Calling Fear’s Bluff: Ropes Course Style

I got it in my head that I had to do the ropes course at the Greensboro Science Center for my 40th birthday last month. You may recall that I’m afraid of heights.

So, late that Saturday morning, Theresa and I, along with my oldest friend (in duration, not age) suited up with the help of a teenaged employee. I’m pretty sure we were on the course for seven terrifying hours. Or 45 minutes. Could have been 45 minutes.

Either way, once we were happily walking away after completing both of the beginners’ courses, that same teenager yelled a mild chastisement from the launch tower. He was trying to goad us into a harder course. When I said we were afraid of heights, he quickly changed his tune and, much to his credit, literally applauded what we had done.

If you’ve never been on a ropes course, it’s basically an obstacle course in the sky. You wear a harness that attaches you to a safety wire so if you slip off the logs or miss the next lilypad in the chain of leaps, or what-have-you, you don’t go crashing to the ground but rather stay basically on course. The harness was pretty comparable to the ones we wore while rappelling down the Patrick Henry Hotel in May.

That is, they’re seriously secure.

Fear is irrational, though, and so the intellectual knowledge of security didn’t keep my legs from shaking as I stepped onto each obstacle. The next day, I wasn’t sure how much of the ache in my thighs was from the workout the obstacles afforded, and how much was the adrenaline hangover.

My fear was such, in fact, that I worked through each obstacle with great care and gingerness and so never slipped, not once. The only time the harness carried my full weight was at the end of the first course where the only way down is a zip line from a platform to the ground. For that one, I sat down and slowly, gently inched off the edge… then spun on my rope and slid hiney-first onto the mulch pile of a landing strip.

Afterwards, I wondered what might have changed if I had allowed myself to fall. What if I had been a little less careful and had the experience of losing my footing and being caught by the harness?

My guess is that it would have been like the first time I went stand-up paddleboarding with that same long-time friend. (Yes, the same one who went adrift with me a couple of weeks ago.) The first fall brought the fear that getting back on would be difficult. Once we realized just how easy it was to haul back up onto the board, though, all bets were off and I was striking yoga poses while she was pulling moves from her childhood gymnastics days.

Failure gives us the experience of calling fear’s bluff, of discovering firsthand that it will not destroy us.

Not without our permission, at least.