So there I was, looking up at the Geek of 6th Grade, who was dangling from his harness 40 feet in the air. Not the geek of MY 6th grade, mind you – that was Mitch Prothro, and Mitch if you’re reading this… Hi!
I was volunteering last Saturday at a 3-day camp for Kids Who Think They’re Smarter Than The Rest Of Us And Whose Test Scores Indicate They May Be Unfortunately Correct. The Human Tape Recorder, who attends the school for these kids, was among the campers but not, to my chagrin, among those dangling 40 feet in the air. The activity was called High Ropes, but should really be called “Don’t Feel So Damn Smart NOW, Do Ya?”
I was ground crew help, which means I swing the ropes on the zip lines over to the next climber, get the kids from that activity to lunch when they’re done, and keep an eye on the sky for anyone doing something improbably ignorant, which is of course highly likely. The first one up and across my section of rope was, well, we’ll call him Charlie. Now, before the professionals suit these kids up, they provide some detailed instructions. One of them was simple: How many Carabineers should you have attached to you when you’re on the Ropes? Answer: “Two, or One, but never None!”
So Charlie gets from one 40-foot-high platform to the next without great difficulty, and grabs for the tree. Standing alone on that high ledge, hands on the tree, he promptly grabs the Carabineer attached to the tree. He then proceeds to unscrew the Carabineer attaching him to the zip line and take it off. Holding on to nothing but the tree and what I have to assume is a firm belief in an Almighty Buddy System, he finally notices me shouting myself hoarse to hook the next Carabineer to his harness. He clipped it on just as a good gust of wind moved the tree he was in. I don’t think he was ever in any real danger of falling, but it certainly got his attention.
He next assayed a less-simple rope crossing whereby one walks on a wire holding a rope, which descends past said wire and is joined by a corresponding rope coming up – you have to switch ropes mid-way.
Let me take a moment to note that this is not easy. This does not look easy even to me. While it might be easier for someone smaller than a Big Ugly Man Doll, 40 feet in the air is not a natural position for most of us, even 10-, 11-, and 12-yr-olds, even smart ones, and my hat’s off to them for trying any of this stuff at all. Mind you, the *really* smart ones picked activities like Fireside Cooking, which kept them warm and fed. So maybe I had the left-side of the bell curve in the first place.
Charlie, bless his heart, got a little more than halfway when his nerve got tangled up in the ropes and he backed himself back up to the tree he’d been on, and asked to be lowered down. I high-fived him once he got to the ground, just for not getting killed – seemed a worthy goal.
The next Charlie up – and they’re all named Charlie, really, at that age, was without doubt the Geek of 6th Grade (Go6G). He was dressed in 1970’s MIT black frame glasses, boisterous bravado, and corduroy pants. It was the bravado that made the outfit complete. He set out across a 3-rope challenge, which was also complicated, right above me. He got about halfway across before he realized that the rope he was holding descended below his feet, and switched ropes. He grabbed first one rope, then another, and was trying to figure out how to grab a third. Knowing that they’re all here because they’re nominally smarter than most, I couldn’t resist cheerleading a bit.
“Come on, it’s an IQ test! You can do it…” That’s when he let go of the other rope to grab the other other rope, with his other other hand. And the Go6G swung like a pendulum from his tethered harness, screaming like a girl.
“Aaaaaaaaaand, you’ve failed.”
To his great credit, he quit screaming quickly and realized that he could now just hand-over-hand to the other side, regardless of which rope was which. Once on the next platform, he too started to unhook the tether and needed a gentle reminder about how many Carabineers should you have attached to you when you’re on the High Ropes? Answer: “Two, or One, but never None!” He tethered himself to the tree and unhooked the old line.
I passed him the line for the next course – a straight up zip line jump – and he tethered himself to that. Flushed from his brush with gravity and now convinced of his awesomeness, he turned his attention to the jump ahead – just hold the rope and leap, and the zip line runs you 20 feet to the next tree. “Guys, hey guys! Watch this!” yelled the Go6G.
Do you know the most common last words of guys under 35? “Hey ya’ll, watch this!”
So the Go6G gets a good two steps back, plants his feet, and jumps out into space, holding the rope with the zip line for dear life. He put a lot into that jump. Now here’s a question – how many Carabineers should you have attached to you when you’re jumping on a zip line? Answer: Not Two.
So when he reached the end of the 7-foot rope still tethering him to the tree, he stopped like he’d hit a brick wall – it looked like an illegal Quidditch move. He once again screamed like a girl, and had to unhook the offending Carabineer mid-flight. Once again to his credit, he managed to get to the other side and down safely. As I high-fived him, I mentioned that he could just claim altitude sickness. I don’t think he even heard me, and his answer was all Go6G: “That was AWESOME!”
Uncowed and unbowed. You go, Charlie.