We had such an amazing time during the Hike Like A Woman retreat. It was a trip of a lifetime. Ambassador Annie shares her thoughts and tells a great narative of how things went.
Butterflies in my stomach doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. My gear was packed and ready to be loaded but a nauseous feeling gnawed at my stomach. My nerves were working overtime.
I tried to understand my nervousness; it had been a year in the making, saving, planning and plotting. I had never met this woman before in person, only chatted constantly through Facebook the past year. That could be a reason, but no, Lorna was awesome. Was it because I had to leave my husband and little dog behind for a full week? Probably that was some of my problem, but it seemed there was more to it. Was it the over 2,000 miles I would travel? Maybe…..it seemed there was no simple answer for it, but when Lorna steered her car down my street and I saw her arm start pumping in the air through the open driver’s window, it all instantly melted.
It was like seeing an old friend, she was the same in person as online.
We loaded my gear into the car and hit the road. Our destination? The first ever Hike Like A Woman Ambassador Retreat in Meeker, Colorado, with a few stops before and after.
The drive from Kentucky, through Illinois and into Missouri only took a few hours which Lorna and I quickly chatted away. Once west of St. Louis we high-tailed it past the many adult stores that randomly appeared along the interstate and soon found ourselves in Kansas. I had hopes of fields of Sunflowers but found myself amazed by gigantic windmills used to generate electricity dotting the open fields. If I wanted sunflowers, we had to sidetrack and both of us had our eye on the prize – the Rocky Mountains.
If you’ve never been through it, Kansas is one long ass state! I admired the beauty of it though, open fields, gently rolling hills, blazing blue skies, dotted with stark white clouds. We killed the time by jamming to music and singing along in voices we hoped no one heard but us. Nearing nightfall we were beyond ready to see the Entering Colorful Colorado sign but alas darkness fell before we crossed the state line.
It was pitch black, headlights the only lights to be seen, aside from a stray farm off in the distant fields that lined the interstate. There was no mountains silhouetted against a darkening sky, just the night and the road ahead.
We were road weary to say the least and by the time we stopped for the night north of Denver, we had been on the road almost 16 hours. That doesn’t include Lorna’s drive up from Florida the previous day. Our hotel beds were welcoming, fresh, and it took less than five minutes once we were in them for sleep to overtake us.
The next morning we met a family friend of Lorna’s for breakfast and then hit the road again. Westward we moved and very soon the Rocky Mountains were visible ahead. Our excitements couldn’t be contained as we entered the foothills. We made a video to send to our founder, Rebecca and fellow Ambassadors thanking them for setting the retreat in Colorado and proclaiming our love of the state.
A quick stop at the Estes Park Visitor’s Center, a drive by of the Stanley Hotel, and into the Rocky Mountain National Park we went. We entered via Fall Creek Road and were giddy with excitement. My breath was taken away at the beauty and splendor of the snow dusted, rugged peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park.
I couldn’t believe I was there, it was something I had only dreamed of, a bucket list item.
Our time was limited so we stuck to Trail Ridge Road with it’s scenic vistas and perfectly positioned viewing areas. We stopped frequently, including Rainbow Curve, the Alpine Tundra, and many more places along the way.
Once we exited the park we entered Grand Lake and despite a navigation error on my part found the trailhead for Adams Falls on the Western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We eagerly set out on the trail but my legs started cramping from being cooped up so long and we both struggled to find oxygen in the air. Despite the hang-ups we had, we pushed on down the short trail and found Adams Falls. It was a beautiful set of falls rushing through the rugged and steep terrain.
We made our way back to the car which was much easier and hit the road again. Another 180 something miles later we landed at base camp along the White River in Meeker. Rebecca and our fellow Ambassadors greeted us with open arms, along with camp mascot, St. Bernard, Fiona, and we quickly went about setting up our tents.
