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Lessons from Cliff Rappelling and Why I Am Over It - Race + Grace | Dr. Sam Kline

Lessons from Cliff Rappelling and Why I Am Over It

I am a Black woman visiting Utah.
I feel like a Black woman visiting Utah.
I am still uncertain about what this even means.
Hey, you know what?
I can liken it to moments when select White friends discuss traveling to a country where People of Color were the majority, and in an epiphanous instance, they realized they were “White.”
On the other hand, I knew I was Black before my trip.
Fortunately, navigating and exploring contexts with varied demographic make-ups fascinate me. It happens to be May, and I guess nothing says Happy Mother’s Day month like scaling a cliff.
I am going rappelling.

Black Tinker Bell Rappels

I have selected this resort for a reason.
I want a solo domestic adventure.
No girlfriend getaway.
No family vacay.
No romantic holiday.
No business trip.
Nope to the no power.
I am on a wanderlust trip for one.
As much as I love my fellow humans, I do things to nourish my soul and spirit, such as alone time.

For this trip, I desire quiet, nature, spa time, with a bit of excitement.
Oh, and adults-friendly. Sorry not sorry, Whitney Houston, I do not want the children’s laughter to remind me how I used to be—not this time.
Am I being too honest?

As for my rappelling adventure, it is not just any kind of rappelling, Honey. (By the way, today, you are “Honey.”)
I signed up for “sunset rappelling.”
Cue the ooh’s and ahh’s.
I envision myself leaping from rugged sierra cliffs, and the tangerine sky sweetly kissing my golden brown skin good night.
Powerfully, I descend like Black Tinker Bell, gliding across the red firmament with the warm glow of moonlight embracing me with Divine unity. I see it now: Cirque Du Soleil: Negress La Cliff, which is my speaking “Amurrican French.”

And So It Begins

I arrive thirty minutes early, waiting in the resort lounge, excited and curious to find out who will join in on the adventure.
I continue my game of count the People of Color.
I see more White people.
And dogs.
A couple with a big dog.
A woman holding a small dog.
With the snakes I have come across on my desert walks and the dogs at resort, I can make a case for biodiversity. *Drum roll*
Since I do not anticipate these individuals jumping off a cliff with Fido, I cross them off the list.
I wait several more minutes.
Peter Pan, I mean, our guide, enters the lounge.
He looks like he would lead us rappelling.
He looks like his parents weaned him using coffee.
He looks like he rappels using air and determination as a rope.
He looks like John Denver and Beatrix Kiddo from the Kill Bill movies had a love child.
He looks like he had an energy drink, granola, and a bison burger for lunch.
Are these problematic thoughts?
“This is going to be interesting.”
Did I say this aloud or in my head?
A lady shows up and then another.
It is the three of us.
Two Amurrican and a Canadian woman.
One Black and two White.
All of us are on solo holidays, and we hit it off.
I was hoping I would not get the outdoor elitist types who love to hear themselves recount every mountain they have climbed, river they have rafted, and stream they have forged like it is the sound of music to our ears.

We sign our lives away and probably the names of any future first-born grand children in the customary waiver, load into the van, and zoom away.
Three cliffs are involved in our excursion—each increasing in heights.
By the way, I did not mention a pretty important detail:
I am terrified absolutely frightened of heights.
For some weird reason, I convinced myself that facing different fears are good for my soul.

Smacked Back to Reality

Peter Pan gives us a brief orientation that could revolutionize any Fortune 500 HR onboarding process.
And it is on!
As if he is ordering his bison burger, Peter Pan chimes, “Who wants to be first?”
I exclaim, “Me!”
In the back of my mind, I reply, “Excited much?”
Peter Pan helps me get set up. I begin to step off the cliff backwards.
Within a few feet down, I lose control, and instantly, I recall Peter Pan’s advice in these situations to “just go with it.”
I go with it.
I slam right smack into another cliff, scraping my arm along the way.
The Cirque Du Soleil troop runs off in my imagination, abandoning me to fend for myself. Some kind of friends they are.
The situation moves from fantasy to reality.
I manage to maneuver myself down.
Feeling a slight tinge of concern, I cheer on the other two ladies, while thinking, “I cannot believe I signed up for this mess. I can be enjoying a fruity mocktail and then receiving a massage.”
After the other two ladies descend, the other hammer drops.
Peter Pan gives us the option of climbing back up to the top with or without rope support.
This is not how I pictured the experience. It is not how my sisters in survival thought it would happen either.
Hilariously, all of us thought we would be pulled up to safety each time.
Oh, nooooo.

Apparently, Peter Pan is a mountain climbing deity of sorts.
A self-professed “outdoors snob” who looks down on lower forms of mere mortal outdoor excursions like rappelling or sky diving, he begins describing his mountain climbing abilities. After listening to us women folk at the bottom of the cliff, voice our concerns in the valley of distress, Peter Pan explains how he can easily walk up and down this cliff without any support. He claims that the best climbers do not even need equipment.
What is this-The Matrix?
The more I listen to Peter Pan speak, the more I perceive him as the Tony Robbins of rappelling.
Indeed, Peter Pan is like a Certified John Maxwell Trainer of rappelling.
Just great.
I do not want friggin’ leadership growth training right now.
Besides, upon hearing this news of climbing, I am ready to unleash more than the giant from within on Peter Pan.

