roared in manly delight, or was left breathless. All I know is that I came up from under the shallow water at the end with a giddiness and laughter I'd not felt in a long time. This was worth the 3 hours with Petra.
Tuesday morning greeted us with drizzling rain outside, which prevented us from going tubing. Since the rain was forecast for the remainder of the day, we decided to head back to North Carolina and have the next day at home to recover and unpack (a process equally as long as packing). It took a while to pack for the return since we kept debating the value of shortening our stay, but it was a good choice overall. I'm disappointed we didn't snow tube, but I'm thinking the kids would have been intimidated there as they were at the water park slides. And it was drizzling and miserable. So, we packed throughout the day and eventually headed out around 4:00PM for us to be home by 10:30PM. A long dinner on the road and getting lost in Charlottesville extended the return trip time by 30 minutes. I made another note to myself: when printing off Mapquest directions, make sure to print the return trip directions as well.
Overall, we had a nice time. The ants sucked, but weren't too bad after the initial fig newton take over. The main television was on the fritz throughout our stay, but the kids had one in their room and we had one in ours, mostly to fall asleep by as we watched B-movies on HBO. Swimming at the indoor pool and again at the water park were definitely highlights. The view from the unit was nice, especially when it snowed the one morning. And that was our main goal, to have the kids experience snow before winter's end. Now I'm ready for spring, and hopefully the ants will stay outdoors.