They tried to kill me. That’s where I left it last time, my students tried to kill me.
I found myself about to take a leap of faith. High above the ground with nothing but some ropes and a little helmet to stop me from dying, I listened to their encouragement. “Jump, Alex, just jump!” There were instructions on how to survive, but they were in Hungarian. Was I doing something wrong? Was I about to do something wrong? Was this because I assigned too much homework?
When I left on this trip day before, I kept hearing about an “adventure park”. I wasn’t really sure what it was, but I saw pictures on a website where people were climbing through trees with helmets on their heads and smiles on their faces. “They look happy,” I thought, “but how tall are those trees?”
It’s important to note that I’m afraid of heights. Don’t take this to mean I’m slightly uncomfortable when I get to high places, but I usually refuse to go because my body refuses to take me.
Not long ago, I went up the “Death Needle” or whatever they call it in Seattle, and almost had a heart attack. I was peacefully standing in an elevator when, without warning, it shot upwards at rocket speed. My eyes were focused out the window (the elevator is on the outside of the horrible structure), and I had a perfect view of leaving the ground that I love so much. I would have closed my eyes, but my body went into a state of paralysis and there was nothing I could do.
At the top, we got off the elevator and my parents started chatting about how fun the ride was. I told them that I needed to sit down and die. My mom thought I was joking until she saw the layer of sweat covering my face and palms, and felt my pulse to see how fast my heart was beating. Once I didn’t die, she started to laugh again. There’s nothing like a mother’s love.
It wasn’t easy growing up in Colorado where climbing 14,000 foot high mountains (4267.2 meters) is a common weekend activity. Why couldn’t people just like playing badminton? Or chess? My strategy for hiking up a mountain is very simple. I don’t have any trouble while there are trees around me, but it gets scary once you’re high enough that they no longer grow. At that point, you can see just how far you will fall to your death, so it increases the anxiety. Out of my tree filled comfort zone, I focus on a point up (not down) the mountain, and zoom for it. Eventually my mind realizes I’m tricking it and I cling to a substantial looking rock until my companions are ready to head back down.
Knowing all of this, you can imagine my excitement when I saw that we were climbing pretty tall trees. I would tell you an estimated height for them, but my mind perceived them at about 500 feet (152 meters) tall, and that’s probably a slight exaggeration.
They gave us little helmets that would only protect about 4% of my body if I fell, so that didn’t make me feel much better. Next, they strapped harnesses on our legs that we could hang from, but I didn’t think mine was tight enough. Leg amputating pressure would have been appropriate. The trees had pretty substantial looking steel cables strung between them, but I’ve seen a lot of trees fall down. I don’t trust them.
About half of the group participated in it, and the others watched from down below (where the trees didn’t look nearly as tall). I tried to slip to the back so all the observers would lose interest by the time I got up there, but they weren’t having it. I was shuffled in towards the beginning of the group.
The first task was to climb a rope ladder into a new layer of the atmosphere where there was a wooden platform to stand on. Then, you were to hook your harness to a chord and jump right off. Usually, you climbed along some sort of obstacle, but this time you just pulled yourself along while you were hanging.
I could think of two reasons they had this as the first thing to do. They would probably say it was to show you that you wouldn’t die if you slipped because your harness would stop you from falling. I, however, saw it differently. I think it was so no one had to waste time helping you along the whole course if you’re harness was faulty and you were doomed anyway. A sort of Adventure Park Darwin Theory.
Fairly certain these were my last seconds on Earth, I took a deep breath and jumped.
I didn’t fall, I didn’t die, and I did hear a lot of cheering. The kids were excited. A group of them followed me through the course (safely on the ground, about 10 miles beneath me) to offer advice and encouragement. I returned the favor by lowering grades and assigning more homework while I was clinging on for dear life to some of the more difficult challenges.
Fortunately, I made it to the end of the course alive. The last task was a long zip-line down a hill. I’d always thought these looked cool, but I’d obviously never tried one. This particular line was between me and freedom. It was all I had to accomplish.
A guy was in the tree to make sure you hooked up to it correctly. Not sure whether this made me more confident or more nervous, I tried to not think about it. When it was all ready, he looked at me and said in perfect English, “keep your head down.”
Then, he pushed me off the platform.
I sailed down the hill gaining more and more speed. As the trees started to clear, I became more nervous. The other end of the chord was attached to a giant tree stump that I was about to splatter into like a cartoon character. As if this wasn’t scary enough, I noticed a giant metal staircase right in the path.
Before I could work out why I was zooming at two giant objects, gravity turned me around so I was heading to my death backwards.
“Keep your head down,” he said. Not really sure how that would help, I decided it was my only hope. Suddenly, I came to a rough stop, but it didn’t hurt. I looked up and realized that there were a bunch of tires on the cable that stopped me from hitting the tree. My feet had missed the staircase by inches, but now a guy rolled it forward and it was right beneath me.
In case you’re interested, here’s the website of the place (this is not a paid endorsement, it’s simply my way of saying “thank you for not letting me die”): http://kalandturapark.hu/main.php
Hungarian word of the day:
Pronounced Faw, this means “tree”. They used to seem like such harmless, happy objects…