A Mold Avoidance Retreat at Mercey Hot Springs

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February 16, 2014

By Lisa Petrison

I lived (in my RV) and worked at Mercey Hot Springs for nearly a year (2012-2013) because I liked it there so much. I think that it is a possibly good place for people to consider for a getaway, including for a mold avoidance sabbatical. A couple of people starting mold avoidance had good experiences getting clear here, and several other mold avoiders have reported positive things as well.

The longer that I worked at Mercey, the more that I became convinced that about 90% of the repeat guests were doing mold avoidance sabbaticals of their own without realizing it. Pretty universally, they had health complaints typical of “mystery disease,” most were steadfastly pursuing diets beneficial to people with this sort of disease (such as all-organic, Paleo or gluten-free), and a high percentage were from places that I know have problematic air quality (including Berkeley/Oakland/Richmond and Mountain View). Guests said that they felt better at Mercey than they did at home, and they loved being at Mercey with an unreasonable passion. This is the Locations Effect!

The property was famous as a healing spa from the 1920s-1960s, with many people spending several weeks there at a time and feeling much better as a result. They mostly credited the water. I think the air had something to do with it too.

The property has about 165 acres, almost all of it empty land. It is surrounded in all directions by mostly empty land (periodically used for cattle grazing) as well.

 

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Location

Mercey is located about 13 miles from I-5, the expressway that goes through the Central Valley of California. Here are some driving times.

Los Banos: 45 minutes
Hollister: 65 minutes
Fresno: 90 minutes
Modesto: 90 minutes
Santa Cruz: 2 hours
SF Bay Area: 2 1/2 hours
Sacramento: 3 hours
Bakersfield: 3 hours
Los Angeles: 4 hours
Lake Tahoe: 4 hours

So part of the benefit is that it is pretty accessible for people coming from a variety of places in California.

There are two ways to get to Mercey Hot Springs. 

The first is from I-5. Get off at Exit 379 (Shields Avenue/Little Panoche Road). You will be going west, and there will be signs for Mercey. Drive 13 miles on Little Panoche Road (the road is paved but curvy).

You also can go the back way, which starts on CA-25, about 11 miles south of Hollister. Turn left on Panoche Road (Highway J1) and drive about 30 miles. Then turn left on Little Panoche Road (there will be a sign for Mercey). This is a pretty drive on a paved but winding road. It does not really save any time compared to going to I-5 from Hollister though.

 

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Weather

The weather at Mercey makes it appropriate for year-round visits and camping. It is desert terrain, dry and with very little rain. The elevation is about 1000 feet above sea level.

Summers (June-August) are hot during the day (90-105), dropping 30+ degrees at night. Things are quiet during the summer.

Fall (September-early December) is beautiful and temperate, really the best time of the year. Historically things have been fairly quiet during the autumn.

Winters (December-early February) usually make it to at least the low 60’s during the days, and down to about 30 at night. A lot of people show up around the holidays, and some do tent camp. Sometimes there is rain.

Spring (February-May) tends to be pretty busy, especially over spring break. It rains more often in spring than at other times of year, and most years there are wildflowers.

 

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Lodging

Mercey offers several types of lodgings: tent camping, RV spaces with hookups, rentals of Airstream trailers; rentals of small cabins; and rentals of a two-bedroom house (called “Walkabout”).

Tent campers have two choices. The nicest tent camping spots are next to the pool, with a canopy of pine trees above. They are more private and provide more protection against the elements. However, those spots do not have electricity (just water). The other choice for tent campers is in the RV area (just a little bit away), with trees or bushes in some spots. Those spots have electricity, water and sewer. There is room to park a vehicle at the site in either area.

There are six one-room cabins on the property, all in one area. A building with two bathrooms (each with a shower) is adjacent. Cabin #1 has a gas fireplace. Cabin #2 and Cabin #4 are basic cabins. Cabin #3 is the least recently renovated. Cabin #5 has a fully equipped kitchen. Cabin #6 is a little larger than the other cabins, is off by itself and has a patio with a fence around it. All the cabins felt pretty good to me. 

Note that (at least when I was there) only Cabin #5 and Cabin #6 had parking available next to the cabins. Everyone else was expected to drive to the cabin, drop off their luggage, drive to the far guest parking lot, and then walk all the way back to the cabins. If this is an issue due to physical limitations, then I suggest stating so and politely asking if you can park your car in the area in the back near the cabins, such as in front of the shed. Be sure to follow the instructions about where to park the car so that it does not become a problem for those working there.

