In June of 2007, I went on a leadership retreat with my company.
When faced with adversity, with the fear of both the known and the unknown facing us, the human spirit triumphantly finds a way to lift us up and propel us to greater heights. Most of us do not give ourselves enough credit; we set the bar too low. Moving that bar higher and higher helps us learn what great feats for which we are truly capable. The past week, I learned to set that bar higher; I learned that I could at the very least confront, if not conquer, some of my deepest fears.
I have a huge fear of drowning (and even more so of heights). I try to avoid situations where I would possibly face either. The previous year, I went on a trapeze in New York and on another occasion, went whitewater rafting class 5 rapids in Yosemite. Both were life-changing experiences; but neither prepared me for the past week.
My unit’s leadership team left last week early Thursday morning for the beginning of the Amazing Race. There were almost fifty of us, each divided into teams of six or seven. I was part of Team Green. The first clue we found led us to a small green Lucite box with a GPS, two walkie-talkies, and plane tickets for Denver, as well as a Sudoku puzzle.
Denver, Colorado: We flew into Denver where we rented a massive Suburban. The solution of the Sudoku puzzle gave us GPS coordinates to Casa Bonita (where we received a book full of clues and puzzles that we needed to solve as well as a package of ten cds of 80s, 90s, hip-hop, easy-listening, power ballads – all laden with clues) followed by a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods where we got money to purchase our camping supplies. The amount of money we received depended upon how quickly we could figure out the puzzle, the portable GPS, and eventually arrive at Casa Bonita. (We came in third and received $300 for Dick’s.)
Casa Bonita – there was cliff diving in the middle of the restaurant: http://www.casabonitadenver.com/
The drive across Colorado from Denver on I-70 thru Breckenridge and Eagle passing the CO-UT border was breathtaking country. The whites of the mountaintops and the greens of her trees around us provided a perfect envelope for our drive. One of the clues in our book led us to Moab, Utah where we slept the first night, specifically Arches National Park (http://www.nps.gov/arch/).
We pitched camp in between two massive, red rock formations alongside a lazy river. The moon lit the night-sky bright giving light to our campsite. It was a beautiful thing. On one side, we had a group of twelve-year-olds doing what twelve-year-olds normally do; on the other we had a righteous Christian lady threatening to slash our tires if we didn’t quiet down. That night, we drank, but slept early.
We spent the second day on the following activities in Moab, Utah in Arches National Park.
We used our GPS to find clues that were hidden off the ATV Trails: http://www.moabtourcompany.us/id16.html. We were out in pairs on the trails for hours, my personal journey about an hour and a half zig-zagging in and out, over and above, up and around the cliffs, mountains, and rocks; my teammate and I never did find our first clue. Apparently, these were approximately three miles away; one group had a pair that was out for almost five hours. We would find out later that they had gotten lost, and driven as far as forty miles away. At one point, they were a thousand feet up (if not more) in full view of us, screaming our names out to no avail.
Rock Climbing/ Rappelling
This is where it gets interesting. Fear #1 – HEIGHTS. We drove down beautifully dark red crevices into a clearing that gave way to intense cliffs. Luckily, those were for the professionals. Even so, the ones to the right of the daunting rocks were the ones we rappelled down. I waited and waited for the others to finish. (We climbed and rappelled in the order we arrived.) I went inside myself, reliving every nightmare falling and falling, in some cases never to hit ground. It’s strange to have such a crippling fear. Last year, that first time I went on the trapeze my fear was so real that its physical manifestation of my shaking body almost had me convulsing. And I thought that going back up three more times would cure it; but it didn’t. Now, over a year later, I was waiting to confront it yet again. Scared out of my mind, rappelled down the rock wall I did. Little did I know then that the worst was yet to come?
After rappelling, taking the scenic route, we arrived at Zion National Park located southeastern Utah round 10:00 PM for our second night of camping. http://www.nps.gov/zion/
That night, we drank. I remember trading many Ron Burgundy – Anchorman lines; those are always good for a party.
We completed a 500 piece 3-D puzzle with our team to get our first clue – the Zion Narrows. We were already spent with puzzles; if I ever see another one, I don’t know what I’d be capable of…
We ran over three miles upstream through the Zion Narrows to get our next clue… These pictures don’t do it justice… then again we literally ran through it! Deep in the crevices of the canyons and rocks and cliffs, life at the bottom was much cooler and the running stream made for music to our ears (if we had taken time to enjoy them); the temperatures were a good twenty degrees less through the Narrows than high above. In some areas, we were almost neck-deep in the waters. The terrain under the waters was extremely dangerous as at times it felt like we were balancing ourselves upon a series of bowling balls. For a man who cannot swim, this spelled disaster, which I somehow avoided.