Dinner was a crawfish boil by Ambassador Amanda, originally from Louisiana. I’d never been to one, or eaten much Cajun so I was intrigued. Fiona was a quiet dog, not making much noise till she was surrounded by escaped crawdads which we saved her from. Amanda did an amazing job cooking us dinner but the seasoning was too much for this GERD having Southerner.
The next morning we were up early where the amazing “Dammit Dale,” Ambassador Jill‘s husband, prepared us breakfast and coffee before we participated in an getting to know style activity led by Ambassador Helina, whose energy and excitement I found alluring. I honestly didn’t know Helina much, she’s not on social media a lot and I hadn’t the level of interaction with her as I had others. I didn’t know what to expect but she was warm, welcoming, considerate and funny, just like the rest of us.
Once again to be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to the game Helina had organized. I had struggled with the concept, struggled to find the time to bring an item that represented something I loved and to have a story about an important moment or episode of bravery also. I didn’t want to disappoint her, even though I had never met her, she was a fellow Ambassador and deserved the same respect as the others and I expected myself. I found my item, it wasn’t much but it did represent something I truly loved, pressed for time, it would have to do.
The story on the other hand came to me as I listened to the other Ambassadors and Rebecca talk about their items and defining moments.
They again had inspired me and Helina’s game that I had not been looking forward to became something that truly bonded our wild tribe on a deeper level.
It opened my eyes in realizing that in some way, I shared something in common with each and every one of them or could relate to their stories. It ended up being more than I thought it would be. Thank you Helina, you’re an amazing woman.
We changed and jetted off for kayaking and paddleboarding on Lake Avery. Ambassador Jill apparently isn’t good with directions, this we didn’t know before attempting to follow them. Lorna, Kate and I rode with Rebecca in her vehicle but ended up turning around in some poor souls driveway – sorry bout that folks, it’s Jill’s fault. We managed to make our way to the main highway where we spied Amanda’s vehicle with her kayak on top. We pulled out behind her and followed her to Lake Avery.
Once lakeside we pulled out the inflatable paddleboards we had rented and got busy getting them inflated while fellow Ambassador Gretchen blew up her donut….with sprinkles, cause sprinkles are for winners.
Ambassadors Kate, Lorna, and I took first turn on the paddleboards while Amanda hit the water in her kayak. Some ways from shore Lorna and I tried to stand up….yeah, that didn’t happen. While Kate made things look easy on hers, Lorna and I paddled back toward shore to give someone else a try.
Suddenly everyone was telling us to paddle across the lake to the opposite shore! This lake was full of COLD water and had to be a mile wide.
Turns out, thanks to Jill’s directions, we had ended up at the wrong landing, to reconvene we had to paddle across.
Off we went, paddling from seated positions, while Kate stood and Amanda paddled her kayak. The middle of my back began to ache, my arms were tiring out and Kate had given up on standing but we made it.
Once regrouped we traded out for an inflatable kayak, Amanda’s kayak, or an inflatable donut and enjoyed some lake time. Ambassador Kathryn has a fear of water and was reluctant to try paddle boarding but with some encouragement we got her to make an attempt. Ten minutes later she’s standing and paddling, 30 minutes later she was still standing and paddling!! I was proud of her for overcoming her fears, and not only giving it a go but also being good at it!! Go girl!!
Back at camp we changed clothes, snacked, gathered supplies and headed into the town of Meeker. Jill helps run Smoking River Art Gallery and she kindly opened the doors for our paint and sip with rain looming on the horizon. As we browsed the gallery Helina came up and randomly started hugging me, it caught me off guard. I didn’t know why I was being hugged but I went with it. She said she just felt like hugging me….awwwwww. Kathryn, a professional artist, instructed us in painting scenery. I quickly set in but found myself behind others, I pressed on as Rebecca tried to find the right vibe for her creativity. Another amazing time with my wild tribe. Kathryn is an amazing artist, instructor, mom, wife and wild woman, thanks Kathryn!
The skies opened and rain poured down, we were even more thankful to Jill for opening the gallery. With the rain having moved on, we finished our work, posed for pictures, did a little shopping and headed back to camp as darkness fell.
