The Journey to The Dolomites
I planned my trip to have a few days of buffer so I wouldn’t embark on the most intense week of exercise I’ve ever endured on no sleep. Anyone who knows me knows that I NEED sleep to function, I am not one of those I sleep five hours a night people.
So I departed Phoenix Wednesday evening and flew direct to Frankfurt. My flight with Condor was fantastic. (I had never flown Condor nor heard of them prior to this trip) I then had a 4 hour layover in Frankfurt before flying into Venice. I arrived in Venice around 11pm and had only 1 hour to get my bag and get to car rental before they closed at midnight.
I booked my car with points via Chase/Hertz and when I arrived at the desk – the woman informed me they gave away my car and there were no other automatic cars left.
Ummmmm…what now? The desk next to Hertz was still open (Europcar) and they had one automatic car left. I grabbed it and off I went to my hotel that I’d booked the night before due to its free parking and proximity to the airport.
The next morning I catch a ferry to Venice where I plan to spend the entire day exploring. Venice is amazing and the next day, I catch the ferry back to my car and depart to Verona.
Verona was lovely – the most beautiful little city, so much history, just breathtaking. After covering the sites I hop back in the car and head to Lake Garda.
This is the MOST beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I can’t believe it’s real and I can’t believe I’d never heard of it until I was researching places semi near Venice to see. (You don't need much more than a day or two in Venice)
I stay in a town called Torbole at the Lago Di Garda Hotel which is adorable, modern and right on the lakefront. I get in a few mile walk, grab dinner, and pass out back in the room by 9pm. Jet lag is very real and I need sleep before I embark on the reason I came to Italy...
The Ranch retreat!
The next morning I have breakfast at the hotel and depart for….
DAY 1: At the Ranch Malibu’s pop-up in the Dolomites
I arrive at Rosa Alpina in San Cassiano around 12:30pm. I get checked in and before I know it, the team is there to take my measurements and tell me what the rest of the day looks like.
First off, the middle of the day is a terrible time to get measurements from someone BUT hey, it will only make the end results Saturday better…right?
We all meet in the library for an orientation on how the week will look and depart on our first hike of the trip. This is a short, two hour jaunt to get us warmed up before we have our first vegan chef prepared meal.
The hike goes by pretty quickly, we are all in great spirits but you can tell people are nervous for the next day. There are 21 people in my group which is pretty sizable.
We get back to Rosa Alpina, take baths/showers (they provide Epsom salts for us) and reunite an hour or so later for dinner which is served at 7pm.
Dinner is AMAZING.
The vegan food was one of the things I was most looking forward to and it does not disappoint. (Mostly because I will never take the time at home to prepare ALL vegan locally sourced meals - I own a business and life is busy, that just isn't in the cards)
Also if you aren’t familiar with The Ranch – there is no alcohol, no caffeine, no sugar, no gluten, no dairy – the diet is strict so you can detox from your normal life.
We all wrap up dinner and I immediately get to sleep by 8pm.
Day 1: 6.7miles in the books =945 calories burned.
A tap tap at the door at 5:30am and it’s go time. I wake up a few minutes before 5:30 feeling rather rested and very excited.
I get my pack set up, get my hiking clothes on and we all meet downstairs for an hour of stretching followed by an incredible breakfast.
We hop in The Ranch vans and head to the start of hike 1. This hike was tough for me. I hike often in Arizona but this was a different kind of challenge. Quickly our group starts to thin out – leaders of the pack – middle folks – and the folks at the end. The great part is that there are guides no matter which part of the group you’re in and the trails are clearly marked so you can’t get lost.
Two hours in we are granted the famous Ranch snack of six almonds and sea salt. We all grab our almonds and continue on.
Every hike is four hours.
We survive the hike and retreat to our rooms until lunch which is served daily at 1pm. Two days out of the trip you take your lunch with you on trail but more on that later.
After lunch is my daily massage which is absolutely necessary after how intense the second day of hiking was. After lunch I have to hustle to get dressed and downstairs for the first of three fitness classes. The first class is a circuit training class, second is either arms or abs depending on the day and the third is always yoga. I do the circuit class and abs class and dip out avoiding yoga. Yoga bores me and I'd rather rest and reset before our dinner at 7pm.
