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Legendary Life’s “No Phone Challenge” to Support Mental Health Blog Series:

Post #8: “Stillness & Surrender on the River”

This is the 8th in a series of blogs that we will be posting in conjunction with Legendary Life’s launch of our “No Phone Challenge” Remember to download the LiveYourLegendaryLife Phone App for iPhone and Android (insert download links here). The app has a free “No Phone Challenge” Module as well as additional functionality and content to assist you with the challenge.

If you have been following along with the Legendary Life No Phone Challenge blog series you know that I’ve been telling some stories about the experiences I’ve had over the past several years that have inspired the Legendary Life No Phone Challenge for Mental Health Awareness. 

I had quite a lot of content outlined already to support the launch of our challenge. All developed from several years worth of my own “no phone experiences”, planned and unplanned, from around the world. I wasn’t expecting to add any new experiences to the output. However, that’s exactly what happened this past weekend. 

By way of a serendipitous, synchronistic series of events, I ended up subjecting myself to the most ambitious and complete phone & tech “cleanse” that I had ever experienced. It was an amazing, unplanned, and unexpected opportunity that happened to come along the week we were soft launching the Legendary Life No Phone Challenge. Read on for all the details!

Image # 1: Campfire music & stories at the end of a long day on the Green River through Colorado and Utah. Image Credit: Ethan Mentzer – IG: @ethanmentzercreative

It was just over a couple months ago that the team and I at Legendary Life first decided to launch the No Phone Challenge. Since the beginning of the summer, our small team had been discussing, drafting and refining the structure and “rules” of the challenge, as well as outlining and creating the associated content. 

As we neared the launch date of the challenge we arrived at a point where we were comfortable with the amount of content that we had on hand, the structure of the challenge, and the way we were linking it to a cause that we all felt passionately about, mental health. 

We were in the home stretch and were doing some final “field tests” before we put the challenge out to the world. What I mean by “field tests” is that we were “taking our own medicine”, or as I would say when working in my Silicon Valley career, we were “beta testing” the LL No Phone Challenge. The goal of beta testing is to work out any bugs and make any last minute improvements before a wide, public launch.

One Saturday, a couple weeks ago, I decided to drive out to a trailhead, turn off my phone, and do a solo hike through the meadows and foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia horse country. It was an amazing day. I finished the hike feeling excited about how the LL No Phone Challenge was going to be received by our community and beyond when we soft launched it the following week.

On the drive home, I decided to drop into a podcast. I randomly scrolled through the many, different podcasts that I follow before landing on an episode of the “Drop Into The Härt” podcast, hosted by former NFL lineman, Joe Hartley. Joe’s story is fascinating. I will link to it at the end of this post for those who want to connect to his content and learn more about his journey. 

In short, Joe was an NFL lineman who had a successful career playing center for the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, after Joe retired from the NFL he did something few professional athletes that had earned millions of dollars over the course of a successful career would do. He sold everything he owned and traveled the country for two years, living in a van with his dog. That experience was the foundation for his “Man Van Dog Blog” where he recounted his various adventures and the wisdom he picked up along the way. 

Coming out of this experience, Joe was inspired to create “The Härt Collective”. The Härt Collective’s mission statement is to connect, support and empower heart-led leaders in service to a more beautiful world. Initially, The Härt Collective was set up specifically to support former, professional athletes as they transitioned from their playing careers to the next phase of their lives. However, they have recently expanded their mission beyond just professional athletes. 

I first met Joe a couple years ago in Lake Tahoe when we were both participants at a summit for members of Aubrey Marcus’s “Fit For Service” Mastermind / Fellowship. Since then, I had the privilege of getting to know Joe a bit as we shared space at other summits and retreats, from Sedona to Costa Rica.

It had been a few months since I caught up with Joe’s podcast and it felt like the perfect time to drop in to a couple episodes. As always, the episodes were full of inspirational nuggets, honesty, and food for thought.

Before I go further, I wanted to mention that one of the aspects of the “Legendary Life No Phone Challenge” is a daily reconnection with someone from your network (read the blog post on the details of the LL No Phone Challenge rules here). This component of the challenge was inspired by a previous blog post written by my friend and business partner, Legendary Life’s co-founder Lee Snir (You can read that post here). 

Anyway, as I have been personally “field testing” the reconnection component of the challenge I have found it incredibly powerful. In this case, a simple text led me to the no phone experience of a lifetime.