Tubing in Zion: For what we thought would be a bit of R & R, tubing down the Virgin River in Zion proved to be anything but. Because the dirty and shallow river was unpredictably at 50% of its normal depth, we hit our tailbones on a ton of rocks… what was supposed to be relaxing became a rather frustrating two and a half hour ride… My tailbone and entire backside was filled with bruises; the currents brought us dangerously close to unsuspecting and almost unavoidable tree trunks and branches. If I could have, I would have enjoyed the view, which really presented the immensity of the cliffs and rocks in the park. However, this was by far the worst part of the race.
We drove through the Valley of Fire to Lake Mead in Nevada for the 3rd night. The temperatures were scorching (about 100 degrees at night); the liquor helped me sleep… Both the Valley of Fire and Lake Mead was immense and unbelievable!! The intense bright blues of the water surrounded by the white of the mountains provided an unbelievable backdrop to the trail of red comprising the valley.
Las Vegas Marina: We went on wave runners in Lake Mead. I had never been on one before; and though I was just a passenger, running at high speeds across the massive lake had me wanting for hair as the cool wind blew by.
The clues in the marina led us to our final event – Skydiving, FEAR #1 revisited.
The moment we arrived at the airport, and my friend Alex came up to me to inform me we were skydiving, that fear I remembered as I laid in wait for rappelling two days before was miniscule. This was the nightmare I was having over and over again for the past three weeks (ever since I knew were going on this trip). She told me I didn’t have to go; but I knew for my own sake and for my own sanity that I had to go. It would be two hours before I actually climbed the ladder of that plane. Those two hours and the flight 15,000 feet in the air ruined me. As before, I didn’t talk much; friends who were aware of my fear were consoling, but in the end, I knew this was my fear to beat.
I jumped out. What was I thinking? What was going thru my mind that exact moment? Absolutely nothing (say it again). My mind was blank; but there was such a complete sense of peace for just a moment, when… I could not stop screaming. AAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHH!! Waitaminute, “I’m flying!! I’m flying!! I’m flying!! I’m f-ckin Superman!!!!!!” 120mph free-falling for approximate thirty to forty-five seconds. Arms outstretched, I was literally on top of the world.
The chute opened. I was propelled back up and all of a sudden my world slowed to a slow slide. Around me was beauty – Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Colorado River, Vegas, etc. What seemed like forever was probably only five minutes. When I touched down, I raised my arms triumphantly and yelled a big WHOOP. I felt ten-feet tall, like Maverick with brass balls. It was great. And I wanted to go right back up. As before with everyone else, I had a crowd of friends and co-workers around me whoopin and hollerin, congratulating me. I knew this was one of the most significant things that I had ever personally done.
In retrospect, this trip was all about feeling your comfort zone and then extending yourself beyond it. Fear is an amazing thing. Either you face it and beat it or you avoid it and succumb to it. I don’t know if I’ll always deal with it this way, but I chose the former; and I was so happy for it…
Then we drove to the Red Rocks Resort just outside the strip in Vegas where a shower had never felt so good in my life after four days without one!! I highly recommend this place the pool was amazing and it was off the strip and would be great for a weekend trip… almost brand new with great finishes and a nice casino.
We had dinner at the Wynn that night – a private room by the patio and water show at Daniel Boulud Brasserie, and a special seven course meal.
On the way back, I finally felt like myself again, peeled back my years to the 80s where I joined David Coverdale & Whitesnake to a rousing rendition of “Here I Go Again”, John Cougar with “Jack & Diane”, and Journey “Don’t Stop Believin’”. Ok, I was singing in the car on the way back to the resort, air guitars, air drums, air pianos, air solos filling the air. It was awesome. That night, we drank.
We took all the equipment we purchased and donated it to the local charity.
We had meetings all day discussing the future of our unit and of our company; and then spent the afternoon for a few hours at the pool before a slots tournament and then another seven course dinner at the balcony outside and upstairs at…
Mix at the Hotel at Mandalay Bay
There must have been an obscene amount of oxygen pumped into the casino as it was 6:00 AM before I even knew it…
We left Vegas at 3:00 PM and got back to Chicago at 10:30 PM that night. We looked like a bunch of beat up kids that day at the airport… the first four days were spent running around in the dirt and driving all over the west rather lost! I spent the weekend mostly asleep and in bed to nurse all of our wounds.
An epic week, memories of it fresh on my mind, even seven years later.
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