Day 2 = 10.14miles in the books =1641 calories burned.
2 workout classes = 596 calories burned.
Day 3 follows the exact same trend as day 2 with a few exceptions…
We have lunch on the trail which was incredible and the view was insanity.
My massage therapist today was much better than the day before and successfully makes my legs feel like new.
I once again skip yoga and opt to check out the spa amenities – sauna, steam room, cold plunge, pool.
I start off with the steam room to get warmed up then force myself into the cold plunge which surprisingly feels amazing on these sore muscles. I then hit the pool to swim a few laps and wrap things up with the sauna. All in all, so relaxing and the setting of the spa is gorgeous. 10/10 experience and set up.
I then get showered and make my way to dinner which starts with an asparagus soup followed by the biggest cauliflower steak I have ever seen. The portion is huge and I can barely finish it all.
Mind you – we are on a strict 1400 calorie a day diet which is quickly depleted after each of these strenuous hikes. (I haven’t felt hungry once throughout the journey so if you’re considering it, I promise you will not starve.)
After dinner I head to bed, feeling great and excited for day 4.
Day 3: 9.24miles in the books = 1653 calories burned.
2 workout classes = 562 calories burned.
Day 4 starts off well for me. I am feeling great during our morning stretch routine and as extra precaution ask them to tape my shins and knees prior to the hike. We were told today was a straight uphill and downhill battle. I can handle the ups but the downs really get my knee flared up (an old injury I neglected years back). I had it wrapped the day prior which definitely seemed to help.
Breakfast is this bland buckwheat chia seed and fruit concoction, only made tolerable after requesting cinnamon. We all grumble but eat it and get on the trail.
Today's hike is my favorite so far. It feels a bit like Arizona terrain and I am packed with energy (despite the lack of caffeine in my system) so I am one of the few who actually make it to the top of the peak and back down. For the slower hikers they have cut off points where you turn around so that we are all on the trail for relatively the same amount of time (four hours).
Lunch today is incredible. Buckwheat pasta with a vegetable medley and a vegan tahini sauce.
However, prior to lunch – a fellow Rancher and I sneak off to grab a cappuccino at a nearby café to Rosa Alpina and after finish our little cheat with sparkling water and lemon in wine glasses on the patio. Fortunately, all of these cheats are zero calorie but so much for detoxing all of the coffee out of my body…it’s especially hard when Italians do such a great job with espresso.
This time at lunch we really sit around and get to know each other better which is nice. We make plans to skip yoga and explore the little festival/market that is happening in San Cassiano, the town where our hotel is.
My massage schedule today only allows me to attend the first circuit class so I’ll be missing out on a few calories burned from only making it to one.
I successfully complete the circuit class, hop down to spend 3 minutes in the cold plunge and then dart back to my room for my massage. This massage is easily the best yet and I am thrilled with how good I feel after.
This is when it gets dicey...
Two of the ranchers are craving champagne and agree to share a glass. Meanwhile, another rancher and I watch on sipping sparkling water with lemon and lime as they indulge. We stay strong even though we would both LOVE a glass at this point. (#willpower and we are both terrified someone will see us and declare us Ranch cheaters.)
Dinner is their version of pizza which is quite tasty. Usually I am wiped and ready to pass out after dinner but that espresso really did a number on me and now I am realizing why coffee is banned...
It’s actually making me question my favorite addiction…I pray it doesn’t inhibit my much needed sleep and it’s lights out.
Day 4: 7.78miles (but it was our highest elevation climb yet) 1685 calories burned.
1 workout class = 309 calories burned.
Well, the coffee sure did mess up my perfect sleeping pattern because I awake wiped out. I’m cursing myself for cheating but also am semi-glad I did because now that my body is so “clean” I can actually feel the effects of caffeine again. I wake up ravenous for the first time and quickly get my stuff together and head down to stretch class.
After stretch I have them tape both of my knees and my shins as precaution. Things are really starting to ache and these elevations are no joke.