The day after listening to the podcast episodes I wrote Joe a quick message. Just saying hi, checking in, and telling him he was continuing to bring the fire with his podcast. Shortly after hitting “send” I received a reply back from Joe. However, the reply wasn’t just run of the mill catch up pleasantries and associated smalltalk. 

Joe mentioned that he was planning a 5-day river rafting and camping expedition into the western Colorado and eastern Utah wilderness that he was calling “The Stillness & Surrender Retreat”. Joe mentioned that he still had a couple of empty spots, and he invited me to consider coming along. Oh, and this trip was happening in only a few days time. 

The trip looked amazing. Not just that but the timing of it seemed so on point. The fact that it came along right on the cusp of us launching the challenge. Getting invited to go on this particular trip on the very week that we were soft launching the Legendary Life No Phone Challenge. A trip that featured no cell service, no wi-fi, not even any electricity or running water. This seemed to me much more than just a coincidence. It seemed like synchronicity. I had to find a way to make it work.

However, regardless of all the magic and synchronicities that may have been at play, there were still the very real world, 3D issues that had to be addressed before I could fully commit. First and foremost, going on the trip would require me to move quickly, clearing my calendar for five full days, while figuring out how to best make my way across the country to a small town in Utah that I had never heard of before, where the expedition was set to depart. After a couple days of consideration (as well as figuring out the logistics of how to get to the Vernal, Utah Airport) I told Joe that I was all in. 

As an aside, Vernal’s airport isn’t on many carrier’s routes. It is smaller than most bus stations. The “food court” is literally a vending machine containing soda and a few snacks. And the TSA security checkpoint is about the size of a small living room. However, the staff couldn’t be nicer and more helpful. In retrospect, I’d take the Vernal Airport experience to most of the big, multi-billion dollar, international, mega-airports I’ve been through on my travels.

Anyway, when I say I had to clear my calendar, I mean I had to really clear my calendar. Like down to nothing other than being fully and completely present on this expedition. I had to communicate with pet sitters, business partners, employees, and contractors the fact that there was simply no getting ahold of me while I was on the river. If something happened that I would usually get involved in they needed to do the best they could to address it, assuming it couldn’t wait for my return. 

Joe had led this trip before and was clear with us that from the moment we got on the river until four days later there was zero cell phone coverage, zero wi-fi, zero electricity, zero running water, with the only shelter being tents that we would be responsible for pitching every evening after we made land at a deep wilderness camp site. There were no roads or trails in or out and no towns along the way. The river ran through a canyon with steep mountains on either side. The only way in or out was by raft or helicopter.

Therefore, I wouldn‘t be able to catch up on email, texts, phone calls, Instagram, Zoom meetings, etc. There wasn’t even a place to mail a postcard. The guides that we had on our trip maintained a satellite phone that could be used to call for a helicopter rescue in the case of a severe medical emergency. However, that was to be our only technological link to the outside world for the entirety of the journey; and a journey it was in every sense of the word!

As I mentioned previously, The Härt Collective is the organization that Joe founded that was organizing the trip. Joe originally founded the collective with the mission of supporting professional athletes as they transitioned from their playing days into the next phase of their lives. The previous year this trip was only for former professional athletes. However, they recently expanded their mission beyond just professional athletes. I was to be amongst the first “regular people / non-elite athletes” to go on the expedition. 

When I showed up it was a little intimidating. I was the shortest man on the trip by a fair margin. There were several former NFL players on the trip towering over me at 6’5 or 6’6” tall and well north of 300 lbs. However, as promised by Joe, there were some “regular” guys there as well. Also, this year’s trip was coed so there was truly a great, diverse mix of rafters, including a few friendly faces of people I knew from previous masterminds and retreats.

The plan was to drive about 4 hours east from our meet up point in Vernal, Utah to put our rafts in on the Green River at a remote spot, off-the-grid in the western Colorado section of Dinosaur National Monument, a massive area of untouched wilderness in the U.S. National Park System spanning multiple states. We would then paddle down river for 44 miles over 4 days, covering anywhere from between 8 to 15 miles per day. Ultimately, making our way back towards Vernal, Utah and the western section of Dinosaur, nearby to where we flew into and were set to fly out of at the trip’s conclusion.

The expedition was covering what is called the “Gates of Lodore”. This vast, beautiful, multifaceted wilderness prominently features these massive, extremely unique, awe inspiring, two billion year old geological formations that predate multi celled life on earth. 