Feeling slightly mischievous and curious, I decide to poke at Peter Pan’s ego to call his bluff.
“You know what? I want to see you do it. I do not think you can do it.” I go on and on because I really want to see him do it.

And he does.
Peter Pan walks up and down the cliff with no rope like he is Michael Jackson moonwalking across a stage.
He makes it look simple.
Our mouths drop.
Darn it. We are screwed.
Then, he says one of his wilderness leadership insights.
“It’s about your thoughts. If you think you can do it, you can.”
I heard it before. I know this stuff.
On the other hand, when it comes to mountains and cliffs, with nothing but hope, beliefs, green clover, and blue horseshoes to keep me from plummeting to my death, this insight resonates like never before.
I feel a charge within myself to try it. I don’t want to use a rope and harness support.
I want to walk up the side of a cliff with such ease, too.
I am Tinker Bell, daggonit.

Peter Pan Meets Peter from the Bible

Peter Pan proceeds to walk back up the rocky terrain to get a rope.
Unknowing to him, I think, “I can do it. I am just walking. That is all.”
And there, without giving much thought, I follow right behind him.
I do it, too.
I start walking.
It is happening!
Fearlessly, I am walking like Peter Pan. I am not thinking about the danger in what I am doing.
Almost at the top, Peter Pan turns around, surprised, says, “Who told you to do that? How did you get here?!”
He looks excited and encourages me to keep going.
I continue walking up, but then my thoughts shift.
I think about the height.
I think about not having support.
I think about falling to my utter destruction.
I freeze.
I begin freaking out in my mind.
I change from whimsical Tinker Bell to Peter from the Bible, the one who walked on water like Jesus, until he heard the sound of the wind and rain and began sinking.
I called out to Peter Pan like Peter called out to da Lawd.
(Note to my uber race-conscious readers: I am not attempting to reinscribe a White Savior narrative. When you are on the side of a cliff, in a matter of life or death or if you are sinking in water and about to drown, you can care less about the ethnic origins of whoever is going to save your life. At least, I hope so.)

With the encouraging guidance of Peter Pan, I make it back to the top. Now, my display of bravery means that our group will climb up for the remaining cliffs without rope support.
What have I done?

I find each of the remaining cliffs increasingly challenging and profoundly intimidating. Another lesson unfolds in my rugged classroom.
Whenever I predict some ill fate or mistake happening to me before I start a rappel, Peter Pan casually replies, “And it will,” jarring me back to the power of my thoughts and words.
Then, I remember my initial ascent without support, free from fear and full of power, doing something had not ever considered attempting.
He is right.
Whatever I think and speak creates the outcome.

Feelings, Fear, and Faith

I feel an oasis of relief at the completion of my last rappel.
It is time for our final and highest ascent.
During our climb, I focus on each movement. I feel fully present, problem solving in the moment.
Where can I put my right foot? Left foot?
Where can I reach next? Left hand? Right hand? In this very moment, how can I move higher?
With each small movement, I am daring to climb up a mountain with no gear.
Chiming in on the playful banter with Peter Pan and the gang, I lament, “I didn’t sign up for mountain climbing. As a matter of fact, I avoid it. Who do you think I am, Tomaseta Cruise?”
Like Maya Angelou’s rising, still, we climb.
As I am going for it, really feeling like Tom Cruise doing his own stunts and grateful for the weight lifting prior the trip, I hit another physical and mental block.
I feel stuck.
I struggle to determine placement of my hands and feet.
It looks like there is no place with enough room for me to use my hands or feet to climb.
Problem solving gives way to anxiety. I cling to the massive smooth red boulder before me like one of those suction “Baby on Board” signs to a car window.
I wish for a helicopter to care flight this baby to safety. I want this adventure to be over.
Speaking of over, I am over it.
Stick a fork in this experience.
Then, Peter Pan guides me to look for ways to move out of the spot. He asks, pointing to petite shelves here and there, “Can you put your hand here? Can you place your foot, there?” As the panic subsides I see protruding minute pieces of stone to use as leverage. When I say minute, I mean minute. I do not consider the what if’s, like the possibility of these tiny pieces of rock breaking in the process. I see possibility and problem solve, again, moving through another obstacle.
And so it is with life. Our feelings are not evidence of reality or the truth.
During my rappels, whenever I perceived something as impossible or too small, I limited my vision, creativity, and ability to problem solve. The same applies to our daily lives. Our perceptions are a matter of inviting life or death to our purpose. Whatever we magnify in our minds becomes our reality. Faith allows us to walk on water and do the impossible.
Fear restricts us to impossibilities, whether it is perceived as too great or small. Faith opens us to endless opportunities. Sometimes all we need is to step on a small piece of rock, trusting it is enough to propel us higher.
We do not need the right gear or the best gear, or, as confirmed throughout my outing, any gear. We do not need come from the shiniest backgrounds or go to best schools. All we need to do is live freely and open to transformation. What God has for us is for us. The biggest obstacles are not mountains, cliffs, storms, rains, and the trouble we see. Our greatest obstacle is often our perception.

Rappelling gave me an exhilarating and terrifying woman versus nature adventure. I am thankful for the connections I made, as well as the life instructions from the outdoors and my fairy god rappelling guide.
Even with the depth of wisdom cultivated to help me with the metaphorical rappels in life, I do not anticipate doing the real thing, again.
I am over it.







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With Dr. Sam Kline

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