Flying Solo at Ironwood

solo hike at ironwood maine

“Solos” are kind of a big deal at Ironwood. When someone goes on their Solo, this tells those around them that they’ve entered a transitional period in the program. This begs the question, if one word can me so much, what does it represent? What is a Solo? A Solo or Solo Experience is the title of two goals found in the level four and level two folders respectively.

(Level 2 Solo) 

At the end of level two, a resident who has done exemplary work and is ready to move onward in their program receives an “Invite” to present a speech about their program so far and  to progress to level three at the Farmhouse. Gaining an invite shows the student that their hard work, integrity, and consistent meeting of expectations has paid off. They get to level up! Once they get their invite, they get the date of their solo. This F.R.Y.E Solo Experience (Frye Reflect on Your Experience Solo Experience) gives the resident time away from the group to write the speech they will present at treatment team the following Wednesday. Additionally, they have to cook dinner for themselves over a fire they build at their solo site, the beanhole pit on Frye campus. To do this they are given a lighter, some wood, an are expected to collect kindling. The student sits outside for the whole day from nine am, to when they go to meds at 7pm. They are expected to take this time to meet the requirements on the goal and reflect on their Ironwood journey thus far.

“Your life is your story, and the adventure ahead of you is the journey to fulfill your own purpose and potential.”

Kerry Washington

(Level four Solo) 

Toward the end of their Ironwood journey, and after their home visit, a level four resident gets the opportunity to spend 24 hours in the wilderness on the Ironwood campus, alone; this is their level 4 solo experience goal. This goal is a lot more extensive than its previous counterpart in level two, and is broken up into three parts: a writing assignment, meal plan, and overall expectations of the experience/ a checklist. Once a resident makes a date and picks a location (options include the Beaver Pond, Mini-cabin, or The Sugar Shack), they can begin to prepare. First, the student must make a menu of five to six meals. The first key part of the goal is that the student must build a fire and cook one meal over that fire. Secondly, the student is expected to not return to the Farmhouse for any reason, unless it is absolutely necessary and a matter of “health and safety”. Ergo, when they pack, they must pack everything they need in order to be prepared. Returning to retrieve an item equates to immediate suspension of the solo goal and an explanation from the resident. Thirdly, they must complete a thorough checklist listed in the level four folder of what they must bring. Finally, they are expected to write a letter to their future self that reflects on their whole Ironwood journey and sets goals for their post-grad actions and lifestyle; this letter will be sent home at least six months post- graduation.

 The Solo experiences that every graduating student works through are incredibly beneficial. The student is given a lighter to build a fire. This shows a lot of trust in the student’s competency, growth, and general capabilities. Not to mention, the goals are a significant, tangible, milestone on the Ironwood journey of emotional, behavioral, and mental growth; it’s Ironwood’s version of graduating middle school, and high school—two key times in an adolescent’s academic career. They create a lot of mixed feelings of joy, anxiety, and pride.

As with anything else worth doing in life, Solos can also be very challenging. The idea of spending a long period of time in the Ironwood wilderness can create some of anxiety for students, especially on the level four solo where porcupine and racoons abide. This anxiety can be something that dissipates, or follows the student through their solo experience, and that’s a-okay! In fact, their ability to cope with that anxiety is something they are expected to have during these goals. Furthermore, meeting the requirements of the goal in the allotted time given can be very difficult.  Some struggle to write the assignments or with procrastination, and others struggle to make a working fire. The goal’s success is directly dependent on the student’s preparedness and capability to deal with any arising challenges.

Ironwood’s solo experiences build skills that are important and applicable to life outside of  Ironwood. In order to complete these goals, they must reflect on their current situation and think of plans for the future, build a fire, manage their time, use healthy coping skills, be competent, be prepared, and cook at least one meal for themselves.  In addition, solos represent a rare show of trust. This trust allows the students to practice being trusted, and doing what they are trusted to do. That experience is not something a kid who comes here is often able to have, and therefore is an important part of their growth. These skills, and this experience can benefit anyone and everyone who is willing to try it out outside of Ironwood. However, the experience, and the lessons learned from it, only work and happen if the person puts in full effort and actually completes the goal. Every day people cook meals, build fires, manage their time and cope; everyday people are prepared, competent, reflect on their past, make plans for the future and are trusted. The only difference between Ironwood and life outside of Ironwood, is the structure of the circumstances and the location.

On Tuesday March 2nd, I embarked on my level four solo experience. During this time, I researched and experienced this key part in the program in an organic way—living it. I spent 24 hours in the Ironwood wilderness. I found that the very real struggle of building a cook fire is true and not over exaggerated, and like many other residents, reminded myself of how bad I was at building fires. I got to be silly in the woods, do dinner ceremony with only myself and a peanut-butter stealing chickadee, read, and move at my own pace. Most of all, I got to reflect on the past fifteen some odd months of my Ironwood journey. I think it was great, and a very important part of the program. Also, I didn’t hear or run into any coyotes…which was a fantastic bonus!

Overall, Solos are important milestones in your child’s program that are challenging, beneficial and help them transition through two very important parts of their ironwood journey. These experiences help them practice important life skills such as: time management, fire building, preparedness, healthy coping, cooking, and competency, and the general skill of being accountable and doing what is asked of you. Finally, they are an incredible opportunity to sit, relax, and reflect on the work a student has done one their Ironwood journey—as I’ve previously stated, they are a big deal!