Woodinville’s Adventura is like an amped-up version of the ropes course you did at summer camp.

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At Adventura adventure park, Malcolm Peppers demonstrates how to wear a safety harness.  (Jeff Layton)
At Adventura adventure park, Malcolm Peppers demonstrates how to wear a safety harness. (Jeff Layton)

WOODINVILLE — “Walk the plank!” screamed an unseen pirate voice inside my head. The plank in this case was a log a few inches wider than my foot and it stretched between two wobbly platforms suspended 50 feet in the air.

Since I’m not in the habit of refusing pirates, I checked my harness and began to inch across on shaky legs.

If you’ve ever felt jealous watching squirrels scramble through the tree canopy, aerial playgrounds such as this are the closest approximation to their acrobatics we humans can hope for.

Woodinville’s Adventura adventure park is like an amped-up version of the ropes course you did at summer camp. If you love heights, it’s a place where you can frolic at treetop level. If you don’t, it’s an excellent place to conquer your fear of high places.

I grew up climbing trees and feel pretty comfortable on a ladder, so scooting across a wobbly log shouldn’t have been an issue. But I had to choke back the adrenaline with a few calming breaths before I could make it all the way across.

At Adventura adventure park in Woodinville, visitors tackle the aerial challenges. (Jeff Layton & Katie G. Cotterill / The Seattle Times)

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With the first obstacle under my belt, I took a moment to survey the massive adult jungle gym surrounding me. For the next two hours I would clamber over cable bridges, rope spider webs, swaying platforms and the highest swings you’ve ever tried in your life.

Code word: Squozen

Admittedly, it’s much easier to take risks five stories above terra firma when you’re wearing safety gear. Before going airborne, my group had to learn to move safely between obstacles.

Senior Technician Malcolm Peppers taught us how to work in a buddy system to transfer our carabiners among safety cables, and calling out, “squozen!” when they were secure.

We practiced a few times on the ground until we felt comfortable, and then we scrambled up a huge cargo net.

But right away, some people in our group were having big reservations about what was in store.

Machela Glenn, of Auburn, started having a panic attack even before touching her first rope. She and her dad, Brent, were wearing shirts that read, “Watch closely I’m about to do something stupid.” But her shortness of breath and tight voice betrayed her anxiety.

Some aerial courses travel along an organized route where obstacles grow more difficult as you travel. If you freak out, you have to rise to the challenge or climb down with your tail between your legs.

But Adventura is a little different. Once you’re airborne it’s more of a “choose your own adventure,” explained Peppers. You have the freedom to go where you want, and if you find something you enjoy, you can repeat it all day long, he said.

On the other hand, if you have a rock climber’s nerve and find things too simple, the staff can make things more challenging by adding requirements such as crossing without using guide ropes.

By the time I was finished with my first obstacle, I caught sight of Machela zooming back and forth across platforms on a zip line. I was amazed that in 15 minutes someone could go from paralyzing fear to leaping off platforms. But that’s pretty typical, says Adventura CEO Scott Chreist.

“It is normal for participants to arrive and feel anxious. By turning perceived limitations into abilities, we learn a great deal about our relationships with others and ourselves,” he says.

“One of the main byproducts of this process is confidence in self. As their self esteem increases, their outlook on the experience changes.”

Scary becomes thrilling

Most of the obstacles we faced were variations of walking across suspended things.

The log was pretty easy. More difficult was a series of tiny swings that had a tendency to separate, leaving you doing the splits in midair.

“I have a new respect for Indiana Jones,” said Riley Burke, of Puyallup, after completing my favorite obstacle of the day. It looked simple enough: a knotted rope dangling over empty space between two platforms. You had to leap from one, grab the rope and swing to safety.

Even though I was wearing a harness, it took a minute to psych myself up. But once I reached safety, a wave of endorphins surged through my body.

You never see anyone in the movies standing there working up the courage to make the jump, said Burke.

Moving quickly definitely helped, we all agreed. Stop frozen on an obstacle too long and you start to get tired and shaky, and things only get harder.

After nearly two hours on the course and conquering most of the challenges, I was feeling pretty good about my skills. Burke and his wife, Lindsay, finished the day (and celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary) by dancing a tango across a swaying cable bridge to the cheers of our group.

Soon after, one of my instructors ran across a wobbly bridge without touching the guide ropes. At the far end of the course, another jumped backward off a bridge and twirled in the air in her harness to land upside down grasping a log with her hands.

While the rest of us weren’t quite ready for Indiana Jones stunt work, I left with a huge runner’s high and new appreciation for the squirrels that scramble through the tree canopy.

 

If you go

Try a challenge course

Aerial challenge courses are popular on weekdays for teambuilding and corporate events and are typically open to the public on weekends.

Courses can be found at:

• Woodinville: Adventura, 14300 N.E. 145th St.; 866-981-8865 or adventuraplay.com.

• Bellevue: South Bellevue Community Center Challenge Course, 14509 S.E. Newport Way; 425-452-4240 or bellevuewa.gov/sbcc-challenge-course.htm.

• West Seattle: 4-H Challenge Course at Camp Long, 5200 35th Ave. S.W.; 206-684-7434 or bit.ly/4Hcamplong.

• Portland area: Tree to Tree Aerial Adventure Park, 2975 S.W. Nelson Road, Gaston, Ore.; 503-357-0109 or tree2treeadventurepark.com.• Victoria, B.C.: WildPlay Element Park, 15-1767 Island Highway; 855-595-2251 or wildplay.com/victoria.