ONE ON ONE: The Thrill of Victory Exists at ‘The Adventure Park’

"One On One" Sean Walsh Sports Editor

“One On One”
Sean Walsh
Sports Editor

If you possess even the tiniest atom of athleticism or simply want to be physically challenged, the new Adventure Park at Heritage Museum & Gardens should, without question, be on your bucket list.

I assure you, however, that there were moments when I felt I was going to kick the bucket as each of the park’s courses became exceedingly difficult to navigate.

Next to impossible is what I was thinking 30 feet above the earth, locked into a harness and clipped onto a cable wire as my 250-lb. frame teetered like a bear on a flimsy, crackling branch.

After the first “green” course, I had barely broken a sweat and my ego was erroneously bolstered by the prospect of continuing onward to the next “green” course of ropes and swaying ladder swings, zip lines and bicep-bending high-wire ascensions.

Children of all ages hooted and hollered from above and below me as my size 13 triple E gunboats strained to find a balance point on ¼-inch of steel cable. Focus, I told myself, don’t look down. The sweat intensified even though summer’s humidity had finally broken.

Adults of all ages were less vocal but as I saw my 15-year-old daughter scoot across one obstacle to the next, I knew I must not chicken out. Whatever courage I could muster to move onward, though, seemed just as quickly to evaporate when I slipped on a pressure-treated 2 x 6 I was supposed to be walking across as it waved back and forth like some sick, pendulum trick designed to mock the middle-aged.

Adventure Park 2

The Adventure Park is challenging but worth it and easier than it looks. Photo courtesy of Heritage Museums & Gardens

But seeing that I was physically affixed to numerous safety devices and clips and that my entire weight was supported by the body harness each Adventure Park adventurer is required to wear, my mind got over the slipping part and I hoisted myself back up somehow onto the shifting plank.

Entire families waited in line for this thrill-seekers’ paradise and I began to see why – to a small degree – as I made it to the next platform and then the next and fully entrusted myself to the simple trolley clip that raced me 80 feet in mid-air like some circus act gone wrong . After six months of eating right and trying to get back into shape, I was thankful for those 5,000 salads I had eaten. There is no chance I would have endured this experience – as awesome as it was – had I been the same snowbound sloth I was a half-year ago.

I finished the two “green” courses and then waited on the central platform and tried to decide whether I wanted to attempt the “blue” course which was supposed to be even more physically challenging.

Balancing like a gymnast in the sky above me, my daughter’s encouraging words were “this one requires upper body strength.”

Thus mocked by an adolescent, the beginning point of the “blue” course looked simple enough: a 15-foot rope ladder with round split rail fence posts for rungs. A snap, right? After two rungs, I said aloud “okay, no thanks” but as one of the course professionals began to make his way back to “headquarters” to get a tool to remove me from the blue-course rope ladder entry point, I mustered what little gumption I could and made my sweaty way up that ladder to the top. Breathing as if I had just run a four-minute mile, kneeling on the platform, a middle-aged mom below standing with her three kids looked up at me and said “I’m impressed.”

Getting to the first platform of the Adventure Park "Blue Course" is tough, but worth it. Sean Walsh/ Sports Photos

Getting to the first platform of the Adventure Park “Blue Course” is tough, but worth it.
Sean Walsh/ Sports Photos

As was I, even though, in the words of Will Ferrell “I immediately regretted the decision” to ascend that ladder and give the Adventure Park “blue course” a whirl. I had given that rope ladder what I thought was every last ounce of energy I had remaining.

I let a couple of middle-school-aged girls go past me as if I was waving them through to another hole in golf before attempting the next high-wire routine, but heeded the instructor’s advice to lean my body weight into the cable. The advice was well-heeded as my ancient knees wanted to buckle and my forearms and forehead were raining sweat.

I soon found myself somewhat alone and infinitely, it seemed, higher above the ground than on the previous course challenges. One obstacle after the next tested my resolve and an innate fear of heights. A vision of Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchock’s 1958 film Vertigo danced through my mind. I thought that this would be an excellent challenge for a high school gymnast, not a 48-year-old sportswriter. I was at least thankful for wearing sneakers.

There was one more rope ladder near the very end of this “blue” course and my wife below coaching me was not helping me figure out how to squeeze one more goal line stand out of this aching shadow of my former physical self. Near the treetops I stood on the next platform and looked down at the hundreds of people of all ages making their way through one of the most fun yet intense experiences I’ve had as the summer of 2015 neared its end.

The "Black" Course is a true physical challenge. Sean Walsh/ Sports

The “Black” Course is a true physical challenge.
Sean Walsh/ Sports

I breathed a sigh of relief as I hooked my carabiners to the last obstacle and tried to make sense of it before attempting it when it struck me that the next albeit final obstacle was not one that was going to afford me even the slightest respite.

One of the instructors 25-foot below shouted up some words of encouragement.

“Come on,” he said. “Just step off or jump off. It’s really anticlimactic.”

“Really?” I thought, how could jumping into mid-air 25-feet above the earth be “anticlimactic.” I envisioned the cable snapping, my legs twisted in a gnarled bloody heap below. “Just do it,” the instructor shouted up. “Don’t look down, just go!”

I’m not sure what really allowed me to overcome my common sense and leap off that platform, soaked in sweat, wondering if “this was it.” Finally, I jumped.

As the automatic belay system slowly cascaded me to the ground below, gently placing my giant, awkward hoofs upon a bed of pine needles, I realized I had nothing to fear at all. As I unclipped the carabiners and trekked my way back, I spotted my daughter attempting the most difficult and final course, the “black” course.

No thanks, I said to myself, I’ve had enough victory for one day and my body thanked me.

But would I go to the new Adventure Park at Heritage Museums & Gardens again?

Without a doubt.

— Sports Editor Sean Walsh’s column “One on One” appears here weekly. His email is [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @coachwalshccbm

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