Solo Retreat #1: The Adventure – Denali National Park, Alaska

soloretreat-AlaskaLast week, I shared with you the shock and awe about my taking solo retreats. For those of you who have or are ready to try or are curious what they were like, the next three weeks I will share my Top 3 Solo Retreats:

The Adventure
The Goal Setter
The Listener

These diverse solo retreats have helped me increase self-confidence, change habits that were negative patterns, and step more powerfully into my Yes and faith life.  It was tough at times, but I learned to dismiss fear and let each journey’s purpose be adventurously and beautifully revealed.

In my 30s, I ditched complacency about off-and-on fitness and combined my passion for helping others with my love of running. I joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training (TNT) and began training for my first marathon. For this former social smoker (I know – that’s a big reveal since so many of you would never have known this about me), this was a big deal, as there had been a time in my life when walking, much less running 10 feet, was unheard of…and unseen.

After completing (YES!) my first half-marathon in 2004, my love affair for running began and I completed the Alaska Half Marathon (2005), Chicago Marathon (2005), San Diego Marathon (2006), and served as the team mentor for the Alaska Marathon in 2007. That event took me back to Anchorage, AK for the second time for the summer solstice (translation: day never ends = 23 hours of light), and rather than traveling to the coast following the event as I did the first time, I decided to explore the Alaskan interior: Denali National Park. I headed north after my marathon mentoring responsibilities were complete and giddily boarded the bus to experience untouched back country on my solo retreat.

Image Source: (Era-Helicopters)

Unlike other trips, I didn’t have any real goals other than to have a true adventure. One of the most daring adventures I took was a heli-hiking trip to the top of a nearby range where we were dropped off on the tundra with a naturalist and a small group, hike, and experience a 360-degree view on top of the world.

I remember being overwhelmed when I got up there. The wind was howling and it was a partly cloudy day. The clouds raced by and I stood there trying to keep my balance and take it all in.

I remember thinking, “I am so small. I am so, so small.”

At that time, God the Creator and I were in a good place, but my overall faith journey was a bit dry and my spirituality needed a good comeback for me to get grounded again.

While that moment didn’t send a bolt of lightning from the sky, it was one of those distinct moments that I have to believe was a Divine invitation to step outside of my comfort zone and fully into my deep need and desire for adventure.

This moment was one of the first real moments in my adult life where I not only was starting truly trust God again, but also to say “Yes”: to step closer and into my YES.

We were fortunate to see caribou and act like them (to draw them closer to us) by raising a tripod to look like antlers and prancing like crazy people across the side of the mountain. They came within 200 feet of us and again I was reminded: We are so small.

Those mountains, those animals, and that air reminded me of just how caught up we get in the everyday. We get so consumed on a human level that we forget to let go and live on a more spiritual level and to explore – explore outside of ourselves and to explore this incredible creation God designed.

That mountain and helicopter were just the beginning. The most character building moment of this solo retreat was when I realized that you can’t just get dropped off in this National Park without a car and make it to your lodging. Oops. I didn’t have a car. I had never hitchhiked. I was terrified. I had myself and a big pack. I was a bit panicked.  The park was closing and few people were around. After all, I was in the Alaskan wilderness. What if a Moose came along? No one would know I’d left the park by hoof and mouth.

Thankfully, despite the antiquated website information when I had booked and no saving grace coming from my flip phone (aka: no such thing as a smart phone then), I decided to hike in to find a family coming out who could take me where I needed to go.  Thank God. He knew this was NOT a good idea. I heard my name a few times and then saw a dear TNT teammate coming down the path. Trust me when I say my heart sank in peace as I gave her the biggest hug. I felt saved!

To sweeten the situation even more, my marathon friends just happened to be staying at the same cabins two miles away. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

When we arrived, it was like summer camp in Alaska. Families and single people staying in riverside cabins nestled by the roaring Denali river. It was the most rustic, special place I have ever stayed when traveling solo. It was cold, but that good kind of get-in-the-back country cold with cedar walls, smells of open campfires, and that earthy aroma that always calls me back to the woods to remind me that I may be a city girl by residence and profession, but my soul is outside. Wilderness and shores are where I thrive.

After a night of serendipity with my TNT friends, I set out the next morning to view Mt. McKinley (now officially Denali). Here we go again though. No smart phone – remember?

No one told me about there only being one bus when I registered and I had missed it. My printout said nothing.


Image Source: Kantishna Road House

Again, because of the easy-going nature of Alaskans, I was invited on board by a different tour and began the slow journey – a whopping 15 MPH for six hours on a tattered school bus on a dirt road (aka – bolder and pot-hole filled) journey into the center of Denali National Preserve to Kantishna – the heart of Denali National Park.

It was a 13 hour day round trip filled with eyesores from binoculars and lost photo moments as we hoped to catch the perfect glimpse and photo of grizzly bears and cubs, caribou, or other wild animals (some of whom I believe were ON my bus), and of course the truly awe inspiring and powerful snow-covered range.

