FRD Colorado Retreat: July 2023
This is a recap of a recent retreat I led out here in Colorado. It was a men’s retreat through Front Row Dads, which I designed and led with my good friend and FRD brother, Chris Emick. Chris and I started planning this retreat last year when we were hiking a 14er together, then earlier this month we put things in motion with the FRD team.
The theme of the retreat was two-fold:
- First, we wanted men to have an opportunity to disconnect and experience time with no demands. Time away from normal life and responsibilities. This is a concept we picked up from John Wineland’s book – From the Core.
- Second, we wanted men to discover their wild, primal self. Chris and I believe that nature is a natural playground, and the perfect environment to come back to who we are at our core. It’s inviting us to rediscover our wild, primal self. The self that was designed from nature.
Eight men committed to the retreat and helped co-create an extraordinary experience.
What is up, folks? Welcome back to The Power of Space. It's been a few weeks since I've released a new podcast episode or any content for that matter. And that's intentional. The summer months are a season where I take space to travel, to explore, to maximize my time outdoors, to be with family and friends.
So I've been doing just that today. I have a very special episode for you. This is going to be a recap of a recent retreat I led out here in Colorado. It was a men's retreat through Front Row Dads, which I designed and led with my good friend and FRD brother, Chris Emick.
Chris and I started planning this retreat last year when we were actually hiking a 14er together out here in Colorado. And then earlier this year, we put things in motion with FRD team. There was clear alignment. And then we started designing the experience. That's how we started. promoting it, and eight men committed to the retreat, showed up here several weeks ago and helped co-create an extraordinary experience.
Here is the recap.
So, first and foremost, the theme of this retreat was twofold. First, we wanted men to have an opportunity to disconnect and experience "time with no demands." This is essentially time away from normal life and normal responsibilities, normal requests. I actually just published a blog post about this, which emphasizes the value in having time and no demands.
It's a concept I learned from John Wineland. Writes about in his book "From The Core". It's a powerful concept that's been very important in my life. And it's one of the things I wanted to gift and encourage these men with Chris to embrace during this retreat.
The second big thing is that Chris and I wanted men to discover their wild, primal self. We both believe that nature is a natural playground and really the perfect environment to come back to who we are at our core. Nature just invites us to rediscover our wild primal self, the way that we were born into this world, the self that was designed from nature.
And so we're both very passionate about that. That's why Chris and I love to hike together, like to climb mountains, like to be outside. And so that was definitely the other big thing we wanted these men to experience if we could give them anything. And so we designed an experience that would focus on these two things and more.
I want to give you a brief overview. I'm not going to spill everything. I was even conflicted on if I should do a podcast about this because of the nature of how intimate and powerful this retreat was for the men that showed up. And I decided that I do want to share this because I think they would be totally fine with the high level details.
And honestly, this is the type of experience you had to be at to really experience the full effects, you know, the, the profound things that took place and were co-created there. So I'm going to give you the brief version. I'm going to give you an overview of the four or five days we spent together and then some key highlights.
So day one, the focus was an invitation.
Chris and I both agreed from the start that we wanted most of the things we did on this retreat to be a strong invitation. So we designed things intentionally. But every man had his own choice at every single moment. And it was ended up being really beautiful because almost everything we designed was welcomed warmly by the group and experienced together. So there was actually very little turning down or rejecting of the invitations.
The first sort of exercise as an invitation was organizing in Denver and then bringing these men out to the mountains about two hours west. We spent the first night in Silverthorne. We had a beautiful first dinner together where men started to kind of open up and start to get vulnerable.
And then side note, Chris and I had a really, Lovely conversation before going to bed about our dogs. He just lost his dog of 13 years, which is a very special companion to him, and I lost my dog, Raja, last year. So we had some beautiful stories to share before wrapping up the first night.
The second day is when we really got into things, and the focus of this day was comfort zone.
So, we started early. Got the guys up, did an early morning cold plunge in Lake Dillon. To my surprise, the lake actually wasn't as cold as I thought. It was probably in the 50s. The sun had just come up. So we got sort of a treat in terms of a cold plunge.
