Schools & Program Visits - August, 2002 Issue #96
Two Harbors, Minnesota
Lorri Hanna and Doug Sabo
Visited on July 28, 2002
By Loi Eberle, M.A.,
Editor of Woodbury Reports
It was an interesting day of contrasts and connections the day I visited Soltreks,
a therapeutic wilderness program in Two Harbors, Minnesota. While there, I witnessed a group of six girls who had just returned
the day before from a 39-day expedition of hiking and canoeing. They were at Soltreks partly because of their emotional and behavior
problems, and partly, because they could not get along with other girls. I was pleased to watch how they had drawn together and had
begun to empower each other as a group. On my early morning drive to visit this program, my car radio announced that 9 miners had
just been miraculously saved, still in good shape, after being trapped and partially submerged in frigid water for three days in a
collapsed mine shaft. The miners claimed they survived because they had collectively decided to live or die, “as a group” and it was
their support for each other that kept them alive, alternating in the center of their human huddle, for body warmth.
The kind of group work I witnessed in the girls on this trek, showed similar qualities of the powerful “medicine” that can occur in
a group during a therapeutic wilderness expedition. The positive impact of this kind of work was reinforced by Dr. Daniel Goleman’s
book that I was currently reading, entitled, Working With Emotional Intelligence, Bantam, 1998. In his book, Goleman
describes how emotional intelligence had a much higher correlation with success in one’s career, across all categories, than IQ scores.
Within emotional intelligence he includes the very skills I saw being practiced in the Soltreks program: awareness, motivation, self-regulation,
empathy, and adeptness in relationships, [pg.24]. Goleman elaborates upon those skills, describing everything from listening and leadership
to team building and handling change, managing one’s emotions, resilience, initiative, optimism, adaptability and personal management.
I saw these qualities beginning to emerge in this group of girls.
I visited Soltreks the day when the all-girl group was ready to embark upon their 3-day individual reflection time (IRT). Unlike a
solo, Soltreks IRT's provide food, water, shelter and clothing, combined with instructor and Director visits to review each student's
experience and assist them with their transition planning. The girls were kind, and comfortable enough to allow another visiting educational
consultant, Jeanette Spires, and myself, to sit in on their group. The girls also allowed into their group, two graduates who
were returning from the previous year because they were motivated to share how their Soltreks experience had helped them, and they
wanted to “give back”. As the girls described why they had chosen to take certain intentions and symbolic items with them on solo,
I realized how much they had already grown. Previously, as we prepared to meet this group, Soltreks' Co- founder/Directors, Lorri
Hanna and Doug Sabo, had spoken to me about how much impact this portion of the program has had on other participants.
It seemed very appropriate that this particular group of girls were together in a single gender group, because each of them had described
their difficulty getting along with other girls, in addition to their other problems, such as drugs, defiance, and/or lack of self-esteem.
The connection that the girls were demonstrating by the time of my visit revealed the hard work they had done during the earlier part
of their trek. From watching their instructors facilitate the group, I could understand how they had been guided to this point.
Some groups at Soltreks are mixed gender, depending on the needs of the group, as determined by Lorri Hanna, Doug Sabo, as well as
the parents and consulting professionals. There were actually a number of treks going on, as could be seen from the large white board
in Doug’s office, where he tracked each group’s progress. In the winter, the groups will go on expeditions in Texas and New Mexico.
Doug and Lorri were quite pleased with their new headquarters that are housed in a lovely remodeled barn in Two Harbors, on the edge
of the Superior Hiking Trail, a 220 mile trail that stretches from Two Harbors to Canada. They are well situated both for hiking,
as well as being a two- hour drive to the Boundary Waters, famous for its beauty and excellent opportunities for canoeing. The parent
session at the end of the trek takes place in a nearby resort on the shores of lake Superior. Lovely as it is there, Doug and Lorri
do look forward to adding on to the barn to provide a space for the parent meetings, an important component of their program.
When it was time for me to leave, I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends, even though Doug and Lorri were the only ones there
I had met before. I felt so much caring and warmth from everyone I encountered while I was there.
My impression that this was a program for a “softer” type of kid, was confirmed by Lorri and Doug’s description that if a child is
too resistant, it would not be an appropriate match, and was shared by Jeanette Spires, who has used this program on many occasions.
My concern that many parents worry their child will learn negative behaviors from others in a wilderness group, was addressed by Lorri,
even before I asked the question. She started sharing her excitement about the fact that her 13 year old son had chosen to participate
in a Soltreks expedition this summer, and how much not only he had gotten out of it, but also how much it had improved their family
communication. She also let me know that this winter both she and Doug will be in their Southern location, which will streamline communications
for consultants who wish to use their program during the winter months.
As I took a few moments to walk on the smooth rounded pebbles on the beach at Lake Superior after my visit, I reflected on how pleased
I was that I had been able to visit this program. Not only did I respond very positively to the quality of the people running the
program, I also felt very impressed by what I observed in the field.