When we started dating over 24 years ago, my husband and I, both 36, went to Saint Augustine (Florida) for a mini-vacation. My mother was horrified to learn that I was going to another city in the company of a man.
“What will my friends say?”
I shrugged, thinking, “Don’t tell them?”
“You know what he’ll want!”
“Too late,” I thought. “We’ll get separate rooms,” I said.
Sam and I had a great time during our road-trip. We visited the historic district, as well as the lighthouse. I was terrified of heights and clutched the railing all the way up, but I was determined to impress my boyfriend.
Since we found ourselves with some extra time, I suggested we visit the Saint Augustine Alligator Farm. I’d heard good things about it and was interested in zoos, having graduated from a zookeeping program only a few years before.
Sam was skeptical. It sounded a little too campy. But the zoo was clean, and it was fascinating to see so many species of crocodilians. We saw Gomek, the famous nineteen-and-a-half foot, one-ton crocodile, and a swamp area had just opened. We had a great time feeding hoards of baby alligators, which followed us on the boardwalk as we tossed pellets. The day was filled with smiles.
A few years ago, Sam and I moved back to Florida, after living a decade west of the Mississippi. We settled the northeast corner of the state, and Saint Augustine was only a short drive away. We decided to revisit old memories by going to the Alligator Farm. Once again, we fed the alligators, except now they were huge. Gomek had passed, but there was a new, twelve-hundred pound, saltwater crocodile named Maximo.
The zoo had added a zip-line and obstacle course, and we talked about doing this someday in the future. We had zip-lined once before at New York Texas Zipline Adventures in LaRue, Texas, and the experience greatly reduced my fear of heights. But years passed and we never got around to it — until Sam’s birthday.
I had scheduled the day off and was up for anything he suggested, short of sky-diving. He wanted to do the zip-line course at Crocodile Crossing.
When we arrived, another group of six senior citizens was leaving. One man was oozing blood down both legs. He had hit a platform with his shins.
“Do you want some ice for that?” asked one of the staff. “Or some antiseptic wipes?”
The man shook his head no, but his wife shook her head yes.
Soon the man was equipped with ice packs, as well as vet-wrap to hold them in place.
We were next in line and checked in.
There were two courses. One took roughly an hour to complete; the other roughly two. We opted for the longer one because it offered more obstacles.
A young man secured us into our harnesses. Soon we were joined by a younger family – husband, wife, and an eager boy whose eyes glowed with anticipation.
After a few minutes of instruction, we climbed wooden ladders to the first platform. I didn’t have time to attend to the height ascended, since I was first up and felt under pressure to hurry along. But then I faced the first obstacle.
Before me was a series of wooden planks suspended in the air. Above my head was the metal wire to which my harness was secured. I would step from one board to the next, while holding onto the wire above.
I stepped onto the path and took a few steps. However, my legs are short, and it was impossible to reach the next board without pushing it forward. After crossing several boards, the entire pathway was shifting beneath me. I froze on a single board, which swayed from side to side. I wondered how long I could hold onto the guide wire if I lost my footing altogether. I knew I couldn’t fall to my death, since I was secured; but falling through the boards and dangling didn’t sound fun either.
“You’re doing great!”
OMG. A staff member was taking pictures.
“Walk like you’re on a sidewalk,” said the director. I hadn’t realized we’d been followed.
But the encouragement got me moving, and somehow I found myself on the next platform. Next up was a zip-line extending over the parking lot.
I double-checked and triple checked my pulley. There was no way I could fall, was there? I squatted down, held my breath, and dropped from the stand.
Halfway across, I remembered to use my strong hand to brake. But I miscalculated and missed the platform by several feet. I tried to reach it with my foot, but it was too far. As we’d been instructed, I turned my back to the target, and began to pull myself the remaining distance.
But gravity had a different idea, and after a few pulls, I was flying back the way I’d come. I didn’t resist; thought maybe I’d return to the starting deck. Instead, the line sagged and I hung in the middle.
There was no choice. I backed myself across the line. At first, pulling backward was awkward, but easy. However, as the line swept upward, the climb became more and more difficult. Just a few feet out, I stopped. Winded, I took a few deep breaths. With a determined growl, I dragged myself the rest of the way and wrestled myself onto the deck.
The next zipline was easier, although I still came up a bit short. I climbed onto the platform, and then found it impossible to detach from the zip-line. The hook that secured me was high above my head, while the weight of my legs pulled me down. I stood on tiptoe; even hopped — but still couldn’t relieve the tension on the line. By the time I was off, I was again out of breath.
I stood on the platform and attempted to attach my freed pulley to a tab on my harness. But the platform began to bounce beneath my feet, and I couldn’t match pulley to loop. Sam was coming in. He squeezed onto the platform next to me.
“Sorry. I forgot to wait.”
He pointed to a huge crocodile below. I hadn’t even noticed. He said the line over the parking lot scared the mom behind us; he didn’t think the family was coming.
There were more ziplines and another floating bridge that was a bit easier. At the beginning of the course, we’d been told that there were watering stations along the way. I was now eager to reach one of these. It wasn’t terribly hot, but I couldn’t believe how thirsty I was getting.
We landed on a large platform close to the Nile Crocodile exhibit. There were two water spigots! But the question was, how could I reach either. The hooks that secured us to the course were limited in how they could be positioned. And every direction I took distanced me from the water.
Finally, I came close enough to a spigot that I could drink. The water spilled into my mouth and through the boards to whatever lay below.
Another floating bridge. Like the first one. But longer I think, with the boards more widely spaced.
I sighed and shook my head. “This is where I get off.”
Sam came over for a look.
“Sorry, but I’m not doing that.”
A young man looked up from below. It was a staff member. Had he followed us throughout the course, or was this a point at which many people stopped?
He climbed a ladder built specifically for retrieving guests. Sometimes people got injured, or overtired, or simply wanted to stop. I explained that the boards were too far apart.
“If that’s the only reason,” he said, “you can walk on the wires.” I had only seen the boards. I hadn’t noticed that they were suspended on either side by guide wires.”
I considered it and then, “Nope. I’m happy. Got my money’s worth. I’m done.”
On the ground, I tried to follow Sam as he progressed. I saw him cross a net bridge.
“Don’t get stuck halfway!” I called.
At midpoint, a towering cactus reached towards the netting.
I was interrupted when the young man approached me again. He asked me if I had a ticket for the park (the park and the zip-line attraction are charged separately). I told him that we were members; however, my card was secured in the locker where we’d started. He asked me to go to the gift shop and get my hand stamped. By the time I did that, I lost sight of Sam.
I walked back to the entry point. Standing in the office, the AC felt good, and it was fun listening to the staff talk about various animals.
A female staff-member stepped inside. “Your husband’s on his way in.” It was nice of her to let me know, so I could go outside and congratulate him.
Sam said I quit at a good time. After the net-bridge, there was another board bridge that was still more difficult.
I was content and had enjoyed the opportunity to challenge myself. And once again, we left the park with smiles on our faces.
I feel very proud of my husband. This was not an easy obstacle course, but he saw it through to the end.
And he seemed impressed that I’d gone so far.
It was a good day. Today we wowed one another. And in a long marriage – a long friendship in which you know the other a bit too well – that alone is the ultimate challenge.