“Let’s put our electronic devices away when we are together as a group,” Alabanza said, tapping me on the shoulder. I was mortified, like an addict caught with a drink or a smoke. It turns out that detoxing from carbs, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners is not necessarily the hardest part of the ranch’s program. For many of us, the most difficult habit to break is the Pavlovian desire for updates at every ding and tweet of the gadgets that ride us. Being present can be more challenging than climbing any hill.
By the final day of hiking, I felt strong, clear-minded, and giddy at the idea that I’d survived this extreme physical test. We had logged more than 60 miles of hiking and umpteen crunches and yoga poses in the course of a week—all on less than 1,500 calories a day. But nobody was counting until we stepped on the scale.
On the last morning I woke up before the morning chimes and sat down to write a letter to myself, an exercise they ask each guest to do. The real romance of a place like the Ranch at Live Oak is not necessarily the solitude, but the elation of losing 10 pounds, I decided. After breakfast and a hike around the ranch, we said our good-byes and headed to the airport. Weirdly, I felt no compulsion to check my e-mail. But at the gate I reached into my handbag for my ticket and saw my iPhone light up with a voice-mail message. My daughter had called two days earlier to say she missed me.
We can disappear into a program and rediscover ourselves through extreme physical exertion, but ultimately we are always plugged in, attached, connected, no matter what. I was 10 pounds lighter physically when I left the ranch, and mentally I was 100 percent clearer, but I was also ready to reconnect.
One-week retreat from $5,600 per person, all-inclusive.
The Ranch’s Daily Regimen
5:30 a.m.: Wake-up call with chimes
6 a.m.: Stretch class with foam roller
7 a.m.: Breakfast of granola and almond milk in the ranch house
8 a.m.: Begin hike
10:30 a.m.: Snack of three almonds and one dried apricot
1 p.m.: Return to the ranch for lunch: black-bean-and-quinoa chili
1:45 p.m.: Nap/free time
2:30 p.m.: TRX class or ab/crunch class
3:30 p.m.: Yoga class or calisthenics by the pool
4:30 p.m.: Massage
5:30 p.m.: Aqua aerobics in the pool
7 p.m.: Dinner of roasted cauliflower with tomatoes and mushrooms
8:30 p.m.: Bed
Total Calories: 1,500
Kate Betts is the author of Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style (Clarkson Potter; $35), out this month.