We Survived 2020

It has been a long time since I’ve written my last blog.  I am happy to report that this story has a nice ending.  But what a wild ride this last Spring and Summer were.  The year 2020 has been and may always be the year we remember as the craziest time in our lives.   

We had been closed around mid-March through June 1st by the state of Montana, like so many other businesses across the world, due to Covid-19.  Then with only two weeks’ notice, we were to re-open for what would normally be our busiest time of year. As brand-new owners of Good Medicine Lodge Bed and Breakfast and this being our very first Summer, we were not able to prepare the way we had hoped.  We wanted to use our slow Spring season to prepare for an amazingly busy Summer, but Coronavirus changed all of our plans.  Instead, we spent those months cooped up wondering about our family’s future and the future of our new business.  Without knowing too many details about Coronavirus, we were uncertain about how we would ever open again.   We put off our projects because our staff was on unemployment, our two young kids were home with us and well, there was a pandemic taking place.  It was scary.

  One of our dogs, Charley (age 11) had also just started suffering from strokes and each morning we woke up to a lot of mess.  She couldn’t keep food down; she couldn’t control her bladder and bowels and she was aimlessly wandering in circles around the house.  It was so hard to watch.  Eventually we had to put her down and it was just the worst timing.  We were also spread very thin financially and with all this looming just before our Summer was to take off, we weren’t sure that spending any time or money on projects was a smart move.  So we just sat and waited until May 16th, when the announcement was made that all lodging was able to open in just a short fourteen days.   

We had so much to do to prepare.  Stress set in big time.  We were faced with not only all of our typical off-season projects that we reluctantly started because we had no idea if we were going to be re-opening at all.  But there was a lot to do as new owners as well.  We needed to stain all the wood decks, weed the gardens, deep clean the rooms, put our Summer breakfast menu together, train our new staff with our processes and introduce the new Coronavirus protocols.  We had to find PPE when there was none to be found.  We had to decide if, how and when we were going to pay all those refunds back to customers who had cancelled.  And there were so many of them.  It felt like climbing a never-ending mountain.  And we were presented with the challenge of whether we should hire more staff considering that we didn’t even know if there would be any guests.  Or could we pull this off with our small team.  

One of our biggest challenges was now one of us would need to stay with our two small children all day.  There was no easy option for daycare, preschool or summer camps.  It was up to the two of us.  Partly because of our financial situation we decided to go with a leaner team for the season.  Our staff also cut back on what hours they needed or wanted for a variety of reasons.  So the skeleton crew would have to do.  We were prepared to work our butts off.   

On the morning before we were to open, a :mountain tornado” blew through our town bringing with it one of the worst days of my life.  We were having a garage sale to clear out old dusty items from our move out to Montana.  Several boxes with filed the kid’s old toys, clothing etc. were in the way of our work.   Nothing had gone as planned and timing was not on our side, so the only thing to do was to try to pull off a garage sale last minute.  Not only did all our stuff get wet and blown all over the driveway from this tremendous storm, but we lost power for almost a whole day.  Then part of our tree fell as I stood outside crying and soaking wet from the torrential downpour. No damages thankfully except for a broken pop-up tent and my broken spirit.  I felt so defeated.  And just when things couldn’t get any worse, an unfortunate situation took place in our driveway of which I cannot disclose in this published writing.  I will say this, it was an incredibly upsetting and disappointing moment for me and my family.  One that was totally unnecessary and uncalled for.  By the end of the day, I was over it.  We hardly sold many items, and I was just ready to move on.  So we loaded our two cars to the brim and donated everything.   

Among staffing and scheduling concerns I was working through to re-open, there were Covid-19 financial aid programs to understand and pursue, new policies to implement, new marketing campaigns to think up, and extremely careful and thoughtful language for our marketing to our guests.  You can’t just come out and scream, “Hey!!!  Come to Montana to stay with us during a pandemic!!!”  

The Summer started off slow, which was probably good in a way.  It allowed us some time to work out some kinks. June was a pretty mellow month in terms of guests.  Especially at the beginning because Glacier National Park had not yet decided if they were going to open.  We waited on pins and needles for the news to get out.  If they didn’t open, we knew that we were goners.  When we heard they were opening to outside tourism, we felt a huge sigh of relief although we had no idea what kind of business it would attract knowing that there would be some restrictions. 

 We ended up finishing many of the projects we needed to get our B&B polished and ready just in case.  We had our face masks, infrared thermometer, temperature logs for the staff, tables spaced 6’ apart, new chemicals labeled and properly stored.  We removed all our decorative shower curtains, extra pillows and throws from in the rooms.  We wanted everything to be easy to wash and yet still cozy feeling.  We also had an exciting new menu that was filled with new entrees and even included our newly featured Sourdough Bread homemade by my husband, Ryan. There was a lot to be proud of and we hoped our excitement and hopefulness for the future wasn’t all for nothing.   

Most everything was tied together nicely and looking back I think it’s pretty amazing what we were able to accomplish.  By July 4th, the new restaurant had opened across the street Jalisco Cantina.   Bonsai Brewery was now our only town’s brewery and it was hopping right next door.  Their guests began showing up one by one to enjoy the abundant outdoor seating.  As much as it was nice to see both of places packed with people, it was hard to look around our empty parking lot without feeling a little tinge of jealousy.  We wanted to believe our day would come but we had no idea if it would.   

