So getting to Go Ape means a bit of a drive. They are 25 minutes West the city in North Park. If you have a Garmin don’t follow the last few directives or you’ll end up in a field somewhere. Just get yourself close and look for a brown sign obscured by brown tree trunks next to some tennis courts. You’ll be fine. Assuming the park entrance isn’t closed off for an organized Run/Walk or other event with no signage to indicate why you’ll be able to pull right up to Go Ape’s administration office about 1/2 mile into the park entrance. There is parking all around and probably a view of some older gentleman fishing in the pond across the street. If you seem him catch something cheer wildly. He seems to like that.
Getting Geared Up
Once at Go Ape you sign away your right to sue them if you fall off a tree or get caught up in a zipline or…die. This seemed frightening for about a second, but then I saw a couple of parents signing up their 10 year old and I decided not to be such a wuss. We signed at the bottom of the page and waited for our group instruction on how to not do all those things I just mentioned.
Group instruction started with a young lady showing us how to use a carabiner (the connectors that hook you to the safety chords). Then we were all fitted with a sexy harness set, and did a ground level practice run. Connect the red carabiner. Connect the blue carabiner. Make your way around the tree. Disconnect the blue carabiner and reattach it to another safety line. Disconnect the red…you get the idea. Once through the brief safety session we were sent off to the first set of treetop obstacles where we immediately encountered the first of three things that can have a negative affect on your visit; slower groups of people in front of you.
Words of Advice
The group in front of us was in there mid to late sixties. And I commend them on taking on this challenge. I doubt I’ll be as cool at that age. However, they did travel a bit slower than average, and to make matters worse one of the sexagenerians was deathly afraid of heights. Word of advice: If you are afraid of heights do not, I repeat, DO NOT go on a “Treetop Adventure.”
The second bad thing is the first ladder climb up into the tree. It is awkward. Clipping your carabiner onto the safety rope creates a weight you are forced to drag up but it only pulls down on your right side throwing you off balance. And it is a bit unknown. You don’t know what is going to happen at the top yet so everything is exaggerated. The ladder will shift from side to side so if possible have a partner or bystander hold the first ladder in place. And then after a brief struggle you will be at the top standing on a platform 40 ft up in the air trying to remember which carabiner gets attached to what safety line…I’m sure you’ll figure that out.
Finally, the last bad thing: The sap. The trees are dripping with sap. Sap is raining down on you. It will get in your hair and on your clothes. And when you forget and lean against a tree it will meld all of your arm hair together in a stickiness I can only imagine equaled by Pooh putting his hand in the honey jar. No joke. Lots of sap. And that’s it. If you can get over those three things you’ll probably have a great time. A second bit of advice though, bring work gloves. You’ll thank me later.
More Than Zip Lines
The course itself is split up into 5 sections. Each section includes a tree line obstacle course and ends with a zipline. Let us be honest. All you saw in that last sentence was, “zipline.” I was the same way. I just assumed the course would be all zipline and minimal obstacles. But in reality there is more obstacle and less zipline. The obstacles ranged from easy bridge crossings to “getting into Mordor” hard traverses, swinging from hanging ring to hanging ring. If you don’t want to challenge yourself quite that hard they do offer alternative routes, but once you’re up in the trees there isn’t really a way to get down without completing at least that section of the course and ziplining down.
In addition there are wire crossings, hanging rope ladder bridges, and my personal favorite, Tarzan Swings. Even a cynical bastard like myself will get a child’s like grin after hanging onto a rope, jumping off a platform and making it onto the rope ladder climbing wall on the other side. The anxiety of that stomach lurch when for the briefest of moments you are suspended floating in mid-air, and the safety harness hasn’t caught yet is exhilarating.
Once at the end of a course section you’ll finally get to the zipline. You’ll strap in, step off the platform and expect to be transported through space like a bird. In reality they are bit slow. They are family-friendly ziplines. Fast enough to not be boring but not so fast that Junior or Grandpa can’t both have a ride.
The Fun in the Middle
It took about 2 1/2 hours to finish the whole course. And the best part about it wasn’t the ziplines or the obstacle course but the time you had in the middle. Wife and I got to have actual conversations while waiting on the platforms that didn’t involve the logistics of picking up milk or walking the dog. We got to support each other and cheer each other on when one of us was making a difficult crossing. At least difficult to us. Turns out we excelled in different areas. We got to know a few of the people around us when we were all collectively waiting for a slower group. A married couple, a brother and sister, a group of friends – the Go Ape adventure brought out all kinds. And all seem to be having fun being outside their comfort zone, 20-40 feet up in the air. At the end, surprisingly worn out, we walked back to the car feeling good that we survived as a team, and superior in the knowledge that instead of spending Saturday morning on the couch we went out in the world and challenged ourselves. We’ve got some Go Ape stickers to prove it.
How much is it?
The Go Ape experience is $55 (a bit steep but are there competitors? No.) for adults and $35 for under 18‘ers. You must be at least 10 years old and if you’re under 18 you’ll need some adult supervision. There is also a max weight on the ziplines of 285 lbs. The course is open March to December and reservations are strongly encouraged. Go to www.goape.com for details.