Breakfast is an eggless veggie frittata which is quite fulfilling. Lunch is on the trail today too – our snack is a pear (eaten at the 2 hour mark) and lunch is a great salad.
The hike today damn near kills me.
I am in so much pain and to add insult to injury – I end up falling as I am 75% of the way down the mountain.
We get back to Rosa Alpina and I jump straight in the bath for an Epsom salt bath to prime myself for my 2pm massage.
Todays therapist is a male and holy hell is he intense (Dirk). Intense but effective and afterward, I skip the 3pm class and take a nap.
I force myself up for the 4pm class which is arms – I attempt to sit through yoga (made it ten mins) and then end my activities with another 3 mins in the cold plunge.
Dinner: the first meal I truly dislike. Zucchini noodles with a weird sauce on top. I had a few bites and passed the rest off to other hungry tablemates to finish. They then brought me some ranch snacks to tide me over until morning.
Day 5: 9.04miles in the books = 1609 calories burned.
1 workout class = 387 calories burned.
After having a meltdown the night before while scrolling through photos realizing I am looking puffier than ever in the face during this trip – I wake up in a funky mental state.
If I am eating perfectly, getting my rest, getting a TON of exercise then why in the WORLD is my face the size of Texas? I compared photos from the day before leaving to photos on the trip and even texted a few close friends in a panic. That led me down a research hole of wondering why the F I looked so bad after doing all the right things?
I decide I am skipping stretch class. I am not getting my knees taped. I am grabbing a few shots of espresso and I am going to dominate this final hike.
Breakfast – a zucchini muffin. Pretty good.
Trail snack – sunflower seeds and cashews. Pretty meh.
The hike – the BEST of the trip. The terrain in stunning, the sun is beaming down on us AND we finished in first place. Truly the perfect ending to the marathon hiking. Also – zero knee or shin pain to report, hooray!
Lunch – a mediocre bean and potato soup – I had a few bites and passed the rest on to another hungry compadre. (I don’t like beans or potatoes)
This morning I booked a lymphatic drainage massage at Rosa Alpina (not included in my ranch fees) because after researching ways to reduce the puff, lymphatic drainage was the most pointed to method and right now, I am willing to try ANYTHING to avoid going back to the USA looking worse off than when I left.
Due to my massage schedule today – this means my exercise for the day is officially over. I can’t make it to any of the classes which I am absolutely fine with.
A few other ranchers agreed I did look puffy and our director told me that this happens to people sometimes, I am not the first but within the next week or so at lower elevations and back on a semi normal diet, things should even out for me. They claim the diet is so heavy in fiber that some people's bodies react differently to it and wind up retaining a ton of water.
I also decided to limit my water intake for the rest of the day and only drink sporadic sips here and there. I am trying my best to make sure my measurements tomorrow morning do not leave me heartbroken after all of the effort I’ve put forth.
Lymphatic drainage massage – if you’re unsure of what this is, my best description: light tapping around the lymph nodes (hip bones, neck, face, wrists, ankles) it shouldn’t really even count as a massage because it’s so light but apparently its effective? I notice zero difference after but hey, you never know til ya try.
After that massage I alternate between the cold plunge and sauna for 90 minutes before it’s time for my ranch massage.
Dinner: This one was terrible and I didn’t eat a bite. The only saving grace to not eating any of it is that weigh in and measurements are tomorrow.
The group is beginning to split as some are heading to catch flights early Saturday, the rest of us remain at the bar where people begin taking tequila shots to celebrate surviving, others break out into dance.
I retreat to my room to get packed and get to sleep, adamant not to mess up my diligent efforts.
Day 6: 8.04 miles in the book.
1510 calories burned.
DAY 7: THE FINALE
We are woken up like any other day at 5:30am. I hop up, throw some clothes on and run down before the others to get my measurements done so I can quickly depart after we finish breakfast.
We all eat our final breakfast, compare how much weight we lost and I say my goodbyes as I am headed off to drive to Florence. The others go on a 1 hour walk before packing up to head in their specific directions around the globe.
