As I drive home, I can already feel it slipping away, that temporary universe that we had created. I can remember every moment, the smells, the tastes, the feeling of puppy fur and with every snowy mile, it is a little further from reach. That space that was magically created for just one weekend is gone, never to be exactly replicated again. In that there is a sadness, that short refuge from the hustle and bustle of life is over. There is also a warmer happiness, grateful to have been a part of that magic moment and selfishly a bit grateful that it’s just ours. There is small sliver of knowledge that women will continue to come and go, ever creating magical, evaporating spaces that will expand and contract and unfold just as the women on that trip need.When I was a young girl, I would race home every day to sit in the kitchen with my mother and regal her with Every. Single. Little. Detail. of my day, as if, if I did not tell her, it had not truly happened. Over the years I moved out, went to college and yet, still needed to spill my every moment like a waterfall from my mouth, my very existence seemingly reliant upon my story being told to anyone who would listen. This time, things are different, there are moments from the dogsledding trip that were pure connection to nature, to self, to others, to the universe and too precious to share. My feelings have suddenly altered course, as though sharing every last detail some how cheapens them all.
If I had to sum up the whole experience into one sentence, here it is: I got hurt, didn’t get to drive a dogsled, and left feeling more healed and fulfilled than I could have imagined.
That probably wasn’t what you expected to read. It definitely was not what I expected out of my weekend. No matter how silly it sounds, I honestly would not have it any other way. It turns out that the weekend was meant to be about my mental growth, rather than learning dog sledding skills.This has been a tough year for me. I spent just over a year working on the most exhilarating project of my life, a project that was also the catalyst of massive change my life, for the good, forever. Positive life change often comes after a very dark place. I was in and out of the darkest hours of my life for the entire year. I now know that I was letting shame, my perfectionism and my mind run my life. Roughly 7 months ago, I started to slowly reclaim my life. Working to figure out the wild (to me) concept of self care and knowing that there was something wrong in my current work life, but not sure how to proceed.
One of the most frequently asked questions during the course of the year was; “What will you do after?” Every time it was asked of me, I laughed heartily and replied “Sleep!” and I really meant it. I knew that there was no way I could dive right in to something else and I was always pushed to the point of exhaustion, the point that tears are always only a heartbeat away.
However, an opportunity to go dog-sledding in Northern Minnesota, a mere week and a half into my post project recovery. While it wasn’t the recovery I’d longed for, I new I couldn’t pass up with the chance.When I first agreed to go, I was certain that I would need to bring a friend with me. I’ve gone almost no where alone, at least not for multiple days and far from home. After asking a friend who was not able to come and knowing that a good deal of my other friends wouldn’t be able to either, mostly due to them having small children, I bravely decided to go alone. As soon as I’d made that decision, I knew it was the right one. I knew that I would have a better opportunity to grow if I didn’t have a friend to hide behind.
A few weeks before the trip I received the informational planning email in which I learned that there was limited electricity, no running water and we were to shower in a Finnish Sauna. Even though I have a good deal of vault toilet experience, the idea of being this out of my element so soon after the pressures of the current project lifted, was terrifying. Luckily I had no time to stress very much.The week before the trip I received another email, in which I learned that cell phones did not work and that we were not allowed to bring them for photos, as it could be a distraction for other women. (Side bar – this is the best rule ever. Seriously. AND I had to voluntarily hand my phone to someone else because I took the very first moment I could to send a text.) So I was a little more worried about the trip.
As Seth helped me pack the night before, he printed off the directions and pulled up a map on his phone and carefully showed me the route, and then drilled me on it. Now I was genuinely worried about going on this trip. I was going alone, I would be super out of my element without running water and electricity, I couldn’t bring my phone and I had to rely on written directions to get there. I’m not even reliable following GPS directions because I inevitability hear the opposite of everything the robot lady tells me to do.
