Not Your Momma’s Monkey Bars!
The mission? Navigating reeeeally high monkey bars, swinging balance beams, vertical ladders, gauntlets of wooden beams, dangling trapezes, flying surfboards, wobbly bridges, climbing nets, little metal wires to aid you in zipping from tree to tree in between obstacles, and team-building.
The Team? Jackson Hole Shooting Experience & High Caliber Women’s shooting instructors and guest-care gurus, gathering for a unique afternoon with what has been touted as a great new option of a fun thing to do in Jackson Hole, Wyoming!
The Obstacle Course? Snow King’s new Treetop Adventure course. They affectionately refer to it as a modern-day ‘meeting of Swiss Family Robinson and the X-Games’. (I surmised it might be more like a cross between ‘Married with Children’ and the ‘Exorcist’ with my team, but did it anyway.)
The problem? You guessed it: my fear of heights. Well, more accurately, my fear of falling from heights…
I used to be on the Taos, New Mexico ski team as a youth. I was a spry little whipper snapper who loves speed and most things which let one forget the day-to-day details of a busy life. Sitting on a moaning wooden chair, with no retention-bars in that era, being yanked slowly up a mountain with a cable while high above the ground rarely concerned me. Plowing face forward across 1294 acres of snow, slush or sheer ice, covering 3200+ feet of elevation? Routine!
Thirteen years ago I climbed scaffolding like a pro! Covering walls with interesting textures and complimentary colors, faux painting in high-end homes in Jackson Hole paid my mortgage and fed my family. Now, this was not the bamboo scaffolding ladders that you’ll see in Dehli, India, tethered together with pieces of ripped shirts and plies of yarns. Nope, these were solid materials of metal pipes, forged together by skilled welders, with solid planks upon which I could walk, sit, or climb on my tippy toes to reach the farthest corners of the great rooms hosting two-story high windows to view the stunning Grand Teton. The solid platform beneath my buttocks allowed me to freely move in my little space ~ until that one day that the fear of falling paralyzed me! All of a sudden, I couldn’t move. My trembling hands inched their way to the wood and I remained in one spot for over an hour, on hands and knees, paralyzed by the fear that I allowed to enter my brain. Calmed by the soothing voice of the home-owner as he came home from work (stifling a giggle at the sight of me, I’m sure!), I dredged my way down the ladders, swearing off heights for the rest of my life.
Well, until Jackson Hole’s Treetop Adventure…
One learns a lot about themselves, and their friends/family/co-workers, when one stares down a fear and moves past it.
Step One: To the Top
The chair lift scoops up all four of us at once as it catches us behind the knees, forcing us to sit. The safety bar is brought forward and secured over our laps. ‘This is just fine’, I say to myself! My feet are raised slightly so as not to scratch the grassy surface, then the cables catapult our team to mid-mountain to begin the course. Oh-no, where were the days of my fearlessness in slalom racing and chair lift hoists?
Harness up. A harness, it turns out, is a collection of fabric which, when connected to metal hoops attached to secured wires, allows you to dangle from high above the earth if you fall from, well, one of those metal wires. The fabrics squeeze your butt together in what is, I’m sure, now a highly fashionable triangular shape, has leg loops which fasten just above the fattest part of a woman’s thigh, and cinches your waist like your grandma’s corset. I was positive I looked as fat and phat as I felt. I was ready. I might have even let a little ‘oorah’ slip from my lips. Snow King’s stellar safety and guide team attached the metal hoops to my harness loops and simulated what it would be like if we fell, showing us how to lean back from a log (so that the fabric cinches you not-so-comfortably in every, single inch between your waist and your mid-thigh, and you realize that you are indeed secured to a wire which has been drilled into tree trunks hundreds of years old). Easy peasy. I had this!
Step Two: Adventure ON!
My team mates scurried up the quite vertical ladder and raced across the obstacle, a wobbly bridge. I followed. Climbing up wasn’t so bad, as I could not see the expanse of the terrain yet. Climbing onto the tiny platform which surrounded the tree atop the ladder? Oh there! There it is! That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Grasping my gear so tightly throughout the day as to break skin on three fingers and form blisters or calluses on nine, I trudged on.
Over the wobbly bridge and deep through the woods. The obstacles came, fast and furiously. Some required holding the ropes or logs directly, some required holding my safety gear, some required my trust in the systems to sit back and zip to the next obstacle.
A gauntlet of beams on which to perch my honking size ten feet as the beams swung to and fro, shaking to the beat of my body’s tremble.
A suspended ‘surfboard’, the size more similar to a skateboard, which glided down a set of wires once your body weight engaged the roll. Oh, that first step! Really? Do I really want to skateboard on industrial wires attached to trees? I don’t even want to skateboard on pavement!
A series of ropes, simply hanging in an innocent-looking v-shaped pattern, tempting me into a mindset straight out of Tarzan: “‘Tis I, Jane!” Oh, that is, until I stepped on the rope and my foot scurried forward in mid-air until I was suspended almost horizontally, as if having slipped on a sheet of ice. Nice. Mustering my upper body strength and forging my hands up the rope, one grip by stinking one grip, I was vertical again. Until I had to let go to reach for the next rope swing. Awesome.
