The Enlightenment of Walking:
A Skylonda Experience

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in TailWinds, March/April 1995,
and ULTRA Cycling, Winter 1995

Bipedal locomotion is one of the most innate human movements, as natural as breathing. And from the moment of birth, we're on a straight line trajectory with that magic moment when we take our first tenuous steps across the earth, bringing tears of pride to the faces of our parents. In a way, that evolution from helplessly flailing around, to crawling, to standing, and finally to fully upright walking, is a metaphor for our species' own evolution from ancient hominid to homo sapien. This parallel continues, though, with the common perception of modern humans that our species' evolution is somehow complete, that what we are now represents the pinnacle of human physical development; likewise, our arrival at the walking stage in life is greeted with a feeling of having achieved our divine destiny. Once we can walk freely, we can rest on our laurels, smug with that familiar attitude of "been there, done that," right?

And so it was that I recently found myself embarking upon a one week hiking sojourn at the Skylonda Fitness Retreat in Woodside, CA. The focus of this week-long stay at the posh but inocuous fitness lodge would be daily hikes of fourteen to twenty miles, sandwiched between yoga classes, massage therapy, circuit training, and gourmet low fat meals. I would be joined by fifteen other health seekers from across the country, all brought to Skylonda with the promise, "a week to retreat, a lifetime to renew."

I wasn't sure what to expect of Skylonda, but I have to admit that I wouldn't have been surprised by a decent dose of foo-foo and a lot of bored, rich housewives willing to pay large sums of money to be treated like religious ascetics on a fanatical weight loss binge. And as for the hiking, the thought of some 100 miles at a walking pace spread out over an entire week didn't sound too challenging or enlightening. Still, for some reason I was intrigued and I willingly signed on for the biennial "Hike Week" with its more than standard number of tough hiking miles. (An ultra endurance guy like me can't just sign up for a normal Skylonda week with sixty-five miles of hiking, can he?) Skylonda would provide the daily wardrobe, laundry service, and all of the other details. I'd just go hike every day and try to figure out what all the fuss was about.

A Day at Skylonda

6:00 Wake-up knock

6:30 Stretching and yoga class

7:30 Breakfast

8:00 Depart for the day's hiking

Noon Catered lunch on the trail

3:30 Return and have smoothie

4:00 Circuit training

5:00 Aquatics or strength training

6:00 Stretching and yoga class

6:30 Silent hour; no activities

7:30 Dinner

8:30 Group program

Sample Meals

Roasted salmon with a sorrel and smoked salmon sauce, potato and celery root gratin, steamed asparagus spears; spiced rhubarb and leek bisque with orange essence, chicken breast pilliard on a bed of mashed plantains with cinnamon cayenne gravy; seared swordfish with a pineapple jicama and chili salsa, spring's sugar snap peas with baby carrots and steamed miso brown rice.

Evening Programs

Dr. Jeffrey Wildfogel on the psychology of peak performance; live acoustic guitar performance by recording artist Pepino D'Agostino; plants of the redwood forest; plus on the first and last evenings, Skylonda's (in)famous Talking Stick program, a group roundtable discussion and bonding fest.

For Additional Information, Contact:

Skylonda Fitness Retreat
16350 Skyline Blvd.
Woodside, CA 94062
Tel 800-851-2222
Tel 415-851-4500
Fax 415-851-5504

Skylonda has been annointed by many a swank magazine as the hip fitness spa to visit because of its unique blend of exercise with implicit spirituality, mandatory generic and androgynous clothing which precludes fashion fests and overt sexuality, scrumpuous meals with less than ten percent fat, and fixed, week-long programs designed for a maximum of thirty guests. By way of contrast, most other spas have a hundred guests or more and feature an a la carte menu of classes and workshops to choose from or to choose to ignore. At Skylonda, you just sign up, show up, and go along for the ride, every decision and detail handled by the friendly and knowledgable staff.

And what about that hiking? Foo-foo it wasn't. Trailmaster Todd Johnson set a mean pace over challenging terrain. Additional staffers like Lisa Henry, a petite thing that can make your heart throb for more than one reason, and Neil Johnson, an aikido master who floats more than he walks, kept the stragglers from getting too far back. My Avocet Vertech counted many thousands of feet of climbing per day, while my heart rate monitor proved I was always well into my target zone. And as for my feet, well, I was the lucky one. By day two many of my comrades were seeing the foot clinic each morning and evening, but thanks to my Hi-Tec boots I had a pain-free experience. But something we all shared was a deep appreciation for our daily bodywork session. Both restorative and mystical was that daily hour.

All of this commentary seeks to explain my Skylonda hiking hours in intellectual and physical terms, however, to quantify the hours on the trail. But that misses the point, though, for a week of daily walking with intention is much more than that. Walking grounds us in a very literal way, forcing our attention onto the earth beneath us and the sky above. Striding out heightens a range of motion that is lost to us from our hours upon hours behind the wheel of cars and sitting behind desks. Searching for footholds and traction reminds us that slippery ground awaits around each corner, but that we can, with a highly developed awareness, maintain footing. Joining in this meaningful practice with others of diverse backgrounds (perfect strangers, some might say, on some levels) highlights the grand diversity of human life and experience. Treading in a different locale each day highlights the biodiversity of life in which we humans so egocentrically exist. (How can we have an ego when we stand in starry awe beneath a 3,000 year old redwood?)

In the end, Skylonda offered me far more than a few pounds lost, an increased range of motion, and the joy of being simultaneously pounded and pampered for a week. For hiding out on those trails, just beyond our collective field of sweat-stained vision, were insights so great, so wonderous, so unexpected that I have never pondered a footfall in the same way again.