There are also areas that were once teeming with dinosaurs and have produced some of the most extensive and important fossil discoveries on record. 

As if that wasn’t enough there are petroglyphs that date back 10,000 years left by a culture that we know almost nothing about. 

There’s breathtaking wilderness. Gorgeous hidden waterfalls and otherworldly canyon landscapes. 

There’s abundant wildlife. We saw way more big horned mountain sheep than other humans on our journey. Not to mention, eagles, lizards, beavers, minks, and a moose, among other various birds, fish and other critters.

Images #2 & #3 Above: Meeting the locals. Images Credit: Todd Luongo – IG: @toddluongo 

There’s also some fantastic old west history that was made here as well. At the end of our adventure we even rafted past the caves where famous outlaws Butch Cassidy and Sundance used to hide out with the cattle they were rustling. 

And then, there was the absolute star of the trip. The beautiful Green River. Winding its way mile after mile through some of the most unimaginably breathtaking vistas on earth. The river itself ran the spectrum. From smooth as glass, calm as your bathwater, through to Class 4, raging, whitewater rapids with perilous eddies and currents looking to chew you up, slam you against a cliff wall or ram you against a boulder that always seemed to have a catchy name such as “Lucifer’s Forehead”. 

The stretches of rapids that we had to navigate had equally alluring monikers. “Hell’s Half Mile”, and “Disaster Falls” were amongst my favorites. 

Disaster Falls was where I had my one big wipe out of the trip. I was thrown from my one man kayak when I crashed over a large boulder instead of navigating around it (as I was supposed to) while going down a small falls in this tricky section of rapids. I was promptly deposited in the spin cycle of one of the more heavy duty stretches of rapids on the trip. I got separated from my kayak and had to be rescued and reunited with my boat by one of the larger, multi person rafts that was trailing my line. Whilst I was fortunate to suffer nothing more than some minor scratches, bumps and bruises, I did experience a great rush of adrenaline that lasted the better part of the rest of the trip.

Images #4, 5, & 6 Above: The author along with my solo kayak being pulled aboard one of the rafts after I was chewed up and spit out by a particularly challenging stretch of white water. The only casualty was my pride and my sunglasses. Images Credit: Screenshots taken from Ethan Mentzer video clip- IG: @ethanmentzercreative

So, what is it like to go from being completely connected to being completely disconnected. Almost instantaneously? It wasn’t as difficult as you might imagine. 

It started on the van ride to the spot where we were launching our rafts. Our guides had picked us up at zero dark thirty that first morning at the “Dinosaur Inn Motel” (Vernal’s finest accommodations). That’s the spot we all rallied after getting in town from various places around the country the previous afternoon. It was also our last day for a bit with such luxuries as wi-fi, electricity, running water, and an indoor toilet.

The guides had packed up all our supplies and rafts the night before. We loaded ourselves into two vans at dawn and headed east from eastern Utah to western Colorado. The drive was almost all wilderness with the exception of one small, “blink and you’ll miss it” town where we stopped for a quick bathroom break. 

We had some limited, spotty, cell service for part of the drive. Some of us (mostly me) were scrambling to send some final, last minute texts and emails. However, bar by bar, reception started to drop off. Regardless of which carrier we used, soon, none of us had any signal. Everyone had put their phones away by the second half of the drive. It was still early Saturday morning and there would be no connectivity until we got back to the Dinosaur Inn at the end of our voyage, Tuesday evening. 

It wasn’t like there was one big moment that we all realized that we were disconnecting for good for a few days. It was kind of a gradual thing. Some people had already packed away their phones before the van ride even began. They were diving right into the tech cleanse. And, also, maybe hoping to conserve their phone batteries for pictures or to be used as an emergency flashlight. It was to be 4 days without anywhere to charge devices after all. Everyone had their own personal strategies for trying to maintain a single charge for four days.

As soon as our phones had been put away, we started connecting in person with each other in genuine, meaningful ways. Not just exchanging a quick pleasantry with the person next to you while being more focused on mindless scrolling. There were no instances where a potential deeper connection was sabotaged through an interupting text alert chime or phone call. It was great.

Over the course of only a couple hours I felt  like I was getting to know these people at a deeper level than people I had interacted with back in “the real world” (AKA: “the over connected world”) for months or even years.

