From Manhattan to Mohonk Preserve: re-wilding in Upstate New York
Darting between yellow cabs, pedestrians and pedigree dogs with coffee in hand demands dexterity and nimble footwork. It does not, however, qualify as ‘natural movement’ within the Wildfitness philosophy. As I leave Manhattan’s skyline behind me for the weekend, I realise how much I’m looking forward to de-caffeinating and re-wilding in the forests of Upstate New York.
Entering the Hudson Valley, my mind is already energised. Released from the urban jungle, my body will soon follow. Wildfitness coaches Nala, Hannah and Josh welcome our weekend tribe to Minnewaska Lodge and allow us to glimpse our luxuriously expansive accommodation before we gather outside and the barefoot games begin. Our heart rates are soon up as we 'rough-house' (a form of play-fighting designed to improve one’s balance while knocking others off theirs) and master the core elements of wild combat.
Then it’s time to unleash our inner animals. We limber up with some ‘structural hygiene’, before acquainting ourselves with the 'bear scramble', 'bunny hop', 'crab crawl', and 'duck walk'. A potential recipe for chaos - not to mention the odd confused, hopping bear - but we have the space to roam free and no animals are harmed in the making of this spectacle.
The next treat in store for us is Brooklyn-based chef Sarah Chianese. Passionate about sourcing local ingredients, as well as sky-diving and other thrill-seeking ventures, she immediately wins us over. As for her culinary creations, these are something to behold. Tender barbecued meat, succulent smoked fish and fresh grilled seafood are marinated to perfection. Colourful, flavoursome vegetable dishes pose as accompaniments yet compete as classy centrepieces. Even the food-photo-phobic amongst us can’t resist snapping the happy salads adorned with edible flowers. Sarah reveals to us her key ingredient: love. Whatever love is, it tastes divine and we devour it.
My weekend highlight is our expedition into the Lost City of the Mohonk Preserve, whose towering rock formations and sprawling forest become our playground. We swing, crawl and vault using movements based on Parkour (free-running). Soon enough we are testing some personal boundaries. Alas, my body continues to tell my brain that attempting the ‘kong’ jump to clear a log at waist height is destined to end in a face-plant and some quality time in the local trauma ward. We all have our nemesis and mine remains the kong (though having nailed the duck walk, I sleep easier in my luxury bed that night).
With a professional mountaineer as a coach, we are guaranteed a superior scrambling and climbing experience on the Mohonk rocks. The sense of achievement after scaling the trickier climbs - with Josh generously stepping up as a human rock in the absence of a foothold - spurs us on to the summit of the Reserve. From a sunny peak above the forest canopy, we overlook a stunning vista as we enjoy our picnic brunch. This is the first of two hearty meals that day and the switch from three daily feeds is surprisingly comfortable. As we take a moment to meditate, the tranquility is broken only by the dulcet snoring of those who take their relaxation particularly seriously. The day ends with a technical yet energetic session on lifting and carrying: boulders, logs and then each other. Whether our tribal ancestors would have attempted this with their eyes closed, just for a laugh (or was it to hone our sensory perception?), we shall never know.
On Saturday, the heavens open. They stay open all day, ensuring a magnificently wet and muddy experience. But our skin is waterproof and the prospect of hot showers and a Swedish massage awaits us. Throwing ourselves - quite literally - into our woodland obstacle course, we test our resilience, skill and ability not to tumble off slippery logs into the river below. When the coaches challenge us to design an obstacle course for them, combining the various movements and skills we’ve explored, we do so with relish. The professionals observe as we show them how it's done. We then observe as they show us how it's really done, but are delighted when even they cross the finish line caked in mud.
Later, clean and ready for my massage, I try to forewarn the lovely masseuse.
‘Oh my!’ she remarks on seeing my fine collection of scrapes and bruises. ‘Are you… enjoying your vacation?’
‘Absolutely!’ I enthuse. ‘Can you please make my legs work again?’
Fully relaxed and functioning again as regular bipeds, we settle in for Head Coach Nala’s presentation and a discussion of the Wildfitness philosophy, followed by a last delicious supper and a deep sleep in preparation for our ultimate movement session.
Sunday morning’s ‘lactic lift-off’ is true to its name. Suffice it to say that if muscle burn truly generates anti-ageing growth hormone, I estimate that I take off a good 10 years in as many minutes. Our closing relaxation exercise, designed to calm the adrenaline and dispel any remaining tension, turns out to be as entertaining as it is restorative. Any unsuspecting guests at the Lodge, taking the morning air on their balconies, may believe they are witness to something between a joyful hokey-cokey and an exorcism. But for the uninhibited participants on the grassy lawn below, it is marvellously therapeutic. It is also a fitting finale to a weekend of adventure, exhilaration, play, rest and reflection, infused with positive energy from our excellent coaches and the tribe.
Back in the city, I pass glass-fronted gyms full of whirring treadmills and head to Central Park where I survey my surroundings. I select a sturdy hand rail as a balancing beam, plot a stretch to showcase my duck walk, pick my climbing tree and plan a finishing flourish of wild combat punches and shoulder rolls. I confirm to myself that I am the ninja of natural movement. A pair of nearby ducks regard me with expressions that beg to differ, but I meet their gaze and stare them down. They are about to see who walks the walk around here.