Zip-line adventure helps conquer fears and reach new heights

    I am not adventurous or an outdoors type of girl. So when a friend from college said she wanted to do physical activities for her birthday, I looked at her like she was crazy.

    I couldn’t imagine many of our friends doing it — and I definitely didn’t think that I would — but this year I have been trying to step out of my comfort zone and experience more. Last Saturday, that’s just what I did at the Go Ape Zip Line and Treetop Adventure in Rockville, Maryland.

    The day kicked off with a safety workshop. I was one of about 15 participants. The instructors informed us about the harness and its various attachments. Our most important rule — our mantra, “always stay attached” — helped reinforce the importance of always having one line connected to a red cord that was wrapped around the tree trunk.

    I have always been afraid of heights, but I tried my best to mask my nerves. I hung back during the practice run to watch everyone while I secretly gave myself a pep talk, convincing myself that I could do this.

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    And you know what? I could.

    That is, until I got to the first obstacle. I climbed the rickety ladder. I crept across a bridge of spaced-out planks to the next tree — literally counting my steps just to keep myself moving. (There were 18 planks of wood on that particular bridge.)

    When I got to the Tarzan swing that led to the next obstacle, I froze. I couldn’t let go.

    “I don’t think I can do it,” I said to the people behind me and the instructor, who was watching below. The instructor talked me through it telling me to not think about it, take a deep breath, sit into the harness and let go.

    Reluctantly, I did it. I had traveled two hours for this. I was already up in the trees, and the easiest way down was to just do the obstacle. But mainly I did it because I didn’t want my fears to continue to keep me from experiencing life. I needed to prove to myself that there was another side to me and that I was capable of completing this journey.

    I hit the net hard and had difficulty climbing to the next tree, but I did it.

    I froze again at the second course, which included a zip line, but I only needed a small pep talk that time around. I counted to three (three times), let go and began screaming from fear. But it quickly turned to screams of excitement. I came in hot on the landing. I was supposed to either start running in the air or drag my feet to a slow stop, but it didn’t quite work out. I was happy to see the rest of the group waiting for me.

    After that, it was a piece of cake — even the fourth obstacle, which was the most difficult part of the course because of its height. It must have been at least twice as high as the others. One rickety ladder led to another, thinner ladder. Then we had to walk across two wires with obstructions that forced us to lift our feet off the wires. My left leg would not stop shaking, which made it almost impossible to walk. At one point, my foot slipped — which was scary — but I knew by then that the harness would hold me, so I didn’t panic.

    Our reward for all that was the fun part: a 500-foot-high zip line. At that height, I saw mostly tree tops and some cars driving below, but going down was absolutely amazing.

    When I landed, I almost wished that the line went farther. We met up with some group members who had sat that part out and immediately began trekking to the next segment of the course as others zipped over our head.

    The last two obstacles were a breeze. By then we had gotten over our nerves and gotten through the hardest parts of the course. Now we could focus on taking pictures instead of the course itself.

    I was still the second-to-last person to complete the course, but I had learned the importance of getting out of my head, not thinking about the “what ifs,” and just enjoying life. That is why I would support bringing a similar adventure course to Philadelphia, because it’s an unusual way to enjoy the outdoors. Trying something new, defying your limitations, can be truly exhilarating.

    If a day of zip-lining can transform this scaredy-cat of a girl into a thrill seeker, I know it could work wonders for other Philadelphians.

    Yasmein James is a frequent contributor to NewsWorks’ coverage of Northwest Philadelphia.

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