Where it started

A list going round on Facebook, February 2016: "which of these items have you experienced" etc. Some yes, some no, some didn't interest me. However, it put some ideas into my head, and I figured it was time I followed some of my friends in committing them to (virtual) paper. And then trying some of them out. The first challenge was undertaken on 1 March 2016, and I have no intention of ever completing the list: the more I tick off, the more I'll add.

Friday, 1 April 2016

Climbing through trees: Go Ape

My relationship with heights has always been a slightly uneasy one. Happy enough with aeroplanes and with the higher points of the Eiffel Tower, I've never been keen on the prospect of tandem sky-dives or similar. (You won't find that on the life list. Yet.)

However, having read online about the extraordinary Go Ape! network, I reckoned that this was something I wanted to try. Zip wires, ladders, cargo nets and the rest, carefully erected throughout a variety of forests across the country, excellent instructors & supervisors, tuition and security and harnesses.

I wasn't going to try it alone. It's really not my poor husband's bag, so I borrowed somebody else's: my best friend Dorothy's husband, Milton. We were visiting them in Lancashire for our regular post-Easter break, and one of the courses is in Rivington near their home in Bolton, so this seemed a great opportunity.

The pre-course instruction was thorough and reassuring. You tried out the process of clipping harnesses on and off at various points - you're never without at least one connection to safety - before moving on to the first of five courses.

The beginner's course allows you to try out the sequences of safety harnesses and clips while still only a very short distance above the ground; then across one wire while holding another; and finally a short zip wire. Confidence built, we moved on to the second.

Now we were much higher above the ground; across wires and wooden horizontal slats, and then our first major challenge: the Tarzan rope into the cargo net. Supported by the harnesses, the major confidence challenge was simply to jump off the platform and allow yourself to swing to a point that you could grab the cargo net, then climb across to the next platform. Having finally plucked up the courage, I swung a couple of times but then grabbed the net and managed to get myself across to safety.

Milton, following behind me, caused hilarity with his loud yell of 'Mother!' as he jumped...

Next came a much longer and higher zip wire. I'd got the hang of it by this time: if you lean all your weight into the harness before taking the step off the platform, it's much less scary.

The third course included greater challenges. Stepping onto loops of rope meant you finished up almost doing the splits as you went. The platforms were much higher in the trees. And it was very windy, the higher you got; and then it rained. We were still warmed with adrenaline and going well, despite (in my case) tense with a combination of fear and excitement. (We had, by the way, lost our photographers by this time: they were freezing to death as well and went off shopping!)

However, we got to a point where we needed to climb the 'parrot ladder' (hand and footholds were horizontal poles either side of a central point), and the safety harness needed to be attached. Unfortunately, a previous user had managed to get the harness rope caught up around the ladder, and Milton's best efforts couldn't shift it. We were up the highest tree in the course, and freezing cold. He blew his safety whistle, and one of the instructors very promptly got to us and sorted it out; but ten minutes of hugging a tree and not daring to look down, in increasing wind and rain, left me very uncomfortable.

I managed the parrot ladder, then the following wire bridge, and then the longest zip wire so far: it actually went across the corner of the reservoir (the view was great). By now, I'd got the hang of the fact that I needed to lean back fully into the harness before launching into space, and really enjoyed the mad ride. However, after our rather nerve-wracking wait on the parrot ladder platform and being frozen rigid, I decided it was time to call it a day - for that occasion, at least.

I know that I'd love to have another go. It's still a challenge to my courage - it's pretty scary being up that high - but also a test of trust and trying something outside your comfort zone. So I've marked this item as part-done: the next part is to complete a full course. There's another course much nearer my home - in Thetford, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border - and I have a long list of local friends who would love to come too. So watch this space: the likelihood is that we'll organise a summertime visit to Thetford with big kids and little'uns, and see how we get on there.

And as for the Bolton experience: despite the cold and nerves, I truly loved it and was so glad I'd done it. Milton was a brilliant companion, reassuring and patient, and I couldn't have done it without him.

Hooray for swinging through trees!

Full photo album available here.

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