#TryingStuff at the #OmniGames Part Four: In the Air; On the Mountain

The night before Day Two of the #OmniGames, I couldn’t sleep.

This was partly due to excitement, to be sure. After the first day of events, #TeamBeard had found itself in 4th place – but only the top 5 teams were winning a trip to Jordan and we faced some very strong competition. The events for the next day were scheduled to be:

Lookout Below: navigate an advanced level ropes course 55 feet in the air
Bridge the Gap: navigate a beginner level course 25 feet in the air
Leap of Faith: traverse a 377-foot long zipline and end with a 65 foot tall free-fall
and Downhill Derby: ski as much vertical distance as possible in an hour

Skiing, as I’ve mentioned, I had only done three times before in the previous nine years – never by myself and never for speed. In fact, every single time I’d been on the slopes so far, I spent more time slowing myself down, stopping, and falling (“Pizza wedge! PIZZA WEDGE!”) than ever speeding up.

The zip line and free fall I was pretty confident I could handle, though. I’d done a zipline course in Wrightwood in December and had a lot of fun doing it – and a few years ago I jumped out of a plane, so I didn’t think the free-fall would be much worse.

But that ropes course …

I am not consciously afraid of heights. My brain knows – especially while doing things like a ropes course or maneuvering at an indoor climbing gym – that nothing is going to happen to me. My brain knows I’m wrapped up in safety harnesses. My brain knows I’m supposed to be having fun. The problem seems to be that my body never gets that memo.

When I’ve gone to climbing gyms there will inevitably come a time when my arms will seize up and my legs start to shake uncontrollably. Once that hits, there isn’t a whole lot I can do but breathe, make my way down, and call it a day. So the prospect of being 55 feet in the air doing that was not exactly something I’d call attractive.

I brought a book with me on this trip – one that was recommended by several #omniten alumni – Brendan Leonard’s The New American Road Trip Mixtape. It’s a fun travel novel that asks some questions about what constitutes a life when what you think is your foundation gets washed away. When I came upon this passage while trying to put myself to sleep I made a note of it:

I’d thought I already knew everything I needed to know in life, but then I got humbled by a snowboard, falling and slamming into the slopes every which way for a few weeks while 10-year-olds blew past me. At 32, I knew I wouldn’t be a natural at surfing, and that I would learn slowly, so any progress was good progress. Because when do you know everything you need to know and don’t need to learn anything new?

It was especially gray the next morning, and as we assembled at breakfast to learn more about what we would be doing on Day Two I was too nervous to do anything much more than pick at some cereal and drink a glass of water.

Daniel announced that, due to the strong winds, the zipline and free-fall portion of the day’s events would be cancelled and the remaining events would have their scores increased to make up for the loss. So there went the one thing I was confident about today …

I don’t remember much from the bus ride to the Utah Olympic Park, but I do remember seeing the ropes course for the first time – both courses were stacked on top of each other in the center of the luge track, with the easier route on the bottom. Even that easy route looked a little high to me …

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We geared up and marched down to the ropes courses after learning that our half of the #omniathletes would be doing the tougher, higher course first.

I couldn’t take my eyes off of it as we walked to the starting line. Columbia said that we could opt out of anything we didn’t want to do but I never considered that an option. Today was the day we needed to do well and I was determined to give everything my best shot – no matter how terrified I was. My internal mantra became “#TryingStuff, #TryingStuff,” and I could tell based on some of the faces around me that I wasn’t the only social media-savvy outdoor blogger chanting it.

Seth suggested we head toward the front of the pack so we wouldn’t get too cold waiting for others to go … and so, we became the second team to try out the harder course.

After hooking myself into the safety system and climbing up the ladder to the first platform, I made my way across the first obstacle – a single wire floor blocked by buoys attached to ropes that also had to serve as handholds. I made it a few steps out without any problem and then – there it was – my legs started to waver. I held on to the ropes as Seth encouraged me on from the next platform, giving me advice and tricks on each problem.

Making it to that first platform was a huge relief. My palms were sweating so profusely that I had trouble even taking my gloves off to let them dry out. Seth had already made it to the next platform and was shouting out tips for the second obstacle, where you had to notch your feet in rope loops and swing sideways to catch the next one.

This ropes course definitely wasn’t giving us an easy introduction to the activity. That’s what we get for starting off on the advanced course, I suppose. Even the Utah Olympic Park web site agreed: “UOP strongly recommends that ALL participants begin with the Canyon Course prior to attempting the Summit Course.”

The third obstacle was similar to the second but somehow managed to find a way also be more difficult. This time there were no loops for footholds, just long arcs of rope. You had to sidestep – not swing – on this one, and the handholds were much tougher to reach. Once you made your move to the next rope, you really only had once chance to do it.

It was here, on the third rung from the next platform, that I slipped and lost my balance as my leg fell off the platform. I managed to hold onto the ropes, but that fall eliminated my chance to score any points on the upper course.

Luckily for me, I had forgotten that.

So, instead of just throwing in the towel and zipping along the guidelines to finish the course, I tried even harder to complete the challenges – and this is where #TeamBeard truly came together. Seth scouted each obstacle on the remainder of the course and waited for me to catch up, shouting back suggestions and many, many words of encouragement. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better teammate.

image by Heather Balogh

image by Heather Balogh

As we approached the end of the first course, we could also hear words of encouragement from the rest of the #omniathletes assembled below. It says a lot about this group that even though we were all in competition with each other for a prize, we all still cared enough for each other to help nudge our fellow competitors along. Those shouts from 50 feet below me were a tremendous source of inspiration – and when I finished the rest of the course without falling again and heaved sighs of relief when my feet touched solid ground, this day instantly shot on to my list of Greatest Personal Achievements.