Two wooden tubes suspended in the air, small enough in diameter as to force me to crawl through on hands and knees. Oh, this feeling is familiar; greaaaaat.
Wonderful, yet another ladder; my blisters were now popping and my anxious sweatiness and the oozing puss make my grip on the ladder slick. This required me, each climb, to forge on one-handed at many times. Reach, and release my right hand to dry it on my sap-laden Patagonia pants; Reach, and release my left hand to dry it on my shirt. Once finally at the top, I got the thrill again of scaling yet another tiny platform encompassing that tree, wishing those size ten honkers were smaller before hooking in to my next life line.
Ahhh, finally, another zip line. I never imagined that the thought of that harness squeezing my butt into that lovely triangular shape as I glided effortlessly through the air from tree to tree would be something I’d look forward to, but with the zip lines being quite strategically placed, they provided relief for fatigued shoulder, arm and leg muscles between every few obstacles. Brilliant! I secretly wound up looking very forward to these fleeting but heavenly moments of physical relaxation in my “I will conquer this” mode.
More swinging balance beams. I had this. On to the next course of fire in Jackson Hole’s Treetop Adventure….
Step Three: Humble thyself, accept help, and see the good in others.
Precariously perched on the tiny platform atop the very first ladder, I remembered the quote: “Even leaders need leaders.” I had brought our team together for a fun pre-season adventure. Beyond an adventure though, it was a quite holistic experience for me.
Yes, I tackled each physical obstacle with the mental fortitude of moving through MY fear of heights. I also was able to catch beautiful glimpses of so many extraordinary examples of coaching, caring and trust-building with my team mates. Interpersonal relationships are second only to safety in our field of Shooting Instruction. This experience gave me such insight to all of our personalities, strengths, and areas for improvement and forecast first-hand that it would shape up to be an exemplary season!
Kiefer ~ former boy scout base-camp and ropes-course leader, shooting instructor, friend. Yup, he’s the one who would stay just behind me climbing the ladder, calmly telling me to cross my right hand to the other side of that platform, there, ten inches to my right, shoulder level. Strangely, I felt more secure this way, somehow that he would might catch me if I fell, or something silly like that. Unfortunately for him, that meant that he had to look up at my triangular butt as he whispered sweet safety-laden nothings, but it also meant he could whip up above and around me, like Spiderman, to unhook my metal hoops when my arthritic thumbs couldn’t release it at the top.
Ashleigh ~ linguistics major, newlywed, guest-care and administrative guru, friend. Oh, and self-described non-socialite couch-hugger,
loving her nose in a book. Yet here she was, being much more of graceful and confident ‘Jane’ than was I! Looking light as a feather with the strength of Brunhilda, she climbed, balanced, and swung freely from limb to limb (well at least rope-to-rope with a harness of her own). She would pounce out in front of me and be my life line on the other side of a particular course. She’d smile confidently and stare into my eyes to lure me into to focusing on her rather than my potential fall to the cold, hard earth below. Her caring voice beckoned, tainted with a bit of sarcasm through her smirk, and helped me to get focused: “Hey, Lynn, this isn’t your day to die.” Oh, good; glad to know.
Then there was Tim ~ towering over me with fiery eyes, shoulders as wide as one of those pine trees, and feet even bigger than mine (proving to me I actually could stay on the platform with my big ole’ honkers), Tim’s gentle coaching style shined through. He didn’t tell me that the end of the first phase of the course would be a good stopping point for me before going on to the even more difficult challenges; nope, he hid the sign with his gigantic shoulders and simply motioned me on to the next course of three. Sometimes from behind and more often with an outstretched hand or verbal encouragement in front of me, Tim led me though the course in a confident and calming manner, which I would get to see repeatedly throughout our summer season together.
The examples go on and on. Some of the giggles and specific challenges I’ll only hold forever in my memories. The ways that my team helped me to be me, not who I THOUGHT I needed to be as a leader, were lovely.
As a co-owner of our business, shooting instructor, CEO and CFO (hey, we’re still a small-ish team of 19!), bringing our team together for this pre-season rally was a day like most days, but intensified.
If I ever have a day that I’m so confident that I think I know it all, I seek to learn something new. If I ever feel as though I can do it all, I teach someone on my team how to do something new so they can replace me some day. I am strong, and vulnerable; creative, yet stick with the systems; firm, while being encouraging and supportive; open to new ideas, while staying the course…
This day, our ‘intensified day’ on the Snow King’s Treetop Adventure course, everyone on our team stepped into each and every one of these roles also. Each as individual leaders in their own way, the guidance my team graced me with, and the vulnerability it took for me to say “I accept your leadership”, helped solidify our team in ways unforeseen and showed me so much about all of our personalities, leadership strengths, areas for improvement.
Triangular butts in safety harnesses, supporting and encouraging each other through his or her own personal challenge, was so analogous to how we coach in the Jackson Hole Shooting Experience, too! Our guests are getting out of their comfort zones, often moving past a fear or insufficient know
ledge, trusting experienced and friendly instructors to help them reach their goal, safely. I am so grateful for this day, this ‘intensified day’, this team. This wasn’t your momma’s set of monkey bars, and WE DID IT!! It was as easy – and as challenging – as One, Two, Three….