#248: Ninja Warrior

J took me on a surprise date to a high ropes course. Do you have these where you are? The one near us is comprised of cables strung between trees, with plank bridges and zip lines and rope ladders. It reminded me of a more intense version of summer camp; I imagined it could also be a training ground for the show American Ninja Warrior. We’ve been referring to it, in talking to friends, as an adult playground.

It poured rain for most of the day, but there was a break late afternoon and the park was still open. Baseball rules, one of the teenage employees said: Once we hear thunder, we have 30 more minutes. They helped us into harnesses and showed us how to clip into the braided steel safety cables that thread throughout the park. The courses are color-coded by difficulty, like ski slopes: yellow, green, blue, black, and double-black – two different courses at each level. Sometimes you’re as high up as thirty, forty feet.

We start with a green run and it’s already a challenge. The safety cables also function as hand-holds, but I learn quickly not to rely on them too much. There’s climbing and zip-lining, yes, but the toughest parts of the course are about balance instead of upper body strength. Put too much force on the cables and you get sloppy in the legs. Better to pretend the cables are not there at all.

Of course, my body doesn’t want to do that. It’s just trying not to fall. This is especially the case when we finish the green run and move onto a blue one. Here, the (relatively) stable plank bridges have been exchanged for seesaws. If you step too close, the plank tilts toward you, if you step too far, it tilts away. Halfway into the course, it starts pouring rain.

J exits early, but I, much more stubborn, have to finish it. I zipline into a rope net, climb up, and am faced with another set of planks, except this time, they seesaw left and right.

I hold the steel cable for support. Try stepping on the middle of the seesaws, but its too easy to tip to one side and lose my balance. But if I step my right foot on the right side all my weight is there, and the plank gives out. On top of all this, the rain has made everything even more slippery. This is my last crossing before the end, and J. and one of the park employees are waiting for me down below. It seems impossible.

There’s often a moment, when I’m doing anything, especially something I haven’t done before, that I suddenly become aware of how much tension is in my body, and I realize: I’ve been fighting against myself this whole time. I’ve been making things harder on myself. And it’s here, in the pouring rain, near the end of the course, that I decide not to do it anymore. I let myself relax, and as soon as I do, I realize that I’m suppose to step my right foot slightly left-center on the seesaw. That if I do, the rest of my body counterbalances the weight of the foot.

So I loosen my grip of the safety cable, and glide across, light as air.