Oh also, my mouth was so dry from nerves by this point that I just started scooping up snow and eating it.

After this, we still had the second, easier course to do – but after exhausting all my stress hormones on the advanced course I wasn’t even concerned. Seth and I flew through the lower ropes and became the first team to finish both courses.

As we sat and watched the remainder of the teams navigate the challenging course, I kept my eye out for people who looked like they were in the same boat I had just escaped from – and did my part to cheer them on from the ground. It wouldn’t be an #omnifamily if we didn’t help each other out …

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On the bus back to the hotel, we studied the ski trail maps as our heart rates slowly declined back to normal.

Because we couldn’t do the zipline, we would be given 90 minutes to ski instead of the hour they were planning on allotting. We consulted trail maps and formulated a plan – Seth would just bomb as many runs as possible and instead of going to the High Meadows where I could get a bunch of easy, low-elevation gain runs in, I would take the longer Orange Bubble Express lift and head down some of the blue trails to try to score more points. That way, I figured I could at least get us ahead of some of the other teams with novice skiers. Sure, I’d never done a blue trail by myself, but hey – we’re still #TryingStuff, right?

I was still too nervous to eat much lunch as I was fitted for my rental skis and boots. Almost every team was off in a corner discussing how they’d try to make up for whoever in the group wasn’t a good skier, and everyone seemed to have different ideas on how to do it. Some of the experts were going to try to get as high up on the mountain as possible, some of the beginners were going to ride a slow gondola to the bunny slopes, while I was just going to go off and ski by myself for the first time ever …

As the #omniathletes assembled on the short hill to the lift outside we all eagerly awaited the official start time. The countdown was closing in … and I was still trying to get my skis on.

“1 minute!”

Now how do I step into these skis again?

“30 seconds!”

Maybe if I shake some of this snow off …

“15 seconds!”

Shoot! Snap in, ski boot!

“10 seconds!”

Got it! Now where’s my other ski pole?


And with that, all the people who actually knew what they were doing whizzed past the novices, who were left stumbling and confused at the top of the hill.

After a few minutes, I got my snow legs back and steadied myself enough to make it down the short hill and onto the lift. And so, off I went!

image by David Creech

image by David Creech

At the top of the Sunrise lift there was a green run everyone had to take to get to the main series of lifts. A few of the other intermediate skiers waited at the top of the lift to see if anyone needed help down, and we all made our way out onto the snow.

It took a few minutes, but I remembered the very basic mechanics of what I was supposed to do. I slowly – VERY slowly – made my way down the run, pizza-wedging as hard as I could and making the widest possible turns to keep my speed down while the rest of my body tried to recall how it was supposed to work on these contraptions.

At the bottom of the run I had two options – the Orange Bubble Express to the higher, harder runs or the Gondola to the bunny slopes.

That hyper-sensible inner voice chimed in immediately. “You know, you’ve never skied alone before. Maybe you should try the bunny slopes for a while just to get used to it.”

I looked at the Gondola. The voice continued.

“I mean, you don’t even know how tough those blue runs are going to be! Sure the guy at the resort said they were easy, but what if he’s just a great skier?”

The Gondola was looking better every second …but I got on board the Orange Bubble Express. #TryingStuff!

After a nice conversation with a local skier, I disembarked from the lift halfway up its run and skied out to a flat area overlooking the different ski runs. And man – that blue run looked steep. Was I really OK with going down that on my first run when I was having trouble just staying upright?

I found a trail sign with the different routes downhill and noticed a double green / blue trail that I hadn’t seen before. Looking on my map, it appeared much longer than the solid blue run but was rated easier – so I skied off in that direction instead.

The run was tough. And steep. I fell a lot, and every time I landed in the powder – sometimes face-down, sometimes skis askew – I sighed and that little voice would sneak back in.

“You probably shouldn’t be up here. Why are you even doing this?”

And every time I fell down, I picked myself back up – sometimes after falling again – and continued down the hill. I was doing this for a trip to Jordan. I was doing this for #TeamBeard. But most importantly, I was doing this for myself.

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Along the way, I found I was getting better at turning corners, controlling speed, and not breaking bones. Toward the bottom of the run there was even a fun stretch of track where – for the first time in my skiing history – I used maneuvers to speed up instead of slow down or stop!

It took me a long time to get down that hill – but as soon as I got back to the ski lift I got back in line and did it all again.

And this time, I only fell maybe half as much!

After wrapping up the skiing challenge at 4PM, I took off my skis and awkwardly walked through the resort back toward our hotel.

I ran into Seth and found out that he had managed a very impressive 11 runs in 90 minutes, matching the skier who managed the most number of runs. We walked back to the hotel – and I don’t know about Seth, but I know that no matter where we stood, I’d given 110% that day and I was pretty dang happy with my contribution to #TeamBeard.

Oh, and I was also VERY sure I was going to be sitting in the hot tub that night.


– The points are tallied
– The final challenge begins
– And the Beards get chatty

Be sure to read Seth’s in-depth account of the fabrics of the #OmniGames at Plains and Peaks!

If you want to help us win the Charles Dickens storytelling challenge, be sure to leave us comments, follow Seth and my Twitter accounts, share our stories, and tweet Columbia to let them know you support #TeamBeard!

Be sure to read the other entries in the #TryingStuff saga:
Part One – A Week in Two Days
Part Two – A Team is Born
Part Three – For the Dogs

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