my friend Claire (who is the gorgeous person in pink featured in the pictures below), who is so beautifully full of fabulous ideas, turned 26 yesterday. As well as going for drinks in the usual fashion, she also organised a day at … Go Ape! Uh-huh! Obviously not all of her friends decided to come – the more sane stayed home and just joined us at Cargo later.
Has anyone else been to Go Ape? I’d never been but I’d been wanting to go for absolutely aaaaaaaaages, ever since my colleague Oliver raved about it a couple of years ago. Basically, you are attached to a harness and you get to go on a sort of adventure playground through the trees – you climb up ladders, then there are various obstacles in the air, then you get to zipline – zipline!! – back down to the ground before you get to the next obstacle.
I’ve done ziplining before in Costa Rica and in NZ, so I was beyond excited. I loved both times I went ziplining and I’m not scared of heights, so I was really chuffed to get to do something similar again.
So eight of the more intrepid (or insane) of us headed up to Cockfosters on the rainiest, coldest, slipperiest, windiest day of the year so far. Before we even started, we nearly froze to death. That was just waiting at the tube station for the last few peeps to turn up!
Once we got there, however, we were harnessed up and sent down to the “Training 1″ course. The deal is that you get to test it out and, if you don’t think you can handle it based on Training 1, then you get to go back to the start and you get all your money back. Cool!
When we got there we were told in a sort of breezy, off-hand manner that the course we were doing was the hardest one in the UK. That went down well …
However, Training1 was absolutely fine – we climbed up a little ladder, strapped ourselves on to the overhead wire and walked across a wire underneath. Apart from the fact that my own head was in the way (as a miniature sort of human being, my head was frequently in the way of the upper wire, as on normal sized people it would’ve been at chest height), it was pretty easy and we set off down the little zipline.
I was totally confident after Training 1 – it was really easy, it was pretty low and the zipline was super-fun! Claire, Sarah and I headed out to Course 2.
Which was where it all went wrong! The ladder up was about three times the height of the training ladder and was covered in slippery mud (as, by that time, were we). I almost didn’t make it up … and in a way was sorry when I had, since I was faced with a series of stepping stones to the next platform. About a foot apart from each other … and 30 feet up in the air. ARGH!
Actually, it wasn’t too bad up there, and I landed on the next platform with a serious feeling of pride, only to find that I had to trust myself to a tarzan swing into a set of ropes, which I then had to gran and climb across to the next platform. I have no picture, as by this time despite the cold I was sweating with terror! However, I did it and ended up on a Tibetan bridge which I loved – lots of lovely high sides and total safe feeling. We ziplined off that and onto the next course, albeit after a little hold up after the guy in front of us (Brian) had to be rescued by an instructor as he was too petrified to get himself down. Bless him – I had every sympathy and nearly did a Brian myself on the next one.
Course 3 was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. Claire went first, with me second and Sarah third, and thank God I was between the two of them because once I’d made it up the ladder, I was faced with another ropes course. That wasn’t too bad for me, because at least I could take small steps, but then I was faced with yet another step bridge, this time with longer planks but much much narrower. You had to walk across one like a balance beam, then move across to another which was about a foot to the side, etc etc. Now I have mentioned above, but I can’t stress it enough … I AM SHORT! Believe me, those things looked miles away for me, but I made it through, shaking and quaking. Then it was onto the swings. Dear Lord, this was my Brian moment and the moment at which I realised – cursing bitterly – that I haven’t made a will and that the government would shortly be taking possession of my house.
The first swings were held on by four ropes per swing, and were planks about three feet long by, say, a foot wide. As you walked across them, your weight made them see-saw. Bearing in mind that you were 30 feet up in the air, this was suboptimal on a certain level. However, from my point of view at least each swing was relatively close together and the platforms were wide-ish so I didn’t find it too bad, although Claire looked ill and green and didn’t like it at all.
It was the second swings that finished me off. These were on the same principle – planks of wood, suspended by ropes from wires above. However these swings were perhaps 10cm wide by a foot long … and they were a foot apart from each other. Therefore, standing on one swinging, moving, wobbling platform that was barely wider than your foot, you had to reach forward a foot to grab another tiny, swinging platform. But that wasn’t the worst bit – the worst was that as you transferred your weight forward to grab the swing ahead, the movement forced the swing that you were already on backwards, so that if you didn’t manage to grab the small moving target ahead, there was every risk that you’d slide off the swing behind you, and, even if you did grab it, you were left doing the splits in mid air with one foot on the swing you’d left and the other on the swing you were aiming for. Since it was absolutely pouring with rain, the wooden platforms were also ridiculously slippery, as were the ropes you were grabbing for.
Now of course we were harnessed in, and even if we’d missed there would’ve been no problem because all that would’ve happened is that we’d've swung in our harnesses on the wire, and we could easily have just manouvred along the wire to the next swing, or even the next platform. Simples right? NO. It isn’t simples when you’re hanging so far up in the air, hovering over a canal. A canal!!
I promise you, it genuinely feels like you’re going to die. As it happened, none of us – not even Sarah, who was doing it with her eyes closed!!! – managed to miss a swing, but I think if we had it would’ve been the end of our lives, purely from a heart-failure perspective.
Once we were over the swings, we landed on another lovely, foot-wide platform with a tree to grab onto and hug with all the remaining strength in our shaky, wobbly arms. The next stepping stones were a breeze – despite being round! – and it was onto the zipline to finish. How I loved that zipline. It was not only my new best friend, it was almost my new husband.
There were actually two more courses left, but we elected not to do them. Of course, the reason was that we were running late and had to be back in London to meet the others for our night out at 6:45 … it had nothing to do with the fact that we were green, shaking, and in my and Sarah’s cases having to forcibly prevent ourselves from being physically sick. Nothing to do with that at all.
In fact though, I have to say that I would love to do it again. When we returned to the cabin, we learned that the swings had finished off so many people that they were removing them the following day and replacing them with a nice solid plank of wood, and that that was far and away the worst obstacle on the course. If we’d known that, we’d've happily carried on because until that point, although we’d been scared when looking at the challenges, they turned out to be not so bad and we got a justifiable sense of pride after doing them which was nice – it caused a tiny smiley glow which was lovely. However we were so scared that there would be more obstacles like the swings – or, if possible worse – on levels 4 and 5 that we weren’t prepared to risk it.
However, the next time I do it, I’m planning on doing it on a nice warm day in summer when the wood isn’t slippery like it was in the pouring rain, and when it isn’t so cold that I can’t feel my hands (a drawback, when fitting yourself to your harness using carabinieres) or feet (another drawback when you’ve no idea whether you’ve landed on the rung of a ladder or just mid-air). But I do want to do it again … God, I am actually insane. It’s the only answer!