As others gathered around the fire for Dammit Dale’s dutch oven pineapple upside down cake and homemade ice cream, I was drying out my air mattress. Apparently during the downpour while we were at the gallery the rain had gotten into my tent. I did the best I could, visited a little with Jill and Dale, then went to bed.
Our second morning, again the amazing Dale set our breakfast and coffee up while we got stirring and started breaking camp. On this day we set out for Glenwood Springs and to raft a section of the Colorado River. We dined, chatted and packed before piling into our vehicles. We started out as a fairly close caravan but traffic, stop lights and pit stops spread us out miles apart.
Gretchen gets motion sickness, Kathryn had a bad experience rafting as a child and many us had never attempted it before so to say there was some anxiety in the group that morning, would be an understatement. We all had put our big girl panties on that day though and sucked up our fears. During the instruction period before we set out in school buses, I thought Kathryn was going to have a panic attack as the guide advised us on emergency procedures.
No panic attacks and no puking yet, so far so good.
I can only describe the unloading of rafts and paddles as organized chaos. People streaming and milling about, guides yelling instructions and at each other, all with the roar of Class III rapids looming behind me. I had spied the river from the interstate on our way to the launch point, rafts and boats gently floated down some sections, while other sections nearing the launch were flush with raging rapids.
Ambassador Mara, our resident photojournalist, had been wise enough to bring an awesome waterproof camera….great she can catch us on film freaking out and puking! This had been my suggestion, to raft the Colorado River and now standing on the banks surrounded by my wild tribe, I was silently freaking out. The rapids we’re bigger than I had expected and this was completely unknown to me. I kept my fears to myself and was the last to board the raft.
We pushed off from the bank and with a little delay waiting for all rafts with our outfitter we set out for our first set of rapids. Here our guide tested us with his commands, FORWARD! he shouted, and we rowed forward in unison. BACK! he screamed and we all back paddled. STOP!! he yelled and we stopped. We had completed the first set and every set after that was exhilarating!!
Gretchen was placed in a seat on the outside of the raft, just in case she decided to chum the Colorado River and Kathryn was seated in the middle to be surrounded and safe. During our trip it became apparent to the guide Kathryn had some fear and to the front of the raft she was ordered with us prodding her on. She reluctantly went, gripping the ropes on both sides of the bow. She rode that raft through those rapids with total fear upon her face, but she did it and I think when it was over, she liked it…at least I hope she did.
Rebecca and Helina jumped in during a calm point and went for a swim. It was hilarious watching them get back in. We also had a guide in a fellow raft moon the Amtrak train on the nearby tracks which apparently is customary. When we neared another raft out of the rapids a water fight would ensue in which riders would splash each other with their paddles or some boats even had water cannons. I can’t imagine a better way to cap off our retreat! It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve done in my life with some of the most amazing women I’ve ever met.
Off river, we loaded the rafts, bused back to the resort, and made plans for a late lunch. We caravanned over to the Brew Pub, a popular local eatery. We were famished after hours on the river. Lunch was more of the same light hearted conversation and bonding, although a cloud hung over us as we knew we’d soon be separating.
Our bellies were full, our wildness tamed for the moment and our souls soothed. We stood outside the Brew Pub to say our goodbyes and take one last group photo. I didn’t want to leave these women who I’d just met. They were all different, all special, beautiful, and unique but sharing commonality at the same time. We traded hugs, goodbyes and when I hugged Helina she wrapped her legs around me, forcing me to hold her up. Helina is truly an amazing woman, I couldn’t be more thankful I got to know her better. I really wanted to spend more time with her.
I love each and every one of my wild sisters, the bonds we share, the commonality, their differences, the memories we made and the ones we have yet to make together. Rebecca had truly created something magical with Hike Like A Woman and I hope our followers can feel it, because it deserves to be shared with all women.