In early 2013, the owners added two new Airstreams for guest use, at the far end of the RV park. They have bathrooms, fully-equipped kitchens, king-sized beds and private gas barbecue grills. They are expensive, but people really love them. They felt good to me mold-wise and are supposedly “green,” but would have been problems for people with severe chemical sensitivities. They may have calmed down by now in terms of chemicals.

There also is a two-bedroom mobile home on the property that is available for guest rentals, usually referred to as “Walkabout.” It has a full kitchen, a living area, a bathroom with shower/tub, and a deck with an expansive view. It is expensive too, but quite nice. It felt really good to me also. It’s about a five minute walk to the pools.

 

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Bathing

There are two outdoor bathing areas and a bathhouse.

The main area is near the tent camping sites. There are a bunch of bathtub style hot tubs, each for individual use. You fill the tub yourself and then drain it when you are done, so the water is fresh. There is a swimming pool using the same water (and a minimum of chlorine). There is a large dry sauna. There are two full bathrooms with showers (plus outdoor showers) that felt good to me. There also are lounge chairs and scattered umbrellas. This area is clothing required.

The other bathing area is near the cabins. It has a number of large clawfoot tubs, which also are filled before use and then drained when finished. The area has a wood deck, a fence around it, and a wood fireplace used in the winter for heat. It is clothing optional.

The bathhouse provides indoor bathing but did have a mild mold problem. I occasionally used it after my reactivity had dropped a lot, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. There are two bathrooms with showers in the building.

The only water available on the property is the hot springs water. It is used in the bathrooms and is at the RV taps. It comes out of the hot water taps at 105 degrees (the cold water comes from an underground holding tank for the same water). The water is very pure and is loaded with minerals, with a salinity about the same as the human body.

The one downside is that the water has a good bit of sulphur in it, and this can be problematic for people who have very impaired detox. The sulphur tends to evaporate fairly quickly when the water sits though. When I first stayed at Mercey for a month in 2009, I used the pools and showers, but rarely used the baths because the sulphur made me feel bad. When I returned in 2012, the baths felt fine to me.

 

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Public Facilities

There is a library-like indoor area; a tent used for meetings and yoga; and a registration office.

The library-like area (which they were calling the “Phoenix”) was just renovated in early 2013. They used reasonably okay paint but some stronger chemicals for the wood trim, and so some people did object when it was first done. Probably it has calmed down some by now. It felt okay mold-wise. There is a gas fireplace for winter, plus books and games. Food was not allowed inside, when I was there. The building also has a covered porch with chairs and electric plugs, where food is allowed. (NOTE: I have been told recently by two different people starting mold avoidance that this building was problematic for them, and so I am suspicious that there possibly be a mold problem there now.)

That same “Phoenix” building was being used for massage, when I was staying there.

The tent building has a solid wood deck, lovely views, and is an amazing place to do yoga.

The property has Wi-Fi throughout, and when I was there, it was fairly fast and reliable. Streaming video is not allowed, because this is a satellite connection with limited bandwidth.

The property does not have cell phone service. You have to drive almost all the way back to I-5 to use a cell phone. If you ask nicely, the staff generally will allow short phone calls in the registration office. Another option is to use Skype on computer to make calls, but in voice mode only (no video).

Fires are allowed only during the winter months (maybe November through March). Firewood is sold when fires are available.

Towels are furnished free to guests renting the indoor lodgings. Towels can be rented by others for a small fee.

A very nice gas grill is available for guest use (and you can cook a lot of different foods on a gas grill like this!). But you will want to bring your own cooking equipment to use on the gas grill. I would suggest at least one covered pot, a cast-iron skillet, and barbeque tongs.

There aren’t public laundry facilities on the property. I suggest bringing along a Wonder Washer and then hanging laundry to dry. Everything is usually totally dry within a few hours, even just hand wringing it. You probably should ask the management for suggestions about hanging laundry since they are concerned about the general appearance of the property.

Although the laundry facilities that they were using felt good to me when I was staying there, I would not count on any laundry facilities remaining good indefinitely. Thus, I don’t know whether towels and sheets laundered on the property will be okay.

=Note that the property is totally off the grid in every way. There is no public electricity, telephone, gas, water, cell phone service, or cable TV/Internet. All of these systems are put in place by the owners (e.g. with electric generator and satellite phones/Internet).

