“Recess Is Back!”

Posted by jlubans on March 10, 2015

Caption: A 1920s zip line. Look Ma! No harness!

The “zip line” or “zip wire” is approaching 100 years. It’s been clumsily called the “Inclined Strong” and more thrillingly, the “Death Slide.”
Once a carnival rides, it’s now a mainstay event in outdoor ropes courses and eco-tourism. The zip line, at least in adventure learning, is often a concluding event. Participants come, Tarzan-like, screaming down a long cable, snugly harnessed and carabineered. Skimming over treetops, gorges, and what not, the wide-eyed zip liner lands gently on a platform among welcoming teammates.
It’s a fun ride for all but the acrophobic. As such, it can be an effective reward for getting through a day of harrowing high ropes events, ones with a much higher perceived risk.
Increasingly, the zip line is used as a stand alone attraction in its own right, akin to running the rapids in an inflated rubber raft, not much more challenging than a state fair tea cup ride. Indeed some vendors combine the two, zip lining and rubber rafting.

Caption: Team crossing.

I think it is important to discriminate between the zip line as the concluding event of a rigorous high ropes – in which one faces personal and team challenge from start to finish – and the solo zip line adventure featured in the ad, “Recess is back!” While much of what goes on in high ropes is individual – you confront your limitations and fears - it is also a shared experience. Your teammates see you and encourage you. You encourage them through thick and thin. Only a few participants can scamper across every event and then come back for more. Most of us have to constantly abate our fear of falling, regardless of how well strapped in we may be. We come to realize - as our knees tremble - that getting to the other side is going to take more finesse than muscle. (You’ve seen teammates drop off the cable and dangle, and then struggle to get back on the line). We may even open up to advice or take hold of a stretched-out hand.
So, I think using the zip line – the highest, the longest, and the fastest - as a symbol for a high ropes course sends the wrong message. It suggests that high ropes event are easy, that gravity does all the work. It’s like the rubber raft, bouncing around in the white water with its passengers, under the complete control of the guy with the oars in the back.
In high ropes your conquest of your personal fear, your team’s efforts to help each other make it through, has little to do with gravity (if anything the group is trying to cheat gravity.)
High ropes are rigorous – exhausting and exhilarating – and when a skilled facilitator debriefs each event, the individual and team lessons can be powerful, long lasting and ready for transfer to one’s work and life.


@Copyright John Lubans 2015
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