I can walk atop a fallen timber with balance and ease. However, put me on that horizontal tree more than 30 feet in the air and my life flashes before my eyes. Like many, I’m afraid of heights. So I decided to confront that fear and accept an invitation to spend the day at Rancho La Scherpa experiencing their high-wire course.
Rancho La Scherpa lies between Circle Bar B and the Reagan Ranch on Refugio Road. Nestled in the trees on 214 acres with a view of the Pacific, La Scherpa is a sanctuary open to the public for the day or days-long retreats. There are multiple cabins that can accommodate as many as 120 people; folks come for corporate, family, or spiritual retreats, youth camps or meetings. Or you can spend just the day there on the high-wire course or playing paintball.
Site Director Jack Drake greeted us—Indy photog Paul Wellman joined me—with his college-age staff for high wires in the morning, followed by a game of paintball. Easygoing and personable, Drake is a former SCUBA and skydiving instructor who was hired three years ago when the ranch reopened after several years’ closure and a massive renovation.
We started the course on the “Balance Beam.” I know that successfully making it through high-wire obstacles is 90 percent mental. Still, try as I did to rationalize that there was no difference between balancing on a log on the ground and one 30 feet high, by the time I’d climbed the rungs three stories up a telephone pole to then walk across the beam, my legs were shaking from the gallons of flight adrenaline pumping through my body.
It took several minutes—and lots of encouragement from the folks on the ground—for me to put one foot in front of the other. I shuffled my way across the pole and back again to the center where I then had to lean back into empty space until the harness caught me before I was lowered back to terra firma. Fear turned to pride as I looked up at what I had just achieved.
It’s that sense of accomplishment that is perhaps the best thing about the course. It’s a powerful confidence-building experience to tackle something that makes your heart race. The high-wire exercises act as a catalyst for overcoming all kinds of life trials, such as ill health, a troubled past, or any fear that’s weighing you down. As such, the course is a popular therapy tool for cancer and abuse survivors.
We tackled three more high wires that morning, each one presenting a new challenge, such as working with a partner or taking a (literal) leap of faith that the safety harness and ropes instructors would keep you from falling (which they both did) as you jump off a 40-foot platform to catch a trapeze dangling in air. The morning ended with a zip-line ride over a grassy meadow followed by a delicious lunch, prepared by Dawn, the camp’s resident chef. The afternoon was spent playing several rousing games of paintball.
You don’t have to be challenging a preexisting fear to have a satisfying time on the course. The physical and mental technicalities required for both the high wires and paintball offer a thrilling adventure that, to quote a line from The Dead Poets Society (and originally Walt Whitman) makes you want to “sound [your] barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world.”