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High Ropes

173. High Ropes

In 1983 I registered for the third time for a Women’s High Ropes Course just outside of Boston. I had registered for it in 1981 and in 1982 and both times I cancelled out (losing my money). So in 1983 I registered and and made a rule for myself that if I didn’t go, then I couldn’t ever register for it again. I went. I was 50 years old. I was also the oldest one there, and probably the only one with arthritic knees.

The first half of the day we did community building exercises, working to become a group, to trust and encourage each other. The second half of the day we moved to the ropes course. As I started the course they attached me to a belay system, so that if anything went wrong they would belay me down.

The first element was a wide rope ladder, wide horizontally but the steps were also wide apart and a stretch for my knees. I reached the second element, which was a horizontal tree lashed between two upright trees and scrambled onto it, sitting down. My next job was to stand up so I could walk across it. My cheering section on the ground shouted to me to “Just stand!” and didn’t realize that it was almost impossible for my knees to get me into a standing position. I grabbed the upright tree and pulled with my arms, scraping them against the bark.

I leaned against the tree and surveyed the walk on the horizontal tree. I noticed a wire running alongside my walk. The woman below on the other end of my belay system shouted, “Don’t touch the wire—you’ll get a shock!” I continued to lean and think that over. I doubted it. I started across and half way across I felt myself teeter and gently steadied myself by holding onto the wire. (No shock.) I let go and finished that part.

The next element was a wire walk but it was easy since it had two shoulder-level wires to hold onto so I just did it. The last element was a swinging rope ladder. It also had ropes to hang onto and I got to the place where everyone before me had been belayed down. I stopped, looked down at her and said, “Belay me down.” She said, “No.” I said, “Everyone else has gotten belayed down at this point.” She said, “Not you, Ann. You have to go on and touch the tree ahead of you. Then come back to this point and I’ll belay you down.”

I was mad! (And powerless.) I grabbed the ropes on both sides and almost stomped along the swinging ladder. It swung wildly. I reached the tree and hit it with the palm of my right hand. I can still feel the sting of the bark on my palm. I reversed myself, stomping backwards and said, “Now, belay me down.” She did.

I got myself out of the belay system and said to her, “Why did you do that? Why did you make me go farther than anyone else.” She said, “Ann, you did the whole course so thoughtfully and so carefully. You were so cautious. I wanted you to get the feeling of looking at the goal and going for it. I made you mad—and you did it.”

I was mad and she was right. It’s the part I most remember about the course — going for the goal, hitting the tree with the palm of my hand.

It pushed me, clear beyond my physical capabilities, in some of the same ways that Zack was pushed in the Tough Mudder race of yesterday. My course was easier and different than his. I was twice his age. And we both learned lessons.

I learned to tell people to tell me truth—don’t try to mislead me.

And I also learned to go for it!

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