I began envisioning my zen self at Wild Rice Retreat long before the sweet birchwood cocoons took their efficient rectangular shape on Northern Wisconsin land in Bayfield, WI. I saw that it could truly be a place of transformation for all who encountered it with an open heart, mind, and body. Now, upon return from my first experience there, I have evidence of that truth from a personal perspective.
In late 2019, huddled over a small table at Minneapolis coffee shop my friend and fellow wellness retreater Camille and I took in retreat visionary Heidi Zimmer’s plans. Ambitious? Yes! On point and viable with potential to positively impact lives? Also yes!
Months after our coffee meet-up, in March of 2020, Heidi and members of her collaborative came to ModernWell. Collectively they shared the story of Mary Rice (Queen of Bayfield and creator of Wild Rice Restaurant) and the land, the concept development and financial support of women investors, and how Wild Rice Retreat would deliver an exceptional wellness experience. I was ready to book then and there.
But I and many others would have to be patient. The full impact of the pandemic arrived a week after Heidi’s visit, which presented challenges in the development and financing of the retreat — pushing out its opening date of the first 22 cabins (see the Star Tribune article here), or as I became fond of calling them during our visit, cocoons. Then finally after a long, retreat-less Covid winter, an email from Heidi arrived in the spring announcing a May 15, 2021, soft opening and a July official opening.
One need look no further than the events of the past year to fully justify a wellness retreat. I also happened to land on one more significant reason to book immediately — my husband and my 20-year wedding anniversary in June. Normally I would float a joint trip and celebration by him for buy-in. For this, I merely checked that his schedule was open on the ideal Thursday – Saturday dates and booked. That was April 25. Days later the local paper shared the retreat’s story and opening, and the demand peaked for ricepods, nests, and treehouses (the lodging options currently onsite).
The interest and bookings are healthy signs of a hopeful return to travel and venturing out from our home cocoons. I believe we’ll be taking a new mindset into our experiences and the selection of how we want to spend our decompression vacation time. How could we not after all that we’ve learned and changed over the past year?
In prep for our retreat time, I referenced the Wild Rice Retreat mantra: move your body, express creatively, and nourish your soul. I thought about what that would mean to me as I planned my mindset, activities and way of being for our two-night stay. Note, we selected the self-directed retreat style where we could choose to be joiners or loners during our stay. When guest retreat
With an 11:30A departure, we rolled into Va Bene in Duluth for a late Italian lunch featuring bread with olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette before moving onward to Bayfield.
Nourished by bread, Nicoise and pasta with laptops shut, the rolling hills lulled us into away mode. By the time our GPS indicated a right turn onto Old San Road to the retreat, we were ready to begin. Along the winding road to the retreat center we encountered Heidi and retreat creative director, Annalisa, on a golf cart – a nice personal welcome! At the center we were greeted by Scott, who would remain our attentive host and source of positive energy throughout our visit.
In our Nest, that eve and during our stay, I noticed how every surface and object was thoughtfully designed and intentionally present — the shag rug in the lounging space, the Blu Dot contoured furniture, the Spirit Almanac, the Yoga Sleep USA device’s sound settings, and the temp specific water heater for coffee or tea — to name a few. If you wondered how wellness and tech happily converge, it’s here in The Nest. Be unafraid.
As nurturing as our new cocoon was, we had a bird’s-eye view of the Sauna Haus — it was open for use 24/7 and it was beckoning. We made our way to the haus and discovered not only a 24-person wide bench sauna (with wooden pillows as my husband noted), but a rain shower room fit for a party of ten. Heavenly!
Post sauna we ventured out to Bayfield for a light dinner of cheese curds and nachos with an Athletic Brewing Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA at The Bayfield Inn — (just prior to 9:00P closing time) before our healthier retreat “Provisions Basket” would begin making its scheduled appearance on our doorstep. We wrapped the eve with a fire using the firewood stocked on the property and transporting it via a retreat wheelbarrow. We marveled over the outdoor fire pit’s airflow design that lit a vertical, sustained fire.
The next morning I ventured over to the Peace Pod with my Born in the Moonlight yoga mat by Big Raven Yoga to take Heidi’s 7:30A yoga class. A gentle mist rolled over the buildings and I felt all of the chill 65 degree temp. The lower temp was a reminder that we were nestled in the forest right on Lake Superior 70’ above the water on brownstone cliffs. I also recall Heidi noting that the energy of the land has a lot to do with the experience in this nurturing place. I felt that during our stay and as the day’s yoga practice heated things up – setting the tone for a restorative and peaceful day.
By the time I arrived back at The Nest, our Provisions Basket had arrived with a note about gratefulness. It was such a beautiful presentation and quite possibly my favorite feature of our experience. “Breakfast Goodies” and “Picnic Lunch” curated by the Novo staff (Novo is the new restaurant onsite, the former Wild Rice Restaurant) arrived in a basket with details of all it contained – overnight oats, granola, organic yogurt, sesame seed bagels, dolmas (so generous I literally had three servings of this dish), and fermented veggies. Nourishing!
Next up was trip two to the sauna followed by reading two books over the course of the day – Quit Like a Woman (Holly Whitaker), and Quiet (Susan Cain). Both books seemed to be working in tandem to bring the launch of my personal brand to life in a transformative way. My husband indulged in chess via an app while I read – the story of his days since we finished watching Queen’s Gambit. We also played a game gifted to us by the kids – Let’s Get Deep – and quickly got into heavy conversation about meaningful stuff that we’d never just stumble upon during dinner.
There was enough time for a third sauna and showering up before the 4:30P Mixology session by Brie Roland, who covered the making of the retreat’s Lavender Skies non-alcoholic cocktail. As a person in recovery, this experience felt so inclusive and supportive! And it continued as we stayed for our 6:00P reservation at Novo for the Evening Flora/Fauna Meal (by chef Dustin Thompson) and my selection of the spirit-free cocktail pairings with dinner. The flavors, presentation, sourcing and thoughtfulness down to the dessert course of coconut rice pudding with a rhubarb-infused n/a cocktail, were perfection. We lingered after – me with a decaf coffee and my husband with a beer — on the deck where a fire was crackling in the signature chimney fireplace.
The next morning, yoga called again (while my husband did a seven-mile run) and it led me to the outdoor retreat center deck overlooking Lake Superior. Perfect temps, a warm breeze, instruction by Darcy Schwerin, a reading from Mark Nepo, and a visit from a butterfly, made my morning. Divine!
We checked off the fourth and final sauna before noon, enjoyed eats from the basket in The Nest and regretfully packed up to check out. What an incredible way to return to nature, reconnect with your partner, experience nourishing food, rest, transform, and emerge rejuvenated. I’m already planning a return trip. Until then, can I arrange for Provisions to be delivered to my home?