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Presentation Outline. Description of the Study Research Methods Expedition Components Overview of Key Findings Significant Aspects of the Solo Experience Novelty Timing Challenge Spiritual Influence Perspective Setting Summary of Key Findings. Description of the Study.

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Presentation Outline

  • Description of the Study

  • Research Methods

  • Expedition Components

  • Overview of Key Findings

  • Significant Aspects of the Solo Experience

    • Novelty

    • Timing

    • Challenge

    • Spiritual Influence

    • Perspective

    • Setting

  • Summary of Key Findings



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Description of the Study

  • Study title: “The Life Significance of a Spiritually Oriented, Outward Bound-type Wilderness Expedition”

  • Focus of study: Montreat College’s Discovery program

    • 20-day, Christian-centered, Outward Bound-type wilderness expedition in North Carolina mountains

  • Focus of this presentation: the solo component of Discovery expedition


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Description of the Study (cont.)

  • Span: 25-year retrospective study

  • Research questions:

    • What is the long-term value of a wilderness experience?

    • Is it significant over the course of one’s life and, if so, why?

  • Purpose: To learn what participants…

    • Remembered about the trip

    • Had learned during and as a result of the trip

    • Believed the trip’s role has played (if any) in their lives

  • Aspects: Study focused on identifying significance of two things:

    • Entire expedition

    • Individual expedition components, such as solo


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Identifying Significant Life Events

  • Significant life events share several characteristics:

    • Changes the participant’s perspective, behavior, or belief

      • May be mental, spiritual, physical, emotional, social, or some combination

    • Constitutes a new or extraordinary experience

      • Outside the bounds of the normal routine

    • Provides future value to participant

      • Reference point or life lesson

    • Holds specific meaning for participant

      • Meaning derived from/attributed to experience

    • Believed to be caused intentionally by something other than by mere chance

      • God, a guiding force, a higher power

    • Defined by unusual/meaningful nature, magnitude, or timing

      (Daniel, 2003)



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Research Participants

Sample: Comprised 227 of 446 individuals who took part in Discovery expedition between 1976 and 2000

  • Self-selected population

  • All years of program represented

  • Response rate of 72.2%

    Focus Groups: 18 people participated in focus group interviews:

  • 13 had completed survey

  • 5 (28%) had not completed survey

    • Represented new voices in study

  • Included individuals from 10 different years of program

    Pilot Studies: 41 participants



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Survey Questions: Demographics

  • Were you a participant, a leader, or a participant who later became a leader?

  • Do you currently work in a field related to outdoor education?

  • What is your gender?

  • What was your age when you went on the trip?

  • What year did you go on the Discovery expedition?

  • What was your academic classification during the year previous to the trip?

  • Had you participated in an organized wilderness expedition prior to going on Discovery?

    • If so, how many?

    • What was the average length of these trips?

  • At the time you went on the trip, what was your religious affiliation, if any?

  • Currently, what is your religious affiliation, if any?


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Survey Questions: Open-ended

  • Why did you decide to go on the Discovery Expedition?

  • If a current Montreat College student contacted you to ask if you thought going on the trip would be a valuable experience, what would you tell him/her? Please explain.

  • What do you consider to have been your most significant experiences on the trip? What made them significant? Please explain.

  • Has your opinion of what the expedition meant to you changed or remained the same since completing the trip? Please explain.

  • Has the fact that you went on the Discovery expedition made a difference in your life in any way? Please explain why you think it has or has not.


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Data Analysis

  • Read all 210 survey responses

  • Typed and transcribed responses

  • Tabulated demographic data from part one

  • Calculated average rating for each trip component in part three

  • Summarized information in series of data tables

  • Coded and analyzed a) answers to questions in part two and b) taped interviews

  • Used HyperResearch software to code final layers of analysis

    • Allowed for multiple coding of each passage

  • Analyzed data for emergent themes using constant comparative method

    • Researcher continually compares emerging themes against new data (Corbin & Strauss, 1990)

  • Confirmed inter-coder reliability

    • Three additional researchers reviewed data





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What is Solo?

According to the Discovery Wilderness Manual (Fortson, 1988), the purposes of the solo are:

  • “A time of fasting, reflection and rest.

  • A time to look back over the trip to see what has been learned.

