Monday, June 20, 2005

The Amazing Race, A Father's Day Adventure

The best gifts are those that combine unexpected surprise with thoughtfulness and fun. My Father’s Day experience had all 3 of those combined.

I am a little bit ashamed to admit that the couch potato in me has never missed an episode of The Amazing Race, and on Sunday I found myself in my very own. Gretchen, Russell, Sydney, and Tyler engineered my own personal version of The Amazing Dad Race, complete with road blocks, detours and route markers, and a uniform t-shirt.

After challenges that included finding my first clue among all of the kid’s toys in our basement playroom, mixing up some vanilla ice cream from memory, and corralling my 3 kids in the park after giving them a 50 yard piggy-back across a field, the next stop in our adventure was PNC Park, where in the detour I had to choose “sing” or “swing.”

In “sing” I would have to approach a stranger and sing the national anthem, in “swing” I would have to hit 3 balls pitched by Gretchen. Fortunately for the windows on nearby buildings and unsuspecting strangers, I chose swing. After 3 quick cuts – it was into the Mini (van) for the journey to the next route marker.

After a quick stop for lunch (at McDonald’s because Eat ‘n Park is too busy on Sunday holidays) we arrived at the next destination Laurel Caverns, where I met the Road Block: rappelling lessons. After a brief lesson in configuring the rappelling device, getting fitted into a climbing harness and helmet, we walked into the cavern.

Normally a group lesson with up to 12 people participating, I was the only one to sign up on Sunday, which meant I had the whole place to myself. This meant that I got to rappel down the 4 story drop 10 times. To get back to the top, I had my choice of either climbing (they had man-made handholds) or hiking back up the cavern – so I climbed about half the time and hiked about half the time.

Trusting the equipment the first time you sit into the harness and swing backwards off the wall is the scariest part of rappelling. I have done climbing and zip line activities before that required the use of a harness, but I was surprised to see that the rappelling device was a small piece of plastic shaped like a figure 8 with one big loop and one small loop.

The entire process works because of the friction between that device and the rope caused by your body weight and the force you apply by pulling the rope. When you pull the rope down, you increase the friction and halt your descent. When you let the rope slide, you reduce the friction, but the device keeps you from descending to quickly.

Once you’ve got the hang of it, it really is a remarkable thing to be able to control your descent. You can “walk” backwards down the wall, hop from spot to spot, or just stop and sit in mid-air and look at the walls of the cave around you.

After rappelling we all took the 1-hour tour of the caverns and headed for the Pit Stop at Gretchen’s mom’s house for swimming and supper. I arrived on the mat appreciative of all the hard work and creativity Gretchen had invested to make a special Father’s Day.


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