There is an episode of The Simpsons where Lisa enrolls at a military school. After a few weeks of pushups, obstacles courses, and formation drills, she finds herself intimidated by the physicality required of the students. Lisa bemoans her situation to Bart who questions “I thought you wanted a challenge?” Lisa responds with “Duh, a challenge I could DO.”
That is precisely how I felt yesterday attempting to complete the Flagstaff Extreme course.
I have developed a bad habit of signing up for events without researching what they actually entail. I am part of a group of women training for a mud run in November. As we all know, working out sucks. We try to make it more fun by engaging in new activities. One of the ladies, T, suggested we try this obstacle course. I looked at the website for about twenty seconds before I replied “sounds good!”
The night before our scheduled session, I decided perhaps I should take a full thirty seconds, and check out what I had gotten myself into. It wasn’t an obstacle course. It was an obstacle course IN THE TREES! Some showboating asshole had built a series of ropes and wires 20-60 feet in the air. I had not only agreed to precariously balance myself on these thread-like arrangements- I paid $42 for the privilege!
Two problems immediately sprung to mind. I am terrified of heights, and I am as clumsy as a new waitress carrying two trays loaded with drinks, about to cross a freshly mopped floor. I have no business being in the trees.
We arrive at the site, check in, and claim our equipment. Our instructor delivers a prepared speech about safety, and then literally shows us the ropes. The training course has three different aspects to it- a tightrope walk, a Tarzan rope, and a zip line. Each is set up about seven feet off the ground. The instructor walks halfway across the tight rope, and then starts bouncing on the ropes, explaining the bouncing as a fun way to mess with your friends. I stare T dead in the eyes and snap “Do not mess with me!”
The training course probably should have clued me to my performance for the rest of the day. I made it across the tightrope without problem, but on the Tarzan swing, my luck began to dwindle. I swing off the platform and get almost to the other side. Almost is the key word here. I actually ended up swinging all the way back to the start and having to do it over again.
During my time on the training course, I was commiserating with another friend, S, about how we got ourselves into this situation. I was hugging the tree- not in a granola hippie way, but in a way that if I let go, I was sure to plummet to my death. S seemed right there with me, exclaiming how if she was freaking out on the trainer course, what would she do on the real thing. But I knew S better than that. She is the type who doubts herself when trying new activities, and by the end of the day, she’s clearly the best athlete in the bunch.
The first course is about twenty feet off the ground. Each obstacle gets progressively harder. I somehow manage to keep myself together as I cross a slated bridge and a tight rope. Then we come to the first moving obstacle- a series of logs swinging like trapeze bars. Since they are suspended from connected ropes, as soon as I stepped onto the first one, all the others start to move. I am shaking, swallowing back a bit of vomit, trying not to look down even though I am being forced to notice just how far the ground is below me. I only make it across because what other choice do I have.
I get to the other side, and immediately start muttering “fuck fuck fuck.” S follows behind me. She talks me through the next few obstacles, but babysitting me is proving to be a buzzkill. We finish the course, and S races to be first on the next one. She is not about to spend her day holding me hand and cheerfully coaching “you can do it!”
I make my way about halfway through the second course and I know I am in over my head. The rope is quite lengthy, with large logs tied vertically every few feet. The logs are set up in a way so that at each one, I had to change the direction I was going, while on the rope. I must have been visibly struggling. The guide on the ground yells up instructions to assist me in getting across. She then advises “remember, if you want to get down, just let me know.”
The course is designed so that I couldn’t get down on my own free will. If I wanted down, I had to call in a rescuer. Not wanting to embarrass myself, I was holding out on that rescue for as long as possible. But we came to a suspended climbing wall in the middle of the course. The holds were all about the size of half a matchbox. There was no way I could balance on that.
T is now behind me and my nerves must have been showing. She says “if you want to get down, now is a good time. There is a rope right there.” This is now the second person in a two minute time span that reminds me I can get down any time I want. I took that as a subtle hint.
In order to get a rescue, I have to yell “Guide! Guide! Guide!” until the ground guide notices me and calls it in. Of course, the entire course is held up and observing the pathetic middle aged woman that has to be lowered from the course.
Out of nowhere, a strapping young lad comes sprinting to my aid. I am completely mortified. I’m not on the verge of collapse. I’m not crying, screaming, or even out of breath. He probably could have walked it over, but no, he’s running full out, alerting the entire park to my need for assistance. He clips me into his rope and gently lowers me down. He then returns to sprinting, but this time it is through the course- the one I couldn’t finish- until he comes to the zipline, which he rides upside down.
The rest of my group finishes not only that course, but the one after it. I cheer them on from the ground, trying to show what a good sport I am. At the bar afterward, T says “I think you did really great for being scared of heights.”
S chimes in, “You are scared of heights? Oh wow. Then yeah, you did great!” What did she think I was scared of? Ropes? Trees? STDs from wearing a rented harness? Of course I’m scared of heights! Clearly, these ladies are trying to placate me, and I very much appreciate the effort. But this is not my first trip to the rodeo. I have been perfecting my helpless buffoon routine since I was in diapers. If you need someone to completely screw up an activity and make the rest of your crew feel better about their performance, I am your gal.
A few months ago, I competed in an obstacle course race called “The Warrior Dash.” The first obstacle was a vertical wall about thirty feet high. I had to walk up the wall, using a rope to pull myself along. I made it to the top, but was just shy of being able to kick my leg over. I was losing a grip on the rope. Not knowing what to do, I started to panic. The two guys behind me, in the middle of their own climb mind you, tried to assist me and talk me through it. But I continued to struggle. Then, they each took one hand each their ropes, and pushed my ass up to lift me over the wall. The announcer cried “now that’s Warrior Spirit!” Indeed.
Back in high school, I tried to run the hurdles. My brother was a champion hurdler, and everyone, myself included, thought surely some of that genetic makeup must have passed down to me. Not so much. During the 300m hurdles, I got so tired, I could not jump over the hurdles. I walked between them, and when I reached a one, I would put my hands on it and climb over. At the finish line, my coach looked like he wanted to belt me in the mouth. He advised I would no longer be running hurdles. Pretty sure he didn’t speak to me for the rest of the season, and I was relegated to running the 2 mile.
Maybe that’s why I like just plain old running. All I have to do is put one foot in front of the other, and have the mental fortitude to stupidly deny my entire body wanting to stop. If there is one thing I’m a natural at, it’s ignoring common sense.