I LOOKED at the rope hanging between two platforms. A staff member told me to leap at the rope Tarzan-style, grab and pull it to my chest and swing to the other platform. Hardly anyone ever misses the rope, he said. Hardly anyone.
We were 50 feet in the air on a platform at the Adventura ropes course in Woodinville. I was securely harnessed in. I’d been on the course for about an hour, had a few balance checks and falls on thin cable lines and survived.
But this rope — this innocent, knotted rope — was ruining my day.
Going to a ropes course sounded so fun. Play on ropes outdoors on a Friday afternoon behind the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville? What could be better? Game on!
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Then I got there and looked up.
Ropes courses are designed to make the perceived risk feel huge when the actual risk is low, says owner Scott Chreist. That’s because you are completely, securely and, in all ways, anchored in. Rope-climbing harnesses, helmets, thick lanyards and auto-locking carabiners that attach to cables above each obstacle — plus staff, plus a few key safety rules — all keep you safe.
The safety mechanisms are crucial when you fall. They don’t help much when you freeze from fear.
The friendly, funny staff members are used to it. They have seen people contort themselves in crazy ways to get through the course, which is accessible regardless of fitness. Trust me when I say the course will thoroughly work your legs, arms and back. Once you get a little more finesse, you will use your core more, Chreist says.
Adventura does corporate team-building and also is open for anyone to play. It is a great relationship test. You’ll learn more about your co-worker (spouse, partner or kids) in one hour than you do day after day with them, the staff declares.
I don’t know what other people learned about me, but I figured out I am a scaredy cat who will venture across cables when faced with no alternate exit routes. I got wobblier than I like to admit crossing a log, for Pete’s sake. For someone who professes to be weak on the pullup bar, I am quite good at hanging onto ropes for dear life.
An hour or so in, I also had fun. I got bolder and faster. Grabbing the lanyards hooked to the harness is a sure way to cross any of the obstacles strung between giant poles. I did some routes using only the ropes provided for support.
The staff challenged me and my boyfriend to do the “middle-school dance.” We were supposed to get across two parallel cables using each other for balance. We held onto each other’s forearms; he inched backward while I shuffled forward. We worked out our system and made it across with only one early fall and practically no bickering.
Then there was that Tarzan swing. We’d been on the course for a while. I knew I would not fall. Yet my brain could not reconcile jumping into space with a safe outcome. What if I missed the rope? What if I didn’t make it to the other side? I stared. I sweated. I tried to breathe.
I wanted to close my eyes and jump, but that didn’t seem wise. After a few extra breaths, and a lot of encouragement, I got over my paralysis and jumped, eyes open. I grabbed the rope and swung. I apparently did a half-baked jump and didn’t have enough momentum to get all the way up onto the landing platform. I hung on until someone could grab the rope and haul me back up. I still felt mildly triumphant.
Time flies on the ropes course. Roughly two hours in the air didn’t feel long enough; I wanted to go back to obstacles that initially seemed scary. Adventura is expanding to intermediate and advanced courses. I’m a little terrified, but drag me up there, and I’m in.
Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at papercraneyoga.com. Email: email@example.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.