“We want to see people stretch their comfort zones,” says Evan Dwyer. “We want to bring people out of their shell, to become one with nature and see what their true limits really are.”
Evan is the manager of Go Ape!, the treetop adventure site at the North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex. I’d just asked him what the site’s ultimate goal is, and, as I later discovered for myself, his answer couldn’t have been more accurate.
If you’re not familiar with treetop adventure parks, try envisioning obstacle courses built entirely off of the ground. They’re American Ninja Warrior meets family fun park, complete with suspended bridges of varying difficulty to cross and zip lines to blow your hair back and give your stomach that rollercoaster ride flip-flop feeling.
We’ve got two of these in the Myrtle Beach area: Go Ape! off of U.S. 31 in North Myrtle Beach and the Radical Ropes Adventure Park on 19th Avenue South in Myrtle Beach, near the airport. And I can safely tell you that you’re wrong if you think doing one means you’ve done them both. These are two very different sites offering very unique experiences. If you get the chance, take a crack at each of them.
Completing the courses was part of this writing assignment; it was my idea, as a matter of fact. I wanted to give the reader the most authentic experience possible. I went in gung-ho, relatively certain it was going to be fairly easy for me. But I soon realized that what looks like a walk in the park when you’re on the ground is a heck of a lot more intimidating when you’re getting into a strange harness that feels like a heavy corset with a pair of metal suspenders and you know there’s no going back.
That’s when I discovered that deep down I’m actually quite the coward.
Urban Aerial Adventure
Radical Ropes is two blocks off the ocean and smack in the middle of everything—hotels, restaurants, miniature golf, you name it. It sprang from the imagination of Myrtle Beach local Ross “Buddy” Lindsay, who was inspired when the highlight of a European vacation with his children was taking them to a treetop adventure site. To this day, it’s still their favorite part of the trip.
After a few false starts, the site successfully opened this summer and has three full-length courses, one built directly above the other and each increasing in intensity the higher they are. Level One is obviously the easiest, but don’t let that fool you. When I arrived, a young boy was waiting patiently with a guide at the end of the first course. He’d just dusted his entire family and, because of his age, had to wait for them to catch up before he could move on to the next level. Ah, the fearlessness of youth. His family was so far behind I couldn’t even see them.
“People usually only finish the first level,” says assistant manager Jane Millen, “and sometimes the second one as well. Only every now and then do we get someone who can do them all,” she says, adding that it takes two and a half to three hours to do the entire course.
One of those rare somebodies is Joe Moravsky, a real three-time American Ninja Warrior finalist. Radical Ropes caught his eye while he and his family were here on vacation and he couldn’t resist taking on the challenge. He pronounced the course “awesome,” high praise from a man who knows what he’s talking about. He also said it’s great exercise, so buckle up.
Radical Ropes boasts eight zip lines, the longest of which is 225 feet. It also has three unique features that should be opening this fall: a miniature kids’ course with small zips and climbs to keep the really young ones entertained, a climbing wall and, the daddy of them all, the Leap of Faith.
Don’t know what that is? Why, it’s a platform situated 65 feet in the air that you jump off. Millen was nice enough to take us to the top of the tower where the Leap of Faith is. Jumpers are attached to a quick jump system that allows you to free fall for the first 25 feet before engaging to slow the rest of your descent. It’s all been tested and retested and is perfectly safe. Still … do you have the courage to stand at the tippy top of that tower, where it’s so high you can see the Atlantic Ocean, and step off?
“You’d be surprised who will do it and who won’t,” Millen says with a smile. “Some of the strongest, most athletic people wind up backing down. It’s intimidating.”
I’m not the strongest nor the most athletic and I had no problem saying I was too chicken livered to do it. But you’re welcome to.
Embracing Your Inner Gorilla
Go Ape!’s location could almost trick you into thinking you weren’t just a mile or two from the ocean. The North Myrtle Beach Park and Sports Complex is a vast, multi-faceted park featuring ball fields, dog parks, picnic shelters, playgrounds, walking trails and a 25-acre lake. The first time I visited, I had no idea Go Ape! was even there—that is, until I looked up and realized the trees were full of people.
“A common reaction we get is, ‘Wow!’” says Dwyer. “Many people are surprised that some of the crossings are difficult, that they take effort to complete. This is a physically challenging sport, it will test your strength and endurance.”
Most of the course is uniformly 30 feet off the ground, though the tallest point is 60 feet. There are two decision points on the course where you can take the easier route or amp up the intensity by going for the harder stuff. You also have a chance to skip levels if you’re feeling too tired. There are five levels in all.
Go Ape! has five zip lines, the longest being a truly mammoth 918 feet. If you want to have a Tarzan moment, this is the zip line for you. It also boasts a beautiful 790-foot zip that goes right over the lake. Have a look down as you cross. I can almost guarantee you’ll see a turtle or two staring back at you. I did. I couldn’t help wondering what they thought of all these people flying over their heads.
Remember me saying something about being a coward? I was hoping you’d forget that part. But since you haven’t, I’ll tell you about my foray into adventure amidst the treetops.
I became aware of the first rumblings of unease while standing in line with my group, waiting to begin training. We all had to learn how to use the safety harnesses and how to latch and unlatch ourselves from the cables. A guy standing next to me laughed and said he was nervous and I sort of smiled back. I think that’s when my stomach sank to my knees. I wasn’t just nervous. I was having one of those I’m-going-to-dig-my-heels-in-and-you-can’t-make-me moments. From where I was standing I could see people above my head jumping off a platform, swinging across open space and landing into a cargo net before climbing like spiders to the next platform.
My mind was pulsing red lights of warning: Run! Get out while you still can! I had butterflies and—I won’t lie—more than a little nausea.
But my dignity was seriously on the line. The instructors knew I was here for a story. If I walked away, I’d look really bad and that was the one and only thing that kept my feet rooted in place. Otherwise I’d have taken off like a gazelle for the car. And I’m so glad I didn’t.
That “comfort zone” Dwyer had spoken of was a useless piece of armor that weighed me down instead of protecting me. Without it to hold me back, I did things I never would have done before. I was scared and my hands were sweaty, but when I took that first leap the accomplishment alone gave me a wild rush of excitement and pride. It broke down big, old barriers that I’d put up for no real reason at all.
When it was over, I felt 20 pounds lighter. I was exhausted, hungry and weak. These things really are a workout, don’t let anyone fool you. But I was also joyous. I’d shown myself that I’m capable of a whole lot more than I ever thought possible, and I’d gotten to see things and experience things I never would have if I’d let fear stop me.
I believe that’s exactly what these adventure sites are all about.
IF YOU GO:
Here are a few things to remember when planning your treetop adventure:
■ Reservations are highly recommended at both locations
■ No open-toed sandals or Crocs are permitted at either course
■ Have a solid meal and drink plenty of water before coming. Both courses can take up to three hours to complete
■ Listen to your instructors and obey all safety rules. Your life depends on it!
■ These courses aren’t about speed. In fact, speed is counter-safety
■ Know your limitations. Ask your guides for help if you need it