When I was growing up, there was a pretty irritating phrase I heard semi-regularly.
“Can’t is won’t.”
I probably don’t have to tell you how much I dreaded hearing those words.
Not that I didn’t try hard or that I was a slacker. But there were things with which I really struggled (especially in the physical/athletic categories), and I wasn’t always a big fan of trying the things that scared or intimidated me. I would probably consider myself cautious, with a big dose of self-consciousness.
I would have thought that the older I get, the more cautious I would become. A lot of things change as we age. For myself, I know that as the years pass, I experience more anxiety about situations, feel more motion sickness in vehicles or on rides, get more claustrophobic in tight spaces. However, I have also found myself becoming just a wee bit more brave and more willing to try things.
For example, last month, I went to Universal to celebrate a girlfriend’s birthday. I’m always up for some roller coasters, but I tend to stick to what I know. The birthday girl wanted to go on Revenge of the Mummy and Hollywood Rip-Ride Rockit, and even though I was nervous, I was game. They were both absolutely terrifying in different ways (I thought we would burn alive on The Mummy, and, well, Rip-Ride Rockit was perhaps the most outrageous roller coaster I’ve ever been on with its 17 story, completely vertical incline), but I overcame my nerves and went for it (Watch this clip of Jimmy Fallon and Kevin Hart if you want a really good impression of the ride. I like to think that Kevin Hart sums up my reaction pretty well. Except I’m taller. Warning – bad language, NSFW)
And so it began.
A few weeks ago, in yoga, I joined in with some acro poses. It’s something I would NEVER EVER EVER have attempted before (I always worry about screwing these things up and failing epically in front of people), but for some reason, probably delirium from being up at the crack of dawn, I threw caution to the wind and went for it.
As you may recall, the end result was this:
Certainly not my most graceful moment, but I got up there. Even better, I felt kind of awesome about the whole thing.
Which brings us to Thursday.
Our teenage nephew has been in town, and on Monday, I was brainstorming some ideas for things to do during the day while little man was at baseball camp. I’m not going to say it wasn’t the glass of wine that made me consider Crocodile Crossing.
This aerial obstacle and zip line course has been operational for several years, now. And it’s something that I always thought was downright insane. I mean, who in their right mind, would voluntarily dangle from a wire over a pit full of (probably) hungry alligators?
Upon further investigation, I found that there were two options: the Nile River Course, 60′ high, taking about 90 minutes with an advertised nine zip lines or the Sepik River Course, at 20′ high, taking 45 minutes with three zip lines. The latter honestly didn’t sound quite so bad, and, more promising, didn’t have a zip line directly over the alligator feeding pen.
Since our nephew was in, I reserved our spots. And proceeded to freak out on the inside for the next few days.
On Thursday morning, we suited up in comfortable clothes and lace-up shoes and headed over to the Alligator Farm to give it a try.
After we checked in and signed our waivers, the attendants gave us a padlock so we could stow our belongings in a complimentary locker. While we were allowed to wear sunglasses (at our own risk), we had to stow all phones, cameras, electronics, keys and loose articles. After that, harnesses and gloves were distributed and one of the staff members, Bobby, helped us get strapped up.
There was a pretty thorough training session, where we learned about the equipment, how to attach and detach our carabiners to the safety harness, how to operate our pulleys, and how we should go down the zip lines. We also learned that the Sepik River Course actually went up to 30 feet, instead of 20, and had five zip lines, not three. Under Bobby’s watchful eye (and sense of humor), we practiced on a low-hanging zip line, and when he had signed off on our admission wristbands, we were free to climb the first ladder and get started.
The first few obstacles were no big thing. There were some plank type bridges, suspended with cables between platforms positioned in the trees. Some were more stable than others, and we were moving along quite nicely.
And then we came to the “tightrope.” It was about 30 feet of cable, stretched between two trees, with no supports other than the safety wire and an overhead cable. My nephew made it across and I sent up a quick prayer and followed. For me, it was terrifying. My legs were shaking and my hands were cramping. At about the halfway mark, my knees started sweating. From below, Bobby shouted up that most participants felt this to be the hardest challenge, and that was encouraging, so I kept going. Not like I had an option, of course. I got to the platform, with my entire right leg twitching, and needed to take a breather to get back to normal.
Since I couldn’t take any pictures up there, I’ll share this video so you can get an idea of some of the obstacles we faced. Some were harder than others. I had the roughest time on the things that involved a lot of rocking or on the ones that involved a tightrope style method of crossing. Staff members also took some photos from the ground.
It took me a minute to work up the nerve for the first zip line crossing. There was a bit of a back log behind us, due to another climber getting stuck halfway through the ride and needing a rescue, and I just needed a minute to compose myself. However, once I let go, I had no problem whatsoever, not even with the braking and hoisting myself back up to the platform.
