Go Ape: was it really for me?
I’m not the thrill-seeking kind (I tend to find the stresses of everyday life adrenalin-fuelled enough!) but when my friend Hannah suggested a trip to Go Ape to celebrate her birthday, I was excited to try it out. For those of you who don’t know, Go Ape is a kind of tree top adventure course, where you climb up high on rope ladders, cross from platform to platform on different types of bridges and nets, and come down to Earth by zooming along zip wires.
I first heard about Go Ape a few years ago from a Kiwi woman I met when teaching at a summer school in Ely, and when she told me that she was going to spend her day off (the one day off we got per week) swinging through the tree tops, I must have looked at her like she was slightly mad (I personally had been imagining a quiet day exploring nearby Cambridge, seeking peace away from the hundreds of children). However, a few years on, I can understand now that Go Ape is a great alternative way to release stress and get away from it all. After all, up in the trees you can certainly look at the world from a different perspective.
That said, I was approaching the trip with a slight feeling of trepidation. Everyone I’ve ever met who’s done Go Ape (and let’s face it, most people I’ve ever met in general) are more adventurous and less nervous… and I was wondering how I would respond to it. Would I get vertigo? Would I find myself freaking out? Or would I actually discover that I was in my element? There was only one way to find out…
Overcoming obstacles: first signs of difficulty
On arrival my friends and I were given harnesses, trained on how to use the equipment, and after practising together with an instructor on site 1, we were left to make our own way through the rest of the sites 2-5. Site 1 had been easy as it was all about familiarising yourself with the various hooks and getting used to how it all worked; Site 2 was where things started to get a little more interesting. It turned out (as I had suspected) that I was a wimp and found myself shrieking a lot at the first sign of difficulty: getting up the rope ladder. I really didn’t like the sensation of it swinging under my feet. Next came a crossing along a bridge made of planks of wood; this too proved difficult and it was thanks to Becky’s encouragement (first couple of steps – “Well done, Jo,” next couple of steps – “you’re doing really well!”) that I kept going to the other side. Luckily, it so happened that Becky was also a wimp (her words!) so we were able to take the course more slowly together, encourage each other and seek solace in the fact that neither of us was alone in our fear.
There were times in sites 2 and 3 when the only thing that got me from one swinging wooden plank to another was the thought of a nice, cool gin once I was back on firm ground. However, there were other forms of motivation that really got me through. Quite early on in the course, I had come across real difficulty after swinging into a cargo net that I then had to climb up to reach the platform. Finding it tricky to get a grip on the net, and even more difficult to pull myself up (aware of my limited upper body strength) I uselessly hung there, and found myself saying (or actually wailing) “I can’t do it!” – only to be told in a rather no-nonsense way by the instructor, “Yes, you can!” The fact is, I didn’t really have a choice. Unless I wanted to hang off the cargo net for the foreseeable future, I would have to find it within myself to pull myself up and keep going. The instructor was right, of course I could do it, it just took me a little longer. That was the first and last time the words “I can’t do it”, which I find come all too easily to me, escaped my lips for the rest of the course.
I also found that in order to make it through, I had to engage in what is known in the self-help industry as “positive self-talk”; in other words, talking to yourself in an encouraging way. After a slight panic on seeing another cargo net that reached from one platform to another, I asked my friends despairingly, “How did you do that?!” They talked me through the best approach and I had to go for it. It was not nearly as hard as I had thought on first sight. Half-way across I felt really proud of myself for managing it. Go, Jo, go! 🙂
Other times where the positive voice inside really had to shine through were the moments just before the leap onto a zip wire. At these points, although I logically knew I was safely attached, I had to work up the courage to step off the platform and really let go. At these points I found that counting myself down really helped. 1… 2… 3… close your eyes, step off, and enjoy the ride down to Earth! Riding along the zip wires was a great opportunity to have a good scream, but rather than screaming I indulged in hysterical laughter – both choices probably worked wonders to release stress and tension! Discussing this afterwards, I think it was Becky who made the point that there are not many places where you could scream like this… so if you’re feeling pent up, perhaps try a trip to Go Ape!
Sites 4 and 5 were by far the most enjoyable for me, and I’m not sure if this is because by this point I was more familiar with everything, that it had taken me a while to warm up, or because, with only two sites left, I knew it would nearly be over (!). However, this is where I really started to enjoy the crossings and discovered my inner adventurer. Also, when presented with choices of route (extreme or moderate) I did opt for moderate, which made me feel a lot better (and it’s important to know your limits!) A personal highlight was the zip wire which involved stepping onto a skateboard for the ride down; I also enjoyed the invigorating climb up the ladders at the end of the course, which reached to an amazing height, and, taking the final zip wire was a great feeling!
So if you fancy a good scream, are not too afraid of heights, and want to give yourself a challenge, try Go Ape! And if you think you might not be the adventurous type, you never know, you might surprise yourself.