There is a small landing strip for airplanes (supposedly “emergencies only”).

It is very very dark at Mercey, with very little outdoor lighting. Bring a flashlight.

 

Pigs

Food

The main limiting factor at Mercey is the lack of a grocery business or restaurant. Then again, if there were food sold there, it would be full of people all the time, so maybe it’s just as well.

The registration office sells a few cold drinks and snacks such as ice cream bars and canned soup. They also sell bagged ice and bottled water. (The water on the property is drinkable but does not taste very good due to the salt and minerals. Some people believe that drinking it in addition to soaking in it has health benefits, however.)

Mercey also may have olive oil from a small organic California producer named Casa Rosa. If so, buy some! The oil is excellent. Another organic olive oil producer named Oils of Paicines makes even better olive oil (from old Mission olive vines), and is located near Hollister, but it’s priced pretty high. Possibly still worth seeking out and buying though.

There is a biker bar that sells sandwiches and has pool tables and TV maybe 8 miles away, called the Panoche Inn. The sandwiches are standard non-organic food, and some people do like them quite a bit. I personally was not a fan. (I think that property may be being sold, so it could have something different going on now.)

Also maybe 8 miles away, there is a little organic farming area. Included are Claravale Dairy (absolutely amazing organic raw milk, organic raw cream and organic ice cream); Your Family Farm (pastured non-GMO pork); a grass-fed beef operation; and an organic vegetable farm. You should be able to get the pork and the raw milk during your stay, if you inquire. Highly recommended! (The dairy does not really give public tours, but you can drive by and take a look. This is the way that farming is supposed to be!)

The Claravale milk is really a revelation. I miss it a lot. We would have people with “mystery illness” show up and drink nothing but the milk for days. They have goat milk as well as cow milk, so consider trying both. Also consider buying kefir grains (Yemoos is a good supplier) and making milk kefir, since that does not require refrigeration and can be helpful in this illness.

Your Family Farm also used to have by far the best pork that I have ever tried, and the farm (which I have visited) is fantastic. However, I am a little wary now because they have switched from organic feed to non-GMO, including peanuts. So I wonder if mycotoxins might become a factor. Still definitely worth trying though.

The closest town is Los Banos, and it has some grocery stores, some restaurants, a Target, a Wal-Mart and a couple of Starbucks. I spent time at the Starbucks (they felt okay), but never found any restaurants there that I much liked in terms of the food. When I did eat there, it was mostly at Teriyaki House because the building felt quite good to me even when I was really reactive and the food was acceptable (for non-organic). The grocery stores may have a few organic vegetables, and the Target has a few organic packaged goods. But in general, I didn’t spend a lot of time in Los Banos.

When I left the property (usually 1-2 times per week), I usually headed for Hollister (or sometimes Santa Cruz). Here are the places in Hollister that I often went to:

 

* Nob Hill. A reasonable selection of organic grocery items (including a selection of fresh produce, Straus milk/yogurt, some grassfed beef and a lot of packaged goods).

www.yelp.com/biz/nob-hill-foods-hollister

 

* Starbucks. Right next to Nob Hill and felt good to me.

 

* Cafe Ella. Across the street from Nob Hill. Fairly good-quality food, veering toward organic. Moderate for lunch, expensive for dinner.

www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g32498-d1742396-Reviews-Cafe_Ella-Hollister_California.html

 

* Miyako. Not organic, but sometimes I eat Japanese food anyway, and this restaurant is okay.

www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g32498-d842822-Reviews-Miyako_Japanese_Restaurant-Hollister_California.html

 

* Pasture Chick. Amazing, astounding, remarkable pastured organic whole chickens, chicken livers, eggs, lamb and goat. Everything is absolutely wonderful, and the farm is very charming. It’s maybe a 10-15 minute drive outside of Hollister. The owner/farmer, Lisa, is recovered from “Chronic Epstein-Barr” (via Gerson therapy and clean living). Highly recommended. Be sure to get a whole chicken — you can cook it on the barbeque grill, covered, in your cast iron frying pan.

www.localharvest.org/pasture-chick-ranch-M53764

 

* Pinnacle is an organic produce farm that has a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings year-round in San Juan Battista (near Hollister). Great selection, good quality.

www.pinnacleorganic.com/

 

* Hollister has a nice farmer’s market downtown on Wednesdays during the summer (May through September).

www.downtownhollister.org/farmersmarket.php

 

