My name is Alyssa Ellegaard and I am a first-year student at Southwestern College. My journey at SWC began before classes started during this past fall’s Wilderness Fast in Canyon de Chelly, Arizona. I had just moved from Northwestern Minnesota a week before I was to embark on the Wilderness Fast. I knew very little details about what was on the agenda for the nine days I was going to be in Canyon de Chelly. The mystery is what made it such an exciting experience, so I won’t give too many details. Every “faster” had a very different experience and gained different insights during their solo fast. This is my story.
I prepared for this experience by reading The Book of the Vision Quest: Personal Transformation in the Wilderness and by doing some online research on how to prepare my body for the four days of fasting. I think how you emotionally and physically prepare yourself for the Wilderness Fast will greatly affect what you will gain from this amazing experience. From the beginning, I felt very supported because each “faster” was assigned a helper and could reach out to them if they had any questions, fears or worries about the fast.
Upon arriving to Canyon de Chelly, there was a wonderful, warm energy to this group of people I had just met. Each “faster” had to set an intention for their solo fast, having to do with what they hoped to gain from their time alone with Mother Earth. I had only known the other “faster” for a couple days before we set out for our solo fast, but there is something about sharing life stories, hopes and fears that can turn strangers into friends instantly. I felt very loved and taken care of throughout the entire experience. The facilitators, Carol Parker and Katherine Ninos, do a great job of educating, supporting, and holding space for the faster —I felt confident walking out to my solo site.
The faster got to pick where they wanted to spend their four days alone, and I found this beautiful inlet between two canyons surrounded by trees and other foliage. I knew I must respect this space and all the animals, plants and spirits that reside there by being mindful of my every footstep.
The first morning of the solo fast, I walked to my site and found bear scat a foot away from where I had set up camp the evening before. I felt it wanted to tell me that this was its home, not mine. I was anxious and nervous the rest of the day, jumping at every little noise I heard. The first night was the hardest, I was tense and hardly got any sleep because every sound I heard instilled a deep fear in me. I mistook my tarp gently flapping in the wind for what I thought was a large animal smelling my tarp! The next morning, I checked for paw prints around my site and found nothing. It was funny what thoughts and fears my mind created in the dark night. I tried my hardest to accept the fear or any other uncomfortable feelings that were about to come. One morning, I found cat prints around my site which at first scared me, but I calmed my nerves by telling myself I was in someone else’s home after all—of course I would find signs of animal activity at night.
For four days I had nothing but water, some said the hunger would go away after the second day, but mine stayed with me until the fifth morning when I left for basecamp. Aside from the hunger that would come and go, I was surprised at how little discomfort I experienced, which I think was due to my physical preparation. During those four days alone, I moved around very little to conserve my energy and mostly journaled and sat in silence just watching and listening. Without the constraints of time and societal obligations, I saw things that I would have never noticed and heard beautiful sounds I would have never heard. The main lesson I learned is how powerful my mind is and what great insights I could gain from being alone and present with nature.
The Wilderness Fast was by far the most empowering experience I have ever had, and it’s hard to put everything I gained into words. Through this amazing, challenging and transformative experience, I feel a deep connection with my fellow faster that others will never understand. No matter what walk of life you are in, the Wilderness Fast can teach you things you never knew you needed.
I would like to thank the facilitators, Carol Parker and Katherine Ninos, as well as their helpers, Bryce Downey and Hannah Rapp, for all the love and support they provided throughout the entire experience. My Wilderness Fast wouldn’t have been what it was without them.