But it shocked the system exactly how we needed. Everyone jumped in. One of the brothers, Paul, raced into the lake and set the pace for the rest of us to get in and join him. It was magical.
It felt like little kids that couldn't wait to get into the lake. And that is again, going back to the wild primal self, just seeing that big, beautiful body of water and wanting to embrace it and be with it. And so we all did that as a group.
Then shortly after we went and changed temperatures and got into the hot tub. And this was a nice time for us to shift and experience some different energy. And again, guys started to open up and share why they chose to come here. Some of the things that they're, they're navigating right now, challenges, wins, all that great stuff that we do as men's work through Front Row Dads.
Shortly after we had a breakfast and then Chris led a nice exercise where we showed the men how to pack. So our next couple of days we're going to be in the back country of Leadville, which means we had to pack everything we were taking in there. This is not a situation where we get a bunch of luggage shipped. It's like whatever we can fit on our backs is essentially what would go with us.
So , we ran through getting the essentials, the things that we needed for ourselves in terms of clothing, hiking, just outdoor apparel, all that good stuff. And then we split up snacks and food, the things that we would eat as a group and individually during those, the next 48 hours.
So there's some art to this. There's also some logic and Chris is masterful in how he does this. He's had a lot of solo adventures where he's had to pack for weeks if not months at a time. So, it was really cool to learn from him and go through that exercise and kind of show those men that, Hey, we got, we have to be intentional in here. We have to strategize.
So we packed it all up and then we headed out to Leadville. There was about a one hour, 90 minute ish hike into the hut. And by hut, I mean, this is an off grid cabin. So this is out in Leadville Colorado, 11, 000 plus feet elevation. Definitely a more aggressive environment if you're not used to elevation.
But a beautiful, beautiful, place to be. I mean, after the 90 minute hike in, I just intentionally watched guys body language as they saw the hut and they saw the mountain in the background. And you could just tell that again, that child, that wild self was coming out, like just excited to be in this space, excited to be with nature and this beautiful cabin that was designed to live minimally with, with essentials.
And so back to the cabin, this thing is run off solar power. So It has a basic well for water, but other than that, no electricity, no, no sewage. You know, this is a, is a cabin that can house 12, 15, 20 people, but just the essentials that you need to be there. And a lot of people out here in Colorado actually use it for backcountry skiing. So they, uh, hike out into there and then in the winter months they'll do some backcountry skiing. They'll stay in the hut, they'll have a fire, all that, that awesome stuff.
So, as soon as we got there and got settled in, I actually decided, hey, let's go explore. So again, the kid came out. I was thinking like, I wonder if there's another way up that mountain that we're gonna hike the next day. And also we needed to grab water.
So we went, four or five of us went out there. Found a nice stream to collect some water and then also did a little bit of recon to see was there an alternative route up the mountain that we'd be taking tomorrow. That was a nice way to just kind of get a lay of the land and explore a bit.
We found this beautiful little pond with lily pads. It was pretty special. And then we came back with several gallons of water. Props to Dumi, Dumisani, who... Carried a five gallon water jug on his back. So he raised his hand first to, to do the heavy lifting. And then part of this process of being in his cabin is you bring the water back and you have to filter it.
So we have to run it through a nice system that purifies it and get some of the bacteria and other things out so that it's drinkable and usable.
So we got back. Got some water in shape and then it was time to fish. So me and a few other men went up. We did some fishing. Unfortunately, we did not come back with any fish. In hindsight, we realized that we probably brought the wrong bait and I take responsibility for that. I am NOT a master fisherman, but I have done some fishing and I was hopeful that some of the other bait that I brought and the spinners I bought would work, but they did not.
And we know they did not work because we saw a lot of fish jumping. So I was like literally running over trying to cast over into the areas where the fish were jumping out and looking for flies and none of them were having the bait we brought. So we came back empty handed, but upon our arrival back to the cabin, Chris and the rest of the guys had an awesome taco dinner, pork carnitas ready for us. It was a glorious meal.
