If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, it has been flooded with images of Lower Lewis Falls the past few summers. If it hasn’t then you either follow a wildly different set of hashtags than I do, or you simply don’t live in Washington State. This impressive waterfall might be one of the most beautiful places in this extraordinarily beautiful region. Located equidistance between the volcanoes of Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams, the Lewis River majestically careens forty feet over a dominating rock face to a crystal clear pool below. It is spectacular.
I first saw the falls in person last summer with my wife, her brother and his wife. We swam and enjoyed the falls for a while and while we did, we witnessed several people jump off the falls into the pool below. Watching them, I was reminded of a younger version of myself, when I would travel with my crew of friends (known as the E.B.C.) over to Sun Lakes in Eastern Washington for an annual cliff jumping camp trip. None of us knew much about cliff jumping but we knew a lot about friendship and camaraderie, and being teenage boys as most of us were, we were overflowing with bravado. It was that bravado and camaraderie that pushed each of us to conquer our fears and hurl ourselves off of intimidatingly high rock faces. My personal record high cliff was just over 60 feet, and some of the crew went even higher. In those days, none of us had careers or kids. None of us were considering the actual consequences of potentially getting hurt, just that it would hurt if we did. This lack of acknowledgement of the inherent risks meant that we were more free and willing to benefit from the rewards of the risks we took. Those were magical times, full of memories to last a lifetime. As life goes on we accept more and more responsibility, which amounts to more and more consequences should we find ourselves unable to fulfill them. The result, at least for myself, is the tendency to avoid risk, or at the very least to be very calculated with the risks I do take. In doing so, we/me prevent ourselves from experiencing the inevitable rewards that result from the kinds of experiences that require risk of the unknown, or put another way, that require faith.
On that initial visit to the falls with my wife, her brother and his wife, I told them that I wanted to jump off the falls and asked Derick (my wife’s brother) if he wanted to do it with me. My wife Tiffany immediately remarked how horrible an idea it was, based on the unknown of water depth below the falls [read: risk]. That alone however was not enough to detour me. What I was seeking was affirmation from her brother Derick whom I’d asked to jump with me. If he would have said yes, that would have been it. Instead he declined, and risk prevailed. Secretly I was relieved, thinking to myself, “Phew, bullet dodged,” and I allowed myself to chalk it up as an unnecessary risk at this stage in my life. But something happened after that weekend, regret began to sink in. It was the regret of not following my instincts to jump, of an opportunity missed. At first it was just a small regret, like the kind you get when you don’t hold the door open for someone behind you and realize your mistake moments later, a missed opportunity. Those kinds of regrets are fleeting however, and oddly this one was nagging. It persisted through the fall and winter months, so much so that I began to seek out footage of cliff jumping. The next thing I knew I was following cliff jumpers on Instagram and living vicariously through their leaps, through their risks, through their faith.
As the hibernation months of winter dragged on, I began to realize that it wasn’t just the jumping (risk) that was missing from my life. There was a larger issue below the surface that began to emerge. It became apparent that there was a lack of community in my life, the lack of a tribe, of that camaraderie from my youth. The jumpers I was following were being rewarded handsomely not only from their conquering of the risks they were taking, but also by the camaraderie that existed in their crews, that served to push and encourage each other to new heights. It became evident to me that these jumpers were getting as much of a reward from seeing the other members of their crew accomplish new tricks from new heights, than they were from accomplishing those things for themselves. It was extraordinary.
By the springtime, I began asking myself questions like, “Who is my crew? Do I even have one anymore? Are they pushing me to be better, better than even I think I am capable of being? Do they want to revel in my wins with me? Do I want to revel in their wins with them?” It became apparent to me that as the years had gone by, that my crew had gone the way of the hairs on my head. [If you don’t know me, please note that while I had a luscious head of perfectly manicured bleach blonde hair in my youth, that today I am as bald as a cue ball]. As I marinated on this disappointing reality it became obvious that the lack of a crew (and hair) was due to many factors such as marriage, parenting, career and lifestyle decisions. As the commitments increased and priorities shifted, the crew decreased in number until only a few remained. And even with those few stragglers, what holds us together is simply a bond so strong that it has been impossible to sever. I am thankful for those few, so very very thankful, but they were not enough. We are simply too far removed for us to be able to push each other forward and celebrate with one another. I needed new crew members who could hold me accountable for being my best self, encourage me to take risks, celebrate with me when I do, and to remind me that I am better than I give myself credit for. And I needed a crew that I could provide the same for. What I began to see was that there were a few good guys in my church home group that stood the best chance of forming that crew with me. It’s early on in our efforts to form a bond but in stepping out in faith we’ve made some pretty good progress.
This summer we organized a camping trip with our home group down to the Mt. Saint Helens area. Being that close to the falls, I asked one of the first guys to get to camp if he would want to go jump the falls with me, and he said, “Heck yeah!” Turns out he needed this as much as I did. So we headed out there with our wives and kids. When we arrived the craziest thing happened, all of those cliff jumpers that I follow from around the world, yeah they were all there at Lower Lewis Falls! They were having some kind of huge huckfest meetup. What we had the opportunity to see was some of the most insane cliff jumping anyone could ever witness in their lives. For me it was more than that, it was the culmination of a year of doubt and regret, and the opportunity to overcome all of it. And not just overcome it by myself, but with another committed individual, who was rooting me on and I them. So after watching these pros throw down some of the gnarliest cliff jumps ever, we asked them how to get up to the top of the falls. They proceeded to show us the way, give us tips for our jumps and encourage us do it. We began navigating what can only be described as a goat trail… muddy, wet and steep, to the top of the falls. From there it was a careful traverse through the swift moving, ankle-deep and frigid water of the Lewis River to the ledge of the iconic falls. Thirty seven feet, that was the official height that day measured by the Cliff Life crew. It might not sound super high, and compared to the sixty footer I had jumped in my youth, it wasn’t. But this is no longer my youth and with age, that cliff looked every bit as high as any I had jumped from previously. So with the Cliff Life crew watching below, my new crew member behind me encouraging me forward and a year of buildup to that moment, my leap was inevitable. I stood for a moment, taking it all in, visualizing the execution. And then I committed, full send. Free fall, impact, cold water, emersion, elation. Still on a complete high I turned to encourage my friend to send it himself, and he did. When we got to the edge of the pool, we stood there and took in our accomplishment, celebrating together.
It was a pivotal moment in my summer and in the stage of life I find myself in. The takeaway is this, find your people, have some faith… and jump. Are there any areas of your life that might require you to step out in faith, to experience the reward on the other side of risk?