When we got off the bus at the FLOC site in West Virginia, I started to get excited. There was something special about the crisp, fresh air and the forest that was completely rejuvenating. We dropped off our slightly damp pillows and bags in the barn and split off into small groups. My leader, Mike, took us through the forest to a pavilion at lower camp, where we all introduced ourselves. Mike told us he was living his dream working in nature and helping kids learn to enjoy and care for it too. He also told us the FLOC motto, which is “challenge by choice.” What it means is that no one can ever force you to go farther than you want, only you can make that decision. I loved the phrase the second I heard it. After the morning activities, I was in a great mood all through lunch.
But then it was time for the main event: high ropes. In my head, I had been thinking of high ropes as an abstract idea, which had created a vague sense of dread. But once the FLOC crew introduced us to the course, I was pretty excited. I was confident that I would complete the course and that was my goal. I chose the route that you could do with a partner because that extra support sounded really great to me. So up went my friend, and she got hooked up to the wires without delay or issue. And then I remembered that I was afraid of heights.
My heart started to beat as I climbed the first rungs of the ladder. When I got to the top, I couldn’t figure out what to hold on to. When I did manage to get on the wire, I started crying uncontrollably. The fear just sort of piled up, and every time I looked down the rope towards the other end I cried harder. So amidst the soothing words of the FLOC team and my friends, I was lowered back down to the ground again. Not my most dignified moment, but everyone on the ground was helping me calm down and asking me if I was okay, and for the majority of the time we were still at high ropes I just helped with the other people.
But I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I had watched tons of other people finish the course, and the disappointment grew as it came time to end our team’s time with the high ropes. I must have looked sad, because my new friends descended upon me with questions of how I was. The second I half-heartedly mentioned that I wanted to try it again, they immediately ran off to find me a harness. And when they came back and I was still undecided, they proceeded to rally me up, telling me that I just had to do it, and that I most certainly could.
Because of their impeccable support, I gave it another try. Oh, and I still cried. And I was still trembling. But you know what? I owned that ropes course. There was no way I could have failed, because everyone was cheering me on from below and helping me find the strength to go on, even some people I hadn’t even met yet. My friend who went on the course with me talked me through the entire thing until we got to the platform at the other end. And okay, maybe I started crying there too. But Kevin, who was helping people with the zipline, helped me not feel scared anymore. And so when I timidly scooted off the platform and zoomed down the zipline, my heart dropped, but in the most thrilling kind of way. As I was getting off the zipline, the amazement set in. I was so proud of myself, and I couldn’t believe that I had completed the ropes course when just an hour before I was so paralyzed by fear that I couldn’t take one step down the wire.
With the support of these amazing new people, people who had been strangers only that morning, I did something that had seemed impossible. After an amazingly fun night singing songs together despite the cold and rain, we got on the buses home. I could have told you the names of everyone on the bus. I would trust any of them because they were the same people who cheered me on when I was so scared and helped me find my own strength to do something that has made me feel so proud of myself. And on that bus ride home, it couldn’t have mattered less that I had homework to do or that I had missed homecoming. I had just had one of the best weekends of my entire life.