Everyone pitched in and contributed. So props to all the men. It was such a team effort to get a great meal like that prepared with Chris's leadership. And that meal was awesome. There's something about meals in the back country. Meals and in off grid cabins like this. Meals at the top of the mountain, which I'll talk about in a second.
Like these just tastes so good to me. They're so fresh or so organic. So that was a great way to break that bread as a group and nourish our bodies.
And then we finished the day, the second day with a fire. So Paul created a nice fire for us. Guys slowly made their way out there after dinner. And as the sun started to set, it became very majestic.
I mean, just being out there in that fresh air, isolated with no one. You know, we saw a few deer here and there, but just so serene to have time by that fire with men who chose to be here and chose to surrender to some of the stuff they were doing.
And funny enough, a really cool moment is that one of the guys decided to let out a fart. And then I quickly followed. I love farting, for the record. Something me and my kids do. I think farts are hilarious. I think a lot of humans take them too seriously. They're just, to me, it's just a fun expression of noise. And especially if it makes your body feel better.
And it was so interesting how having one of the guys fart allowed me to go, and then the laughter came. And then we realized we were no different than our seven year old selves or our child selves just sitting around the fire, talking, laughing, having fun.
I even posed the question. "I wonder what our ancestors would be doing right now?" And some things that came up is I think they'd be enjoying full days like this. I think they'd be earning their food and arguably wouldn't have come back empty handed without fish. I think they'd be telling stories.
And that's something I realized today is that humans are still telling stories. We do it in different ways. This is a story in itself, this podcast, this episode. But there's something about a fire that I think can really evoke storytelling. And so, we had a special second night around that fire to kind of cap the day that men slowly found their way to bed in the cabin.
And then next was day three, the focus of day three was the mountain.
We were blessed with an early morning meditation by Brent, one of the men who came and helped co lead in a beautiful way of guiding us through breath work and then a meditation. Um, this first meditation that morning centered around our ego. And I can't give you all the details, but I will say that Brent has a gift for leading this type of meditation and this breath work and the way that he curated this. The words and the energy was magical.
I mean, it was a powerful way for a lot of us to open up and share some pretty profound things. It even evoked what ended up becoming the theme of the retreat, which was "Show Yourself." So one of the brothers, Paul, mentioned show yourself from the movie Frozen, funny enough.
But it translated right into what we were trying to do here, what we were trying to create, what we were trying to evoke. And that is just showing up as our authentic selves, being fully present and enabling that wild, primal, curious, wondrous self to come out and essentially just be who we are in nature with each other.
So that was a really, really nice gift that came from that first meditation. And then a lot of the energy was set. So a lot of us were charged. I read a little bit about my philosophy on mountains and rivers and the cosmos. This is something I've written about. If I were to ever write a book, this is actually what I would write it about, and I've been thinking about that.
But the theme here was setting concepts that a mountain is a symbol of achievement. A river is a symbol of surrender. And the cosmos is a symbol of peace. And these are interchangeable, right? It doesn't have to be set in stone, but these are the ways that I like to play with these concepts at a high level.
And so it was a really nice thing to just set the tone for as we hike because guys would come up and we'd have conversations and they'd start talking about mountains in their life, metaphorically, or rivers in their life, or if they were, felt like they're currently climbing a mountain or surrendering to a river. And then when the cosmos shows up, right. When we have moments of peace.
So it's a really beautiful way to influence conversation as we were literally hiking a mountain. And getting into the mountain hike. This was a 13er or. So this is the most challenging thing you can do in Colorado besides the famous 14ers. And it's only a thousand ish feet in elevation difference. So still extremely challenging.
14ers are really not that much different than 13ers. You're still getting to that very high elevated state where the environment is tougher, the air is thinner, and it takes grit, it takes stamina. And some of these men simply hadn't done this before. So it was a really cool experience where we were tested individually, we were tested as a group.
Some men were able to lead the charge, others took risks. Like Matt Woodward, found his Misogi, this is a concept that came out of the book, The Comfort Crisis. And he was able to kind of see a different path that he knew would challenge him that would be his Misogi. And so he took that path and it was, it was beautiful.
