It’s high time I went rappelling againRobin Washington column: In my spare time, I go rappelling. Every 27 years. When Kristi Stokes of the Greater Downtown Council put out a call for rappellers to play Spider Man on Duluth’s Sellwood Building, I jumped at the chance.
In my spare time, I go rappelling. Every 27 years.
When Kristi Stokes of the Greater Downtown Council put out a call for rappellers to play Spider Man on Duluth’s Sellwood Building, I jumped at the chance. After all, I had experience — having roped down the face of Palisade Head on the North Shore.
That was one rappel better than Mayor Don Ness or any number of the other local celebs and volunteer fundraisers who agreed to scale down the 241-foot office building to raise money to grow downtown businesses. The big names (by Duluth standards) were recruited to draw attention. The others signed up with pledges for donations to help the council’s efforts.
That’s the commercial. The real part required doing “something crazy,” Stokes said, and she hit on the idea last year at a trade show in the Twin Cities when she found a company boasting of “raising millions for nonprofits across the USA!” (their tagline) by sending participants Over the Edge (their name) of office buildings nationwide.
They also claimed compliance “with all federal and state OSHA Fall Protection Standards” and “zero incidents,” which was comforting. As a journalist, however, I wasn’t going to just take their word for it, and searched news reports from around the country for any bad news. I didn’t find any.
So Wednesday came and I was scheduled as one of the first to go, an hour before Ness — except I wasn’t there.
“We’re waiting to see where you are. You’re supposed to be here,” Stokes said in a voicemail message, later telling me she thought I’d chickened out.
I hadn’t; it was a scheduling mishap, and they were nice enough to fit me in the next day. I arrived early, in time to see another participant, fully decked out in rappelling gear, come down from the roof. Via the elevator.
“I can’t do this,” she announced.
Hmm, I thought: That means quitting is an option.
The staffers undid her and put my group through the ropes. We headed to the roof, where a step stool and I-beam were set up for practice runs. I botched my first one.
“You all right?” the instructor said.
“Yeah,” I replied, not feeling like discussing the shin bump rising under my pant leg.
I got it right the second time and waited for the big one. Team supervisor Scott Deputy seemed to be taking awhile with each participant; talking them, literally, over the edge.
He called me over and greeted me with soothing chit-chat. I actually wasn’t nervous, but you know how a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing? While it was a generation ago, I still have fond memories of rappelling off Palisade Head with Bemidji State University ROTC students, under the tutelage of a U.S. Army captain. He lay on his belly next to the single rope, anchored in the rocks and trees. This was different, with two ropes, held by a tripod — one leg of which Deputy moved at the last minute.
Umm, I thought.
Then he said, “Step back.” I did. “Again.” I did — though baby steps. “More.” I defied my instincts and obeyed.
“Now put your weight in the harness.” “I am.” “No, you’re not.”
“I can’t do this,” I said, in homage to the lady who gave up. But it wasn’t an option: he said something about the harness again and step back one more time...
And suddenly, I was over the edge and ready to step down the wall. Again, it was different than the cliff, a more diagonal descent that had felt like flying. But it was all downhill from there; and a smooth landing ended it too soon.
“The first step was the hardest. And then it was a lot of fun,” Stokes said afterward of her turn, repeating the same “step back, step back,” mantra I’d heard.
Seen from below, Renee Andrews of Advanstar Communications looked like she’d captured the rhythm of my long-ago first jaunt. Clearly, she was experienced and knew what she was doing.
“No, I’ve never done it,” she said when I asked, surprised when I described her fluid, bouncy ride versus my tentative, creeping steps.
“They told me I could do that.”
Really? I’ll have to try that next time.
Robin Washington is editor of the News Tribune. He may be reached at email@example.com. To support the Greater Downtown Council’s retail development efforts, go to http://downtownduluth.com or http://www.stayclassy.org/duluth/events/over-edge-downtown-duluth/e24104.