After a successful training run as part of the Buffalo Half Marathon, my birthday continued. While I lost Mark at the finish line, I moved on to Panera and meeting my friend Sue for some post-race refueling. My speciality bagel smothered in hazelnut cream cheese tasted absolutely decadent. And as a bonus, the woman making my low-fat mango smoothie did not like the way her first one turned out, so she made me a second one — two smoothies for the price of one. Indeed it was my birthday.
Then came the afternoon and the secret adventure with Mark. We had talked briefly about my birthday a few weeks before. The conversation went something like this:
Me: I know you have a super busy few weeks coming up, but can we spend some time together during my birthday weekend?
Mark: Oh, I thought you wanted to be by yourself and reflect. I was planning on respecting that and staying home all weekend.
Mark: [Laughter.] Do you want to know or do you want to be surprised?
I like surprises but as the weekend approached, I became intensely curious as to what outing Mark had planned. He had said we could go Saturday or Sunday afternoon and was weather dependent. I thought Sunday was better because (a) it was my actual birthday and (b) would be after some difficult workouts. The next question was what to wear. “Shorts or capris, a t-shirt but it doesn’t have to be technical,” Mark said. “And sneakers. You’ll want sneakers.” “What about a sports bra?” I asked. “That might be a good idea,” he said.
As we drove south on Route 219, I still had no idea what we were doing. It didn’t even occur to me as we turned into Holiday Valley Ski Resort. Mark finally pointed out the signs. We were going to Sky High Adventure Park.
Truth be told, I couldn’t remember exactly what one did at Sky High. I knew it was adventurous. I knew it was outdoors. I knew it was a new summer attraction in western New York’s ski country. But I had forgotten it was basically a ropes course with plenty of obstacles and bridges and zip lines. Mark’s reason for keeping it a surprise? He didn’t want to give me time to talk myself out of it. At the very first obstacle on the course, he was concerned about his decision.
I stepped out on the wooden planks, suspended from the trees, which moved, and had a mental panic attack. Nope. Can’t do this. This is scary. I’m afraid. And I announced it to the world. Mark pointed out I had already stepped out on the bridge. I was already nearly there.
And so I went. And I made it across. Got through the second one, too. Then came the first technical problem: Both my carabiners were locked. After trying fruitlessly to open one of them (one is always locked, the other is always open) we called for help and a kind employee came up and unlocked me. Ah, but then I saw the next element — a tightrope. No. Freaking. Way. “Oh, it’s the easiest one,” said the dude who helped fix my equipment malfunction. Seriously. No way. Can’t do it.
But of course, I did.
Then came the first zip line. This involved another piece of equipment, placed in a holster on my harness. (Frankly, my gear was confusing. The pre-climbing safety instruction left a lot to be desired as I did not understand a word of what the guy was talking about.) Cue the fear. As Mark and I worked to set up my zip line tools, another climber came on the platform behind us. He had been through these courses plenty of times and took pity on my fear, showing me how to set up and how to take off. Deep breath and off I went, zipping over to the far platform.
Ok. That was scary. But fun.
Once I wrapped my head around the adventure, it was much easier to tackle. Not that it was easy. Not that I wasn’t scared at times. (The moving tree log was the one time I honestly thought I would fall for sure.) But I knew I could make it. Each initial apprehension was followed by a focus on the task at hand — getting across the bridge. Seems pretty character revealing to me. It wasn’t so much about taking a leap of faith but rather two small steps to realize that I was more comfortable than previously imagined. Even on parts which were unstable, shaky and made me nervous, I found my way across. Just as important was the fact that afterward I was able to note personal growth: Not once was I concerned that I physically couldn’t do it, that I was in poor shape or that I somehow wasn’t worthy of such an adventure. Nope. My fear was wrapped up in trusting — the harness, the universe and myself.
It was my decision to stay on the most basic courses they offered. Oh, I know I could step up to the next level, but at that point our three-hour lift ticket was nearly expired and I was fading from a full day. I wanted to leave on a positive note, and with a bit of a challenge still laying in wait for me.
There are plenty of fantastic presents I received for my birthday, but it’s truly special when someone gives you the gift of yourself through adventure.
In case you missed it over the weekend, here’s a repost of the video presentation of me on the zip line:[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4L7ZLQ8M1rQ]