At first I was a little bit nervous for him and kind of resistant. But then I said, Hey, if this is your Misogi, you choose it, you take it. And he did just that with a couple other guys. So that was pretty special to watch. And it was just awesome to watch some of these other men push themselves. Because again, this was new for them. It was testing their comfort zone. It was giving them that mountain experience in real time.
And, after we got to the summit, there was a nice time to rest. There was a nice time for silence. A nice time for... Celebration. I passed out an apple, which is my ritual, my tradition. Every time I climb anything of significance like 14er or 13er or I like to bring apples with me. And I tell people this is the best apple you'll ever eat. For me, these apples just keep getting better and better. Again something about being in nature, something about being disconnected and having real food, fruit from the earth just really lands with me.
So, it was awesome to share that with these guys. We had some moments, some times to ourselves. And then funny enough, a couple of guys, Ticknor and Phillip, both suggested this idea to take a different way down.
So a lot of times when you hike big mountains in Colorado, you'll go up and you'll go back down. It's the easiest route. It's familiar. It's proven. But those of us who like to take more risks will sometimes deviate and say, great, let's explore. And that's exactly what we did. And funny enough, after about a couple hours in, we realized this was gonna be a much longer hike than any of us anticipated.
So the eyes deceived us at the summit and we found ourselves, uh, some of us fairly exhausted, tired, and knowing that we didn't have the stamina or the desire to continue going three, four more hours all the way around this ridge, which would've brought us back, you know, closer to sundown.
So couple guys made a quick decision to head down a fairly sketchy and extremely steep path. And at first this was scary, so I felt myself as sort of a co leader of the experience being like, Wait a second, this feels dangerous. My reptilian brain definitely kicked in and was on guard. And Chris had the same, I sensed he had the exact same initial reaction is like wait a second. That doesn't feel safe.
And I think this is inherent. They wouldn't we know we're guiding these men. We feel a little bit responsible for them for their safety. At first it didn't feel like something we wanted the whole group to do. But there was an element of surrender to this and a couple men had already gone and another guy was being very helpful in sort of guiding the the path that he thought was the best, Matthew Woodward. And so we took some of that guidance and we found ourselves as a group navigating down a very challenging and steep route.
And after a good hour, 90 minutes of that, just scrambling over big, loose, steep rocks, we all found ourselves down as a group and we celebrated. We let out a sigh of relief. And then there was only one thing left to do, and that was a lake plunge.
So there's this gorgeous lake at the bottom of the mountain. We walked around. This time I was the first in, I could not wait. I was tired, I was sweaty, I was beat down. And boom, that lake was definitely colder than Lake Dillon the day before. It woke me up. It shocked my system in a beautiful way and all the other guys quickly jumped in behind me and it was a really nice way to end the mountain experience.
After that we went, had another great dinner. Chris cooked chicken pad Thai. Again, everyone helped and contributed. And we were so full, metaphorically from the mountain, from the grit, the emotions, everything that it took to do that seven hour journey. And then the food itself. It was a early night, so no fire even needed. We had some nice conversation. And we wound down that night to bring closure to that second day in Leadville.
Next is day four. And this would be, the focus here would be authentic life. So how we could start tracking towards our most authentic life.
We had another beautiful meditation led by Brent. Breath work. An evolution around the ego. And this was really special for me. So the first morning I actually didn't get as powerful of a visual or experience on the ego. And then this morning on day four, it struck me and it really struck me in a way that had meaning. Not just to the present moment and being with these men, but also just where I'm at in my journey right now.
And so I had a really special moment, which I'm still grateful for, for Brent, for helping curate that. You know, honestly, I could be very vulnerable on the show with all of you is that I had a moment where I realized that I've been hiding for a while. And it's now time for me to step into this leadership role of creating and designing and leading experiences. And doing more coaching in the world, supporting people, you know, using all the gifts that are within me to wake up and help other people see what's happening and get support where they need in their lives.
And and this retreat was such a gift for me that I'm so excited to do more of these. And so if that speaks to you, please get in touch because that was a big part of what I realized on this experience with this men. Is that how much I'm ready to do this and it's time.