I lost five pounds, a handful of inches around my body and mentally - I've grown in a way I never expected. Physically, I now know I can push my body to the extremes and it will not only acclimate but it will get stronger and faster in the process - the key is just to keep going.
What I packed:
I exclusively wore Peskys apparel insect repellent leggings. I packed four pairs to keep me safe from bugs, etc. Lyme disease is nothing I want to mess with.
You can shop my exact pair here.
I packed four workout tank tops. Three long sleeve shirts, two rain jackets (one short, one long). A warm hat. Six pairs of hiking socks. Four pairs of normal socks. Running shoes. Hiking shoes (lightweight, trail shoes). Two pairs of sunglasses. Four sports bras. Three casual dinner outfits.
Advice: keep the packing simple, you really don’t need much and nobody dresses up for meals/downtime. (If you'd like my exact reccs on shoes, send me a message and I'll gladly give you the info - my shoes were amazing and I never even came close to blistering.)
What a unique group of people! Former CEO's, tech start-up execs, housewives, a few married couples, foreign royalty, "normal people" (aka me), political junkies, and even a couple who hated it enough to hire a helicopter to get them out after day one (they claimed they didn't know the meals were Vegan..I guess they also don't know how to read).
Truly a unique grouping of people - and I wouldn't change any of it!
Would I do it again?
Everyone kept asking if I’d do the program in California or not. Never say never but California holds zero allure for me since I grew up there so I likely wouldn’t spend the money on it. I also do not think a strict plant base, fiber heavy diet agrees with my body. If The Ranch decides to do other pop-ups, that is definitely something I would consider (however I’d probably modify and add in normal proteins to my dinners to cut down on the fiber intake). My puffiness did decrease once I got back to eating my normal balanced diet (including meat and lots of coffee). I also did a blood type test and researched what the best diet for my blood type is -- if you're interested, grab a blood type test from Amazon and then google the best diet for your type. Mine is exactly what I've always done - proteins, vegetables, no dairy, no legumes.
We drank a LOT of water and tea at The Ranch – it would be great for them to vary up the tea flavors so we don’t have to keep drinking the same two.
Water always had the option for lemon and mint. It would be great if they added other fruits. Ex. Cucumber, ginger, orange, etc.
Massages should definitely be 60 minutes vs 45. They are the most crucial and enjoyable part of recovery we have. To accomodate, make the poorly attended fitness classes an intense 35 minutes vs 45.
Sparkling water should be served – it’s far more fulfilling and we can drink it in wine glasses making it feel like a mocktail.
The hikes should be provided on paper so we can see our routes and elevations. I think some mental prep would be better than blindly arriving each day. I also think if we had the small print outs of each hike, people would be more apt to push harder knowing how far they'd already made it etc. This marathon hiking is all a mental game.
WHY I DECIDED TO DO THIS PROGRAM:
This past year as I was planning my first trip to Italy ahead of my 30th birthday, my mother unexpectedly got diagnosed with stage 3 cancer. To keep a very long story short, March 20th was the day of her surgery as well as her birthday. In my mind, it was the day I knew we would be in the clear and the worst would be over. That is the day I booked my stay at the Ranch, purchased plane tickets to Italy and planned my one big trip of 2019.
Watching my mom battle cancer was the hardest thing I have ever done. Being a caretaker was also a new role that left me drained, sad, and honestly depressed. I turned to working overtime to cope with the feelings I didn’t want to face and thus my health took a bit of a backseat. The Ranch offered me a reset button and a week to only focus on taking care of myself – it sounded like exactly what I needed to look forward to.
So I embarked on my solo Italy trip to help me shed the stress weight (mental and physical) of the past year and recalibrate back to who I was before my world got turned upside down.
I am happy to report that my mom is healthy and thriving and that my Italy trip achieved exactly what I needed. I now feel refreshed and ready to tackle a very busy season of work and continue to prioritize my health (mind, body, and soul).
Taking care of yourself IS a priority because if you don’t, you can’t serve others.
Lastly, if you enjoyed this thorough review of The Ranch Dolomites program, please comment below and share it.
Cheers to health!
Jessica Leila Adnani