The day after I taught my last class of the school year, almost two weeks ago, two of my colleagues and I went off to our local challenge course. For about a month, there had been talk in our excursions WhatsApp group about going there, and we finally decided that since the three of us were the only ones who were definitely interested, we’d just go. I was a little surprised at myself for expressing interest in this type of activity. I did one several years ago in Jamaica and, back then, challenge courses weren’t my thing. Hanging from a harness in mid-air while trying to navigate obstacles isn’t something that’s ever been high on my to-do list. But back then, I ended up doing the challenge course because the person I was there with insisted that I was too fear-riddled and too much of a killjoy to try it. So I did it, and tried not to rub their nose in their disdain while I did it. Still, I don’t recall enjoying it and I certainly had nothing to prove to anyone this time around. Therefore, I wasn’t at all sure why I wanted to go.
In any case, on Thursday morning a week and a half ago, I met my colleagues at school and we set off on the forty-five minute drive to the park, which is located in the same village where I had gone to watch the ice drift not even two weeks before. The weather had changed quite a bit by then. It was relatively warm and the capriciousness of spring seemed to be behind us. As we drove toward our destination, I even felt a twinge of excitement at the coming experience.
When we arrived at the park, we paid our entry fees, got decked out in harnesses and helmets, and went through training. This included learning the right way to clip and unclip ourselves to and from the various lines that we would traverse through the treetops. It also included learning the right way to go along the zip lines, and how to tell the maximum number of people that were allowed at one time on one obstacle at any given section of the course. We were also told that there were four different courses to go through, with increasing difficulty levels. Green was the easiest course; blue was more difficult than green; red was more difficult than blue; and finally, the most difficult course was black. They all took place entirely in the trees.
We set off to the starting tower that marked the beginning of every course. As we began the green course on the lowest starting level of the tower, I had no trepidation about it, although I wasn’t brimming with confidence either. I suppose I would say that I was ready to give it a go. I was in the middle of our group, which is to say that one of my colleagues went on each obstacle before me and one came after me. We kept this formation throughout the entirety of our time at the park, except towards the very end, but we’ll get to that shortly.
The green course wasn’t too hard, and while we traversed it we stopped and took photos of each other zipping or climbing or otherwise trying to get from one side of an obstacle to the other. We completed it in about thirty minutes, and would have finished it a few minutes earlier had we immediately understood one of the obstacles near the end of that course. We didn’t, so we spent some time shouting for help from the staff and finally figured it out just before they came. When we exited the green course, we stopped at the car for water and snacks before we set off to tackle the blue line.
It was as we were climbing the steps of the tower towards the blue course starting point that I began asking myself why I was doing this. What was I trying to prove and to whom? This is not the type of thing that I normally find fun and am certainly never in a rush to do. For example, I’m not the one to suggest going to an amusement park because I hate roller coasters. I just don’t get thrills from doing that type of stuff. So why was I even on this challenge course? I didn’t have time to answer that question before we were hooking ourselves to the first zip line an plunging into the blue course.
They definitely achieved their goal of making the blue course more difficult than the green one. There were a few nerve-wracking moments on that course. Ironically, the one obstacle that we were most apprehensive about turned out to be one of the easiest to get across. It was something that looked like a section of rock-climbing wall. It gives the impression that you must use the tiny footholds and handholds on it. However, my pioneering colleague in front of me discovered that moving her feet between each slat of the wall, basically walking on and holding on to the support wires, was far easier. Don’t judge me for doing it the easy way, people; the aim wasn’t to be a stickler about how to get across the obstacle, the aim was to get across it! And we did.
We completed the blue course in just over thirty minutes. Again when we exited that course, we stopped at the car for refreshments to fortify ourselves for the next level.
As we climbed the steps of the starting tower to the beginning of the red course, I picked up my previous line of rumination, asking myself what on Earth I was doing, but this time I came to a conclusion. It seems that I am no longer a person who makes decisions based on fear. I’m also no longer a person who assumes that I can’t do a thing, even if I haven’t done it before. I’m now a person who first decides if I want to do a thing, then if I decide that I do, I just do it. Oh my gosh, I think I’m a Nike ad. Anyway, moving on.
This might seem like a small thing but it’s actually quite a big deal for me. I remember a few years ago, someone who I was close to would frequently berate me for not being “all in” to anything. The person accused me of being too careful and not throwing myself into anything. At the time, I remember feeling inadequate and confused about how to be “all in” because I thought I was giving my all to the life I was living.
I now find myself in a position of simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing with that person. On the one hand, they were right in that I wasn’t “all in.” I thought I was but I really wasn’t. The reason, though, wasn’t fear, as they thought. It was really because there was nothing worth being “all in” with. Seeing as how my life was all wrong – as if I was trying to wear a scratchy, ill-fitting, torn up old sweater like it was a beautiful ball gown – there was only so far I could go. Now I know what “all in” really means and being that way is almost effortless for me because my life now really is that beautiful ball gown that fits like it was made specially for me.