That night my sweet little 2 year old niece called me on Facetime to say goodbye before my 4 day absence from her life. The first thing she said was “Aunie, I don’t want you to go.” Gah! The heartbreak. Our conversation went on to a description of dog sledding and a proclamation, after counting on her fingers, that she also had 30 dogs like the ones that I’d be spending my weekend with.The next morning I got up early drove up to Two Harbors, MN. Even though I could use the GPS for this part of the trip, I didn’t need it. I took the scenic road along the river, enjoyed the sunny day and listened to A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.
As I neared Two Harbors I started to get a headache, so I stopped at the designated last stop before dog sledding, to refuel, add winter layers and to get meds, which is a little unusual for me. Then I sat in the front seat of my car, looked at the directions and started crying. I was terrified. How was I going to find this place? How was I going to get through a whole weekend without being in contact with those that support me through everything? So I called my sister. Next to “Stay at Home Mother”, her job description reads “Sister calmer/guru/therapist/rock.”
After hanging up with my sister and sending Seth a “this is the last text until next week” text, I took a deep breath. Re-read the directions and headed out into the wilderness.
The drive was actually super peaceful and beautiful. Eventually I saw something that caught my eye on the side of the road. A super weird set of human tracks that started in the middle of the ditch, at least 10 feet from the road. I was playing scenarios in my head, someone jumped off the back of a semi, they fell out of a tree, they are scary good at jumping. When I suddenly knew with all certainty that I had missed my turn. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and looked around. In front of me was a curve and behind me was a small hill so I couldn’t see more than 50 feet in the rear view mirror. Since the instructions ask you to not come early or late, I’d planned my trip to arrive exactly on time. I did not have the time to go the wrong direction. Also I did not want to ruin my peaceful trip with the stress of being late. Then I realized something. I was 100% sure that I had missed my turn. I had no memory to back it up, but I was certain I had to turn around. So I chose to lean in to my faith and turn around. After driving for only the 50 or so feet it took me to get to the top of the hill, I saw it. Right there was the road that I was supposed to take, on the other side of the road from the tracks that had consumed my thoughts.
In that moment I was filled with so much light and comfort. I knew that I was being taken care of, that if I leaned into faith in the universe everything would be okay. I then continued on my journey feeling safe and protected and no longer frightened.
As I was nearing the driveway to Wintermoon Summersun, I saw a loose dog running in the road. Not one to be able to just keep driving, I stopped the car and opened the door. The dog happily trotted over to me and jumped in my lap! After a few nice cuddles, I looked to see if there was a phone number or address on his collar. There wasn’t. Okay, so now what? I don’t know if the dog is from the house nearby or somewhere else. I don’t know if the dog belongs at the dog-sledding place or if it needs to go to a shelter. My minds starts spinning really fast. I get the dog off my lap and back on the ground, ready to leave it when he runs and stands in front of my car, so I cannot go forward. At this point I glance at the clock and realize that it’s after 1. Oh crap!! I’m late and have a random dog. So I call the dog sledding place and tell them about the dog. One of the guides comes to help me return the dog to where it belongs. Which isn’t that far away from where I was.Now as I’m driving the rest of the way, I am feeling shame and embarrassment for being late, for “saving” a dog only 100 yards from home, and also anxiety about being the last one to arrive, will I get a good bed, how do I join this group of folks that already know each other, etc. After parking I get out and the two guides help me carry my stuff to the Bunk House and claim a bed. Luckily I have my own little room, one bed for my stuff and the other for my body.
At this point I am feeling shame and embarrassment from being late, the perfectionist side of me is niggling and somehow I am pushing through, trying to be as present as possible and to just allow what is going to happen, happen. I quickly join the group and say some hello’s before we head out to the dog yard. It’s so fun to meet the dogs, learn about feeding them and getting my body moving does really help me to stay out of my head.
Once feeding time is done, we head out on a snow-shoeing adventure, to break in a bit of new trail. Of course I only make it about 100 feet before tripping over my own feet and nearly falling! I was super brave and stayed with everyone the whole time. After awhile every single step with my left foot caused searing pain in my upper thigh. Not wanting to be a complainer or be seen as weak or dramatic, I sucked it up just smiling through the pain while trying to chat with the other ladies and eventually mentioning my pain to one of them. After what felt like 27 years, we made it back. As soon as the snowshoes came off, I felt sweet relief. That night after a delicious candle light dinner, we went to bed to the sound of the fire crackling.
