“We won’t even tell you where the resort is until after you’ve paid. We’re that freaking awesome!”
Back in early 2013, that should’ve been my first clue.
Perusing the website, such as it was, yielded precious little actual information. Beautiful pictures of smiling, happy, blissed-out yogis graced most pages. You could almost feel the steam coming off the hot tub. Roaring water fell down a series of boulders at the end of a long hike, and the birds sang in the distance. Relaxing, peaceful, surrounded by forest, it seemed like a dream. With miles of trails, onsite yoga and massage therapists, sauna, hot tub, community meals (okay, intimate dining with complete strangers was a little creepy), opening and closing circles, it should have made my wannabe-hippie heart sing. Yet it proved maddeningly impossible to locate where the damn thing actually was, much less to find any factual information about it. They must’ve had one hell of a non-disclosure agreement. Only two former guests in twenty years had even blogged about the place. And they didn’t really say anything except how they were just totally in love with it. Given the price tag for a less-than-two-day experience, and the fact that neither of these guests was named Rockefeller, Kennedy, or Gates, I could only imagine that they had drunk the kool-aid.
Most of the site FAQ was a message extolling the virtues of isolation in their little corner of my home state, Tennessee. An almost gleeful statement proclaimed that most phones had no service. However, if you just simply could not live without a connection to the outside world, and if you were lucky enough to get a signal, you should at least keep it out of sight and out of hearing. The resort’s phone number would be provided to guests in case of emergency back home. Alcohol has apparently not been found necessary for the experience they were creating, so they didn’t serve it. (Although, miracle of miracles, we would be allowed to pollute our bodies with coffee — but only at breakfast). Likewise, meat was not considered essential and would not be available for meals. Finally, please for the love of all that’s holy, don’t even think about your kids or pets while you’re here.
Given how many red flags were waving in the breeze, I’m still not sure why I thought a weekend at this place might be a good idea. Hell, it shouldn’t even have seemed tolerable. Probably, I was just caught up in the enthusiasm. At any rate, we made a reservation for two, snagging the very, very last available private cabin and avoiding the fate of those poor schmucks who would be sleeping dormitory-style in the main building. All this was a steal at a mere $700 for 44 hours in their heavenly sanctuary.
If you think you heard sarcasm in that last comment, go with it.
When a month had passed without so much as a confirmation email despite my credit card being charged rather promptly, I finally emailed to find out what was up. Assured that an information packet was coming in the next couple of days via snail mail (at least they were still supporting the USPS), we went back to waiting. “Baited breath” hardly does justice to the state of anticipation.
Okay, that wasn’t entirely sarcastic. At this point, I was still pretty excited about the whole thing.
So we waited another week. Strange thing about making a Medlock wait: we don’t do it very well. Patience may be a virtue, but my family appear to be hard-wired to forgo its benefits. My enthusiasm started to wane. I began to have doubts. Why was it so hard to get a straight answer (indeed, any answer at all) from the resort operators? Where did they say this place was located again? Why couldn’t I find any reference to the business in their local chamber of commerce, county business licenses, or state tax rolls? What were they hiding? My imagination started having a field day. Apprehension set in.
It was at about this point that I remembered one of my dad’s best pieces of advice: Listen to your gut. It may not always make sense, but sometimes it’s how the universe keeps you alive.
At long last, the day arrived. I watched the mailman put a large packet in our mailbox. This must be the long-anticipated secret signal-light-and-decoder-ring set that we’d been expecting. We would finally discover what made our chosen blissful retreat so special.
Or maybe not.
From the moment I touched the envelope, I got a negative vibe. It was like someone had punched me in the stomach. I had a headache. I thought I might cry. I almost tossed my cookies. I wanted to throw it in the trash. I needed to wash my hands. And we still hadn’t actually opened the damn thing.
However, we finally did take a look at their materials. Right away, several things stood out:
- Following the driving directions on Google Earth revealed that the resort was as nearly totally isolated as possible. Information available prior to reservation made it appear that the resort was located in a small rural town. It was, in fact, centrally located between three tiny communities. It appeared to be surrounded by illegal landfills, rusting cars on cinder blocks, forests, barns, and cattle pastures. With the closest hamlet 15 miles away, it was not actually near anything resembling civilization.
- Guests were required to deactivate cell phones even if they had service. This was contrary to information on the website which requested that guests be discreet in using technology. It was also a moot point, since they appeared to be located in the signal-shadows of several fairly tall ridges.
- There was, in fact, no emergency contact phone monitored by resort staff. The resort’s landline would be turned off Friday afternoon. Only a mobile voicemail box would be active, and there was no indication that it would be checked. Given that it appeared to be the owner’s personal cell, and he would be busy tending to guests, it seemed unlikely. Since we would be asking friends and neighbors to keep an eye on our pets and kid, this was unacceptable.
It was at this point that I decided we would not be enjoying their hospitality, after all.
First and foremost, I don’t appreciate being lied to. Their website created an impression at odds with the scant information mailed to us. By this point, I no longer cared which (if either) was truthful. There still were simply too many questions and not enough data. I was not willing to be totally cut off from the outside world in a location I didn’t know surrounded by unfamiliar people. After several weeks of my imagination filling in the blanks, the requirement to give up all contact was just too much. It felt like a cult, and not a good one. I kept hearing Mrs. Dudley in The Haunting of Hill House telling Eleanor that “No one can hear you if you scream in the night.”
Without a “no cancellations” policy, deciding a month out that we would not attend should have been simple. It wasn’t. Emailed and phoned messages notifying them of our cancellation went unanswered. The single contact we managed with the resort operator was a promise to call for a follow up. You can imagine my surprise when he did not, in fact, call for a follow up.
That was sarcasm again, in case you’re keeping score.
In the end, I had to dispute the charge with my bank and demand a chargeback due to the owners’ continuing refusal to communicate with us. I have some ethical complaints about my card issuer’s business practices, but I cannot say anything negative about their customer service reps nor their treatment of us in this situation.
So realistically, would we have been murdered in our sleep had we gone there? Probably not.
Would being isolated from the world for less than two days have killed me? Unlikely.
Was it worth the exorbitantly sky-high cost? I doubt it.
Would I have had a good time anyway? No. Of that, my gut was absolutely certain.
Would I have inadvertently made everyone around me miserable as well? Yes. It’s a pattern well-established in my childhood.
Is the owner glad, at the end of the day, that we cancelled so that he doesn’t have to deal with me ever again? He may not realize it, but yes. Yes, he is.