Picture this. The ATD 2016 in Denver, Colorado had just finished and four Dutch L&D professionals took off for Estes Park and our first taste of the Rockies. What an experience that turned out to be! One of our happy band is a seasoned connoisseur of the Alps (aptly named: “an Alpinist”) and suggested that we undertake a hike together. We negotiated a bit on duration and height difference. We ended up settling for a four to five-hour hike with a height difference of around 600 meters (1800 feet) in Rocky Mountains National Park.
Let me tell you this. For a European to enter the Rockies is a deep dive into amazement. Such wilderness. Such vastness. Such sheer emptiness. And so many elk, everywhere. Picture us gawking when we paid our $ 20 dues to enter the Park and you get the picture.
The weather wasn’t really much to write home about. It drizzled. For us Dutch it makes us feel at home, but it is a bit disconcerting to feel such a very Dutch drizzle in completely new and vastly different surroundings. Within 30 minutes of our hike rain turned into sleet and within 20 steps sleet turned into snow. I still feel the wonder.
The hike turned out to be well chosen. Waterfalls, rapids, great views, winding paths that alternated between clearly marked and slippery on snow that had turned into brownish ice. We celebrated our companionship at the highest point of our hike and found that path that would mark our descent. Little did we know what would happen.
In case you’re, just as I am, not a very seasoned hiker, you’ll notice that snow will make short work of any official signposts of the path. It’s basically you, your companions, your GPS and a very good map. We had all this and still, from one of our footfalls until the next we couldn’t make out any footsteps in the snow before us. The path had disappeared.
The cocktail of emotions that hit my body was bewildering. Shock, anger, doubt, loss. Fight, flight, fright, all rolled into one. The thing was, we had just climbed 600 meters and descended 400, we had just walked about four hours of our five-hour hike. To turn back to the latest signpost would mean climbing another 400 meters and my body simply didn’t feel it had the strength to do that. But beyond my last footfall there was only virgin snow and much denser forest than we had earlier traversed.
It would have been so easy to lay blame. It would have been so easy to use each other as tissues for our personal emotional turmoil. It just wasn’t very easy to give up. We basically had to do something. And something amazing happened.
We didn’t lay blame, we didn’t mince words, we shared - curtly and aptly - our Margherita of Emotions and we jointly decided that pressing onwards was the best course of action. If you picture canyon walls and boulders to our left and dense forest and a snow covered meandering stream, you get the picture. What path to take was unclear, simply because we had lost it. One of us took off for the boulders, the others followed the Alpinist. We lost sight of each other, it looked as if we had lost our boulder dasher and we brought the band back together. All this uncertain and slippery meandering happened without one word we would have later regretted. Only a little hour later our feet stepped on a clearly marked path: what a relief!
Our adventure in the Rockies has led me to reflect on the matter of trust. At a conference like the ATD International Conference and Exposition (keynote) speakers use the word often and make it seem so natural, so easy, and so do we all, don’t we? But the thing is, I’ve discovered that trust is hard. It’s the fruit of our hardest personal and inner labor to be able to give it to one another. I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to be perfect to gain trust. We all fail: only all the time. The question is: “can we trust in one another, in spite of our disappointments?”.
I’d go back any day up any mountain with these three fellow professionals. I trust that we can overcome whatever nature and our own inner nature throws at us. Trust may be hard, but its fruit is sweet.