Monday, March 16, 2009

Take the plunge

I've just been watching some clips of a group of British celebrities climbing Mount Kilimanjaro for this year's Comic Relief campaign. They spent around six months training, and then nine days on the mountain. You can follow their exploits on or by downloading the video podcasts on itunes.

It got me thinking how I'd love to do something big like that for charity one day. I've seen charities advertising for people to walk the Great Wall of China and if you raise enough money for the charity all of your expenses are covered.

I was lucky enough to go to China a few years ago and visited The Great Wall. It was an amazing experience. We drove for a couple of hours out of Beijing, then along the dusty roads up the mountain side before we reached the entrance to the wall. We then had to get a cable car up to the wall itself.

By the time you get on the actual wall you're at a high altitude and whilst I was there I blacked out. It was February so it was cold. The wall had spots of snow in places and I starting to feel sick so I sat down for a break. My eyes were still open but all of a sudden everything went dark. I was still conscious and it only lasted a few minutes but it was worrying.

The wall is built on a mountain so it is very uneven with some areas steeper than others. Here I am posing for a photo (thankful for a few minutes rest!):

You can see from the picture how steep it is and when combined with the high altitude and cold weather you can imagine why the old ladies positioned along the wall selling cold beer didn't receive my custom that day!

Going back a couple of years before my Chinese adventure, I was working in Halifax, England and I was offered the opportunity to the Lake District on an adventure/team building experience. I was very reluctant at first and took a couple of days thinking how I could get out of it before I finally decided to go.

Those four days spent with at Brathay changed my life.

I arrived there not really knowing what to expect. I vaguely knew a few of the others who were attending but there were others I'd never met before. I think there was 12 of us in total.

That first night we sat in the bar with our guide and he went round the table asking each of us what we were looking forward to, and what we weren't looking forward to. It was at this point that I realised I hadn't actually been told much about what was in store as I was invited late on, apparently because someone else dropped out. I remembered my supervisor responding to my questions by saying that it was hard to explain as you wouldn't understand unless you'd been yourself.

As people spoke about their expectations and fears I heard a few people mention a 'high ropes' activity. This set off alarm bells in my mind so when it came to my turn the only thing I had to contribute was my trepidation at this 'high ropes' activity.

The high ropes activity turned out to be a situation where two ropes were tied between two trees about 40 feet apart. The ropes were 30-40 feet off the ground and went out at an angle where they got further apart the further along you went.

This was an activity for two people with the idea that you each stand on one of the ropes and lean against each other, pressing your hands together. You then edge along the ropes, getting further apart and supporting each other until you can no long hold on and fall to the ground.

At this point I should mention that you're wearing harnesses so you don't plummet down to earth with a bump, but once they can arrest your initial fall, the rest of the group gently lower you the rest of the way.

I also must apologise to Alison, the older lady who was my partner for this activity who I inadvertently head butted as we fell.

Once I got to the ground and managed to catch my breath I felt amazing. I was really proud of myself that I'd climbed so high up the tree, got myself on to the ropes, and then walked across knowing I was going to fall. The ropes are positioned so it is impossible to make it all the way across.

The rest of the week included both indoor and outdoor activities including orienteering, rowing, blind folded tasks etc and turned out to be really enjoyable. It was cold and wet for most of the time we were there but that actually made it more enjoyable.

Taking part in, and surviving these activities made me realise that I had always been scared to try new things because I didn't know how they would turn out. I was actually surprised by what I could achieve and it made me crave more.

Indirectly, this experience led me to sell my house in England and move back to Texas. Once there, it also helped my take a chance on something that actually led me to meet my beautiful Wife so sometimes it does pay off.

Now, I have more confidence in trying new things. I'm not so scared of what might happen if something goes wrong. I have more confidence in myself that whatever it is, I can handle it. It made me realise that, as my instructor at Brathay said, I have more heart than I know.

So despite my initial reluctance, I wouldn't be where I am now, doing the things I am without that experience.

1 comment:

  1. I still can't believe that you jumped from a huge tree with only a harness to save your life!! I am always impressed by you. ~~j