Travel consideration provided.
Last month, I headed back to Kissimmee, Florida for an epic girl’s trip. As I prepared for my trip, I looked over our itinerary and saw that we would be paying a visit to Orlando Tree Trek, which was described as “More than a zip line”. After my last trip where I rode a zip line over alligators and plunged down the world’s tallest SkyCoaster, I figured I should be more than prepared for whatever height-related activities were thrown at me this time. Then I clicked through OrlandoTreeTrek.com, and both Jai and I burst out in nervous laughter. A cheerful video on the site shows people swinging through the air on ropes, balancing on Tarzan-style swings, crossing Indiana Jones-esque bridges, and even walking a tightrope. What had I gotten myself into this time?!
As we pulled into Orlando Tree Trek and started our orientation, I felt my nerves rising. As we entered the course, a little girl ran by, looked at me and randomly said: “It’s SO much fun, you’re gonna love it! Just don’t look down!!” Duly noted.
The guides hook you into a harness, which includes two separate cords with magnetic clips that hook above you onto the course. The guides do not accompany you onto the course – once you finish a brief training session, you set off by yourself, hooking and unhooking yourself onto each new obstacle to make your way through. Once you start the course, the only way down is to finish it. If you should fall off one of the obstacles, you will be suspended by the cords attached to your harness; if you lack the upper body strength or balance to pull yourself back up and finish the course, you are instructed to yell “GUIDE!” three times, and one of the guides will come to retrieve you. Two cords and clips are provided specifically so that you are always connected to the course, and it’s all been well-tested for safety, naturally – but this did not make the prospect less nerve-wracking for me.
As part of your training, you complete a mini-course to give you an idea of what the real thing will be like. This is just a few feet off the ground, similar to a child’s play area at a park. My fear was steadily rising at what was to come once we got on the real thing, and I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I got everything right on the demo so that I would know what to do once I got started. What if I made a mistake? What if I fell during the course, and found myself dangling 50 feet in the air screaming, Guide! Guide! Guide! until someone came with a hoist to rescue me? My mind was racing. As I attempted to walk across a tightrope on the demo course, I lost my footing and fell off. Jana captured it on this hilarious video:
It’s funny to watch now that I’m back on the ground, but at the time I was so freaked out that I could not pull myself back up and the guide had to do it. This filled me with dread – if I couldn’t finish the demo, I would surely get stuck on the real thing. Did I even have enough upper body strength to do it, if they were telling me that large men have been unable to pull themselves back up? When I found out I was going on this trip, I actually hit the gym a couple of times and worked my arms specifically to get ready for this challenge, but I only had a week to prepare and after falling spectacularly off the demo course, I was devoid of confidence. I did consider the option of staying on the ground and just watching as my friends did the course, but I hate to back down from a challenge and miss out on an opportunity to do something so unique, so I swallowed my fears and began my trek.
To start the course, you climb a platform and cross the first obstacle. There is a line connecting you to either a platform or the obstacle course at all times, even on the first few steps on the ground leading up to the platform. I’ve never considered myself to have a fear of heights – I’ve always thought that it was pretty natural to get nervous whilst suspended in the air! But seeing the reaction of my friends made me rethink this. While everyone else seemed pretty calm and were posing for cute selfies while they dangled off the ground, I was feeling intense terror in a way I’ve never experienced. My entire body was trembling, to the point where I had to pause on a couple of the obstacles so that my shaking legs wouldn’t lose footing. Even between obstacles, I wrapped my arms around the platform and clung on for dear life!
On one of the courses (Which Carol captured in a hilarious Facebook live video), I burst out into an impromptu song about how I wanted to get off of the swinging platform – because apparently, my reaction to fear is to make up strange songs? Perhaps my life is a musical and I never noticed before.
The course consisted of bridges, nets, and a variety of swinging platforms. It truly feels like something out of an adventure movie! Although you know intellectually that you are secure in your harness, the feeling of constantly losing your balance as you teeter in the treetops is disorienting, to say the very least. I was wearing a fitness band that tracks heart rate during the course, and this should give you an idea of how I was feeling:
Despite all this, I was actually doing good and making my way through the course like a champ! Our new friend, the awesome Veronica of Experience Kissimmee, told me that the small swinging platforms were the worst obstacle on this course, and I’d already made it past those. I might make it through this challenge after all!
And then, I saw this:
I looked at Veronica and joked, “You’ve got to be kidding me! I thought we did the worst one already!!” I couldn’t make it across a tightrope that was a few feet off the ground – how did I have a prayer now? This would surely be the place where I would fall and dangle helplessly, screaming for a guide to save me.
Veronica advised that rather than walking one foot in front of the other like a circus performer, a more stable option is to walk across sideways, like a crab. I took a deep breath and, remembering the sage words of the little girl I had met earlier, I began to cross the tightrope without looking down. Much to my amazement, I crossed the highwire like it was nothing! I quickly scuttled across, staring straight ahead like a boss. Everyone exclaimed: You didn’t even look down! I told them that was the secret. Children are very wise!
The course ended with a zip line, which signaled that we had made it. I did it! I conquered the course!
There is a second, standalone zip line that you can ride that plunges 425 feet. Zip lines used to scare me, but after doing something like this, it felt like nothing. This is just one small example of how valuable it can be to face your fears.
I am so proud of myself for rising to this challenge! I’m really glad that I did it. It’s not every day that you have a chance to pretend you’re Tarzan, and the memories from this day will be with me for a lifetime. Not to mention, I now have the coolest Facebook cover photo ever!
Orlando Tree Trek has courses for both adults and children, so if you’d like to plan the family adventure of a lifetime, head to Kissimmee – it’s easier than ever thanks to new direct flights from PDX on Alaska Airlines!
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Have you ever done anything like this before?