Swinging in the Breeze
Courage overtakes cringe at SDC's ropes course challenge
Even though I'm at the top of the tree, my stomach feels like it's still on the ground. I feel every small breeze as I clutch the sides of the platform, trying to figure out how I'm going to climb on top of it without anything to hold onto for balance. Strapped into a harness, I know I won't fall to my death. But visions of cracked skulls and broken limbs flash before me anyways as I imagine crashing through the trees.
Out at the Challenge Sonoma Ropes Course on a sunny, breezy Saturday afternoon, I'm part of a small group partaking in a staff "friends and family" day courtesy of staff members Lisa Gallagher, Keaton Davis and Diana Rhoten. Set in the redwood trees behind Camp Via at the Sonoma Developmental Center, it's a fun and challenging course designed to test participants' physical agility, mental determination and teamwork skills.
Clinging to the platform, listening to shouts of encouragement from down below, I finally decide to go for it. I step up to the platform. It wobbles less than I thought it would, but I still stretch out my arms to help stay balanced. The trapeze sways in the breeze. As it comes backs towards me, I launch myself off the platform and grab the bar where I swing for a moment before being slowly belayed to the comfort of solid ground.
A member of our group is Mindi Wiley, a professional volleyball player and former Sonoma High sports star. She's the first to attempt the third event, called "Multi Vine," and her athleticism comes in handy. Set forty feet above the forest floor a rope traverses a sixty foot gap between two towering redwoods. Ten feet above the first rope, a second rope runs parallel to the first. Several ropes dangle at interval distances from the second rope that allow Wiley, with her condor-like wingspan, to easily swing from one tree to the other.
Rhoten, a long-time Sonoma Valley resident, has worked at the ropes course for most of the 20-plus years it's been in existence. As we talk, we watch a ten-year old girl slowly make her way across the Multi Vine. At first she seems terrified. But midway through, it's clear from the cessation of her scream and her increased speed that she's gained confidence in both herself and the rope. I can hear the joy in Rhoten's voice as she tells me that what we just witnessed is one of the reasons she keeps coming out to help run the ropes course; people of all ages and ability levels can partake in the events and enjoy this beautiful outdoor setting.
After the zip line, we pick up the gear and head back to the storage container to put it away. When the gear is stowed, we gather together in a circle. An important part of the ropes course experience for Rhoten, this last communal moment offers us the opportunity to reflect on our own accomplishments and to congratulate others on theirs. It's fitting way to end a day spent climbing through a forest together.
Stephen Cosgrove is a Valley native who has a passion for enjoying the local terrain by foot, bike, tent and most recently—longboard. Join him here as he journeys forth into the Wine Country wilds and embarks on greater Bay Area excursions. You can read more at his blog