  • A time to evaluate past and present relationships with Christ, family and friends.” (p. 57)


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The Findings in Brief: Solo

  • 2 Pilot Studies: 37% of participants said solo was most significant trip component

  • Main Study: 39% of participants said solo was most significant trip experience

    • 38% of all males, 39% of all females

  • Solo was only component deemed most important by ≥1 respondent from each of 25 years

  • Solo’s role described as significant in every focus group interview

  • Solo averaged 6.20 on the 7-point Likert-type scale used to rate significance of trip components




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The Novelty of Solo

[On the solo] “I was alone for the first time for more than two to three hours, other than sleeping, in my whole life.”

- Discovery participant


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The Novelty of Solo

  • Solo’s novelty – both among other trip components and other life experiences – accounted, in part, for why it was viewed as trip’s most significant experience

    • Solo was rare or unique in lives of most participants

  • Some experiences considered more significant when they occur than when viewed in retrospect

  • Solo’s novelty made it particularly memorable

    • Novel events share several characteristics: “They are perceived as strongly emotional at the time. Life’s subsequent course must make the target event focal in recall. The event must be seen as a turning point, instrumental in later activities. The event must remain relatively unique, its image must not be blurred by subsequent occurrences of similar events.” (Neisser, 1982, p. 89)


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The Timing of Solo

“We had finally made it to our destination after two days of arguing and thinking we were lost. We were all exhausted and tired of being around each other. What we didn’t know was that we were about to go on Solo. Wow! I’ve never missed people so much in my life.”

- Discovery participant


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The Timing of Solo

  • Solo usually occurs…

    • When psychological defenses broken down by cumulative fatigue of physical and emotional challenges

    • Just after the group has traveled for one or two days without the instructors

    • When participants arrive at destination exhausted, hungry, and, sometimes, exasperated with one another

  • Participants must transition quickly from a time of intense social interaction to a time of isolation, reflection, and fasting.

    • Contrast between these is dramatic and creates dynamic tension that requires resolution

      • The more unknown, unpredictable, or unfamiliar the experience, the harder people work to make sense of what is happening to them (Luckner and Nadler (1997)).


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The Challenge of Solo

“In some ways I longed for those three days. In some ways I dreaded them. In retrospect, that may truly represent my going through – and coming out of my dark night of the soul.”

- Discovery participant


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Solo was not positive experience for some

Anxiety, stress, fear, dissonance, loneliness, boredom, and hunger common

Solitude and fasting mentioned most often as most difficult factors in solo

Fasting while alone in wilderness afforded mental, spiritual, and emotional challenges to be met and resolved

Most participants reported developing strategies for coping with difficulties of solo

Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957): People change behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs to alleviate an emotional state (tension, anxiety, stress) brought on by intellectual conflict.

Some unable to do so – felt overwhelmed to point that it interfered with their learning

Possible when participants are subjected to too much stress or risk (Martin and Priest (1986))

The Challenge of Solo


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The Spiritual Influence of Solo

“The three day fast and being alone stretched me and my trust and faith in God. I felt his presence so near. The Bible was alive to me, I could not get enough. It strengthened my faith and trust in God as our provider.”

- Discovery participant


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The Spiritual Influence of Solo

  • Participants related spiritual growth to the solo more than any other trip component, including the daily devotions and Bible studies.

    • Described spiritual growth in terms of an increased faith and trust in God

  • They said solitude, prayer, meditation, fasting, scripture, journaling, and reflection time enhanced spiritual awareness and made them feel closer to God.

    “Solo made my spirit quiet. And I found that God really was interested in my smallest details.”

    - Discovery participant


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The Spiritual Influence of Solo

“By far, the most significant experience on the trip was my solo experience. Although I detested every lingering minute, the experience broke me in every sense of the word. I was physically and mentally drained. I was poor and broken in spirit. I felt helpless, hopeless, and at the mercy of the world. I had nowhere to turn, but to the Lord. Christ provided for all my needs as he always has and always will. Christ showed me what I was without Him, then He comforted me and showed me a life lacking nothing in communion with Him. I will never forget that experience.”

