Terror in the Treetops

Do you ever think to yourself, “Gee, I sure learned my lesson!” and then immediately make the same mistake again?

Well, I did just that this weekend. I was certain after the Washington, D.C. debacle that I had learned to do some planning and research first, bu then came last weekend’s bike ride where I proceeded based on some weak assumptions, and now there is the zip-lining incident.

I am a Teacher of students with Blindness/Low Vision by trade and part of that is something called the Expanded Core Curriculum or ECC. The ECC is basically areas that most people learn through exposure (aka observing through sight) that my kiddos need explicit instructions to learn. Well, between the ECC and blindness/low vision being rare disabilities, a few of us TBLV’s from districts in my area will get our students tougher for voluntary ECC activities where they can meet other kids who understand what they are dealing with and we can have fun with the ECC.

One of the areas of the ECC is Recreation and Leisure, so sometimes our activities are just plain ol’ fun. This would be my first time experiencing our group ECC day, so I was brought into the discussion pretty late in the process. The activity would be zip-lining on a Saturday at the Koteewi Aerial Park  in Strawtown, Indiana.

I was game because I thought zip-lining looked fun. Here is where my assuming began. Instead of looking up what was involved or even something as basic as dress requirements, I assumed it would be a climb up to a platform, get hooked up to the zip-line, take a 5 to 15 minute ride over a meadow or forest, and then it would be done. Seemed like a lot of hoopla for something so short, but that did not stop me from going in blind, so to speak.

Since I was driving all that way, I made planes to meet my friend Stacey afterwards to hang out and I dressed for hanging out. I wore jeans and luckily Converse shoes.

I got there and that’s when I found out that this was not a 15 minus sip line experience,  it was a 2 hour ropes course with the occasional zip-line. Excuse me. A what? For how long?

Crap. I just assumed myself right into being an ass again.

Fun fact about me: even though I thought zip-lining sounded fun and I have even gone skydiving, I am scared of open heights. It is admittedly one of those irrational fears because for one, it is not consistent (*See skydiving). I climbed trees as a kid, no problem. A ladder up to a roof, problem. The fire tower at Oubache State Park, problem. The Eiffel Tower at Kings Island, no problem. See, irrational.

So here I was in jeans for a 2 hour long physical activity that required a lot of reaching and stretching on a day that was promising to reach the 90’s and I have a fear of open heights.  Great.

First we took a trail to a shed. Here is where we got leather gloves, a harness, and helmet.  The harness had a C hook that would go on the steel cables on all the obstacles to catch you if you fall. There was also a pulley for the zip-lines. I do no have pictures because I did not want to risk dropping my phone from the TOP OF A TREE.

Our next stop was a practice area to learn how to use the C hook, carabiner for the ropes when you climb ladders, and the pulley for the zip-line. The C hook (probably not its official name) looks like a C with a small opening. What you do is there are flat pieces of steel that your can fit the C hook onto and then you maneuver it around bolts onto the steel cable that goes across all the obstacles called elements.  The first time, it was kind of like one of those old timey spacial puzzles where you have to get two looped nails apart, but once you get it, it is not hard.  So we practiced getting our C-hook on the cable, going across an element, which in this case was a log, and then we zip- lined to a platform , but everything was close enough to the ground that most adults could touch the ground. I learned the hard way that you do not grab the steel cable while you are zip-lining. If it was not for the leather gloves, then I would have a really nasty rope burn on my palm right now.

After the practice, it was time for the real deal. we climbed a platform that was at least 20 feet up in the trees. From there, there were three different courses you cold take of increasing difficulty. Luckily, I was directed to the easiest. I say luckily, because I was too  scared to notice that feature.

Yep, the ropes course was for sure falling under the category of open heights that freak me our. I will probable get some parts wrong, but this is what I remember. The first element were three beams about three inches wide by 6 feet long. Each were attached on the ends by steel cables, so they can swing a bit while you are on them. You attached yourself to a cable in the middle with your C hook and then there were cables on each side to hold on to as you walked across the beams. Rationally, I knew if I fell, the C hook would catch me, but I wanted more leeway in the weight limit that they allowed like many 3 or 4 hundred more pounds. Plus, if I fell, I think it was rational to expect that if I fell, i could get banged up by the element I fell off of before the hook caught me.