After six hours, and fanny fatigue that went down in Betsy history, we arrived in Kantishna six hours, panned for gold and spent an hour at a luxury lodge (on my bucket list for a real family vacation some day) for about an hour. Time went too fast. We were nestled in with a full view of Denali. It just didn’t seem fair. I had just gotten there.

Then it happened.  Our guide mentioned that we could upgrade.

I was thinking he meant we could enjoy wine on the way home. Nope – it was much better. I could either ride back for six hours or I could upgrade for $250, catch a bush plane, circle the summit of Denali twice and be back “home” in an hour.

Come again?

Um – YES PLEASE. Money schmoney, right?

I could fly to the top of our nation’s largest and one of the world’s most majestic mountains.

My adrenalin pumped as I thought about the expense. Then, I got to thinking and used the rocking chair technique: “When I’m in the old folks home, will I be completely depressed if I didn’t do this? YES. The answer was a clear, audible, and firm YES.

Plus, I was traveling solo and I didn’t have to ask anyone!

I didn’t hesitate. I ran after the pilot, signed the paperwork that basically said that if I go down that my family and I are totally okay with it and won’t ever think of suing. I remember praying to God that if I was to go down, that it be beautiful every foot of the way and that it be a quick death. My final thought was to somehow let Terry (my husband) know that I loved him since we’d only been dating for two months at that time (and he had no idea that I knew I wanted to marry him at that point).

Image Source: K2 Aviation (Approximately 6 miles away from the summit of Denali)

I hopped on board filled with energy and excitement and chose my 12″ x 12″ seat in the rear of the 4-seater bush plane. I’ll never forget realizing that our pilot might have been dabbling in smoking something other than cigarettes, especially after the reggae came pouring out of the speakers. Take off was a little wobbly. I actually remember saying my final prayers, but with a smile on my face.

Take-off was terrifying, but the good kind of terrifying. This was IT.

We glided. We dipped. We jumped.

Then it happened.

We coasted.

We floated as if on angel’s wings and became one with where heaven and earth meet.

While in that moment my faith wasn’t what it is today, I did know and felt that spark that consumes your gut that the God who has such great love for us was this: Truly powerful and the most deliberate and unapologetic artist and author of our vast and wild creation.

I cried when we landed. I didn’t want it to be over.

That kind of exposure and closeness to the highest peak in our country and being able to truly experience my smallness, mortality and connection with Divinity in one hour changed my life.

My adrenaline moved into any vacant space it could find inside me and was ready for permanent residence.

That is retreat.

Retreat is leaving your surroundings and getting into space that takes you from the normal every day and leaves you changed – forever.

This was a destination retreat – one that took me completely out of my comfort zone so that I could reconnect with my core and remember that not only am I never alone, but the God that created me is a super cool God who had the love and creativity to create this beautiful space that we’re so privileged to occupy in this life.

This retreat reminded me that I have to get out more. I have to cut out the noise and get outside. It reminded me that feeling small is essential to understanding our unique purpose. It reminded me that whatever I’m struggling with, there is seriously nothing that is too big to get through and nothing too big for God.

Tips for Creating a Destination Retreat:

  1. Choose where you want to go. Determine what you want it to be like: rustic, simple, scheduled, serendipitous, luxury, frugal, etc. (See Retreat Resources to the right.)
  2. Determine your budget.
  3. Book it.
  4. Leave room for margin (aka: do not over-schedule yourself). Trust me that it’s fine to have a foundational schedule, but be willing to ditch it and go with the flow, especially if a once in a lifetime opportunity comes along that’s worth scrapping your original plan.
  5. Put it on your calendar and do a countdown. Begin collecting pictures, follow bloggers, build your Pinboard and gather as much information about your destination, but also listen to what you need to have happen. Journal and pray about what you desire to have happen.
  6. Let someone know every detail of your plan (safety). Create a check-in system either with someone via smart phone or where you’re staying. Be vigilant about unplugging, but not disconnecting. Think of it like this: Pray to God, but lock your car. Right? Be smart. Stay connected for your safety and don’t do anything that would compromise your safety (except of course boarding a bush plane).

Coming up: Valentine’s Day. This is your chance for being self-full and good to yourself. I can’t wait to send you a Valentine and begin a new series that will focus on what makes you great. We’re going to get sweet on your personal brand. I will share with you some of the ways my private clients and I work together so that you can stand in confidence and relish in your greatness by recognizing your talents, strengths, values and passions – those things that are your God-given drivers that make you the powerful and incredible person that you are. xoxo

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Jessica Battista
Travel in style with customized itineraries – anywhere in the world.  Jessica Battista, a dear friend of mine, has all of the best connections for properties, adventure, experiences, and services worldwide. You name it, she has the best places, at the best prices with all of the style and luxury you love and deserve! Know this – there is nothing you can book on your own that will trump her choices or bonus services. Trust me. Click here to email Jessica.