* Grant Brians of Heirloom Organic Gardens grows great assorted greens and other items. He sells at the Hollister Farmer’s Market and conceivably might sell a CSA box to people the rest of the year, if someone really wanted to come pick it up. Mention my name, maybe.

www.cuesa.org/seller/heirloom-organic-gardens

 

When I went to Santa Cruz, it usually was on Wednesdays to go to the year-round farmers’ market there. There also are several very good organic groceries in Santa Cruz: Staff of Life, New Leaf and Whole Foods. And they have a lot of organic-type restaurants (including at least one specializing in raw food and many with gluten-free options) and a lot of cute shops. It is about two hours from Mercey. (Note: The Whole Foods in Fresno would be closer, but I was warned strongly against Fresno by Erik and so never have even been there. Santa Cruz itself and the drive there felt generally safe to me.)

Note that if you go to any of these little organic places to get food, it would be a courtesy to ask the owners if they would like you to pick up anything for them since it can be hard for them to get away.

 

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Additional Information

A big plus about staying at Mercey is the availability of yoga and massage.

Unfortunately, Matt Torma seems no longer to be at Mercey for yoga or massage. Other people may be available for those services though, including outdoors during the warmer months.

I also have experienced yoga and massage with Lynn, who may also stlll be at Mercey occasionally. She does a fun type of group-oriented yoga (called “Play Yoga” or “Circus Yoga”) and Asian-inspired massage (done on the floor with clothing on). Also recommended.

Hiking in the hills around the property is pleasant and not too strenuous. There is a disc (frisbee) golf course built into them, and you can rent frisbees on the property.

There almost always are Long-Eared Owls in the trees at Mercey (plus often some barn owls). These are really famous amongst bird watchers. If you visit in spring, you may be able to see baby owls.

Mercey is one of the few places left in California where frogs do really well. Bring earplugs if that seems likely to bother you.

There are a lot of bugs at Mercey, but fortunately very few mosquitoes. Do bring a flyswatter.

Pinnacles National Park (newly upgraded from formerly just being a national monument) is about half an hour from Hollister (maybe 1 1/4 hours from Mercey). It is a nice park and worth a visit.

 

Valley Fever

One reservation about Mercey is the idea of the fungal infection Valley Fever being a particular issue in the San Joaquin Valley (as well as in the Tucson/Phoenix area). That did not stop me from staying here, but it nonetheless may be a concern.

www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/20/140120fa_fact_goodyear?

 

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Lodging

For those people hoping to use Mercey as a place to get clear, I would suggest having clothing and supplies sent via UPS or Fed Ex to Mercey. Obviously, check with them first before ordering. Note that the post office does not deliver there, and that they have to drive 45 minutes to the post office to pick up packages. So don’t use USPS!

I would suggest planning to hit the bathrooms before going into lodging or setting up a tent, for those getting clear for the first time. You can bag your current clothing, take a shower and wash your hair, and then change into the new clothes.

Insofar as people are really sick, it would be a courtesy to be careful about decontamination before using the cabins or Airstreams. If they are cross-contaminated with really bad toxins, they could be less usable by other people with reactivities in the future.

 

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A Final Note

It is very hard for the owners to run this place in the middle of nowhere, totally off the grid. They have put an enormous amount of money into it and only make a teeny tiny profit (if that). And they like things nice and calm and peaceful. So please try to be pleasant, and please cut them a little slack if things aren’t perfect. We want them to be open to having more people doing avoidance spend time there, rather than to think of our business as something that they would rather not have.

 

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Links

Mercey Hot Springs Website:
merceyhotsprings.com

 

Mercey Hot Springs Facebook Page:
www.facebook.com/MerceyHotSprings?fref=ts

 

A Video About Mercey:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zmd6bF0QJNU

 

Photos of Mercey Hot Springs:
www.facebook.com/lisa.petrison/media_set?set=a.3161030277035.2117025.1603672188&type=3

 

Photos from Claravale Farm and Your Family Farm.

Ethical Agriculture

 

Yelp Reviews of Mercey:
www.yelp.com/biz/mercey-hot-springs-firebaugh

 

Addendum (1/2/16)
A few mold avoiders have recently reported difficulties staying in the indoor lodging at Mercey but still have done well outdoors there.  Therefore, for new mold avoiders who are attempting to get clear for the first time, I only would suggest outdoor camping at Mercey at this time.

 

Links on this page are in orange (no underlining).

 

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