YOUR STORY is a place to share your unique adventure. These Adventuristas are living the philosophies in Only Pack What You Can Carry, while inspiring the rest of us to live our lives the way we want to!
Meet the Adventurista: Alexandra Grace Ayers, 21, student at the University at Buffalo
Lives in: Buffalo, NY
Adventure: Learning to climb trees @ Blue Ridge Tree Climbing LLC, Meadows of Dan, VA
What possessed you?
Tree climbing has always been an interest of mine, but after reading The Wild Trees by Richard Preston, the idea of standing at the top of a mighty redwood was more than enough for me to pursue the dream myself. My true journey started when I went into an outdoors store and I saw lots of gadgets and rope used for rock climbing, I tried to get some sort of information out of the employees about tree climbing, but they were none the wiser and I left the store disappointed. Google came to my rescue with a simple search of “tree climbing schools” and after a few days of research and sending emails, I was directed to Bob Wray of Blue Ridge Tree Climbing. After one phone conversation I was hooked, I had to do this!
Knowing myself, I knew I would have to make my travel plans official and fast or else I would chicken out and I would be left with just a daydream idea that I’d never go through with because I was afraid to go alone. My problem is that I’m a little more adventurous than most and I have trouble finding companions for my quests. Fortunately, travel arrangements fell into place easily and a few weeks later I was on a plane headed south.
A hairy, scary moment:
It’s hard to find a scary moment in tree climbing. Obviously, there are inherent dangers and risks associated with ascending more than eighty feet above ground – or in my case, over 90 feet (more than nine stories) – but with proper instruction and simple climbing techniques, tree climbing is easy and safe. Often, I get asked if I get scared looking down and the truth is that is it more dizzying looking up into the canopy and leaning away from the tree in order to get a good throw to the next branch than it is looking down at the rope hitting the ground, if anything it makes me feel more connected and safe. I think the scariest part in my entire experience was trying to find a good grocery store in the back country of Virginia, and I won’t lie, I kept the bathroom light on in my hotel room at night.
Favorite or defining moment:
My favorite moment of my tree climbing trip had to be on the last day. My final task to pass the course was to climb a tree completely alone. I chose a tree on the school’s property: her name is Josephine, named after Bob’s mother. As I began my ascension I saw the farther up I went in the tree, the smaller my instructor, who was laying on a tarp below the tree, became. I was nervous, but I knew I knew what I was doing. All the knots were ingrained into my mind and movements and throws were all made easily enough. When I was well into the heart of the crown, I stopped. The entire experience crashed into me: I was actually here, I was doing this crazy thing that I had dreamed about for who knows how long, and the best part was that I was now able to climb completely un aided by my instructor. I was free and completely in tune with not only myself but my gear and Josephine. It was beautiful. Bob told me when a person climbs they experience something called ‘tree time’ – an amazing sense of feeling connected with what you are doing and not realizing hours have gone by, and it was happening to me. Climbers get their mind set on the task of going up and suddenly they are sitting on a branch at the top of the tree watching the clouds float by and getting an entirely new perspective of things going on down below. The views aren’t the only thing amazing about being high up in a tree though; the biodiversity in the crowns of these large trees is booming with bugs and pockets of dirt growing plants and lichen covering the bark. Most people have no idea that anything is going on up there aside from birds and squirrels.
What you learned about yourself:
During this experience I was able to push myself to the limit, and I proved to myself that I am capable of going on these great adventures and learning new things and meeting new people by going out of my comfort zone a little. I proved to myself that I can do things that I want to do and that I don’t have to wait around for someone else to come with me in order to make it a reality. I was pleased that my instructor was letting me push myself; he could see that I was made for climbing and allowed me to climb Josephine, a tree that he had never let students climb solo before, as well as another tree by the creek that he had climbed previously but that had never been climbed by a student. I suppose that that is one of the key things about tree climbing; a lot of decisions are made with the gut, climbers sense their limits and strengths in the same way as they go about launching throw bags: it’s something a climber simply does without investing too much concentration. They feel it and go with it. A final set of lessons learned is that frustration can be deadly and a good climber should know when it is time to relax and do something besides climbing to re focus the mind and not make mistakes with knots or carabiners and to always have a quick escape because even the most experienced climbers can run into trouble.
Tree climbing has made its mark in my life and I recommend the sport of ‘vertical hiking’ to everyone that loves outdoors and is interested in preserving its beauty through safe recreation. My tree climbing school experience taught me proper ways to not only protect myself (with a helmet and gloves) but the tree as well (proper footing, rope sleeves, etc.). As Bob says, “Tree climbing is 15% climbing skills, 15% gear skills, and 70% mind set.”
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