The next morning my body woke me up at 5:00 am. Which it always does. Okay confession, there were no clocks in my life at Wintermoon so I am largely guessing on the timeframe. After convincing my body that going to the outhouse will actually gain me more sleep in the long run. I try to sit up and cannot. The pain that I thought was searing when I was snowshoeing has magnified, multiplied, and somehow created a loss of function in my upper thigh area. Also, why do I use my upper thigh muscles to sit up? It’s still quite dark and everyone else is sleeping. Not wanting to wake anyone (cause who wants to be a burden, am I right?) In what must have been a very comical performance, I spend roughly 30 minutes sitting up and another 20 putting my left slipper on. By this time my bathroom urge has become an emergency. Surprisingly as I make my way to the outhouse, I realize that walking feels just fine. It’s any motion that requires lifting my leg that causes problems. Once I make it up the minuscule step to the outhouse I have tears pouring down my face from the pain.
Back at the cabin, I try to get back into bed. Try being the operative word. After lifting my leg on to my bed with my hands, I realized that I couldn’t bend it to get into the sleeping bag. I am in a battle in my mind almost worse that the one with my body. “I’m not good enough to even snow shoe, how did I think I could dog sled, OMG the embarrassment of being hurt, and so close to my groin, of course I am the one hurt, cannot stop drama from following me, why does it have to be that the fat one hurt herself doing physical activity? Definitely not good enough to be here and from there is gets dark fast.”I spend the rest of the night slowly getting myself dressed for the day, pretty certain that they are going to send me home. At 7:30 am one of the
This is when things begin to really go downhill. I get my outer gear on, walk to my car to get meds. Which is DEAD. Like the battery is so fried that I cannot even get my doors to unlock dead. Now my little voice that was once swimming on the edge of darkness is working in overdrive. I need to call Seth, it’s Saturday, the only day that he can come get me, how is he going to get me, oh right! He has my parents car while they are abroad, thank God for that, but still it’s already like 7:40 am, I need to let him know NOW so he can get here in time, where are we going to tow my car, maybe he can just buy a battery and bring it up, oh wait, I have this key thing, maybe it will let me in, but still, how do it get home, I’m such a burden! Why do I have to be so much drama? And on and on.
I walk over to the other folks outside and mention my car situation. One of the guides has meds to share with me and takes me into the main cabin to grab them. Then I sit down and start to think about things and realize that I need my phone. I need to Google what to do when your battery is so dead that you cannot even unlock your car doors and I need to Google what muscle I hurt and read about the surgery I will most certainly need. I’m buzzing and stressing and eventually get myself up and into the kitchen where two folks are making breakfast. I say, “So I hurt myself and my car is broken and I need my phone because I’m going to have to call my husband to bring a new battery and” The wind is knocked out of my sails as I realize that neither of them is reacting in the way that I’d expected. In fact neither of them is reacting at all. Finally one of them looks up and asks, “Do you need anything from your car right now? I respond, continuing the spiral “well no, someone else already gave me meds and”. Now I’m cut off. “If you don’t need anything from your car right now, we will finish breakfast and then help you later.” It was the best worst thing I could have heard. Shocked I turned around and left the cabin, already sobbing by the time I got to the door.Thoughts like, “There, I’ve done it again. I’m such a burden to these people, I don’t understand boundaries, I’m bringing so much drama, the shame and embarrassment cut deep.” are playing in my head. While it may sound harsh, what they said was exactly what I needed. After a good cry snapped me back to where I had been after finding my way on the drive. Everything happens for a reason and this trip is going to really give it to me, this is my time to just go with things as they come.
I want to say that things were instantly easier in that moment. But it’s not true. While the dramatic moments over the last day had been a catalyst for me to slow my mind and pay attention, there was still a lot of hard work to do. In fact all the mentally heavy lifting had yet to start.