Things were great (relatively speaking) until we reached the 16th or 17th obstacle. It was comprised of a thick rope that stretched across one platform, then another, then wrapped around a tree trunk and back to a zip line platform. There were no cable railings, just a safety wire at neck-height and another cable that was way too high to grab for support. The rope had a lot of slack to it, and swayed a lot. My nephew, who was ahead of me, actually lost his footing and slipped off. Somehow, he managed to bounce right back into position, but it added another layer of nerves. I made it across the largest portion of the rope to the first platform, but when I tried to proceed to the second, things fell apart. I couldn’t get myself positioned comfortable. The safety wire was requiring me to keep my knees bent, in order to keep my balance, but I couldn’t take those first steps, and I started to fill up with tears. I didn’t want to quit but I also had no idea how I was going to continue.
As my nephew and the group behind us tried to work things out (the person in front of us was taking her time on the zip line again, because she had dropped her glove and needed new ones to continue), Bobby came over to watch us from the ground. Since we had been having some fun with him at training, I shouted down that I couldn’t do it. I was stuck and needed someone to get me down.
Bless him, he told me no. That it was fine. That I didn’t have to even make it to the next platform – if I could just reach out my foot at the halfway point and get on to the zip line platform, that was all I had to do. Just a few feet on the scary rope. That next to the tightrope earlier, this was what most people considered the hardest obstacle, and it was easy from this point on. And if my nephew put his weight on the rope at his feet, and the person behind me stood on the rope behind me, it would create enough tension to give me the stability to do it.
And so, shaking, and on the verge of tears, I did.
The feeling of general badassery was strong.
As promised, after that, it was “easy.” I think the only other challenge that gave pause involved logs and planks, suspended at weird angles that led, not to a platform, but to a ladder. The bolts holding the cables that suspended the wood pieces were at random places on the cable railings, so my forearms got pretty well bruised and banged up. However, at that point, I was feeling no pain, and I was actually able to look down a little and enjoy some of the sights. Another staff member (affectionately named “Not Bobby”) started pointing out things like a huge albino alligator and a Siamese crocodile nest. He said the mama croc was a bit feisty, but not to worry. She could only jump 11.5 feet, and we were safely at a height of 12. Such a kidder, that Not Bobby.
I hustled over the gap, just in case.
Everything went smoothly, until the last zip line. I made it down, braked beautifully, found my feet, and then managed to unhook myself entirely. I guess I was so excited to be finished (there was just the ladder to the ground) that I was jumping the gun. Bobby, down below at this point, kind of chuckled and gave me my safety warning : “Ma’am, if you do that again, I will have to remove you from the course.”
I apologized for my lapse, reattached myself, and…. removed myself from the course with a huge grin.
We were sweaty and stinky and ravenously hungry, but we had done it! And, despite the moments of panic, it was fun! It took us a bit longer than the advertised 45 minutes, but we barely noticed up there in the trees. My nephew was an absolute pro – he looked like he had been doing this course his whole life, and I was really thrilled that he had had a good time.
Had you asked me yesterday, I would have said there is no way I would do this again. This morning, despite the pain I am feeling from the waist up (clearly my legs are in rockstar shape, thank you running and yoga), I might consider it. I might even consider the longer course. At no point was the height an issue. There were times when I was standing right on the edge of a platform, and it felt no different than standing on the edge of a curb. Even when crossing some of the obstacles, I was less afraid of falling than I was of getting stuck, suspended from my harness, dangling helplessly in wait for a rescue. Throughout, everything felt incredibly secure and safe, even though we were self-guided and receiving assistance from the ground.
As a side note, I do think 10 is a little young for the course. Each participant has to be able to hook and unhook their own carabiners and pulleys. While we were allowed to offer tips and helping hands, at no point were we allowed to touch anyone else’s equipment, even if someone was stuck or in need of assistance. There were also some things that were tough for me to reach, even considering that I am tall with long legs. Definitely a discretionary thing, but it was a lot more complicated than just taking a nice, scenic zip line ride through the trees.
The downside is that I had to bail on my 11 miler this morning. I was exhausted, worn out, sore and hugely dehydrated. There was no way I could make up for all the fluid I had sweated out on the course and I didn’t want to risk getting hurt or making myself sick, so I made the decision to postpone. It was the right choice, but I’m a little disappointed in myself, too.
It’s truly amazing how my attitude has changed. How I am more willing and likely to take on bigger challenges. How, instead of saying “I can’t”, I’m starting to say “What the heck? I’ll try.” That I’m wearing shorts in public. I don’t know if it’s because of the strength I’ve gotten from running, or because I’m just more comfortable with and secure in myself. Whatever it is, it’s pretty awesome.
I don’t think I’ll ever be on board with, say, camping, or rock climbing (although, obviously never say never), but I do know that I’m no longer really afraid to sign up for SUP yoga, and that if it’s the zombie apocalypse and I need to cross an elevated steel cable in order to escape having my brains eaten, I have a pretty decent chance of making it.
Are you the adventurous type?
Have you ever done a zip line/aerial obstacle course? If not, would you?