It's time to stop hiding. It's time to get out there and put this energy into the world and support other people on their journeys.
So we had a beautiful meditation. It was a nice way to end our time at the cabin. We packed up as a crew. So did all the. due diligence of putting things away, getting the cabin in shape, and then we hiked out.
Before we hiked, I actually prompted the guys and encouraged them to hike in silence. So it's really easy to be on these experiences, these retreats, these group events and want to talk. Sometimes we want to talk about general stuff, sometimes we want to get deep in the conversation, you know, and get vulnerable and, you know, go into the heavy stuff.
But I actually suggested that we hike out in silence. This is something I've learned from other people. It's something I've learned from my own experiences that there is a beauty to just navigating nature in silence with yourself. Not only do I think you start to hear your inner voice, your soul start to speak, but you get to hear nature and what it naturally designs.
And um, that was a really nice hour. I think every single guy took me up on the encouragement and hiked down in silence and then we got there, we felt rejuvenated.
And now it was, it was time to head back to Leadville to grab some lunch, grab some pizzas. And I was joking with these guys that it's kind of hard for me to adjust when I've been out in the back country. I've been doing this more and more. Going from that pure nature, animals, you know, the solitude and then coming back to people, there's an adjustment, there's a transition. And so at first I found myself like, Oh, we're at a restaurant, there's all these options and all these, these noises.
But it was really nice to have a good meal with them and to laugh and reminisce on some of the adventures. And we had one last big activity in store and that was rafting. So we would head to do some whitewater rafting out in Buena Vista. We chose a class two and class three rapids. So this is a good, nice, areas of challenge, but also very scenic route on the Arkansas River.
And we split up in two rafts. Nobody fell out this time, even though I always kind of hope that people fall out because it makes it even more exciting. But I think it was a really nice way to be on the river. And experience a little bit of that adventure, a little bit of that higher adrenaline rush .
And again, the surroundings were gorgeous. We had awesome river guides. So that was a nice three hour time together. And after that, there's only one thing left to do. We headed to the Mount Princeton hot springs. We soaked, so we allowed our bodies to rejuvenate for a nice hour in natural hot springs.
Me and some of the other guys actually went in and out of the cold river, which is back to like 40 degree ish , and then jumping back into a hot spring. So this was the nice cold plunge, warm plunge, hot, cold. It was really nice, really great way to, again, wake the system up for our final dinner.
So that is the way that we brought closure to the event. We had a nice dinner at the, the hot springs, so no more work to be done, but just to relax, break bread together. A lot of laughing, a lot of smiling, a lot of remember that. A lot of jokes.
And this is so beautiful just to see the event wind down like that, because there was some intensity to this. There was a lot of emotions, a lot of inner work that took place these last few days. And so to allow guys to kind of just relax and lean back in to just being men, being boys, being, you know, having fun together, it was a great final meal.
And then we head back to one of our cabins and had a nice closing ceremony where everybody got to share something that was on their heart. We wrapped things up. And then the next day everyone headed out back to Denver so that we could catch our flights and wrap up and get back to family and normal life.
So, that was the experience. It was awesome.
I have a few key notes that I just wanted to reiterate. Just some of the takeaways that came from the experience, which I've already mentioned a little bit of.
And the first is, again, that theme of "show yourself." So I think it's incredibly hard for us today as humans to show our true selves. I think if there's anything I want to help people with in the world, that's at the top of the list. Like, how can you find your authentic self, and then how can you show it to the world confidently? With humility, but also with just truth and presence. Like this is such a hard thing for us, myself included.
And I'm finally getting to a place where I'm more comfortable with it to just show up as I am and be that full true self. So that was a big thing that showed up, pun intended, at this event. And it just filtered through the experience from the moment that Paul mentioned to show yourself.
The other thing is learning to be kids again, learning to get back to that wild primal self. Being able to fart and have fun and laugh, being able to explore the woods. Being able to climb a mountain, which is exactly what a curious child would probably do at some point if they were bored in nature and looking for a way to test themselves or just what's up there, right?
