HOW TO GET THERE
To reach Coolfont, about a two hour drive, take I-270 to I-70N to the second Hancock exit. Follow U.S. 522 through Berkeley Springs to Route 9W. Follow the signs to Coolfont. Call toll free 424-1232.
I stopped the car in front of the A-frame wooden lodge and just stood a minute, breathing the clear mountain air and listening to the absolute stillness. Suddenly, a figure in a dark blue warm-up suit streaked by. "Juice and jogging in ten minutes," she called over ther shoulder.
The place was Coolfont Resort in West Virginia. In addition to its many other attractions, several times a year it offers a five-day health spa for men and women. My husband and I made reservations in hopes of losing a few pounds each, but at the last minute he couldn't get away from his office. Since I was all packed, at least mentally, I decided to go by myself for a couple of days.
I registered and went over to my private room in Woodland House to unpack; my room had a rocking chair, patchwork pillows and a marvelous, knotty-pine or cedar smell. Then I walked through the woods to the main lodge where I met Martha Ashelman who, with her husband Sam, owns and manages Coolfont.
"I'm very high on exercise and physical fitness," she said, "and I'd been thinking about having a spa here for a long time. Then one day I got a letter in the mail from Carol Spillman [the program director] outlining in great detail just exactly what I wanted to do.
"It seemed like fate. She came up, we planned and organized, and here we are."
It was 8:15 in the morning by then; I'd been up since 5 and the day's activities were just beginning. Downstairs in the large, sunny Audubon room, a pre-breakfast snack of cold orange juice and steaming pots of coffee or tea were being served.
"Okay, let's warm up," Carol called, and we did a half-hour of bending, stretching and limbering up to music."I like that Gypsy Rose Lee burlesque routine," someone said. "It makes the exercising easier somehow."
Then Carol led the way outside, "Jog or walk around the lake [almost a mile] and remember, if you walk, walk briskly, lengthen your stride, swing your arms. As the Europeans say, if your arms aren't tired, you haven't been walking!" Carol asked us to pick up two rocks as we walked, "What for?" someone asked hopefully. "Martinis on the rocks maybe?" Unfortunately, they were for weightlifting class later in the day.
After jog-walking around the lake twice, I went into the Treetop dining room for breakfast where Betty Barnes, an instructor from the diet workshop program, presided, encouraged and gently scolded three times a day. She had us on a diet of 1,200 calories a day (a bit higher for the men) and sent special menus and ingredients to the chefs ahead of time. She also spent a lot of time in the kitchen helping the cooks measure exact portions. We all grumbled a bit at the small helpings, and our stomachs rumbled. But how could we complaint when Betty was so charming and, more to the point, so thin? "Well I wasn't always, you know," she said as she served everyone a teaspoon of natural, no-sugar-added apple butter. "I lost 90 pounds on this diet!"
The dining room was full of sunshine; huge windows overlooked the mountains and the lake. The people were all cheerful and friendly and the food, small portions not withstanding, was delicious. "Eat slowly," Betty advised. "Give your brain time to realize that you've eaten.
The waitresses kept the pots of hot coffee coming. "Drink all you want," Betty said, "and help yourself from the salad bar. Lettuce and tomato only of course."
Serving ourselves from the salad bar was a mixed blessing. Since it also served the regular restaurant customers, it was full of forbidden things like potato salad, relishes, ham and turkey and cheese, croutons, bacon bits . . . I sneaked some bacon bits onto my lettuce. Another reluctant dieter had a slice of turkey under her tomato and still another grabbed a chunk of hot black bread and almost swallowed it whole.
One morning we had karate lessons down by the lake. Instructor Barney Loisell demonstrated how to break an arm grip or a choking hold. "Okay", he said, "now pair off and try it." "Listen, Barney," a 70-plus, sweet-faced, white haired lady said softly. "This is all right, but if a mugger attacks, isn't it better to just kick him in the . . .?"
We did line dancing and yoga and special exercises for the back and we took long hikes through the woods and sunbathed on the beach. We even had facials. One morning I spotted a dish of honey on the table next to the pitchers of juice. "What's this for?" I asked. "Sit down and we'll show you," Barney answered. The next thing I knew he'd wrapped a towel around my head and was smearing honey all over my face. "Best facial there is," he said enthusiastically as he gently patted and slapped.
"No fair licking your lips," Betty called from across the room. "Honey isn't on the diet." Someone helped Barney wipe off the honey with a warm towel, and amazingly, my skin really felt smoother and satiny. I didn't even mind much that my bangs were stuck together for the rest of the day.
"Now what you've got to try," two women said as we paused during sit-ups, "are the baths. We're going this afternoon. Want to join us?" I looked at them blankly but found out a few minutes later that Berkeley Springs where Coolfont is located, is famous for its mineral waters and hot baths.George Washington himself bathed there. I made reservations immediately at the bath-house, owned and operated by the state.
At first view it was disappointingly plain and institutional. But when I walked down the three steps into my own private "Roman tub," about six feet long and four feet wide, and sank into the hot, bubbling water, I felt like the Queen of the Nile.
I soaked and played for about 15 minutes, even swam around a little. "How did you get your hair so wet?" the attendant asked disapprovingly as she wrapped a towel around me and led me off for a massage, which goes with the hot bath ( $9 for both). The combination felt great after all the exercising.
On the way back to Coolfont I stopped for a lemon yogurt (lowfat). I never thought eating lemon yogurt could make me feel sinful. I also passed The Castle, a real 20-roomer which was built, I understand, several years ago by a man whose true love would only marry him if he built her a luxurious castle. It's open to the public but, much as I wanted to see it, there just wasn't time.
Coolfont is open year-round for vacations, conventions and, as Martha and Sam put it, re-creation.
The next health happening will be November 25 through 30. The rate of $39.50 per person per day, double occupancy, includes room, meals and all activities except horseback-riding and the baths.
Otherwise, rooms in the lodge at Coolfont range in price from $55 per person, for the first two nights (additional nights, $20) to $80 for the first two nights in a room with a view and a fireplace. Cabins, vacation homes and chalets range from $75 to $135 for the first two nights. Campsites are $2 a person per night.