Walking on the (Re)Wild Side
Brielle Elise, the founder of Rewild Soul and transformative life coach, remembers hiking Cerro Chirripo, the highest mountain in Costa Rica, alone. After a steep, challenging trek the day before, she woke up early to climb the last little bit to the summit.
“When I got to the top for sunrise I just immediately started bawling because it was so breathtakingly beautiful,” Elise said. “I had this sense of everything’s okay. Everything is okay up here.”
This moment of peace marked a revelation for her. A revelation that would help develop a business idea: a series of wilderness trips that would integrate outdoor adventure with inner exploration, a fun way to work on personal growth designed for young professionals, Rewild Soul. While Elise started her life-coaching practice, She is Rewild, about a year and a half ago, this is a new extension and her latest professional endeavor.
When Amber Larkin, Elise’s partner and wilderness program director, was 16 years old, she went on her first real educational excursion, a dogsledding and cross-country skiing trip.
“That trip was really a gift of personal growth with a lot of processing wilderness experiences and how that reflects my relationship with the world and myself,” Larkin said.
The real crucible of the outing came on a night spent on a frozen lake, where Larkin was expected to set up a solo camp with little else than a tarp, some ramen noodles and too short a rope. Suddenly, she got really scared, scared enough that she couldn’t even think of a song to get stuck in her head, let alone a plan.
She recalls running across the lake to where the supervisors were stationed, a crying, falling mess. But she didn’t let it defeat her, returning to the wild with a new determination and more rope. After surviving the night, her group leaders publicly congratulated her. It turns out she’d been the only student on the excursion able to light a fire without help.
“I felt really rewarded by the universe for trying my best and for risking the discomfort and being bold,” Larkin said. “It just really opened my eyes to all that I’m capable of and how big I can be.”
Since then, Larkin has been a travel and wilderness guide for eight years, with experience ranging from leading hiking tours through the University of Florida and sea kayaking in Alaska.
She currently works for the Center for Outdoor Recreation and Education at UF. Larkin met Elise in 2012 and they’ve fit beautifully ever since, but the Rewild Soul camping trips will be their first joint professional venture.
“The inspiration comes from knowing how much we’ve gotten from the wilderness,” Elise said. “How much growth and love and expansion we’ve gotten from our personal relationships with the wilderness.”
According to their website, “rewild” is defined as the quality of having returned to your original, untamed, self-loved way of being. As a verb, it’s also the act of healing the process of negative human conditioning and returning to your empowered, self-satisfied nature.
The natural landscape works as a perfect canvas to return to your roots and rewild your soul, or as the website puts it, “One can’t help but look within when walking along a forest trail, paddling along a river or enjoying a breathtaking view on a mountain summit.”
The day after graduating college, Elise began the daunting task of hiking the Appalachian Trail, which she did for about six weeks and 600 miles.
“I was just so eager to be free,” Elise said. “I saw freedom as going from college and feeling burdened with homework and responsibilities to going for a fucking walk in the woods.”
Out in nature, she found freedom, but she also found an experience that was equal parts challenging and rewarding. Climbing a mountain in the middle of a lightning storm is terrifying, but finally making it to shelter feels like an awesome accomplishment.
“The environment kind of forces us to access our power,” Elise said. “In real life, it’s easier to run away when things get hard.”
“Wilderness experiences ground it physically and metaphorically. It makes it tangible, accessible, relatable, understandable, digestible.”
“The thing that I love most about nature, and about wilderness experiences, is that it’s really uncomfortable,” said Larkin, who’s own experience of personal growth and understanding has been an uncomfortable one. “There’s just a lot of discomfort there and the wilderness creates that experience for people: how to really embrace discomfort, how to embrace messiness, how to embrace uncertainty. Wilderness is just a life metaphor.”
The lessons learned in the woods take abstract talk of personal growth and ground it. Sleeping outside can be uncomfortable, but so can talking about your feelings or facing your fears.
Climbing a mountain is a difficult undertaking, but so are most things in life. Out here, the natural surroundings become a microcosm for the other struggles in your life.
If the way you do anything is the way you do everything, then camping in the forest will lead to insights into your relationships, your work and your life. And the skills you learn amongst the tree might be helpful in the real world too.
“Wilderness experiences ground it physically and metaphorically,” summarizes Larkin. “It makes it tangible, accessible, relatable, understandable, digestible.”
The trips work by using the environment to complement Rewild Soul’s three core values of coaching: the spirit of discovery, embracing vulnerability and authentic communication.
Using empathic listening, the guides will hold up a mirror for people to see themselves from a fresh perspective, which makes them feel understood and received without a need for traditional advice or feedback.
“We’re trying to introduce people to a fresh perspective so that they can bring their light,” Larkin said. “We kind of want to hit the reset button.”
Basically, there’s going to be a lot of talking about your feelings in the middle of the woods, which is exactly where embracing vulnerability comes in, figuratively and literally. And none of this is possible without authentic communication between the members of the traveling party and even with oneself.
“By experiencing what’s real and communicating it, we give ourselves the opportunity to transform knowledge into realized wisdom which becomes like compost that nourishes our soul,” Elise said of the process.
“We have this external journey, this physical journey of going somewhere, and we’re accompanying that with an intentional inner journey,” Larkin said. “We are going to prompt people to go a little bit deeper and support them in that, where ever they happen to go.”
In order to do that, the trips will consist of physical activities like hiking and canoeing combined with emotional processes that could range from sharing around a campfire and one-on-one empathic listening, to journal prompt exercises and shouting from a mountaintop.
Larkin said she’s confident in their abilities as a team to meet each individual where they are and also move the group collectively forward and deeper.
Elise and Larkin have seven trips planned so far, each with its own theme and intention, starting with two in May. The excursions range from kayaking in Florida and hiking the Appalachian Trail to a two-week-long trek in Iceland.
The first journey, named “Elation,” is three and a half days of hiking in the Panthertown Valley of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where travelers will camp in the forest and visit waterfalls while inwardly focusing on self-connection and celebrating themselves.
Next on the schedule is “Empowered Love,” a two-day canoeing trip on the Suwannee River specifically designed for mother-child partners.
Like the trips themselves, the level of difficulty and cost differ for each one, with prices fluctuating due to early bird deals and payment plan options (But for reference, Elation starts at $345 and Empowered Love is $210).
“That’s where the growth is. Each seed comes out of dirt, comes out of soil. It gets under your fingernails.”
While Elise said she thinks young people might not think they have the money for something like this, she likens it to car repair. If your transmission breaks, you’re going to pay $1,000 to get it fixed because you need to get around. But it’s harder to justify spending money on something intangible like personal growth, even though it’s cheaper and so much more valuable.
But she believes working on yourself opens up new opportunities and a new richness of life that comes with knowing who you are. It allows you to be more successful and happier than you may have even known was possible before.
“As spirit souls our innate quality is to be blissful, to be joyful, and that joy is kind of synonymous with fulfillment,” Elise said.
Helping people redefine what it means to live a fulfilling life is an important goal for the duo.
“It’s about accepting, and not only accepting but embracing the messiness of life,” Larkin said. “That’s where the growth is. Each seed comes out of dirt, comes out of soil. It gets under your fingernails.”
For Elise, living a fulfilling life is about embracing her light and finding her unique spark.
“I really want people to awaken to all that they are capable of,” Larkin said. “I think that we often sell ourselves short. And we don’t really know all that we’re capable of until we let go of the fear of failure and just get down and dirty with it.”
For more information on Elise’s coaching practice and upcoming wilderness trips, visit rewildsoul.com where you can sign up for their email newsletter.