I tend to get myself into hot water on my birthday.
For my 40th, I invited two large tables of my favorite ladies to join me at the Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa. We bathed in the roman baths, basked in the sun, wined and dined. I even made an unscripted speech thanking each woman individually for what they brought to my life that was literally EXACTLY 40 minutes long.
Another birthday dip was more intimate – just me and my hubby, Mitchel, at one of my all-time faves at the end of the main road in Calistoga. This time I eschewed the shi-shi of Sonoma Mission Inn for the more vintage vibes at Indian Springs. Thermal geysers, originating back to a volcanic eruption in the area, come from fissures in the earth at 230 degrees and is then cooled in a series of reservoirs before entering the Olympic-sized main pool at about body temperature. The 19th Century charm of this place has been preserved, including the bathhouse- complete with a Pepsi Cola clock that still keeps the time.
My favorite way to enjoy Indian springs is at night, under a blanket of stars. Putting my head on one “noodle-cadoodle” as I call the long flotation devices they have there, and another under my legs, I can drift for hours, enjoying the plumes of vapor coming from the place where the springs are channeled toward my awaiting body. In the dark, I imagine a huge dragon in the distance, blowing smoke through his snout.
This year, with my husband away at a training, I planned another birthday plunge with my lady friends, this time asking them to adventure with me to a more humble spot, Wilbur Hot Springs. Once a sacred Native American ceremonial grounds, Wilbur is now an Asian style, clothing-optional bathhouse. At less than a 2-hour drive from Davis, this has become a favorite day trip that really makes you feel like you’ve gotten away. Wilbur is off the grid and off the hook.
My first pick-up of the day was to get Jessy, a friend for the past 11+ years since our children met in Kindergarten. We hadn’t seen each other a lot over that time besides the few minute exchanges we had at “sibling playgroup” pickup and drop-offs, and the occasional school-related social event. But recently, not having much contact with my early mom friends now that our kids were in High School, I had been extending offers to reconnect, and Jessy was showing up.
I knew as soon as I saw her standing on her front porch that I hadn’t done a great job of preparing her for what the day might hold. She had on a maxi dress and platform sneakers. Her hair had been “done” that morning and she had a full face of make-up.
“You know we aren’t going to a ‘resort’ spa, right?” I asked as soon as she opened the car door. The look on her face made it clear that she did not know that, so I continued. “Wilbur is a hot spring, not a spa,” I said. “It’s very rustic and remote. It’s a mellow, hippie, clothing-optional kind-of-place.”
Jessy’s face had flopped by the time I finished with my Wilbur soapbox.
“Clothing optional?” she asked. “Do people really take that option?”
I could hear a quiver in her voice that made me worry I might be down one girlfriend on this birthday outing.
“Sorry if that wasn’t clear,” I said, “I’ve been going there for years and never really thought about it much, I guess.”
“So do you go ropa or no ropa,” Jessy asked, reverting to the Spanglish we tended to use with one another, the aftereffect of having kindled our friendship at a Spanish immersion public elementary school.
“Well, kinda both,” I answered. “Ever since my surgeries, I just wear a swim top,” I said, thinking it was a totally normal thing to say and do. For a while I didn’t go anywhere that would possibly put me in a position of exposing myself, including Wilbur.
“Wait, really?” Jessy said, giving me a quizzical look. “You wear a swim TOP but not a BOTTOM?” She didn’t seem to be able to tell if I was joking or not. “That’s so weird. Why would you do that?”