I can’t say exactly when, but as we were still receiving cancellations, we also started to receive new reservations.  Not a tremendous amount at first but when the phone rang, at least now I didn’t have to flinch with worry about how to handle yet another cancelled guest. I remember the very first calls to come through with new bookings.  I remember so many questions about what was open, if it was safe, what our new policies were with masks, the hot tub and were we still serving breakfast.  I remember feeling skeptical like it was just going to be a few here and there and I didn’t let myself get too excited.  But I also remember feeling a little more at ease.  The reservations just kept coming more and more.  The rings and notifications came so often, that we couldn’t stay on top of all the emails, phone calls and new bookings coming through.  It was quite a time.   Some guests were coming to vacation because they needed to get away from their current situation, cooped up in their small apartments in the big cities that had recently become ghost towns.  Some were medical professionals burnt out and needing a relaxing place to recharge.   We saw several newlyweds or fiancés whose weddings and honeymoons had been put on hold or perhaps we were their plan b.  Having never worked the B&B before, we really didn’t have any idea what to expect as far as the typical Summer guest.  But with Glacier National Park being the major destination and now this thing, Coronavirus pushing people into new adventures, it was refreshing to know that practically everyone could bring with them their good nature.   Most everyone was in search of peace and solitude during this very stressful time in their life.  Each of them had a unique story all relatable and trying.   

I met a spiritualist who provided incredible insights on how to channel good energy.  I met an interesting couple who lived like survivalists in Alaska.  The husband was a priest (or preacher – sorry I am not very religious to know the difference) but in the most calming fashion he asked if he could pray for me.  They bowed their heads right then and there while I served them breakfast and he said the kindest words of love and hope for me, my family and business.  It was a little strange for me because I was so out of my comfort zone but in that moment, it just meant the world to me.  I still choke up thinking about it.   

We had guests tell us so many crazy things that they were going through.  Some had recovered from Covid, some were living in NYC with plague-like stories.  There were first responders who were so beat down and exhausted but coping better than I ever could.   We had high risk guests who were taking their chances to see Glacier National Park because they weren’t sure they would live long enough to wait through what could be years of pandemic.  So many humbling stories.   

We tried giving our guests the very best service we could possibly offer.  We listened, we talked, we fed them homemade food made with love and we assured a safe and relaxing place to stay.  Our formula was precise and consistent and luckily our guests feedback made our work very simple once we had it dialed in.  We worked long hours, consisting of fifteen hours or more.  There were many late hours I spent folding endless amounts of laundry.  But it was all a labor of love.  I didn’t feel like it was work.  To me, it felt more like a mission.  A way to contribute my services during a time when it was necessary, and it felt great to give it.  Smiles came easy and lucky for us; our guests provided an abundance of gratitude.  When I look back at these last few months, I can recognize how lucky we are.  It could have gone so many ways.  By the end of this crazy year 2020, we are doing exactly what we love even during the very most difficult time period anyone has seen in this lifetime.  And that is more than we can ask for.

Now that Summer is over, we are cautiously looking ahead to another long slow season.  There is a chance we could be busier than last year with La Nina rumored to take place.  The predictions say we could potentially get 100’ more snow than what is typical.  Which means some incredible skiing at Whitefish Mountain Resort. Last winter was very mild, so I literally have no idea what to expect.  If we are busy, then great.  We know how to juggle it alongside Coronavirus.  If we are slow, then we do exactly what we did last year and take it month by month.  Inching our way towards what we hope is a fruitful Summer.  And we spend each day watching our boys closely as they grow, holding onto those beautiful moments.  Like when Dylan is telling one of his silly jokes to three-year-old Caleb who is giggling out his best sound like only a toddler can do and Ryan is baking up one of his artisan loaves of bread that will warm our bodies with nourishment and love.  We appreciate what we have for as long as we have it because there are only unknowns from here.   

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6 Comments

  1. Sara, your story is told from the heart and is very moving. We can feel all your emotions as you describe each and every anxious moment. We are so happy for your sucess and know that you will continue to be blessed with many years of heartwarming experiences and memories. The best of all this was having your children close by and stressful as it may have been at times, it provided you both with experiences that you may not have had if they were in school or day care; not to mention, just keeping the kids healthy…

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  2. Dear Sara,
    I too was deeply touched by the amazing story of your resiliency and perseverance.
    Russ and I have been so enthralled with you and Ryan working so hard to fulfill your dream of open spaces and fresh air, a truly American adventure. We have remarked on how very lucky your darling sons are to have 2 parents with incredible energy, thriving spirits and love of life.!
    Hope like a feather
    perches in the soul
    and sings the tune without any words
    and never stops at all.
    Emily Dickenson

    Joye Rutherford

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  3. Sara and Ryan,
    You have many gifts as hosts, parents, and business-people, and after reading your post, as amazing storytellers! As challenging as this has been for all of us, your words capture the brutal uncertainty you endured in this great adventure the two of you set out on, Know that our late-summer return to Good Medicine was, yes, initially driven by our need to be in God’s Country after all of our own challenges, but also to return to your place because of our fond memories from the previous winter and the gutsy, exciting story of you and your family’s journey to Whitefish. To see you both thriving amidst the challenge was heartwarming; to see you smiling with that, “yeah – we freaking made it!” glow was what made our trip. Religious or not, there’s an old saying that “God never gives you more than you can handle.” It certainly seems you all keep thinking you’ve faced all you can handle, and you keep finding more perseverance to get through the next wave of the unexpected. You’ve handled it all!

    You guys are rockstars – keep at it, keep believing, and someday – very soon – you’ll get to enjoy that “normal” you’ve worked so hard to enjoy. Can’t wait to blow in with La Nina. Stay safe, keep baking and keep holding on…that someday is coming!

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