Spoiler alert: After four days at the Coast Ridge, I fit—no, glided—back into my favorite jeans, a pair of Mother Tomcats that I splurged on when I was off sweets for a month. (Heed my advice: Don't buy expensive denim in the middle of a sugar fast.) But that was hardly the best thing to come of the experience.
Like all good wellness stories, this one starts on a hillside overlooking a beautiful beach. In this case, Stinson Beach, where a 1970s hillside home has been renovated into a cozy retreat center for The Coast Ridge, a fitness reboot program based on the successful model of the Ashram in Calabasas. Despite its name, the Ashram has no religious affiliations, and neither does the Coast Ridge—unless, of course, your body is your temple (check) and your religion is nature (double check).
The Coast Ridge retreat house overlooks Stinson Beach.Leilani Marie Labong
While the Ashram's program is seven days long, Coast Ridge co-founder and longtime Ashram instructor, Yarrow Schley, a sort of surfer Luke Skywalker, assures that adequately stoking the metabolic fire can happen in four days, a more feasible timeframe for the tireless among us. The daily agenda at the Coast Ridge is regimented, challenging, and nurturing all at once, and goes a little something like this: Wake before sunrise. Limber up during yoga. Fuel up with a vegan breakfast. Hike for 10 miles in some of the most beautiful scenery in the northern hemisphere, complete with roaring waterfalls, vast ocean vistas, cathedrals of redwoods. Devour a vegan lunch (trust us, you'll have earned it). Knead sore muscles with an hourlong massage. Tone up during a fitness class. Relax with evening yoga or chi gong. Enjoy a vegan dinner. Wind down in guided meditation or during fireside chats. Sleep. Wake. Repeat.
Unsurprisingly, most people who come to the Coast Ridge are seeking more than just a slimmer silhouette. In my group, a lovely married couple with five kids sought to reconnect with themselves as dynamic individuals, not just parents or significant others (yes, they left the brood at home). Another woman, a law professor from New York, wanted to be reminded that "there is no such thing as an academic emergency." For my part, I needed to feel more connected and open to the Universe, source of all good things. Theoretically, I believe that the Great Unknown is always conspiring in our favor (just ask Kanye West), but as a journalist in this time of fast (and fake and Fox) news, that mindset was becoming a little too obscured for my comfort. I could use a few wins, and was willing to make myself a crystal-clear vessel to receive them.
The cedar sauna at the Coast Ridge.Courtesy of the Coast Ridge
Even if it meant going cold turkey on my personal food pyramid: juicy, mid-rare dry-aged steak; funky cheeses; crusty sourdough with cultured butter; pasta coated in a silky amalgamation of aged parmesan and full-bodied olive oil. Since you can't be a clear vessel for anything with a congealed mass of carbs blocking your power center, Coast Ridge chef Claudine Dagit gives the traditional three squares a verdant, nutrient-dense makeover. Cinnamon-spiked paleo banana pancakes with fresh raspberry sauce and hemp seeds. Lemony kale salad with sweet roasted kabocha. Hearty chickpea soup with lots of ginger and turmeric, a digestive system's dream. Impossibly velvety raw cacao-avocado mousse sprinkled with coconut. Take it from a girl who dines out in San Francisco as part of her job and has had a lifelong adversarial relationship with vegetables: I felt satiated and nourished. I also learned to slow down and savor, even making the act of eating five—one, two, three, four, five—silver-dollar paleo pancakes last for an indulgent 20 minutes.
In fact, an altered version of time is a sumptuous—and vital—shift that transpires on the retreat. "Time is ephemeral at the Coast Ridge," said one participant in our group, a retreat regular. And so while the day is regimented, it also magically slows down. Maybe it's all the time you have to yourself on the long trails: Just you, your thoughts, and the steep inclines (the 0.6-mile Miller Trail near the top of Mount Tam, while possessing some of the most breathtaking waterfall scenery, was also the most arduous gradient of the four-day mileage), the surprise sightings (the Golden Gate Bridge suddenly revealed itself after turning a bend on a high ridge trail in the Marin Headlands), and the weather.
Of the latter came my favorite moment of my whole experience at the Coast Ridge: On Day One, standing atop Cardiac Hill overlooking a boundless ocean, the biting wind whipped through my hair, but I wasn't chilled. It lashed across my face and nipped at my fingers, but I wasn't numb. Instead, I felt very much alive and humbled to be in that magnificent landscape, experiencing all that weather. So. Much. Weather. I took a deep breath to ground myself (lest a strong gust propel me over the bluff), and with the exhale, sent a prayer of gratitude into the wild and beautiful atmosphere.