As Covid-19 winds fitfully down, with many a bump in the road and a few more to come, we mid-Hudsonites are looking for ways to resume our social lives safely. Many of us have developed an increased interest in wellness practices – partly because we’ve seen friends and relations felled by illness in the past couple of years, and partly because many months of social isolation gave us time, space and incentive to reframe the balance among work, family lives and self-care. Some have even moved here from other places with the deliberate intent to establish that new, healthier balance.
The trick now is to make these two streams – social connection and personal wellness – converge. In our neck of the woods, going for a hike, bike ride or other outdoor activity with friends is the obvious means. But vigorous exercise isn’t possible for everyone. And even those of us with no impediments to mobility sometimes have more of a need to relax deeply than to add one more strenuous activity to an already busy schedule.
If you’re lucky enough to own your own home, and have the space and financial wherewithal to spare, you may have considered adding a sauna, steam room or hot tub that’s big enough to invite friends over. It’s a great way to bond in the ultimate laid-back atmosphere, while doing your health a world of good.
Going ahead with such a project is a major commitment, though, best undertaken only after experiencing (preferably more than once) what it’s like to spend time in a hot, enclosed space, whether bone-dry or steamy. It’s not for everyone. And the steam room or sauna at the gym probably isn’t your ideal model.
Of course, if you live in a space that’s rented, very small or barely within your budget, building your own isn’t even an option. But wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do a test run in a really nice spa with a group of close friends? Or have easy access to one for a day, a weekend or a week for a group vacation or family reunion?
What’s brilliant about a sauna for a healthful get-together in these socially anxious times is that it sanitizes itself, over and over.
The optimal temperature for a sauna session is between 170 and 190 degrees Fahrenheit. “Anywhere above 138 degrees, the virus dies,” says Henning Grentz, proprietor of Spa Fleet and builder of the mobile sauna Cloudberry. Yes, we said mobile: You can rent this gorgeous spa-on-wheels to come to your home, business or vacation destination throughout the Northeast.
A native of the part of Germany closest to the Danish border, Grentz grew up “with saunas all around,” in a culture where this Finnish art is part of everyday life and health maintenance. He came to New York City in his early twenties to pursue his master’s degree, and began visiting Ulster County on his days off school for rock-climbing in the Gunks. After graduation, he moved to Rosendale, commuting to the Big Apple to work.
“I haphazardly segued into doing carpentry: renovations and remodels,” he recounts. “I learned how to use tools and shape wood.”
But the Hudson Valley didn’t offer him much in the way of opportunities to enjoy the benefits of the sauna lifestyle, except at “swanky hotels.” He found himself missing the experience very much. Though he can easily enumerate the myriad ways in which it detoxifies the body and promotes health and elasticity, “The greatest benefit of sauna to me is the relaxation and the social aspect,” Grentz says.
One day, while “sitting in a friend’s sauna on an island in a pond in his yard,” inspiration struck: He decided to build his own sauna – and to put it on wheels.
He acquired a seven-by-14-foot trailer base. Friends at the Clove Valley CSA in High Falls provided him space to build his vision, converting a greenhouse to a woodshop. It took him 16 months.
“I didn’t have a full design plan when I started; I did it in stages,” he says. “Every last detail was handled many times.”
He finished Cloudberry in the autumn of 2018 and introduced it to the public at the O+ Festival in Kingston, parked at Keegan Ales.
The mobile spa is a thing of beauty, clearly made by hand using fine materials: knotty cedar for the outside, clear cedar for the inside, basswood benches and backrests, lots of glossy copper. The interior wood is finished with food-grade mineral oil designed specifically for saunas.
“Everything is hypoallergenic,” notes Grentz. The interior space is divided between a sauna room that can seat eight comfortably and a changing room. A double-walled Finnish wood stove accommodating 80 pounds of sauna rock supplies the heat, with wood and kindling storage cleverly hidden under a flip-up bench.
A day’s rental includes 15 hours’ worth of firewood, he says. Upon delivery, he demonstrates how to build the fire and provides specific instructions on how to tend it, as well as guidelines for how to time sauna sessions and cooldowns for maximum health benefits.
The contraption is outfitted with buckets, a dipper and essential oils for pouring water onto the rocks for a burst of cleansing steam. If the temperature isn’t freezing, Grentz also supplies a garden hose and outdoor showerhead, though some users prefer to park the spa near a pond or stream that they can plunge into between sauna rounds.
The mobile spa comes equipped with electronic amenities that run off a battery: LED lights that can be programmed to change color, and stereo speakers have a hookup in the changing room for your portable music player. There’s also an external outlet for a 110-volt extension cord to recharge the battery, but “It’s designed for off-grid use.”|
If you rent Cloudberry, you will also receive all the information you need with regard to possible health concerns; who shouldn’t use a sauna or should take extra precautions against hyperthermia; how to tell when you’ve been inside too long.
Surprisingly, according to Grentz, “Almost all people with hypertension benefit from sauna.” And although pregnant women are advised to consult their doctors before going in, “In Finland for hundreds of years women have been giving birth in a sauna.”
So far, he says, there have been no major medical mishaps blamed on the mid-Hudson’s only mobile spa, Touch on wood. But “I’ve had many happy faces blamed on me.”
As for safety during the pandemic, “Covid did not work to my detriment,” Grentz says. “Sauna is very beneficial for the immune system.” Not only does the heat of the sauna kill the coronavirus, but this spa is also outfitted with an ozone disinfection machine that can be run between sessions and “kills 99.99 percent of all bacteria, virus, mold, mildew and fungus on contact,” through ionized particles that reach every surface.
Yes, if you invite someone you invite has Covid and they cough in your face while in the spa, you can still catch it, But most users have been family groups or close friends who were “in their own bubble, anyway .…You just have to ask yourself, are you comfortable with the person who’s in your bubble?”
While demand has been steady, Spa Fleet has openings in the coming weeks and months. Grentz asks for at least three days’ lead notice for a booking. Prices range from $650 for two nights to $3400 for four weeks, plus delivery fees based on distances (the service area includes New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania). To check availability, visit https://spafleetrental.com/book.