If you read my Valentines feature, you may remember I suggested that Go Ape – a tree top assault course of sorts – could be a possible alternative adventure for couples to gift each other.
In a nutshell, Go Ape is based in a forest and makes use of trees to create obstacle courses such as zip wires, rope swings and shaky bridges to help you get across from one tree to another. Oh, and you’re doing this at a height of about 30ft from the ground.
Having not tried it myself, this was mere speculative suggestion for a gift. So when the good people of Go Ape offered me the chance to put my money where my mouth is, I felt obliged to give it a try. After all, I’m very principled in that I don’t write about anything on my blog that I haven’t tried and tested myself (or at least got a reliable Guinea pig to vouch for it).
So anyway, I felt excited about the idea of doing something different. But then it dawned on me- I’m the most risk-averse person ever. I drive in the middle lane, avoid steep hills, heck I even double check the lock on the door of any public toilet I use (that’s due to a hotel bathroom lock-in incident which I’m still feeling scarred from two years on).
Anyway, another important point is that I’m pooh-scared of heights. Plus I have no upper body strength. Yet I still wilfully agreed to try out Go Ape. I’m clearly a screw loose.
However, I was told it was fine to be afraid of heights, and some people actually overcome their fear after doing the course.
Initially I was going to take my husband, but as he wasn’t up for it, I was a man down.
However, my heroic friend who had been to Go Ape before and lived to tell the tale, offered to be my wing woman.
So having signed up, we went to the Go Ape course in Trent Park in London. There are courses across the UK, with this being one of the highest. What was I thinking?
Anyway, upon arrival, our bags, coats and belongings were safely stowed away, and we we’re give a safety document to read through. However the reiteration of this being a high risk activity only served to make me more nervous.
We were strapped up and hoisted in various hooks, straps and safety wires to make our chances of falling minimal. And then we were given a thorough safety demo by the staff. This involved talking us through the various hooks and where they went, and how up use the zip glider.
To my relief, this was all very comprehensive, and I was reassured that all the hooks and such meant that I would constantly be attached to something, whether it was a zip glider, or the safety wires on the tree. Id been informed that there had been very few accidents at Go Ape, and any such trips were usually down to people not listening to the safety instructions therefore not hooking themselves up properly.
One by one, we were asked to have a go on a small scale obstacle as a little taster. My friend went first, and I followed. Being a bit of a wimp, I even struggled to climb up the shaky rope ladder. But I think this was more down to nerves. I went across a tights rope to the next tree, all safely hooked up of course, but then it came to gliding down the zip wire, I fell into a state of panic. This is actually pretty pathetic, especially when you factor in that I was only about 10ft off the ground.
However, the instructor advised me to look straight ahead, rather than down, and just go for it. Looking ahead is actually my best tip to anyone who is afraid of heights, as looking down only makes any vertigo worse.
Anyway, with my mouth gaping open and my eyes closed, I launched myself across the easiest and lowest zip wire in the whole course.
Having got over this, we headed to the actual course. We were left to it on the obstacles, but staff were walking around on the ground to make sure that all was OK. Plus as a last resort, we had a whistle if we really needed help. I expected to be using that once or twice.
So the first course was a little higher, and negotiating the ladder was tricky again, and I think that nerves made me keep getting my gloves caught in the hook. Having reached the top, I clinged onto the tree for dear life, even though I was clearly going nowhere, what with all my hooks and wires.
Screams of terror at the first obstacle
Then after walking across a rickety bridge to get to the next tree, I was faced with the first obstacle, a rope swing which would launch me into a vertically standing net, which I would scramble across to the next tree.
Now, what didn’t help was the panic of the people ahead of me. Fear and gasps of ‘I can’t do this’ only added to my worry.
So when my friend said she didn’t think she could do it, I was relieved. I got to escape without having to wimp out myself. However, she persevered so I had no choice but to follow. Damn it.
Now this is the weird thing. I knew I wouldn’t fall, but the thought of launching across the air was on of the scariest thing I’ve ever faced.
I actually told the guy on the ground that I wanted to get off. But he told me to just try it and see how I feel. My friend also assured me it wasn’t too bad, and that I should see it as overcoming a personal obstacle.
With that pep talk, I jumped and it was fine. The hard work was then using my weak body to climb across the net to get to the next tree, but the swinging through the air bit wasn’t too bad.
I then did another zip glider, for which I kept my eyes open, and I actually enjoyed it! The feeling of flying through the trees was more exhilarating than I thought. And even though I was going fast, it wasn’t too fast to miss the view.
After this the next few obstacles were much less daunting. Though each time I zipped to the ground, I threaten to draw the line and leave the course.
Some courses were a real workout. Scrambling across the nets was a whole body workout. Climbing the ladders made my limbs ache. I think that the nerves also gave me a new lease of adrenalin to get through the course.
Though I have to be honest, both my friend and I decided not to do the last course. The longest and highest of them all, we were sweaty, stinky and had nothing left to prove. Plus I had a holiday to Iceland booked for the next day, and I didn’t want to go there a complete wreck. And also, by then I had a pretty annoying wedgie from all the hoists so I needed to be freed.
However, I was super proud of myself for getting as far as I did. Especially considering that I nearly threw the towel in after the first obstacle. It was also great that I got more used to being up in the air, so I became more adventurous as the day went on.
It was nice to overcome a bit of an obstacle. Plus it would have been pretty disappointing to have given up at the first hurdle.
I also feel that there’s been a surprising benefit of Go Ape. Hurtling myself through the air was quite liberating. I feel that it’s engaged the big kid in me. You know, the big kid who’s a big gung ho with health and safety and that loves an adventure. The big kid that you leave behind as you get older. The big kid who hasn’t developed the fear of death.
I think losing the big kid has caused me to be a wimp. Which is why I’m only just taking swimming lessons in my twenties. However, I feel the Go Ape experience has made me braver. I can now report that just days after the ordeal, I am now learning to swim in the deep end of the pool. That’s quite a big deal for me. Normally I’d really wimp out at the prospect of going in over my head. Yet I think that Go Ape has taught me to just go for it, and flip the bird at my fears.
I totally see why people love Go Ape, it’s one of the few opportunities that adults get to really be a big kid again. I mean, how many places can you swing from trees? And for kids, it’s a huge adventure too.
It’s great for groups and friends. And I’m glad to have tried it, even if I’m not a natural thrill-seeker.
While I’m still a bit of a wet lettuce, I’m now a bit braver with heights. And that’s progress enough for me.