A Flurry of Fun - Ashland is Base Camp - Winter '24 Issue

Friday, February 8, 2019

Get Out & Go Within


Get Out & Go Within

With Inner Guide Expeditions

Story by Jessika Barrett

Photography provided by Inner Guide Expeditions


Tom Shelstad, co-founder of Inner Guide Expeditions (IGE), grew up in a lakeside cabin in Northern Minnesota. There, he spent most of his days playing and interacting with the outside world. “I wanted to be outside playing all the time. I was either riding my bike, building forts or riding my skateboard. It was such a gift to me, the level of freedom and adventure that nature provided,” Tom says, as his eyes widen with wonder. “That was throughout my childhood and adolescence, which was an important piece of who I am today.” Tom now owns and operates a thriving commercial guide and youth facilitation program based in the Rogue Valley that offers both wilderness and ongoing programs for teens, adult trips and custom family expeditions worldwide. He and the seasoned staff of IGE bring something truly unique to the place where personal growth and adventure intersect.

Like too many others, Tom was bullied in school, and found comfort and community in a youth group in high school, which he would later realize sparked the foundation for the model of his programs. “It was a place where I felt seen, appreciated, and where I could just go and be myself in a supportive atmosphere that brought new ideas,” says Tom. “It inspired lifelong friendships and irreplaceable confidence.” Programs like this one and Inner Guide Expeditions, founded in 2012, facilitate lasting friendships and bonds through shared experiences with peers. “At the core, we create a safe place for kids to be themselves. It’s an answer to the world of electronics, screens, and a learned belief that we should be something other than what we already are in order to be okay. At Inner Guide, we create through adventures, fun and play, a culture where people feel comfortable and safe being their true selves instead of who they think they need to become in order to receive the love, acceptance and friendship they’re looking for. Feeling seen in their authenticity is the gateway to freedom.” The goal is to help people navigate their lives from a place of empowered self-understanding, so that they may interact with their world and others in a way that is confident, inspired, and engaged.

IGE offers a variety of programs throughout the year. They have specific youth programs for middle school and high school called The Guide Council, where they meet two-three times per month, and offer three weekend-long adventures throughout the school year. The high school program also includes an additional two-hour, one-on-one mentoring session every month in order to better support development. Their programs use “group initiatives and cooperative games to bring in topics of conversation and tools that help support the kids in developing their own consciousness and confidence.” They learn “how to communicate clearly, how to give and receive feedback, and we supportively question their assumptions about the world,” says Tom. He feels that these sessions are unique and as varied as the person. “This isn’t a replacement for therapy. It’s not a therapy program, yet it’s highly therapeutic.” He goes on to add, “There are kids who are well on their way, and they’re understanding themselves in confidence. They just want to keep it up. There are also kids who are having some challenges in some way and we help provide tools to assist them.” The program provides “safe circles” where the youth check in about what’s going on in their lives, and confidentiality agreements are set in place. “Kids can drop pretty deep.”

Other programs on IGE’s itinerary include multisport summer expeditions. “Our clients come from all over the U.S., and also from Canada and Singapore,” says Tom. Expeditions have taken place in four states and seven countries. “Many of our trips are multisport, so we combine the effort and reward of backpacking with river rafting, surfing, hot springs, standup paddle boarding or canoeing. Often, it’s an adventurous water-based sport that gets the kids out of their comfort zone as they learn another skill.” This summer features an 18-day high school trip. The group will go to Vancouver Island, where they’ll take a floatplane to a remote island off the west side before hiking the length of it. “It’s remote, and just breathtakingly beautiful,” says Tom. They then be picked up by another floatplane and dropped off at a hot spring 26 miles north of Tofino, BC, before heading back to Tofino for four days of surfing. Tom says of the trip, “It’s an epic adventure! It is also skillfully guided in the emotional landscapes as well, with invitations to personal inquiry. The combination makes for an extraordinary trip and supports their personal development.”

One of the many ways IGE is unique is that they meet their clients where they are. No matter where someone is in their personal development, IGE teaches them the skills they’ll need for every aspect of the journey, whether it’s exploring inward or outward. When asked what the philosophy is behind these expeditions, Tom states, “Going out on an expedition, people are slightly uncomfortable. As they are out on an expedition, their sense of self and their view on life and the world and their place in it, opens from their entrained patterns of thought and belief. Being slightly off kilter in that way opens them up for new ideas of the world and their place in it. It’s such a rich place to go within.” This is fitting, as their tagline is, “Get out, Go within.” He adds, “Most of us have had that sense or feeling at some point in our lives of where our perception dissipates and what surfaces in that state and space of awe is this open mindedness and receptivity to look at things a little differently. This is where conversation and journal assignments are introduced, to help clients think a little deeper—that’s the go within. That’s the real journey, that’s what takes courage.”

As for Tom, he eagerly awaits every trip and finds himself at home in the outdoors. His lifelong passion for working with youth, along with his experience in wilderness therapy and leadership, will assure his adventures just keep coming.  “Adventure runs in my veins,” he says. “I’ve noticed how much adventure and trips naturally support people in their development, and when you bring in some very intentional questions, it’s magic.”

To learn more about Inner Guide Expeditions and their programs, please visit their website at www.innerguideexpeditions.com. You can contact the Inner Guide team via email at info@innerguideexpeditions.com, or phone at 541-261-4959.

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