By the time everyone gathered for breakfast, I was ready to take what the world gave me, I just hadn’t realized the emotions that would go along with it. After breakfast we all gathered to check in and before it was even my turn to share, I was crying. It was instantly obvious that this trip was going to be a lesson in breaking down my perfectionism, control issues, and constant shame with the only way through being vulnerability. I had to learn that lesson quickly because I needed help getting dressed into my outdoors layers. No room anything but humility there.That morning was spent learning how to put harnesses on the dogs, bring them up to the line, and be an active passenger on the sled. It was decided that I shouldn’t do any of those things, so not to hurt myself more. So I stayed back in the yard and helped with the manual labor side of dog sledding, and sneaking in puppy cuddles along the way. All the while feeling so glad to be there, happy for my new friends on their dogsledding adventures, and also sliding in and out of mentally beating myself up. After each meal Chris, one of the guides and someone who I’m blessed enough to work with outside of this dogsledding trip, read a few well chosen poems. That day after the famous Wintermoon Saturday lunch, Chris read Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, with the note that really the first line was all she needs to say “You do not have to be good.” with that tears are streaming down my face again. Because the thing is, I do have to be good, I have to be the best, work the hardest, never make a mistake, not be a burden, and never ever lose control or it will all come crashing down. So I made the difficult choice to let myself be really seen, to allow myself the ability to slowly begin my healing process and to be as present as possible. That afternoon, I was gifted the chance to ride the sled as a passenger. So I lifted my little hurt leg up on the sled and finally got to enjoy the stillness of being out with the dogs. A few minutes in I could feel the musher having to work harder to counter balance my dead weight. Waves of emotion began hitting me “I’m a burden, I’m slowing everyone down.” and luckily I mentioned how I was feeling. We were able to talk about how it was okay and I was able to enjoy the rest of the run. Over the next three days I would be able to go out on three more runs, each one more enjoyable than the last. In fact I enjoyed them so much that I was shocked to learn that the Saturday and Sunday runs had not each been 10-15 minutes long, but in fact closer and possibly over an hour each. By Sunday morning, I felt so at home, I decided that I was never leaving! During the darkest days of my year, I would long to leave everything behind and live off the grid, growing my own food, pumping my own water, etc. This weekend was exactly what I had been longing for and I wasn’t leaving. Okay, obviously I did leave. But I’m already thinking about ways to go back. During the course of the weekend I tried to be 100% true to myself and one of the ways of doing that was cuddling the 7 week old puppy as much as possible. I’ve always been the one to find the animal at a party and become best friends with it. This time I was so lucky that it was a tiny cuddly polar bear looking puppy who stole my heart. While I tended to worry about annoying everyone else by taking the puppy out of his pen at every chance, I couldn’t help myself. Puppy hugs and kisses make everything better.
In addition to the immense personal growth that happened within me that weekend. It also became incredibly clear to me how things are connected and that things really happen for a reason. If I hadn’t gotten “lost” I would likely have never opened myself to opportunities for change, if I had not gotten hurt I wouldn’t have been so forced into mental discomfort and growth, and if I hadn’t driven my new dear friend to the Duluth airport I wouldn’t have had someone in the car with me for a very nerve-wracking snowy drive. As I was chatting with friends and condensing my weekend into a few quick sentences, the idea that the dogsled trip had not just been be a weekend away but had been Transformative Travel kept coming up. Honestly believing that I had stumbled upon something completely new, I was shocked when I searched and found whole articles written on the subject. While I think that all travel can be transformative in some way, my newly found transformative travel has one important ingredient, vulnerability, well two vulnerability and a safe space to nurture the growth that comes from that vulnerable space. So dear readers, I urge you to go out and find those magical transformative spaces wherever you can and to be open to seeing what happens. If anyone is interested, I’m definitely going again next year, join me!
* You may have noticed that
all many of these photos are blurry. One of the universe’s hilarious ways of working to break my perfectionism.