So back to the red course. By the time we got to the starting point up in the tower, I was getting a little apprehensive about what we were about to face. Still, I hooked myself to the zip line and took off into the treetops as I had done on the green and blue courses. I’ll tell you up front that the red course wasn’t pretty for us. We hardly took any photos because we were mostly trying to figure out how on Earth to get from one side of each obstacle to the other. We also didn’t look so cute anymore because we were grunting and shrieking (me, mostly) our way through the course.
On top of that, a group of teenagers were right behind us on the course and we practically felt them breathing down our necks to hurry up so they could keep moving. The problem was that they couldn’t pass us since only three people were allowed on a platform (remember, we were going from obstacle to obstacle totally in the trees, which meant moving from one platform to another) and our group of three was sticking together; no man left behind and all that. We could practically hear the teens thinking, “Why don’t these old ladies get out of our way?” but we ignored them and kept a steady pace.
About forty minutes into the course, we accidentally lost our pioneer . The person who was ahead of me misunderstood the direction of the next obstacle and ended up going down the escape ladder, thinking it was the end of the red course. Just as I was about to hook myself to the line to go down after her, our anchor colleague behind me made it to the platform and noticed that there was a zip line going in another direction across a field, which meant that the course wasn’t finished. Unfortunately, once you go down an escape ladder at that park, you’re not allowed to go up the ladder again and you have to re-start the course if you want to finish it. Our pioneer was exhausted from her efforts on the red course so far – we all were, that course was crazy! – and decided not to re-start. So I hooked myself to the zip line and continued the course, thinking that it was the last leg.
Oh, how wrong I was. If I had known what the next leg would be, I probably would have taken the escape route, too. In fact, as I stood on the next platform confusedly looking at the swinging pieces of vertically suspended lumber with small pieces of wood jutting out of each for footholds, trying to work out how I was expected to get to the other side of the obstacle, I almost hooked myself to the escape ladder and went down. But my anchor member zipped over behind me, landed on the platform, and convinced me that we could do it. Eventually, I hooked myself to the safety line and leaped off the platform and onto the first log, shouting back at my colleague that I had no clue how to get to the next log, which was too far for me to reach. She kept calling encouragement to me and eventually, I managed to snag it with my left leg while hugging the log I was already swinging on with both arms, then I pulled the second log towards me, situated my left foot, hugged it with my left arm, then let go of the first log while swinging my right arm and leg over to settle on the new log too.
I had about eight of these to traverse and by the time I was halfway through the obstacle, my arms were aching from hugging the logs so tightly from fear of falling. In retrospect, there was no need to fear falling since my harness was hooked to the safety line but still, when you’re feet in the air hovering above the ground, your logic skills are laser focussed on safely completing the task.
It was at this point that the teenage boy who had zipped over behind us decided that he’d had enough; he hooked himself to the escape ladder and went down. Meanwhile, my anchor colleague was asking me how to get across the obstacle. This was what we had done throughout all the courses. Those of us following behind would watch what the person ahead did and copy that, or try to do something a little easier. I tried to explain what I was doing but I’m not sure I did a good job of it since I was desperately hugging a log at that moment, wondering yet again what on Earth I was doing and if I would make it. After a couple of failed attempts to get onto the first log, my anchor colleague decided that her legs were too short to get through this obstacle and she also hooked herself to the escape ladder and went down.
Meanwhile, I still had two logs to get across before I could reach the safety of the next platform, which lead to the final zip line on the red course. With a mighty effort and calling on Jesus the entire time, I finally heaved myself onto the platform, vowing that I was definitely not taking on the black course that day. As I hooked myself to the final line and zipped to the last platform to get back to the ground, I didn’t feel exhilarated. I just felt happy to be done.
A few minutes later, when we were back at the office and out of our harnesses, I felt a sense of accomplishment that I had completed the red course, despite the crazy challenges that littered it. I felt in no way inadequate for deciding not to do the black course because I knew that my mental and physical resources for this type of activity were just about depleted. Also, while we were on the red course, we got a glimpse across the way at some of the obstacles on the black course and they were not pretty. I knew for sure that I wasn’t up to it that day.
In any case, as we drove back to town, I felt a quiet happiness that I had gone on our little excursion and had met the challenge that I had put myself into. In all, it took us about two hours to complete the three courses and we made it as a team, encouraging each other, advising each other, and supporting each other. The experience also showed me some of the changes for the better that have taken place in me over these past three years. For that alone, the experience was worth the angst of that last obstacle on the red course.
When I am afraid, O Lord Almighty, I put my trust in you. I trust in God and am not afraid; I praise Him for what he has promised. What can a mere human being do to me? Psalm 56:3-4 (GNT)