When I refer to the Catwalk, I’m talking about a log suspended 30 feet high between two fir trees at Camp Tilikum in Newberg, Oregon. Last Tuesday, Sept 19th, I met 18 new friends in my Leadership Newberg cohort (through the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce) at Tilikum for ice-breaking and bonding, including a few obstacles from the Challenge Course and a chance to climb up, balance through and jump off the Catwalk in a grand attempt to grab a dangling trapeze bar. From ground level, staring straight up through the falling rain to the suspended log, the Catwalk induced panic. Before I allowed self-doubt to steal this opportunity, I decided to conquer this challenge with the help of my new team and make myself a student of the process. Six lessons stood out.
- Friendship is a risk with rewards.
I already knew a few teammates, but not well. Learning names, careers, families, backgrounds and personalities is a worthy task, even before I knew that several of these new friends would become my belayers while I faced the Catwalk. Before I had memorized names, 8 of my cohort were holding the tension on my harness lines to keep me from a death fall if I lost my balance. So quickly after meeting them, I needed them, relying upon their attention, strength and goodwill.
- Fear is contagious.
At the risk of looking like a show-off, I wanted to be first. That Catwalk loomed high and intimidating. My self-doubt would get stronger for each person I didn’t watch jump for the trapeze. We’re all in different stages of personal journey and I wanted to cheer on my team members with whatever experience they found most rewarding with the Catwalk, even if that was simply climbing the post. If I could get through my trial, I could be a better cheerleader. I also only wanted the visual of a complete course in my mind before I made my attempt. I chose to create the visual for myself and my team. I wanted to show us that this challenge was completely possible.
- Don’t think. Don’t Stop.
My volume and resolve growing with each attempt to speak up, I claimed the first spot and donned my harness before I lost this opportunity. The harness felt like another act of public courage – it’s seriously unflattering! Our facilitator, Linda, was up close and personal as we tightened straps, but soon I was grabbing each staple rung in the climbing tree as my team, holding my belay line, reminded me to keep breathing and shouted encouragements. The adrenaline surge seared the inside of my chest. If I looked down or stopped to think, a real panic attack would begin. After climbing 30 feet, I reached the point of descent onto the log.
- Letting go can be terrifying.
Beginning anything new carries a risk and some fear. There’s no precedent for what to expect and no guarantee of positive results. It seemed impossible to let go of the climbing tree and trust my shaking legs and dubious sense of balance to start walking along the suspended log. I stood on the catwalk, feeling each deep breath until I realized mental paralysis was setting in. My fear of staying where I was became greater than the fear of letting go, and I released my grip on the tree and started my teetering journey across the log, ignoring the massive space that separated me from the ground.
- When walking through a challenge, you have to continually recommit.
Linda didn’t elaborate on the condition of the Catwalk log, giving me less time to panic. In addition to the slick coating of rain, the log was equally divided into 3 phases, progressing in difficulty. For the first section, the side of the log had been flattened, creating a walkable plank about 8 inches wide. Just when I had adjusted to my balancing act on a flat surface, the next section of the log was untouched and rounded and the final section was chiseled to a peak, leaving only a thin edge for footing. I could quit at any time. I could call out and safely be lowered to the ground. I chose to walk through each transition, accepting the increased challenge, until I rushed the last few feet to grab the second support tree, incredulous when my fingers wrapped around a waiting staple. At the end of the Catwalk, I remembered my goal to leap off the log and try to catch a suspended trapeze bar. I already felt like a winner, but I wanted the next victory. Before climbing, I had verbalized my goal to my cohort and they held me accountable. I certainly didn’t want to disappoint any of us.
- When you let people in, they change you.
I called out, looking for reassurance that I was safe in my harness, that even if I missed the bar, my team would hold me. After hearing the excited, confident answers from the ground, I couldn’t fail in trying. Wiping the sweat from my palms and with Linda’s countdown, I flung myself out, gasping when I felt my fingers grip the cold bar of the trapeze. My task complete, I gave in to my trembling body, enjoying the warmth I felt from the cheering crowd below, as I let go and my team gently lowered me to the ground.
Quickly, I passed my harness to the next climber and dutifully took my place in the belay line, weary but determined to hold my team members up as they had supported me. My joy in their victories was greater because I could empathize with the challenges they faced. My compassion was greater for different levels of progress, knowing firsthand the temptations to stop. It wasn’t until Saturday that I noticed my peeling palms where the belay rope had rubbed across my hands and I smiled for the reminder of my brave, supportive new friends. They left a mark on my heart in addition to my hands.
At the end of the nearly 9-hour day, I quickly made goodbyes, eager for the quiet ride home and warmth of my car heater. Every muscle felt like rubber from physical exertion and the ebb of adrenaline. My introversion needed recovery time. Even as I drove through the rain, imagining a hot shower, I settled each person from my cohort into my heart. It seems we’ll have a great year together.
All photo credits to Dan, Leadership Newberg Class of 2018, and the Chehalem Valley Chamber of Commerce.
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