Journey Within: A Solo Experience

By: Anne Purkerson, MA 

A group of Dragonfly young adults recently had the opportunity to participate in a solo experience near Mt. Shasta.  Solos are individual in nature.  Students decide to go on the journey for various reasons, but the overall purpose is for individuals to sit with themselves alone in nature. They confront the discomfort that may arise while reflecting on their inner selves during this time.   

Eight students decided to go on this journey. They all volunteered to participate and had the choice to fast during their solo, which some students elected to do. Solos usually happen once a year during spring break trips, but sometimes special circumstances are given if students feel the need to get away from campus and reflect.  We were presented with a case where multiple students wanted to attend, so two staff members, Elliott VanZandt our Adventure Coordinator and Mentor Anne Purkeson, were selected as guides for the trip. 

Elliott has several years of solo experience and has worked at wilderness therapy programs where he’s facilitated many solos for students.  Additionally, he has conducted several of his own, personal solos.  Anne has her master’s in counseling and extensive experience working with young adults.  Both Elliott and Anne are passionate about the work that can occur for students on solos and assisting them in this process.  

A normal solo set up involves guides picking out student sites, which are usually away from one another and staff.  Students are placed intentionally and once at their sites, staff check on them during the day to ensure their safety, but students are usually left alone to reflect.  

Most students have prior wilderness experience, so they know what gear to bring, how to set up their site, and be alone while still having staff support nearby. If students don’t have prior experience, they’re assisted by staff in gathering camping gear, setting up their camp site, and whatever else they may need during their solo experience.   

A personal reflection by Anne: 

The day started early Friday morning as we prepared the final details of the trip – the van was packed, we were off!  We arrived at the campsite overlooking Mount Shasta midday on Friday. We were worried about the weather going into the trip, but were welcomed with blue, sunny skies.  We unloaded the trailer and guided students to their sites. The students were scattered about, with plenty of space away from guides and one another. The set up was purposeful and the students were encouraged to be on their own and embrace the beauty and mystery of the wilderness. After students dropped off their packs and set up their sites, they were called into the opening ceremony. 

Mt. Shasta in Northern California

During the opening ceremony, students were welcomed with “howls” and cheers by the guides. While walking into the ceremony, students were encouraged to open their heart and mind to the solo experience. Guide Elliott set the tone by reminding students the purpose of solo, which is to be one with themselves and nature. They were also reminded that they volunteered for this journey and chose to go for individual purposes. As Elliott set intentions for the group, the students set their own intentions or goals for the weekend. Once the students set their intentions, they one by one set off to begin their solo journey. 

Saturday was greeted with snow, wind, and chilling temperatures. Although the weather conditions were rough, students were dedicated to their solos. They had various assignments from their therapists and personal assignments they gave themselves to complete. Students were checked on by staff during the day to ensure their safety, but otherwise they were left alone. As students were on their own, Elliott and I started working on the students’ solo names. The purpose of solo names is for students to embrace the new version of themselves post solo. The names were picked for students based on the guides work with them and a packet the students completed and gave to staff that morning.  Elliott also worked on student gifts – medicine pouches that reflected the students solo name. 

As Sunday arrived, the weather did not improve. We awoke to snow and cold temperatures yet embraced the new day. We checked on students, reminded them to pack their gear, and asked them to listen for the “howl,” which meant closing ceremony was starting. As students were packing, we finalized students’ solo names and gifts. Once we were ready, the students were called back and welcomed with “howls” and cheers to come to the final ceremony circle.  

A beautiful evening during our solo experience

The closing ceremony started with Elliott reflecting on solos, the challenges faced during the weekend, especially the weather, and then opened for students to reflect. The students reflected on what they learned, if they achieved their intention, and then set intentions for themselves as they entered back into the Dragonfly community. To conclude the ceremony, we joined together and let out a big howl. Students were given their solo name and gift and provided with reflection and feedback from guides, along with hopes they have for each student as they enter back into the community. As the individual ceremonies closed, we packed up the van and headed back to Dragonfly, but not before a celebratory meal. 

We celebrated with a group dinner and reflected on the weekend while enjoying a warm meal. After dinner, the group returned to Dragonfly, unpacked, and started our journey back to the community after an impactful, reflective weekend. 


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