Every year, hundreds of women look forward to Fall Fit Women’s Weekend by SHE Getaways, a two-night, three day getaway at YMCA Wanakita at Lake Koshlong, Haliburton. For 48 hours, attendees enjoy 5 fitness classes (boot camp, yoga, cross fit, kayaking, paddle boarding, low ropes, high ropes, flag football, Zumba and more), parties, and campfires. They bunk in cabins and eat in the dining hall just like their kids might have done a month or two earlier during summer camp.
It’s exactly the kind of full-on experience that intimidates introverts like yours truly here at Plenty. Beth-Anne remembers going to camp once and asking her parents if she could come home, and I have never been, because it never once occurred to my immigrant mother to send me to sleep in the woods with strangers for free, let alone pay gobs of money for it.
In other words, attending Fall Fit Women’s Weekend 2017 was well outside our comfort zone. And that’s precisely why we decided to go. Beth-Anne and I are not so very young anymore, and (mostly) know what we like. This serves us well as we increasingly design our lives to best suit our needs. But the underbelly of knowing what we prefer can be a reluctance to try what we might enjoy. To avert this, and in the spirit of openness to new adventures, we packed our sleeping bags and flashlights, and went to camp.
Upon arrival, novelty greeted us. We soon found ourselves settling into our bunks with seven (seven!) cabin mates and then walked 10 minutes to a dining hall positively resounding with women’s voices and laughter. The growing swell of us (about 350) listened to welcoming speakers, played some collective games, browsed the vendors, and enjoyed some big belly laughs with comic relief perfectly matched for the crowd.
The next morning, we were introduced to camp life in true style, with a ringing bell at 7am and an invitation (gauntlet throw?) to take a Polar Bear dip in the lake. Gripped by some inner desire mixed with camp fervour, I pulled on my bathing suit, lined up in a row with other women, and ran into the lake. Beth-Anne, fully dressed and wrapped in a throw for good measure, documented this. I swear, this is an unexpectedly blissful way to start the day. I stayed in the water and enjoyed the highlight of this dip as long as I could (I was the only one to stay – apparently the chilly cottage waters of Georgian Bay are a good training ground for Polar Bear!).
Then we were off to our fitness classes. There were so many activities on offer – something for everyone. Particularly tough was the firefighter challenge, largely due to the unseasonably warm (ie. steaming hot) weather they (otherwise) lucked out on during the weekend.
Beth-Anne took a class with Joga Jana, a Real Housewife of Toronto, and discovered that Jana is not your average celebrity shilling her product du jour. She’s the real deal – having spent years developing Joga, she’s an attentive teacher noting the slightest misalignment, purposefully explaining the methodology and reasoning for each carefully thought out move while encouraging the room of students to safely challenge themselves.
As for me, I got to paddle board and try low ropes for the first time. So much fun! For low ropes I partnered with two women who I hadn’t met before, and by the end of our hour session, we were sufficiently cheering each other on that each of us met every challenge.
As it turns out, whether you’re attending camp at 10 or 45 years old, immersive experiences and shared goals quickly transforms strangers into friends. I may never see those two women again, but I’ll always remember those low ropes with affection, because for that hour, those women were friends. The same held true for our seven cabin mates, because when you’re changing with that many people with nothing but a few square feet – no bathroom, no full-length mirrors, no overhead lights, no doors – you tend to make conversation that’s as real and pared down as you are. We enjoyed everyone in the room, and left with new friends.
It wasn’t just us – it was clear the women around us were enjoying themselves. Speaking to the women we met, we discovered that many women came back year after year, brought friends, looked forward to the weekend all year, and saved to make it happen. One woman became misty-eyed when talking about the feeling of acceptance at Fall Fit, and the lack of judgment there.
We felt this ourselves. The women around us were not a parade of perfection-seeking bodies sporting the latest workout gear. We were all shapes, sizes, and ages, which could only be the result of a notable lack of pomp and preening. There was no scene, except for the gorgeous vistas of the forest and lake that grounded everything even more.
Kim Turley-Smith, who originally created this retreat for the people at her gym in Milton, actively nurtures this welcoming environment free of intimidating/impossible ideals or pressures to be who we aren’t. It was critical to her that the retreat convey the idea of health as more than a fit body, but also a fit mind and spirit. “There’s no one taking attendance here,” she says. “Take what you need from this weekend.”
Which is precisely what Beth-Anne and I did. We tried new fitness practices, met new people, and explored a new physical location (which was downright beautiful). Our routines were shaken up. We spent a lot of time talking and laughing with each other; we worked hard or skipped classes where we wanted to; we rested. We took what we needed.
We wanted to try new Fall Fit Women’s Weekend 2017 to challenge our boundaries, and that’s what we got, even as we bumped up against the solidity of those boundaries. I had moments of discomfort for sure. And Beth-Anne, who is a very light sleeper, had trouble sleeping in her bunk – every rustle kept her wide-eyed.
It may not have unfolded precisely how we thought it would, but we went for a challenge, experienced it in our own way, and somehow got both got something we didn’t expect and also exactly what we signed up for. We did something that scared us a little, and were rewarded with a weekend that we will both remember for a long time.
Our Top Tips for Fall Fit Women’s Weekend:
- Map out where you’re going in advance of getting in the car. Camp Wanakita is in the woods, where GPS can be unreliable.
- Get a solid map of the camp itself and hang onto it. Both going there and once you’re up there. It’s a big compound, and classes can be over a kilometre away. There are windows of time between classes, but if your activities happen to be at opposite ends of camp, you’ll need that time.
- Consult the packing list! It’s handy, and covers everything.
- Bring plentiful snacks and food (in a cooler if needed). The organizers do their best but are working with a YMCA camp kitchen and the desire to keep the weekend as financially accessible as possible. In case you don’t like what’s on the menu, or have particular food needs, you will appreciate having a back-up plan. Friday night’s chili bar was a basic affair, for example – if you need something more, especially after pulling yourself away from work and driving a distance to get there, bring it yourself.
- Go in well-rested. Even if you forego the parties, unless you are used to cabin sleeping, you can assume you won’t sleep as well or as much as usual, plus you are going to be very active during the day. Start the weekend with a full tank of energy.
- Use the men’s washrooms! There is a tiny peppering of men employed at camp for the weekend, but they are so few and far between, you’re unlikely to find one in the washroom. The men’s washrooms were largely vacant and clean.
- Choose fitness activities that you wouldn’t normally try. There is a lot to choose from, and this is a stress-free way of checking out something new.
- Choose outdoor activities if the weather is nice. Our weekend was unseasonably warm and gorgeous, and I wanted to be outside as much as possible.