Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Picking Up the Noodle, Part II

I'm not a huge fan of anthropomorphism, but I swear to god that fucking high ropes course was laughing at me the whole time I was on the ground.

Eventually we strapped on the high ropes harness. So that no one in the Readership freaks out (Mom), OF COURSE the exercises were safe. The harness attached to a safety strap via a carabiner, which in turn locked onto a safety wire strung 10 feet above the exercise. Basically, if you lost balance on the one of the exercises, the furthest you'd fall was about a foot. Granted, you'd be dangling 30 feet up, but I suppose that beats plummeting.

A note here about the harness. It had two leg loops you stepped through, and then a larger waist loop. Once you tightened it up, you had a very secure and wide belt, and you pulled the leg straps as high on your thighs as possible. The result was a significant bulge in the crotch, and in any other context it would have looked obscene. As Deb said, "Guys, I'm told you should try to keep all the furniture in the same room for maximum comfort."

Thanks, Deb. We had that.

So you clip a rope into a loop on the front of your harness. The rope is attached to a pulley at the top of the first platform 30 feet up, and the other end of the rope extends all the way back down to the ground, where Deb clips into it. This is called "belaying." It basically ensures that if some yutz who's scared shitless of heights falls off while climbing to the platform, that yutz doesn't die. The "ladder" itself is constructed exactly like a telephone pole. If you've never noticed, most telephone poles have spikes sticking out of them spaced roughly 2 feet apart on alternating sides.

Once many other folks had gone before me and not fallen to their deaths, I clipped into the belay rope. "On red," I announced, per the rules. You call out the color of the carabiner so that Deb knows what the hell you're doing. Each exercise (we did a total of five) has its own independent safety wire, which means you have to change safety straps while in the air. When you're done with one exercise you clip into the next one BEFORE removing the carabiner from the previous exercise. The carabiners are colored red and green alternately precisely so that you know which one to clip on and the off.

Seems simple on the ground. Gets complicated 30 feet up.

"Okay. On red," Deb said.
"Red on," I said.
"Squeeze check," Deb said. You squeeze the carabiner to ensure it's locked into place and can therefore handle your weight when you need it to. I would. Often.
I squeezed. It was locked and I said so.
"Free to climb," Deb said.
"Tell my parents I love them," I said, and started climbing.

At 30 feet above the ground, I walked a tightrope with rope swings dangling at five foot intervals; balanced on a 20 foot long horizontal pole; navigated some crazy-ass thing called a pirate's walk; made it across a "Burma bridge", and lived through a torturous horizontal rope ladder thingy.

Technically, I completed the ropes course. I think I probably lost some style points, though. Imagine the most bipedal drunk you've ever seen: still mobile but certainly having trouble with balance. Now imagine my face on that body 30 feet above the ground on a ropes course. Now imagine me clinging to a safety strap at the same time, sweating profusely, and wondering aloud just why in the hell I came back to college. You now have a rough idea of just what exactly I looked like up there.

Getting down was perhaps the most interesting event of the day. Once you completed the exercises, you wound up back at the original platform. From the other side of that platform, they hoisted two wires connected like a V with a carabiner attached to the point. The single ends attached to a crosswire 50 feet up and about 20 feet out. The point of the V attached to, well, you. Once you were clipped in, they counted down and then you stepped off the platform to swing like a playground daredevil's dream.

We lived near a creek when I was growing up. One summer day I was exploring alone and almost stepped on a gigantic orange snake. I turned around to get the righteous fuck out of there and was confronted by another snake. I jumped over it and saw at least three more squirming near the path I'd just come down. I ran all the way home, and I never went back to that spot in the 5 years after it happened and before we moved.

I still dream about that sometimes, and the feeling I got from seeing all those snakes is the same feeling I got when I stepped off the platform.

It's not terror, exactly. Terror is 100% bad. This sensation is lightness at the top and back of my head, and a cooling of the spine. Adrenaline usually kicks in a few seconds later, but for those few seconds the abject horror is replaced by, well, relief.

After the first passes were over I opened my eyes. I remember making a highly inappropriate comment about wishing I'd shorn my nutsack that morning as I swung back and forth. Though I'd been putting significant weight on the harness throughout the course, I hadn't put my full body weight on it. Swinging forced all my body weight onto the harness, which in turn squeezed the aforementioned part of my anatomy. We won't go any further. I think you get the idea.

And that was that. We all went out to lunch in Fort Collins and drove back to Laramie. I haven't laughed as hard or as long as I did during that drive. Some of the people I work with are literally the funniest people I've ever met. Even when they're cutting on me about my age, or when I try to explain why exactly you should always document every negative interaction you have with a resident, I'm feeling more and more like I'm fitting in.

So it's strange to me that Saturday's highs didn't last, and that Sunday morning started off so badly and only got worse. Or maybe "strange" isn't the right word. The more I think about this, the more I understand: Saturday was a much needed stress relief, and Sunday was entirely (well, not entirely, but mostly) about money. More to come.

1 Comments:

Blogger mary ann said...

You got to play on a dynamic course! Those are way cooler that the static course I worked on.

You couldn't have been the worst climber they had seen. I witnessed some amazing freakouts from the people climbing the pole (easy for me to say as someone who isn't allowed to risk dangling).

I did once witness a person nearly die on the Burma Bridge. She was rescued and came out of it just bruised. For a minute there, it looked like she was going to hang herself...

We only had one person "die". I wasn't there, but, from what I was told, she was only dead for a few minutes and did eventually make a full recovery. It was the Giant Swing and possibly an open carabiner that got her.

I'll keep my other horror stories to myself; you might have to go back there someday.

8:49 PM  

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