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Swinging on Eagle Creek's Go Ape course

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The first thing you probably need to know about Eagle Creek Park's Go Ape rope course is that it is just as awesome as it seems, if not more so.

The second thing is that no matter how hard you try, the safety equipment won't let you land in that neat three-point, down-on-one-knee pose that is all the rage among action choreographers these days.

Go Ape, which has rope courses elsewhere in the country, seems to have been designed by someone who looked at something like the Super Bowl zipline and thought, "I can TOTALLY top that." This is one of the more frankly insane yet fantastic attractions yet in the city, and highly recommended for the $55 fee.

The course is comprised of ropes hanging 40 feet in the air, a series of obstacles, and - as the course's climax - five separate ziplines overhanging ravines. It's a maniacal workout and an adrenaline rush that makes you feel like a superhero, or at least a B-movie action hero.

Managing director Dan D'Agostino calls it a "treetop adventure course." Bridges, swinging logs, trapeze-style planks, a tunnel, some rope webbing that's absolutely punishing on your arms to haul your way across - if it can be done with ropes in the air, it's probably here. It starts with 30 minutes of training with the safety gear, and after that you're pretty much on your own.

The first course, a few feet off the ground, seems so easy; even the Tarzan rope doesn't feel completely insane. It gets a little different when you're trying to swing across a chasm that seems roughly the width of the gap of Khazad-Dum in The Lord of the Rings.

That said, the whole business really is quite safe. The triply redundant safety gear takes some getting used to, but after the first few obstacles, the feeling is that of a gentle embrace tugging you up slightly and reminding you you're not entirely alone in this. About the only times I ever really felt the rush of fear was when leaping off those 300-foot ziplines across a ravine - or jumping into an abyss in a momentary freefall before the Tarzan rope caught me to propel me across the chasm.

D'Agostino says they pretty much leave the pacing and approach up to you, and they're not kidding. After the initial training session, I barely saw any Go Ape staff for two hours - just a few people patrolling on the ground. (Though I hasten to add you're given a safety whistle to call for help if needed.)

"We call it challenge-by-choice," D'Agostino says. "At the difficult aspects, there will also be an easier option, a less adventurous route. If you want to stay up there for three hours and take pictures of birds, we're happy with that as well. It's not really an adventure if someone's telling you how to do it. You can go through the course whatever way you like as long as you're following the safety rules."

And indeed, the branching options are something to take seriously, even such counterintuitive signs as "Difficult to the left, extreme to the right." The difference between the two is likely the difference between coming out exhausted yet exhilarated - or already planning to soak in Epsom salts afterwards.

If nothing else, it's all worth it for the spectacular view of Eagle Creek you get from the top of the final zipline. The view gives a real sense of accomplishment after hours of clambering around trees and learning the exact extent to which you do or do not have vertigo. "Eagle Creek is a beautiful park, and we're excited about getting people up into the trees to see it in a different way," D'Agostino says of the vantage points.

He adds they built the course in an environmentally sustainable manner, with independent arborists inspecting the trees every year. "We want to leave the park in a better environmental stance than when we got there, even if we don't leave for 50 years," he says. "We're looking forward to getting embedded in the Indianapolis community."

Go Ape costs $55 for adults and $35 for children 10 and up, who must be accompanied by adults. Participants must be at least 4 feet, 7 inches tall with a maximum weight of 285 pounds. For more information: www.goape.com

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