I began our first session all together by asking the question,” Why are you here?” and I was not prepared for the multitudes and depth of answers that would come from this motley assortment of women from all over the US.
“I came because I needed to prove to myself that I can and will do difficult things”
“I’m here because this seemed emotionally safe”
“I needed to do something purely for myself, without having to take care of everyone while I’m on vacation. I came for self-care.”
“I came for adventure!”
“I came to work on myself’
“I don’t know why I’m here. I guess I’ll find that out in the next few days!”
My original plan was to assemble a group of women who loved to run at a slow pace and introduce them to the beautiful sport of trail running. We would learn critical outdoor skills from our host, we’d explore the Southern Appalachians, we’d test different trail running shoes, we’d hike up a mountain and reach the summit just before sunrise.
We ate lovingly prepared meals, (that we hadn’t cooked ourselves). Our host at Mountain Treks actively encouraged us to AVOID DOING ANY CHORES. We created friendships, listened with open hearts to the beautiful woman-centric songs written by Melissa Hyman, a local Asheville artist at The Moon and You. We renewed self-love, and recharged–all amongst the lush, green backdrop of the Blue Ridge.
This was a retreat I had planned out of a need that I saw in all of the communities of which I am part, including those online. People longed for an experience that would take them out of their day-to-day for a little while, encouraging and allowing them to recharge and renew. So I bit the bullet, and created one.
Retreats have been around for a long time. Companies use them to create a sense of bonding and purpose at the leadership level. Faith-based organizations might utilize them to foment a sense of community and to develop leadership within the group, leaving behind, or retreating from the normal, quotidian routine. Some retreats are very curated with most moments and experiences planned to the very last detail. Others are more free form with a fair amount of downtime built-in along with a hefty offering of opt-in activities.
A few weeks ago, I returned to the Blue Ridge and spoke at the Collectively Outside Women’s Trailfest in Clayton, Georgia. It was in its first year, spearheaded by Erin Jobe, a seasoned outdoor professional, ultramarathoner, and event-planning wizard. Dozens of women from all walks of life traveled to this bustling business center of Rabun County in North Georgia. There was a Women Who Wander panel, featuring outdoor industry leaders and athletes, workshops on nutrition and cross-training, trail runs and hikes on the Bartram Trail, and swims in the Chattooga River’s Bull Sluice.
Watching these women interact, and being able to facilitate relaxation, discovery, challenge, and deep relationships, it was and still is obvious to me that there is a deep need for this kind of space.
I even got to participate in a women’s adventure weekend, led by Jenny Baker, race director of the Georgia Jewel 35, 50, and 100 mile races on the Pinhoti Trail in Northwest Georgia. Her event, SheVentures Earth, brought together women who were interested in tent camping, mountain biking, climbing, and trail running just outside of Chattanooga on her family’s beautiful property. I had the opportunity to try mountain biking, work on my almost non-existent climbing skills, and fellowship with other women who simply wanted to experience life outside with other women. I discovered that I am not a talented mountain biker, and that I need a lot of work on the most basic of climbing skills. But I also discovered that I still love pitching my tent and setting things up just so, placing my two sleeping pads side by side, hanging my lantern from the little hanging loop at the top, and pretending that I am worlds away from civilization and have only to contend with myself and the elements.
The common denominator in all of these experiences is safety: emotional safety, physical safety, safety in learning, forming new friendships, and finally, safety in exploring the deepest recesses of self.
There is curiosity, stepping out of your comfort zone, or simply remaining in your comfort zone doing the things you love to do without judgement, gaslighting or one-upwomanship. The atmosphere is one of support, encouragement, challenge, energy, rest, and simple fellowship with other womenfolk.
Saveria Tilden is the founder of The AdventurUs, creates, organizes, and executes outdoor events for women. She most recently headed up the REI Outessa Series, and now creates and curates unique, uplifting and learning-filled adventures, also for women. “We need to provide an empowering environment where women can come as they are, try out different sports, and do something for themselves other than worrying about jobs and families. This is a time to pause and focus on us.”
These days, particularly in the light of various cultural movements, re-energized and reconfigured feminism, self-awareness, and the admitted need for self-care in light of the stresses that life today often doles out, experiences like these are popping up all over. You can attend retreats focused on all different types of things–yoga, trail running, writing, forest bathing, silence and/or meditation, first ever camping experiences, climbing, rest and relaxation, or a combination of all the above.
As we make an attempt to focus inward in an increasingly busy and disoriented world, these retreats are a welcome respite, allowing us to disconnect and reconnect, all in a few days with people who are now friends after a short time spent together, adventuring, learning, and being in the wilderness. The community that is created is strong, long-lasting, and sorely needed in our often fractious society. And perhaps most importantly, women leave re-energized, renewed, and ready to tackle the climbs, rides, and technical trail running that is life with an entire family behind them.