As we departed Glenwood Springs, I felt saddened to have separated but was also looking forward to our next segment and we had gained a passenger. Ambassador Kate would join us to Colorado Springs for the night for departing for home the following day.
We started out our drive listening to Kate’s music but we quickly turned to conversation and the hunt for coffee. The ride down was full of good conversation but after over 20+ hours of riding, it was taking to long. It didn’t take us longer than planned, it just seemed that way.
We checked into our hotel, got settled and we all quickly sunk into sleep. The next morning Kate left us to head home, another amazing wild woman had separated from us. Lorna and I however, had tickets for the Cog train up to Pike’s Peak and so our trip continued with just the two of us again.
I was so tired by this point I was zombie like, my hoodie wreaked of campfire smoke and I was operating purely on caffeine. We were seated across from a nice couple from Virginia who offered us up water as we had forgot to bring any. High Altitude = LOTS OF WATER. I couldn’t get enough, my mouth stayed dry constantly and even my skin was flaking in spots.
We made spotty, polite conversation with the Virginians as the Conductor made corny jokes and pointed out places along the tracks. My mind drifted, I couldn’t focus on much else but the view. We passed waterfalls, an old maintenance station, the grave of a donkey, a Pika, lots of golden marmots, and even some Bighorn sheep as we climbed to the summit.
A top Pike’s Peak we were between the clouds, the terrain was barren, bits of snow clung to the rocks in spots, and flurries fell from the sky….it was early August. We took several photos, browsed the crowded shop at the top and made our way back to the train just before departure. Not enough oxygen for me to stay long anyway, I had already felt a little dizzy a couple times.
The ride back was brutal, it didn’t take longer, but my rear end didn’t have much resistance to sitting any more. The train rocked back and forth gently as we went and I fought to stay awake and focused.
Back at the station a persistent drizzle had set in so we changed up our plans a bit and headed to Garden of the Gods. We stopped and grabbed a better map at the Visitor’s Center then began looping through the park with a stop at the Historic Trading Post. We looped the park once, twice…..6 times. Trying to discern the named rocks, taking pics, and handing out stickers.
Now late afternoon we stopped for an early dinner before heading back to the hotel. Finally in early for the night, we caught up on social media, chatted with our husbands and passed out early. Our final morning in Colorado we spent at Manitou Cliff Dwellings. We explored the dwellings, did some shopping in the gift shop and hit the road. We were both ready to be home.
Along the way Lorna made plans to continue her vacation, camping with her husband and dog in Kentucky, not far from my home.
The trip back, was beyond brutal. We made less stops along the way, which had us making good time but it was at the expense of our buts and backs. We stopped one last time, West of St. Louis, for a four hour nap that left me feeling more tired than when I laid down.
On the road again, we made the four hour drive back to my home. Lorna stayed for a bit, washing some clothes and hanging out. I unpacked and made sure I hadn’t left anything in Lorna’s car.
We made a run to the local store to stock up on firewood for Lorna’s camping trip in Kentucky and to grab some lunch. Not much later, Lorna left me to set up camp. I was glad to be home, glad to see my little pup and await my husband’s arrival from work but I was sad at the same time. I was no longer physically surrounded by my wild tribe, it left me feeling a bit empty.
A new syndrome quickly developed and spread through the Ambassadors that had attended the retreat, we dubbed it HLAW Withdrawal. We were now faced with returning to our regular jobs and the regular world where no one keeps their word, nothing is done when it should be nor how it should be. It was enough to cause some of us major stress and cause discussion on starting an HLAW commune, jokingly of course.
The retreat was a trip of a lifetime for me, in more ways than one. I was able to tick a couple items off my bucket list, got to road trip with one of the most awesome partners anyone could want, and not only got to spend time with some of our wild tribe but more importantly we forged bonds that last a lifetime.
While seated in Manitou Springs for our early lunch on our last full day in Colorado, I found a quote that pretty much summed everything up “Memories made in the mountains, stay in our hearts forever” ~ John Muir…….he couldn’t have been more right.