All I wanted was to see some giant redwoods.
Unfortunately, it was raining — hard — across Northern California. My five-hour drive up the Redwood Highway from San Francisco was threatened by flash flooding. It was 50 degrees and pitch black. To top it off, I was sick on vacation. To quote the Eagles' definitive song about Golden State lodging: My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim/I had to stop for the night.
There she stood in the doorway — wait, wrong story. I pulled over in the hippie town of Ukiah, which my friend Sarah, an art and yoga teacher, had mentioned in a dreamy voice. Ukiah was ringed with plenty of cheap chain motels.
That's when a quick Google search revealed that Ukiah was hot springs country. A "clothing-optional" retreat up in the Mendocino mountains included hot spring baths and a sauna. A sauna was what my aching lungs truly desired — clothing or not — but the resort wasn't taking calls after 6 p.m.
Next. I decided to check into nearby Vichy Springs Resort, a quaint, historic 1850s-era retreat. Vichy's claim to fame is its "champagne baths," a rare form of spring water with tiny carbonated bubbles, naturally set to a lukewarm 90 degrees.
After settling into my classic room, I headed into the inky night to find the baths. A row of clay tubs lay beside a raging rain-engorged creek, looking every bit of their 155 years old. I stepped into a bath and filled it with warm water. On a Sunday night in January, the place was utterly deserted.
After a few minutes, I was supposed to be feeling the bubbly water "expand my capillaries," the brochure claimed. Mostly I felt a little relief from my cold. A cool rain fell on my face, and a half-moon peeked from the clouds. Then I made a shivering transition to the "hot pool," a modern spring tub heated to a more soothing 104 degrees. With no one else around, it might even have become "clothing optional."
I made it to the redwoods the next day. But an uncomfortable situation that night became a spontaneously relaxing one — thanks to my smartphone.