My sojourn to the dark side began with an argument. A late summer’s day evening found me engaged in nonsensical combat with my lovely dark-haired wife, Therese. We were wielding verbal daggers with abandon, spilling emotional blood all over the floor; evidence of a marriage stressed by too much time spent growing a business and not enough time nurturing the soul.
Fortunately, before either of us delivered a killing blow, we came to our senses and realized our vitriol and frustration was a symptom not of anger with each other, but of a need to slow down, recharge our batteries and reconnect with intimacy.
Abandoning all desire to head off into the Nevada desert in a 4×4 loaded with coolers, camping gear and mountain bikes and a loose plan to explore ghost towns and wild spaces, we both agreed what we needed, together and individually, was pampering.
Within minutes of arriving at that conclusion my wife looked up brightly through eyes shining now with possibility instead of tears and said a word that normally sent shudders into my very marrow: “Spa.”
I say normally, because until this moment in my life, the word spa implied a terrifying world filled with grape seed mud wraps, seaweed honey-butter exfoliations, and embroidered terrycloth robes with matching plush slippers. As I imagined it, everywhere you looked there would be dozens of overindulged heiresses named Muffy who spent as much time flirting with the mirror as they did with their pony-tailed trainer named Claude.
Despite all these fears, I suddenly found myself intrigued with the idea of fine bed linens, breakfasts in bed, mid-morning steam baths, noon massages, late afternoon naps, and sun-dappled evening walks, wandering aimlessly down tree-lined lanes, sipping chilled Viognier.
A red Honda CRV chariot whisked us effortlessly — OK, so I still had to stay awake during the driving and shifting parts — to our appointed decadent destiny in St. Helena, a Napa Valley village dedicated to food, wine and specializing in soul restoration.
The Inn At Southbridge, our sanctuary for four days boasted a vaulted ceiling, a stone fireplace, and glorious French doors that opened wide onto a private balcony with an expansive view of distant vineyards and mountains — never mind the immediate view of the expansive dumpster and parking lot below. Apparently, even Nirvana has to have a few quirks to keep the chi from surging out of control.
And while our concierge alerted us to the fact that our room had complimentary high- speed connection to the Web, we noted in return that what we needed most was not a high-speed connection but a low-speed disconnect from the daily grind — and that meant no cell phones, no television, no web surfing and absolutely, positively no email. We were disconnecting so we could reconnect.
Our first morning in paradise, I flung open the French doors allowing early morning sunlight to stream in and massage our skin as we both lounged resplendently in a king bed crowned with a down comforter so deep and plush a 1,000 ducks were probably shivering somewhere in Europe cursing this spa’s existence.
A quick round of rock/paper/scissors left Therese with the task of slipping into a robe and out the door to fetch breakfast — we agreed to alternate morning breakfast runs from here on. She returned with a tray loaded down under the weight of fresh rolls, fruit-filled pastries, a platter covered with blackberries,strawberries, grapes, kiwi, and orange slices, and steaming cups of coffee. Amid all the china cups, plates and linen napkins, the only paper to be found in paradise this morning was our three morning newspapers — The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.
Finally, our lives were moving more slowly than the minute hand on my watch. As the sun crept high enough in the sky to no longer be an inspiration for extending our stay in bed, we removed the Do Not Disturb sign from the door and meandered across the stone floor of the lobby, through the courtyard, and into the adjacent health spa — Health Spa Napa Valley.
Earlier I’d selected several treatments that a smiling woman had told me were designed to, “nourish, refresh, restore, invigorate, and rejuvenate.”
In a changing room more well-appointed than most homes, with comfy chairs, stone counter tops, expensive lotions and potions, and stacks of fresh towels, I slipped out of my clothes and into a, yes, terry cloth robe and slippers.
Sounds of Enya and rushing water from nearby fountains filled the waiting room as I sipped a cool drink of water flavored with essence of orange, lime, mango, tangerine and who knows what else. My wife arrived looking more beautiful than ever, but before I could suggest perhaps we should duck out and head back to our room, a shadow fell over me. I looked up to see a mass of humanity filling the entire doorway — his fingers were bigger than my wrists.
“Good morning Mr. Hodgson. Are you ready for your massage?” he queried with a surprisingly gentle voice.
The last time a man that large and well-muscled put hands on my backside (and I sure as hell wasn’t unclothed at the time), I was running for my life during a rugby match and the Samoan team member bearing down on me wasn’t the least bit interested in fulfilling a latent need for rejuvenating treatment or restoration of energy flow.
There was no turning back now though. I nodded meekly toward my smiling wife and followed Gargantua to what was certain to be a painful body-crushing disguised as a Swedish massage. I’d worry about restoration and healing later I reasoned — once I checked out of the hospital I was going to need.
The brochure describing treatments mentioned I’d be receiving a “pampering therapy of a premium crème shea butter massage” but somehow I didn’t really want to hear the word “pamper” out of Gargantua’s mouth. Still, there he was, explaining the essences of lavender for relaxation and other herbs that he had added to the oils he’d be using. After asking if I had any injuries he should know about (I knew this was going to involve pain), he motioned for me to hang my robe on the back of the door and slipped out for a minute so buck naked boy could dive beneath the sheets on the massage table and begin whimpering in earnest.
Decades of jamming my dogs into countless pairs of outdoor footwear in the pursuit of adventure and a good story have left my feet several pumice stones shy of a pleasing feel or appearance. Apparently, it was obvious as Gargantua began by working a rich salve into my feet while explaining about the exfoliating and softening benefits of the sugar honey shea butter salve he was currently applying. Now I was getting hungry.
Bubbling water running in a nearby fountain, coupled with the scents of oils and herbs, and the gentle warmth of the heated sheets were sufficient inspiration to give in and enjoy my shea butter massage. And so I closed my eyes and let my mind loose to drift amid the many dreams and imaginations an overworked brain had somehow managed to forget were important to life and balance.
The hour flashed by leaving me wondering where all the kinks and painful aches that I’d arrived with had gone. Gargantua greeted me at the door holding a glass of water with orange, cucumber and lemon slices in it and encouraged me to follow up the massage with a Eucalyptus steam. Capital idea!
I got used to things pretty quickly I assure you. Late mornings in bed until departing sunbeams chased me to the spa and a heated outdoor pool where a light swim was followed by a recovery lounge in chairs covered with luxurious towels as I turned the pages of the latest mystery novel. Noon massages followed by Eucalyptus steam baths were capped off by late afternoon lunches in local hangouts where everyone smiles, and sipping Champagne with a club sandwich is not considered gauche. Sunset walks among the vineyards, and candlelight dinners eating morels or some other exotic dish chased down with an aged Cabernet rounded off each day. Easy laughter filled many of the waking moments.
I had to admit that despite my fears and trepidations going in, the spa life was more than just relaxing. It was a nourishing, invigorating, and refreshing indulgence for my soul and body and I liked it. Time slowed down. I could even say ‘shea butter massage please’ without snickering.
No, I’m not even close to giving up on climbing, paddling, trail running and the pursuit of ridiculous adventures for the sake of having a good time. I need that edge to add spice and vigor to my life’s banquet. But I have discovered that regular planned spa escapes add a much-needed flavor to the soup that was missing before. Heck — I’m even dragging my wife into stores to shop for shea butter and using words like “exfoliate” without cracking up.
I know. Some of you might think I’ve gone off the deep end. You may be right. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Everything about our marriage is better since we began to spa — and I do mean everything.
Sure, you can call me spa boy or damn near anything else. I’m too blissed out to care.