- Discovery participant


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Solo as a Religious Retreat

  • Detachment

  • Solitude

  • Simplification

  • Reflection

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 46:10, Bible, New International Version


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The Perspective Afforded by Solo

“The solo days were days that allowed me the space, focus, and clarity of mind to think about my future, what I wanted out of my life.”

– Discovery participant


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The Perspective Afforded by Solo

  • Key elements

    • Perspective

      • Allowed participants to draw parallels between the wilderness journey, their life journeys, and their spiritual journeys

    • Solitude

      • Provided chance to face fears

    • Simplicity

      • Reduced life to the basics - no busy schedules, deadlines, interruptions

    • Decision-making

      • Forced participants to be self-reliant

      • Provided time for making personal and professional decisions

    • Reflection, meditation, prayer

      • Provided time to process Discovery prior to solo and to digest the meaning of the experience

      • Served as incubator for ideas related and unrelated to the expedition

      • Often led to increased self insight, awareness

      • Enabled closer relationship with God/Creation


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Reflection Time

  • Reflection time averaged 6.10 on the 7-point, Likert-type scale.

  • It was the most common component described as “what we wish we had had more of.”

    “The daily quiet/reflection time and chance to journal about my understanding of God and myself were unique to this experience and I know it provided me with the opportunity to grow spiritually.”

    - Discovery participant


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The Setting for Solo

“Before the trip, I had never been camping or spent an extended period of time outdoors. Additionally, I had never sat quietly with nature and listened, observed or felt connected to the process of life. The Discovery Program gave me an encounter with the earth, water, wind and fire in a way that has changed, not only my hobbies (camping, hiking, etc.), but more importantly my way of life. Now, an escape to the mountains, deserts, oceans and farmlands are more than a vacation, but an opportunity to rest my soul and find myself in the big picture of life. This shift in world view has had profound implications on my personal, professional, and spiritual life.”

- Discovery participant


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The Setting for Solo

  • Natural environment provided opportunities for:

    • Solitude and reflection

    • New experiences that tried patience and tested nerves

    • Understanding, experiencing, and/or interacting with God in new and powerful ways

    • Renewal, inspiration, purification, trial, and testing - a place in which the outer protective layers are stripped away, and we are humbled and broken (Garrison, 1995; McDonald and Schreyer, 1991)

  • Natural environment served as:

    • One of most significant components on the trip for 11% of survey respondents

    • An important trip component in all three focus groups

    • Largest sub-group (65 respondents or 31%) stated that various features of natural environment a tremendous source of spiritual inspiration


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The Setting for Solo

  • Three important aspects of natural environment mentioned most often:

    • Beauty of the places

    • Perspective afforded by being on mountain peaks

    • Power exhibited by natural elements (e.g., raging rivers, thunderstorms)

  • Natural environment’s role in Discovery:

    • In a Christian context, wilderness does provide a place for participants to experience “God’s grace through trials and God’s glory through creation” (Garrison, 1995, p. 3).

Wilderness acquires importance as a setting for answering the deepest questions of human existence, for celebrating the creative power behind life and things, and for understanding the unity of them all (in McDonald and Schreyer, 1991, p. 186)


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The Role of Wilderness: Canvas, Catalyst, & Crucible

  • Canvas

    • Backdrop for stage on which group members interact

    • Social dynamics and group leadership, directed by God, are the real keys to personal growth

  • Catalyst

    • Source of inspiration because it is viewed as God’s handiwork

    • Encourages introspection, reflection, and construction of metaphors

  • Crucible

    • Place of trial and testing

    • Reflector that magnifies and intensifies mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges inherent to the expedition experience

      (Daniel, 2003)



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Is was significant for many over the course of their lives for the following reasons:

Was a new and/or extraordinary experience for most participants compared to other life experiences

Occurred in beautiful, natural, and inspirational settings

Offered mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual challenges

Allowed opportunity for reflection, introspection, and contemplation in solitude and silence

Offered perspective

Provided a reference point as well as one or more life lessons

Intensified examination of self in relation to environment, others, and God

Encouraged spiritual growth through prayer, meditation, and reading scripture

Summary of Key Findings


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Concluding Thoughts for the following reasons:

“You cannot harvest the lessons of life except in aloneness and I go to the length of saying that neither the love of man nor the love of God can take deep root except in aloneness” – Kurt Hahn (cited in Miner, 1990, p. 62)


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