"On Belay?" "Belay on!"

9 April 2020


I have been an adventure educator for more than 20 years and there are so many aspects of this way of learning that I love. I love that moment of profound confusion, on the nitro swing (a classic low rope element) when a group first understands that they must somehow retrieve their rope before they can start swinging - and the delight that sweeps through them when that rope is in their hands. I love the intensity you can feel in a group when two climbers are about to meet in the middle of the catwalk. I love how the language works just as well whether I am on a ski slope, a sailboat, leading a hike. I love each and every “A-ha!” moment. 


A challenge course is a powerful tool. But here’s the thing: it was never the point


This moment in time…THIS is what we have been preparing our participants for. 


We do not build challenge courses to teach people to climb 40 feet up a tree and walk across a wobbly cable. We build them to help our students know who they are, and who they can be, when up against a challenge. We don’t ask them to cross an imaginary “nitroglycerine pit” on a “vine” so they will know how to swing on a rope from one platform to another. But when they accomplished that, they practiced creativity, conflict resolution, self-regulation, empathy, resilience, and responsible decision-making. 


They did that for just this moment


Moreover, during these adventure experiences, our participants encountered fear, uncertainty, and perseverance together. They learned that however they chose to challenge themselves, we, and their peers, were there to support them. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes it was frustrating and hard, often, they had to try again. Each time though, their community had their back. 


So as we daily straddle the stretch zone, we must remember that we are all still on belay, and remember, deeply, what that means. The structures of support we created still serve. The language of adventure is a powerful tool. We are equipped to navigate the difficult challenges we currently face. 


Being present with the people around you, listening to each other’s ideas without judgment, agreeing to support one another, being flexible, choosing your level of challenge while still contributing to the good of the team, being comfortable with uncertainty, making mistakes and trying again, playing together – these are the skills we helped them develop. We have the tools to take on this Adventure, even if it is not one we would have chosen. 


This was always the point.


-Laura MacDonald, Senior Trainer & Consultant

Project Adventure