We arrived and put our rafts in at a remote boat ramp at the end of several miles of a bumpy dirt road that was the entrance to this particular section of Dinosaur National Monument. The National Park Service strictly regulates the number of permits that they issue for the backcountry. Plus, it was towards the end of the season. Those two facts combined to ensure that in addition to disconnecting from tech we were also disconnecting from any people in the world outside of our small tribe. Indeed, we only saw a tiny handful of other rafters on the river during the course of our trip. Furthermore, from that point on, we really didn’t interact with any other humans in any real way, other than our group, for 4 days. 

The rafting was set up so that it could be active and solitary or passive and social, or a combination of the two. There were solo kayaks available for use as well as large, multi person rafts that carried our supplies that the guides paddled. So we could choose to have a solitary, athletic experience for a few hours in the morning paddling a solo kayak and then switch off with someone else after lunch in the afternoon to have a more relaxing float. With the larger rafts you could either just find a seat and enjoy some time to reflect in solitude or you could use the float time to connect deeply with whomever you were sharing your raft with on that particular stretch of river. Or do a little of both.

While rafting was the predominant activity during the days, there was also time set aside for some amazing hikes and other land based adventures. 

One early morning Joe announced that he would be leading a hike up to a scenic spot to watch the sunrise over the mountains. He was leaving an important detail about the activity out at the time but I’ll get to that. 

The hike from our riverside campsite was relatively short but difficult. It was all uphill, featuring extensive scrambling over boulders and up ridges. It was a lot of work to do before sunrise and before the coffee had fully kicked in, but in the end, it was more than worth the effort. 

The final stretch was to pull ourselves up onto a postage stamp size clifftop surrounded with sheer drops on all sides that could punish a careless misstep with a plunge 500 feet straight down to the boulders in the valley below. 

We all squeezed together onto the top of the small ridge to soak in the amazing, 360 degree view of this beautiful spot just as the sun was rising over the ridges that towered above the far riverbank. It was a spot that we appreciated all the more knowing that it was so remote and difficult to get to that very few people on earth had, or would, ever experience it in person themselves.

We huddled together and sat down on the tiny surface, settling in to watch the sunrise, however, Joe had other plans for us beyond just being present with the vista. Our leader stood up just as the sun peeked over the eastern mountain ridges and announced that we were all going to execute a trust fall. Right there. On top of that tiny cliff top. 

Now, I’ve never been the type to be comfortable with trust falling in the most ideal circumstances. I mean, I’ve turned down the opportunity to do one on the beach before! However, now Joe was suggesting that we all do what seemed to be closer akin to a movie stunt than a connection and self development exercise. Like everything else on the trip however, the cliff top trust fall ended up being an amazing experience. 

I think a big part of the reason that we were all so willing to literally put our lives in the hands of people we had literally just met a couple days before was because of the deep connection and trust that we had all forged in such a short time. I also believe that one of the main reasons we were able to develop such a deep connection and trust with each other in such an unusually short period of time was because of the fact that we didn’t have technology to distract us. Specifically, not having our phones available empowered us to be present in that experience and to connect with each other in deep and meaningful ways. And, to do so in much less time that would otherwise have been possible back in the “real world”. 

The result was that even though I had only met many of these people less than 48 hours before, I felt no hesitation in putting my life in their hands for this exercise.

Image #7: (above) Our leader, Joe Hawley (standing), about to lead our high altitude trust fall. Image #8 (above): Your author, mid-trust fall. Credit for Images #7 & 8: Charli Muchow – IG: @charlimuchow

On other hikes we found secret streams and hidden waterfalls up in the hills and through breathtaking meadows and canyons. We would gladly take turns plunging into the icy water after the hot and strenuous hikes. 

Indeed, there was a seemingly endless supply of trail and river magic to be had throughout the weekend that started as soon as we all put our devices away. From eagle flybys of our campsites, to the moose that watched us float by as he stood on the riverbank. To the herd of big horned sheep that brought their young calves to feed on the long grass next to one of our campsites, completely unconcerned with whatever we were up to. 

In terms of stories of tech withdrawals from me or the rest of my rafting tribe…there really weren’t any. At least none that I witnessed or heard about. It was truly amazing and heartwarming to me how quickly everyone just adapted, and thrived, as soon as the reality hit us that we were completely disconnected. 

It wasn’t like we were all a bunch of outdoors people who were used to this lifestyle. It was as diverse a group as you could ask for in terms of ages, backgrounds, hometowns, etc. We even had Gen Y urbanites, raised on smartphones, who, prior to this trip had literally never disconnected from technology for any length of time in their entire lives. 

