One thing was certain; I was not coming down.
My knees quivered. My stomach flipped. Fear rose in my throat. Did they have some kind of bucket truck that could lower me safely and comfortably to the forest floor? Nope. Even though I wanted to, I was not coming down, not like that.
Friday was media day at the brand new Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop Adventure course at Shelby Farms Park. It's a beautiful overhead ropes course that blends perfectly into the forest around Pine Lake. I willingly signed up for media day and I was representing The Memphis Flyer. But, no, I was not coming down.
I'd climbed a wet rope ladder and stood on a wet, wooden platform that ringed the tree trunk. My job, then, was to unhook two safety ropes (tipped with heavy, red and blue carabiners) that attached me to the rope ladder and hook them to a red safety line that attached me to the tree. My hands shook, clacking the carabiners loudly, embarrassingly. I wasn't that high up, but I knew taller trees were coming, and I have a bad track record with heights.
To calm myself, I listened to the rain patter softly on the canopy. Then I looked down and remembered Texas. A decade ago, I collapsed while high inside the dome of the Texas State Capitol building. I got close to the fourth-floor overlook and my legs quivered, stopped working, and I just sat down.
Then I came back to the present and looked down at the grinning faces of Go Ape staffers and other media types. Suddenly, the native machismo of my rural Southern upbringing took over. No, I was not coming down, by god, not like that. I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and wobbled across a one-foot beam suspended between two trees. Then I attached myself to the zip line, and sailed about 20 feet, scooting to a stop on a ramp of soft mulch. Alright, that was fun.
Station two (there are six) required climbing a 40-foot ladder up a tree. At that height, remembering to attach my safety lines came easy. I waddled around another treetop platform, clipped on to a dangling rope, lowered the weight of my beer-and-fried-chicken-loving body onto it, and swung Tarzan-style to a net ladder 40 feet away. As I climbed the ladder up and over to the next tree, I wished I had done more push-ups in the past two years. Or one.
I stared at the path of the next zip line — right over the smooth waters of Pine Lake. I clipped in, now trusting myself and the equipment, and let fly. Cool air whipped around my face. The cable buzzed and whined as I sailed across the quiet lake.
From somewhere deep inside came a long and involuntarily whoop of joy. At the ramp, I spurred the mulch landing strip and came to rest with a thud. Breathing heavily, the only words I could think of were "holy shit."