Leap Retreat Part 1: Initial Thoughts and Magic in the Mountains

I’ve been home from Leap Retreat for a month.  A whole month!  That’s almost unfathomable to me.  It seems like it was only a couple of days ago that I was enveloped in the beautiful, magical place that is the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and yet at the same time it seems so far away and so long ago that sometimes I catch myself genuinely questioning whether it ever really happened at all.

I’ve been trying to put down some words about my experience at Leap for a long time now.  And yet every time I’ve sat down and stared at the screen, occasionally jotting down a couple of sentences here and there, it’s not felt like it was time to truly dive into it until now.  I have no idea why it’s taken me this long to be able to write about it.  Perhaps because it was such an intensely personal thing for me to do.  Perhaps because since I’ve been home life has been even more crazy-busy with work, family visits, our trip to Florida, jet lag, half term (and more!) than usual.  Or perhaps because I was a little bit afraid of not being able to fully express in words what I feel so deeply in my heart and soul.  Maybe it was a combination of all three.  Who knows?  I guess it doesn’t matter now because here I sit, the girls asleep, the husband out, peace and quiet surrounding me, ready to begin…

I felt curiously calm in the lead-up to Leap.  I knew that I wanted to approach the weekend as openly and honestly as possible, being as authentically me as I could, and being willing to soak up anything and everything that I could about photography.  I knew I didn’t want fear or anxiety to get in the way and so I simply told myself that I felt ok about the whole thing and that I could let those feelings go as they served me no purpose.  Somehow, it worked.  The nerves only really kicked in the night before I was due to fly, that familiar knot sitting heavy and hard in my tummy.

Neil and the girls took me to the train station before school.  I promised myself that I wouldn’t cry and I managed to hold it together as I said goodbye to all three of our girls.  But when Neil pulled me in close I suddenly felt very small, the enormity of what I was about to do hit me, and I crumpled a little, allowing myself a brief moment to be scared before I gathered myself together, waved them goodbye and set off on my journey.

I’m going to gloss over my time in Denver as I’m saving that for another post.  What I will say is that I loved it there – the feel and energy of the city, how clean it was and how many places there were to explore.  And the hotel I stayed in was fabulous!

Before long it was time to catch my ride up into the mountains.  As soon as I met Libby (and Ashley and Anne, who were also hitching a lift with us), all of my last few remaining nerves and worries vanished.  I felt instantly comfortable in their company.  We (and everyone else who was attending – twelve of us in total plus our teacher Sarah and our fabulous chef Lulu) had all spent the last nine months getting to know each other in a private Facebook group and we clicked straight away in person, chatting easily and sharing our thoughts and feelings about what was to come over the next few days.

We were to be staying in a cosy little cabin in a place called Allenspark, about 9,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains.  The drive up through the mountains was undeniably spectacular.  The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, every twist and turn of the road exposed yet another incredible view, and we lapsed into silence at regular intervals as we tried to take in the enormity of it all.  Our eyes just couldn’t get enough and our cameras simply weren’t able to do it justice.  It was, in short, phenomenal.

A view from the roadside. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times we pulled over so one or all of us could snap a photo!

Whilst we were still at relatively low altitude the landscape remained green as it was mainly pine trees – as Libby pointed out, it smelt like Christmas!

I love this shot of the clouds over the top of the mountain.

We didn’t get out and explore as we had to be at the cabin by a certain time, but Estes Park – the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park – is supposed to be really beautiful. I’d love to go back one day.

A couple of hours later we arrived at the cabin and as soon as I stepped in through the front door I felt immediately at home.  Hugs with everyone were exchanged, we all helped bring in each other’s gear and our supplies for the weekend from the various cars scattered in the driveway and straight away it felt like we were a family, as crazy as that might sound.

The whole weekend was full of open-hearted sharing, laughter, support and encouragement.  Everyone had their story to tell.  I’ve honestly never felt so comfortable in the company of a group of women as I did with these ones.  At the end of our time together I’d known them in person for less than 48 hours in total and yet as clichéd as it sounds I felt like I’d known them forever.  I felt like I fit in, like I belonged, and it was such a powerful feeling that even as I’m writing this I can feel myself getting a little choked up because I’ve been searching for that feeling of belonging for such a long time.  And you know what the key thing about it is?  It wasn’t that they accepted me.  It was that I finally, truly accepted myself.  They had no knowledge of my history or background.  I was just me.  And I was enough.

I’m not going to lie…it was challenging.  Both emotionally and creatively.  And in the best possible way because we were supported and gently guided by each other the entire time.  There was one exercise in particular that stretched me to my absolute limits.  I felt incredibly uncomfortable and everyone could see it, but I knew that I was in completely safe hands so I sat with it, let myself experience it, did my best to just let it go, and came out the other side having survived.  I loved every element of all three family photoshoots that we did – watching, learning, interacting and connecting.  I can’t wait to share all of the images I took!

My phone didn’t work in the mountains (at the time I put it down to the high altitude but since then I’ve realised that my phone simply doesn’t like America because it refused to work whilst we were in Florida too!).  It was actually really lovely being forced to unplug (once I’d accepted that I couldn’t check in with the girls or my husband whenever I felt like it).  I’d had every intention of documenting every hour of my time at Leap but I recognised early on that I really needed to completely immerse myself in the experience and be fully present and I’m so glad that I did.

Interestingly, once I was home I struggled to dive back in to social media and the online world for a while.  It felt like I needed to process everything I’d just experienced without any distractions.  I looked at images that the other Leap attendees shared amongst us in our little Facebook group, but that was it.  I simply didn’t want to engage with trivia when I’d been through something that had changed my world so profoundly, in so many ways, in such a short time.  It was such a whirlwind of a weekend, everything happened so quickly and before I knew it I was home again, and it honestly sometimes feels like it didn’t ever really happen.  Whenever I feel like that I find myself going through the images I captured whilst I was there, reconnecting myself with how I felt.

