Exploring American Culture in Outdoor Sports by Meng Li

It has been almost two months since I came to study at NC State. I try to catch my breath while reading piles of books and working in haste to meet the deadlines. I further understand the importance of self-advocacy in learning and research in graduate school. I was also lucky enough to witness a total solar eclipse which crossed the United States for the first time in 99 years. What’s more, after visiting Mount Airy School and Duke School, I was impressed with the project-based-inquiry (PBI) teaching philosophy. After all these indoor activities, I finally had a chance to participate in some outdoor sports!

Sports are quite popular in the US. It is quite common to see students wearing sportswear sweating in the gym or running along the road. Out of love for sports and curiosity of the sports culture in the campus, I took part in the High Ropes Course and Zip line held by the Outdoor Adventure group at NC State. This adventure was held in the Schenck Memorial Forest which is quiet and secluded. The whole high challenge course was donated by Jim Wall, an alumnus of NC State. On arriving at the spot, we were instructed to wear the equipment which would protect us in the air. After a simple training on the ground, we learned how to ask for permission for transfer of crab claws (hooks) and how to keep balance in case of falling in the air.

A Challenging Task

I have experienced the High Ropes Course challenge in China and Thailand. In those countries, the challenges are more similar to “walking steady in the air” with staff alongside to guarantee your safety. As long as you are not afraid of heights, you will relax during the flying. However, the sport here in the US is quite a different story. All the obstacles including spider web, log swing, single line bridge, pipe bridge, and unstable bridge are all highly demanding on your strength, balance and coordination. I was almost freaked out at the first sight. The first task I had to finish was to climb a two-story high spider web. Then there came the big challenges. As the gaps between the boards, blocks and rope loop were too wide for me to step forward, I had to jump or to throw myself ahead. What’s more, these obstacle courses always swing, so all we could depend on was the rope hooked on the cable, making it hard to keep balance while overcoming the fear of heights and falling. After finishing the whole course, I sweated like a pig.

Teamwork

We were paired up at the very beginning. I was lucky to be with a lovely American girl, Daisy, who is very encouraging and experienced in such adventure. We cooperated to guarantee the safety of each other during the process of transferring crab claws (hooks). Since there was no staff accompanying us along the way, each of us became the only person we can depend on. Daisy gave me a lot of encouragement and tips during the process. Together with the belief that I should not hold her back, I eventually finished the course.

Enjoy Triumph

At the end of all the courses, we tried a zip line to release our pressure and finished the whole activity in the posture of flying. I felt the thrill when I dropped from the high platform to follow the zip line all the way to the opposite tree which was nearly 100 meters away in almost 7 or 8 seconds. Meanwhile, I was really proud of myself for persistence and felt grateful to my partner without whom I might not have make it.

The spirit of adventure is to go beyond our perceived limits while working as an individual or as a team. Our team are challenged to expand our comfort zone, build self-confidence, and overcome self-imposed barriers, while being motivated and encouraged by others. I think to some extent it also represents the core of American culture—to try, to conquer, and to stand higher.