Sean Beckwith: Venturing on vacation, you quickly appreciate Aspen’s ‘draconian’ COVID rule

The fun of vacation is in not having to worry about real-life problems. Whether you’re forgetting what day it is or letting those work emails pile up faster than beer cans in your Airbnb’s recycling bin, there is something liberating about smashing the F-it button days on end.

However, 2020 couldn’t care less about your summer, fall, wedding or 30th birthday plans. Unless you own an island, enjoy a lack of hygiene or have New Zealand citizenship, your trip will — or hopefully should — account for the ’Rona.

Taking advantage of cheap airfare seems like you’re asking for an icarus-like tragedy. Loading up the whole family for a road trip seems like a good idea until you factor in the risks of playing Russian Rona with your lodgings. Even if you’re able to hunker down at a second home on Red Mountain, you still have to pick between being a shut-in or abiding by mask mandates.

There is another route, though, and that is to take advantage of family and friends. The issue with that is the location of said friends and family. If your parents have a beach house in Florida or your aunt has a lake home in a Iowa, ideally you’re a day or two drive away with some kind of safe sanctuary between you and your destination.

That said, the most important factor isn’t how pretty your view is or how close you are to the ocean; it’s how seriously your destination demographic takes the pandemic.

My family has been going to Lake Okoboji since I can remember. I haven’t been in some time because the drive from my current home, Aspen, takes about 10-and-a-half hours longer than it did from my previous home in Omaha.

Desiring any form of vacation that included a water feature and jacket-less temperatures, we lined up familiar beds along I-70 and I-80 and took off. Stops to see friends and family in Denver and Omaha were pretty routine, with residents of the respective cities more or less taking proper precautions.

Normally, the nice thing about returning to your old loitering grounds is how seamlessly you transition back to the lifestyle. You can take the malcontent out of the grime but you can’t take the grime out of the malcontent sort of thing.

Upon arrival in Lake Okoboji, lake life was about as I remembered. Arnold’s Park over here, Emerald Hills golf course over there. The dock, furniture, smell and nostalgia-eliciting details ticked mental checkboxes.

The one aspect I didn’t account for in our carefully crafted vacation plans was political leaning as I was admittedly blinded by lingering childhood naivety. Hindsight is 20/20 but a little bit of forethought could’ve predicted my predicament.

As a person who lives in a resort community, my thought was other tourist destinations would be similarly concerned with preventing an outbreak. That was not the case in Iowa.

Not only was hardly anyone, including most food service workers, wearing masks but we happened to be there the same weekend as a Donald Trump boat rally. Any establishment that was mask optional was 95% mask free.

It was a bizarro land of ample bodied midwesterners ambling around, risking their livelihoods for a weekend on the lake to show for your Miller Lite Donny T T-shirt. It’s no wonder Vox dropped an article examining how Okoboji became a COVID hotspot the Saturday we were there.

As much as I thoroughly enjoyed swimming/falling off the dock (saved the flip flop, lost the $2 sunglasses), playing cards, grilling out and boating around the lake, the anxiety of trying to do activities that wouldn’t further the severity of my sunburn — going out for ice cream, takeout, a souvenir or some candy — was not what I would call relaxing.

What Aspen is doing as far as “draconian” facial covering ordinances are concerned is to be applauded. When you go on vacation, you shouldn’t have to be worried about your personal well-being, you should be worried trivial things like how many Modelos do we have left, what’s for dinner and what day is it?

If you’re upset about your personal freedoms being impinged upon due to a piece of cloth, I have an alternate destination for you. Try Okoboji — just hope that three-hour cruise doesn’t have you marooned with Gilligan and the others on COVID-19 isle.

Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at