Yes. Even those folks adapted seamlessly to a no phone lifestyle and the deeper connection to those around them that the experience empowered them to have. They did it just as well as a couple of our older group members that were used to a slightly less hectic and less constantly connected day to day lifestyle.

The days and evenings were filled with deep connections with each other, ourselves, our guides, and the natural world around us, whether one-on-one or through group conversations on the raft, on the trail or over dinner. There were songs by the campfire and time to journal and reflect. 

At the end of the night there were no distractions to keep you from spending plenty of time watching the stars and looking out at the Milky Way Galaxy without a hint of light pollution. The sky was so pristine it must have been very similar to what the first people saw when they looked up at night from the banks of this river thousands of years ago.

You may think that after 4 days being disconnected that we would be suffering from tech withdrawals. However, that just wasn’t the case. By the time the trip ended there was no one who was desperate to reconnect. Conversely, I think as much as some people were certainly looking to reconnect with partners, children, and loved ones back home, we were also all a little sad to leave our river lives behind along with the deep connections and sense of presence that it helped to foster. 

Going into the trip many people were concerned about leaving technology behind so completely (not to mention showers and indoor toilets). However, by the time we hauled our rafts out of the river for the final time on Tuesday afternoon I think we all felt like the experience was more than worth the price of giving up some of the conveniences of modern life.

I, for one, came back feeling way more connected, focused, energized, and present than I had been prior to going into the experience. 

On the van ride from our pick up spot back to civilization we started to recover some cell service. A couple people browsed their phones, however, most people chose to leave their phones in their bags and bask in the “connection of being disconnected” for just a little bit longer. We all decided to maintain our presence and our real world, face-to-face connections for at least a little longer before logging back on to the outside world again.

Halfway back to town we had already started talking about the plans for next year’s river rafting trip. By the time we arrived back in Vernal, Utah we had decided that we didn’t want to even wait a full year to experience this type of “disconnected connection” trip again. Several of us were talking about meeting up again in 6 months instead of waiting a full year for the next rafting trip. Maybe this time in the jungles of Costa Rica or the desert in Peru. We were already scouting off-the-grid locales where we could create another way to disconnect together from our phones for a few days while being present and connecting with each other in an authentic way.

When I got home and completely reconnected and integrated back into my life I learned that the “real world” had gotten along just fine without me for a few days. My businesses, relationships, and connections were all intact and stronger than ever. Everything had kept spinning just fine without me. Indeed, I felt supercharged, focused, and connected to what is real and important more than I ever had before. Furthermore, anxiety and distraction were at an all time low.

As a final note, let me say that I appreciate that not everyone is in a position to be able to pick up and go on such an ambitious and extreme no tech adventure. However, our Legendary Life No Phone Challenge for Mental Health Awareness is designed to empower you to realize many of the same benefits of presence, focus, and reduced anxiety. All without the need to battle class 4 whitewater rapids, do trust falls on the top of cliffs or even poo in the woods.

Please consider giving the challenge a go and sharing your experiences with us and your community!

By the way, in conjunction with the launch of the “Legendary Life No Phone Challenge” for Mental Health Awareness, Legendary Life has also launched a mobile app that incorporates several independent modules aligned with Legendary Life’s mission of helping people identify, pursue, achieve, and maintain their “Personal Legends”. Examples of modules include: New Minimalism, Quantum Time Hacking, Gratitude, Journaling, Affirmations modules for both adults and children, and of course the “No Phone Challenge” module (which ironically you use by tracking your progress with your phone). Download for free from the App Store and Google Play Store.

Image #9: Most of our crew. Getting ready to launch on our final day on the river. Image Credit: Ethan Mentzer – IG: @ethanmentzercreative

More on Joe Hartley and the The Härt Collective:

The Härt Collective Website:

https://www.hartcollective.org/

Men’s Health article on Joe Hartley and the Härt Collective: CLICK HERE.

#LLNoPhoneChallenge #NoPhoneChallenge #LegendaryLife #LiveYourLegend #TheHärtCollective

Picture of Todd Luongo

Todd Luongo

A founding partner of Legendary Life, Todd Luongo is a respected and in-demand executive advisor, consultant and investor for Silicon Valley start-ups as well as being a serial entrepreneur in his own right. Todd is also an accomplished writer, in-demand speaker, independent film producer, ardent traveler, fitness enthusiast, history buff and lifelong student of the Universe.