My head is full.  My heart is full.  And my soul is full.

I have so much to share, but for now I’m going to start with our surroundings, because there is magic in these mountains – I’m absolutely sure of it – and they were a part of the experience that helped to make Leap Retreat what it was, which, it turns out, is exactly what it needed to be…

This was the sunrise on Saturday morning.  I’m a sucker for sunrises and sunsets and who could resist this gorgeous display from nature?

Literally the view from our ‘back garden’

This was the land around the cabin itself where we held all three of the photoshoots:

My favourite view. What a backdrop for a photoshoot!

I love the contrast of the yellow aspen trees against the dark green evergreens behind

Look up and you’ll see the leaves dancing in the wind and falling like confetti all around you

And this was what Jessi, Tina and myself came across when we went for a bit of an explore on the Saturday afternoon during some free time:

Literally walking down the street from the cabin

I have no idea what this mountain was called (they all have names) but I know for sure it was a ‘fourteener’ or ’14er’ – over 14,000 feet high. There are 58 in total (I think!) and many people like to challenge themselves to climb them all

This wasn’t the cabin we stayed in – it’s just a random person’s home that I spotted during our walk. I just loved the signs nailed to the tree and the Stars and Stripes proudly on display.

It really was the most incredible, indescribable experience and I loved every single second of it, even the hard bits.  I have no idea whether any of our paths are going to cross again in person – I really hope they do! – but I do know for sure that I’ve made friends for life.  One day I’ll go back and take my husband and girls with me so they can experience the magic of the mountains as well – I’d really love that.

There are plenty more posts to follow, about my time in Denver, all three photoshoots, and more.  So watch this space as now I’ve started I probably won’t be able to stop 🙂

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16 Comments

  • Reply November 1, 2017

    Lulu

    Such beautiful pictures with lovely and vivid writing!

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Thank you Lulu! 🙂

  • Reply November 2, 2017

    Kerry

    What an incredible place, it’s beautiful! I think it can do us all good to unplug from technology from time to time, though the prospect of which sends me into a cold sweat xx
    Kerry recently posted…3 Things You Need in Your November LifeMy Profile

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      It was so beautiful Kerry – my words and photos don’t really do it justice at all. The enforced unplugging was (in hindsight) exactly what I needed. I think I’m going to try and do it one weekend a month to see if it makes a positive difference.

  • Reply November 2, 2017

    Penny Alexander

    Aw I have been waiting for this, I bet you miss it and all those lovely friends you made. We will have to meet up with our cameras now you are back! What fantastic photos of a stunning location – I wanted to sniff the screen to smell those trees when you mentioned them.
    Penny Alexander recently posted…5 ways a minimalist capsule wardrobe can change your lifeMy Profile

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      It’s so strange but I really do miss everyone – it’s quite amazing how deep the connection was that we all made with each other. And of course the location was indescribably beautiful. Really looking forward to meeting up with you soon to catch up on all of your news as well.

  • Ah this sounds like it really was the most incredible trip and a photographer’s dream come true!! You really have had the a hectic few weeks haven’t you? These pictures are truly stunning xx
    Heledd – Running in Lavender recently posted…A Birthday Feast For Bonfire NightMy Profile

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      It really was a dream come true. And yes, a ridiculously busy couple of months. I’m very much looking forward to a slightly slower November 🙂

  • Reply November 4, 2017

    Suzanne

    Gosh, just as you didn’t know where to start writing, I don’t know how to starting commenting! It sounds like a truly incredible, inspiring and life-changing experience. Clearly something in your spirit knew that it would be before you even left. You are so brave for stepping out and doing something like that, you must feel such a sense of achievement too. Well done as you’re setting a great example to your girls too. xx

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Thank you Suzanne. I think that was the scariest bit actually, leaving my girls. Of course I knew they’d be absolutely fine but Mum-guilt is a terrible thing. Knowing that I was showing them how important it is to do stuff that scares you, to follow your dreams and to challenge yourself to get better at tings you’re passionate about was what made the difference. I hope they remember that as they get older.

  • Reply November 5, 2017

    Sarah Christie

    Oh it looks amazing there and I am so glad you felt that connection with all of the ladies it is incredible the impact meeting new friends online can have on your life isn’t it x

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Absolutely Sarah. Thee was definitely a strong connection between us all and I know I’ve made friends for life.

  • Reply November 7, 2017

    Kerri-Ann

    It looks like an amazing place Chloe. Your photos are stunning. You can hear the inspiration in your words x
    Kerri-Ann recently posted…It’s all about the memories {featuring LALALAB}…My Profile

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Oh Kerri-Ann it was SO beautiful! I’m glad my words convey how I felt – I’ve found it really hard to describe it all as it was so incredible in every way.

  • What an amazing experience – and well done for stepping out of your comfort zone and going in the first place! It’s weird – I’ve had just that feeling before when I’m heading for something I feel anxious about. Literally put those feelings to one side and try to overcome/ignore them. It’s amazing how brave we can be on occasions, isn’t it? Such a brilliant adventure and what an incredible setting too!! How did you find out about the leap retreat in the first place? Sounds like it was made for you! X

    • Reply November 18, 2017

      Chloe Ridgway

      Thank you Caro. It’s quite affirming to know that we do have that courage inside to call on when we need it isn’t it? Leap Retreat is held by a photographer I’ve followed on social media for a long time. She ran a competition to win a place on the retreat and I (somehow!) managed to be the lucky one who got the place. I’m so grateful for the opportunity – it was exactly what I needed to give me the pus to move forwards in the next stage of my journey.

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