Manuel Hernandez has taught Hiking, Circuit Training, Super Cross Training, Strength Training, and Healthy Backs since 1987 at The Ranch. In 1997, he spent eight days living and hiking in Mexico’s Copper Canyon, north of Chihuahua, with the Tarahumaras Indians. In 1999, he paddled in a kayak for six days from mainland Mexico and the Sea of Cortez to the Baja Peninsula. In 2004, he competed in a Rodeo, winning 1st place in the Baja State Championship Team Roping event and 2nd place at The Mexican National Championship Team Roping Event. He’s as adventurous and fun and as tough as he sounds. The perfect person to head the Hiking Department and Fitness Facilities.
Where were you raised?
I was raised in this beautiful town, Tecate, though I was born in Tijuana.
And how did you land at The Ranch?
I was a PE teacher at a high school here. The Ranch was expanding its facilities and needed somebody to run the weight room. I have a bachelor’s degree in physical education, and they needed a full-time person to help the guests with the proper technique and use of the equipment.
With your 37 years at The Ranch, you’ve seen a lot of changes.
Totally. The landscaping, the facilities, and the people have really grown. We have really good people here. You can have great buildings and gardens, but the people make the difference. They’re dedicated to their jobs, the guests, and each other.
What are your responsibilities as the head of the Hiking Program and Fitness Operation Manager?
I’m in charge of all the fitness facilities. That’s 11 gyms and four swimming pools. If the fitness instructors need facility support, I’m the liaison to work with the other departments, like maintenance, to solve issues.
You are the head of the Hiking Program. Please tell me a little bit about that.
It’s a popular activity and a favorite of the guests. Our hiking department is very complex because we have a lot of different types of hikes; low intensity, middle, and high. Every single day we have multiple options. Trail maintenance workers (three full-time and one part-time) groom the trails every day. There’s always work to be done when you have 40 miles of trails.
How does hiking fit with The Ranch’s overall mindful and well-being philosophy?
Guests love that they don’t take a bus to the trails. They meet at our lounge or gazebo at six a.m. for coffee and then head out with a guide. When you walk the trails, you’re physically connected with the earth, and you have to be in the moment. You can’t cheat a trail hike. You might only do some of the reps in the gym, but on a trail, you walk the distance and back. You walk your walk.
There’s also the nature aspect. You experience a beautiful sunrise and the coolness in the valleys. This is our roots. This is our land. And this land, you know, belongs to The Ranch to preserve. We have the beautiful Mount Kuchumaa, a sacred mountain that brings spiritual energy.
What are some of the things people need to bring with them to safely hike at The Ranch?
Definitely a light hiking boot or shoe. Something comfortable but light. Always bring a water bottle or backpack with a bladder. Even during the short hikes, it’s important to stay hydrated. Some guests like hiking with poles. They can be challenging to use properly. If they need experience, we offer a class, but guests need to bring their own poles.
How does well-being inform your decisions regarding working with the other staff and managing the facilities and your life?
I’m passionate about my job. I love what I’m doing. And when you love what you’re doing, if you make a mistake, there’s an opportunity to grow, to learn. Your place is part of your life. And if you take care of your life, you will take care of your place and vice versa.
I want to share something that many people don’t think about. There are five things you have to keep in mind to have a healthy body; one is your aerobic activity, two is strength training, three is a nutritious diet, four is flexibility, and five is relaxation. We have roughly 17 fitness instructors, guest presenters, nutritionists, and life coaches to help in those areas. We are experts in our field. And as managers, we need to provide our teams what they need. We’re not going to tell you what to do. We’re going to offer you the opportunity for growth and to develop. We don’t push them around and tell them how to do it. We coach them to help them be their best. Even a prize boxer has someone in his corner helping them see and stay balanced and focused.
What’s your favorite place at The Ranch?
Any place with a view of Mount Kuchumaa.
I’ve been here for 37 years, and every time I hike, I see something different. I never see the same thing all the time. This morning on our hike, there was a fawn and two more deer. We stopped to admire them because we don’t see that every day. Sometimes you have to appreciate that the moment you’re living will not happen again. The light is always different, and nature’s constantly changing.
Which is your favorite hike?
You might not believe this but the eight-mile hike. Why? Because only a few people can do it. You really must prepare and challenge yourself. The best part for me is that it guides me and points me back to myself. It’s challenging, and you have to focus on your breathing, and each step takes you to its moment. You’re really connected to the earth and to yourself. It gives you things other hikes do not.