There's this curious, wondrous thoughts. So getting back to that wild primal self is definitely something that showed up here and it was beautiful.
Um, being with our ego. So Brent was again masterful in helping us do this through meditation. I also think that as men in the world, especially Front Row Dads, you know, we have a relationship with the ego. And some of us are learning to be with that ego. Not telling it to go away, not telling it to always be quiet or getting upset or angry with it, but but rather to be with it and learn from it and also have a relationship with it.
So this kind of goes into the world of testing both are masculine and feminine energy and the different sides. And the ego generally plays a role in that masculine side. And so it's really cool to see a lot of these powerful men come together and talk about that relationship and be with it in a way where we could just know that there's a deeper wisdom and a deeper understanding and what the ego wants and has in store for us. So that was really cool.
Testing our comfort zone. So this came all through the event, from cold plunges to climbing the mountain to being off grid. You know, there was just a theme of this event. It was awesome to see these men test their comfort zones. My comfort zone was tested. It's something I look to do in my life. And I just continue to grow as a result.
You know, one of the quotes that I planted is this simple quote, "A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there." Now, I don't believe that that's an absolute quote. I think that we can still experience growth in our comfort zone, but I do believe that we experience exponential growth when we get out of our comfort zone.
And so... so that quote was a nice reminder just to kind of test us and challenge us to say, Hey, let's get out of that comfort zone. Let's, let's learn. Let's, let's grow a little bit more.
The last thing I'll say was the power of being witnessed. So this is essentially what I believe is the magic, the sweet sauce in group events.
You know, we can have our own extraordinary experiences alone. And there's a time and a place for that. But then um, group events have had a special place in my life for the last five, six years, retreats in particular. And retreats are special because it's an intention to fall back, to go somewhere, to get out of normal life so that you can come back better. So you can come back different. So you can come back a little bit more wise with that internal wisdom of who you are.
And so I've continued to notice that when we're in these group experiences like retreats, and when people show up and open up and allow vulnerability to arise. That is the magic. That's when we feel witnessed. That's when we can step in and also be vulnerable.
So that was very present at this experience. It also lends to the last point I'll make that this was a group of Front Row Dads. So I was privileged to be able to do this through Front Row Dads. The Front Row Dad team, including Jon, supported this from the start. They loved the idea. And having that support, having that trust, made it so easy to just design this experience, lead it with Chris, and be with these men who essentially co-created a magical event.
Front Row Dads are men who are willing to open up, who are willing to be vulnerable, who are willing to test themselves. Willing to ask the deeper questions and essentially hold space.
This, to me, is some of the hardest work in the world. So, I give props to these men.
I'll end with something that I shared on social media when I got back from the retreat because I think this is a great way to just summarize what was co created?
So, ten men showed up to Colorado with an intention to retreat from normal life.
They came here for themselves, their families, and their brothers. Nature showed them new stillness, awareness, and wisdom. They tested their comfort zone, pushed their physical limits, opened their hearts, and expanded their spiritual range. This is the essence of Front Row Dads. This is why we step up, show up, and speak up.
This is powerful men's work that's changing the world.
I'm honored and grateful to have shared this experience with these solid men.
Chris Emick, Brent Perkins, Paul McIntosh, Joe Mancini, Matthew Woodward, Dumasani Thompson, Matthew Ticknor, Christian Nyland, and Phillip Calderon.
Props for every single one of them for showing up. They co created the magic that is Front Row Dads.
And that's a wrap. I hope you enjoyed this. Again, I'm charged. I'm going to be doing more of these retreats, not just exclusively with Front Row Dads, but through SPACE. So if this speaks to you, I want to hear from you. There will definitely be another mountain style retreat coming soon, and I hope you enjoyed this.
Until the next time.
Ali is a creator who's passionate about guiding people to their truth. That's a fancy way of saying he wants to help people realize their most authentic life. He's a father, husband, podcaster, blogger, technologist and many other things that inspire him to stay curious and learn. He's also a huge advocate for nature, hiking, adventure, testing physical limits and experiencing the natural world.