September 20, 2010

Ready to fly

Touching sky

Every fall, we take our first year students to a ropes course. We strap on harnesses, the type used for rock-climbing, and we climb high into the trees. Students and faculty alike have a chance to move out of their comfort zones, be vulnerable, and work together to return safely to the ground.

For the last three Septembers, we’ve gone to the same retreat center. It’s a perfect place for a ropes course: the high ropes elements are build on the side of a steep hill so the sensation of height you get when you’re up in the air is incredible. The low ropes, which are the team-building exercises, take place in a pine woods. Our students always love being out in the woods all day long, and thankfully, we had another beautiful sunny day for the event.

The owner of the place is a Little Green alum, and he loves working with our students. He’s pretty much a kid at heart, and he’s found a way to use his forest engineering degree to play games out in the woods every day. When we arrived on Saturday, he said to me, “I’ve got a new high ropes element for you to try out.”

He called the element “the Peregrine.” The name should have given me a warning. Peregrine falcons are one of the fastest creatures on the planet: a peregrine can reach up to 200 mph in a dive.

Students cheered me on as I put on a harness and a helmet, and then climbed up a very tall free-standing ladder with Kid at Heart. At the very top of the ladder, he strapped me to a caribiner that was attached to three very long cables, all of which were threaded through the tops of three tall trees. Then he attached a second line, which stretched out ahead of me, and down through a tree: six students held the end of that line.

“The students will pull you up as close to the top of that tree as they can,” he said. “Then when I give the signal, you pull this cord, which will release you from that line and send you into a freefall.”

It sounded like a crazy plan.

“Um, you have tested this out for safety, right?” I asked.

He grinned. “Forest engineering! I have a degree from Little Green!” He went down the ladder, and they pulled it out of the way. At that point I was only twenty feet or so off the ground, dangling comfortably in my harness. The students began pulling and I kept rising higher, and higher, and higher. Soon I was far up, close to the trunk of a very tall tree. I could hear the students below me, but they sounded very far away.

“Go ahead! Pull the release!” Kid at Heart shouted from below.

I yanked the yellow cord.

My body dropped, with my stomach going first. I was hurtling toward the ground. I could the students below me screaming. Then the three wires pulled taut and I went flying backwards, then forwards, in a huge, fast arc. Wind whistled though my helmet. I was moving too fast to see anything. Where were the trees? I felt certain I was going to crash into one.

I swung back and forth at an incredible speed.

“Breathe!” Kid at Heart yelled.

I took a breath.

Soon I was moving slow enough to see the view: I was swinging back and forth, above the students, above some small trees, swishing through the canopy of the woods. I took another breath and relaxed as got closer to the ground. I had adrenaline in my veins for the rest of the day.

Ready to fly

Yes, that's me in the bottom photo. I'm just about to release the cord that's holding me so high up.


Heidi said...

That looks like so much fun!

Lomagirl said...

You're a brave prof. I'd be on the ground with the students. My fear of heights is giving me the shivers right now.

RageyOne said...

I'm with Lomagirl, my fear of heights wouldn't allow me to do that. More power to ya!

jo(e) said...

Oh, I'm scared of heights too. That's why the ropes course is so much fun for me. I'm way out of my comfort zone, and I end up with so much adrenaline surging through my veins that it's ridiculous.

BrightenedBoy said...

That sounds like so much fun! I know you're afraid of heights, though, so it really must have taken a lot for you to do that.

Your devotion to your students is admirable.

Sandy said...

I would die.

Sandy said...

I would die.

kathy a. said...

there is no way i could get up the ladder, nevermind the rest.

Anonymous said...

See, what you call "fun" I call "panic attack waiting to happen"!