So here I was, scared silly, stepping on to a 3 inch beam that can move., stretching over an open abyss in stiff jeans and a not all that flexible body. Oh, and did I mention, I do not have depth perception.

Depth perception is what allows you to judge where you are in relation to other objects. In this case, I could not tell if I had one foot or one inch before I reached some things with my foot. Add that as I tried to determine this, I was looking down at a 20ft or so fall.

That was the worst part of every element. You wild have to step off the platform down, while stretching to reach something that moved and wobbled. . Then you have to go to the next beam, you had to stretch while standing on a wobbly element to get on another and as you reach, the element you were standing on would be pushed away from the one you were reaching for. I do not have long legs and my jeans were restricting my movements, so this was all extra challenging, but then you reach the end of the third beam and have to get on the platform. The new platform is up higher, so now I had to reach and step up to to get on it while the beam moved back away from the platform. Bonus, this final beam was not level like the others. It was at a 30 degree angle. All that and I was only on the first obstacle.

The next obstacle was blessedly easier. There were three again, but his time it was three beams on two foot wide cross beams, so there was not the balancing element.  The challenge of moving from one to the next and getting up on an even higher platform happened again.

The next element I remember were 2 foot wide logs  Each were attached to the guide wires on the ends, so it was like walking across on several little swings. One log did not look in good shape. It had a chunk out of it like dry rot, so I did my best to not put all my weight on it. The easiest was a wavy bridge.  I think that was the last element before I had to take a ladder up to another platform where there was finally a zip-line.

At this point, by heart was beating out of my chest. Some of it was physical excursion from being a tight ball of stress the whole time. Go ahead. Clinch every muscle in your body and hold it. See how tired you get.

By this time, the other adult and two kids in my group were way ahead of me. I could not even see where they were in the trees. Shelby, my coworker would occasionally yell to see where I was and how I was doing. I would crack jokes that were kinda true about wanting a bucket truck to retrieve me.

I would put the pulley on and take it back off. I was fighting panic that I had only experienced one other time in California when things were really  desperate. I was trying to control my breathing and think logically through the safety of the zip-line and remind myself that this was the part I actually wanted to do, but I was having a rough go of it since I was not at least 30 ft or more up and wigged out from the obstacles I had just done. I knew my only options were the zip-line or retracing my steps, but I already knew how awful the part I had done was and I did NOT want to tot that again.

About this time, another couple made it to the platform I was on. I told them I had reached the limits my courage and was working on it, so they could go around me. It really helped to watch someone else go.  I took a few more minutes, working on my breathing when one of the park staff asked if she needed to come up to help me. I told her no, I was almost ready. Then I hooked and unhooked myself from the zip-line a few more times when I finally just did the oldest trick in the book and counted to three then pushed off.

It was awesome ad fun and I could zip-line all day, but the ropes course was still BS. I had to do a few more elements like a net in shape of a V that basically closed on you when your are in it. I am not claustrophobic and there was no falling off that one, so I was fine. There was also a tightrope with the occasional 2×4 attaching it to the hand cables. I did not care for that one. My C hook would get caught on the boards because I think it needed to be higher up. Then there was a wall with holes cut for your feet and hands. I had to move my left foot  and hand to the next hole, then bring my right foot to where it had been and so on until I got across.

The final element was a zip-line down to the ground where I had to do a running stop at the bottom or end up with mulch in unspeakable places. I was able to successfully do that and stay upright.

That brought me back to the platform where I had started. We had paid for 2 hours and the easiest course had taken me almost the full time. We had about 10 minutes left and I was given the option to do another, but knowing that the obstacles were harder, it was a hard pass for me, but I would have loved to do more zip-lining.

I have a FitBit that measures heart rate, so that night I looked at it and looking at my heart rate, guess what time I was about to have a panic attack.


After some water and a rest so my heart could return to normal, I walked back to my car to go visit Stacey. She had much different plans for us, so I finished up my night by making an upcycled Christmas tree out of a hymnal at a table with some retired old ladies. Much more blue on the heart rate monitor during that tree-based activity.

So all in all, I will go zip-lining again, but if there is a ropes course involved then I will just hide in the harness shed instead.  It’s the heart healthy thing to do.

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