Sunday, July 14, 2013

Today I Did a Zip Line Course

And it was fun!

Today my girls Krista, Jessica and I did the course at Go Ape in Pittsburgh's North Park.

I don't see myself as overly prissy, because I like snakes and water slides and mosh pits. But I spent my first 30 years as an "indoorsy" type and I didn't realize what I was getting in to when I agreed to do this.

First, I thought there was going to be a lot of soaring around like a bird -- maybe I'd pop my little harness on, a muscular man would give me a gentle push into the sky, and I'd flit through the treetops, Facebooking the whole thing.

Krista clued me in to the fact that the suspended rope course was actually going to be challenging, and that I should maybe plan to wear workout clothes. At that point, I read Go Ape's website and realized it was going to be a treetop obstacle course. But somehow, when I read about the check-in "cabin," I still pictured more of a lodge. With changing rooms and cedar lockers and a place to select a fluffy white towel. I joked about looking for a smoothie bar but really, that would have been nice.

It wasn't like that. Jessica helped me find the place (I'm bad with suburbs; North Park swallows me.) by directing me the the folding table on the side of the road where you sign your life away. They actually, during your 30-minute training (most of which I spent practicing opening and closing carabiners for the first time in my life) remind you that mistakes could result in "fatal accidents." Hello!

But other than some mulch in our hair and a little brush burn on my thighs from a clumsy landing, we badass animal welfare workers did really, really well!

The courses start with a rope ladder up the side of a tree. This was actually the most awkward part for me because I wanted to shimmy up the tree faster than my safety equipment wanted me to. I had to keep yanking the rope and pulley system that I was attached to.

Krista on the damn rope ladder

Then, up in the air, Krista, Jessica and I would gather on the platform and freak out, especially if we had to choose whether to take a "difficult" or "extreme" path to the next tree.

I have never been afraid of heights, because I just can't picture myself falling to death. So, I was surprised when I stepped onto the first treetop platform and felt a wave of vertigo wash over me. The entire tree swayed a little in a woozy way. But then, just like with every other uncomfortable moment in life, you say "Can't deal with that right now" and push through the moment. And so we did.

You do have to keep track of yourself to keep yourself safe. Little signs remind you to always stay attached to something, which meant that you'd detach and attach your harness every time you moved from a ladder to a bridge to a zip line.  At first, I felt like I was going to forget what to attach to or get myself caught up in something. But after a while, we were all monkeying from tree to tree without having to over-think it.

I'm a very impatient person, though, and twice forgot to attach myself to my tree. But then, having survived anyway, I'd just attach to the next thing, like a rope bridge that was suspended across the sky.

Each section ended with a ride down a zip line to the ground. These were fun, especially the last one, which was long enough to allow a couple seconds for looking around and thinking, "I'm flying!!"

The landings were awkward. The most graceful way to land is into a running stop, which I think I did three times. The other time, I went face first and stopped when my thighs dragged across the mulch landing strip. Ouch!

But the best part was the part that some other guests tried to psych us out about. One girl told us, "My friend said she'd never do the Tarzan jump again, and she is a real hardass."

I thought, "Oh no, a hardass?" I like getting massages and pedicures and petting kittens! Am I tough enough for this?

But Krista bravely led the way to the Tarzan jump -- a free-fall off a platform, into a rope wall that you then climb back up into the trees. The first step into nothing was definitely scary (especially if, like me, you doubted your own ability to attach yourself to things). But after you man up and leap into the air, it isn't scary at all!

And there's something fantastic about getting sweaty outside, locating your own center of gravity and learning to trust your muscles.

On the way home, I thought about how gym class used to be the worst part of my school year. I would fake cramps, "forget" my gym clothes or beg my journalism teacher to write me a pass to get out of it. Sunday nights would turn gloomy as I remembered that the horrors of gym class awaited. It was sheer torture, because I believed I was too unathletic to keep up with the kids in my class. I didn't understand the rules of baseball, hated competition, couldn't connect my bat to a goddamn thing and I always seemed to smack the volley ball wildly, or a second too late.

I wish someone would have seen that I was a wiry, tireless girl and suggested a sport that I might actually have fun with. I wish they would have let me play on a rope course, learn hula hoop tricks, try archery, take a hike or just run around. There are plenty of ways that grownups exercise that I might have liked. Instead I'd cower in fear in the deep, deep outfield...waiting for the sweet relief of English class, where I would be on top of my game again.

Anyway, now I'm happy at home with my Beagle, enjoying the iPhone videos Jessica made of our day. You can hear the ridiculous sound of me laughing, helplessly, in every one! Whoopsie!

I'd also like to say that the smell of sunscreen gives me an instant mood boost. I put it on and my brain shakes off its cobwebs and thinks, "Beach." I don't think I've ever worn sunscreen on a day that I had to do something that was a drag.

If you want to try going Ape, click over here, and then tell me about it!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Banjos are the Sound of Silence

Last night, I took my dad to see Steve Martin and his bluegrass band, the Steep Canyon Rangers.

We had lots of fun.

I think my sense of what's funny was born from my early exposure to Pee Wee Herman and Steve Martin. My parents used to play Steve Martin's stand-up comedy on their record player, and I remember laughing at my mom quoting it long before I understood what was so funny (or so brilliantly unfunny) about the jokes themselves.

A request like "Please pass the pepper" could result, at our dinner table, in a giggled "Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you! Like this:

But while I grew up appreciating goofy humor, I didn't appreciate bluegrass music. There was simply too much of it around.

My dad played bluegrass music, loud, all the time. He played it on CD's, DVD's, tapes in the car, and he'd claw hammer it out on his own banjos right in our living room--always oblivious to whatever was going on around him.

I remember sitting in the back seat of the family car, eager to get in on my parents' conversation in the front, but not making anything out over my dad's tape recording of Flatt and Scruggs' My Long Journey Home, blaring out of the car speakers. 

My dad even went through a phase in which he believed that playing music at your musical instruments could condition their wood, or something like that, so he he would line up his instruments in an attentive row and play bluegrass at them when he wasn't even home.

There was no escape. In my house, bluegrass was the sound of silence.

Meanwhile, I craved electric guitars. I hated bluegrass. My mom said she did too, but joked that she wouldn't be a "bluegrass widow" and actually followed my dad to concerts.

I didn't start to soften on bluegrass until I was 24, and briefly moved from one dinky apartment into the one located above my dad's music shop. By then, my dad was successfully running his guitar, banjo, and mandolin store, and I rented a place just up the stairs over his storefront.

On quiet afternoons and evenings, the sounds of finger-plunking and jam sessions would filter up through my floors. Suddenly, I'd feel almost as safe and soothed as I did decades ago, when my mom had a pot on the stove and my dad played Earl Scruggs for the instruments in our empty basement.

And now, I have Steve Martin -- and my dad, also named Steve -- to thank for a fun night last night, one in which I tapped my toes and chair-danced and enjoyed the bluegrass tunes every bit as much as Steve Martin's goofy jokes in between.

Best of all was spending time with my dad, who almost never allows himself any fun outside of his music store. When I asked him, as we waited for the curtain to go up, what his favorite concert of all time was, he said he didn't know. I rattled off lists of my own -- best set list, best performance, most fun at a show.

Then, this morning, I received an email from my dad.

"The show was funny, and the music was very good. But most of all, being with you was special. You asked me which was my favorite concert? Last night was."

My dad.

And, it turns out bluegrass tunes can play the songs in my heart, too.