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02/24/2003 Archived Entry: "Flying"
Posted by CKL @ 10:12 AM PST

Yesterday, I flew. Without wings, without engines, without mind-altering substances. I went flying on a trapeze.

And boy, am I sore this morning. It was totally worth it, but I don't think I've been this sore since... well, hell, ever.

We went to Circus Center San Francisco for a friend's birthday. Susan is an aerialist, and had arranged for a group of us to have a two-hour class on the flying trapeze. I didn't quite make it to the trick, and my girlfriend didn't quite get her legs up onto the trapeze, but it was amazing fun.

Here's what you're supposed to do: climb up the ladder onto the board. Grab the rigging with one hand and the trapeze with the other. Lean forward and let the instructor hold you up by the belt around your waist (which was connected to two safety lines). Take your first hand off the rigging and put it on the trapeze. Bend your knees when the instructor says "ready." Jump off the board when the instructor says "Hup!"

And then you're flying.

It sounds a lot easier than it actually is. Especially that last part-- jumping off the board, knowing there's nothing but air beneath your feet. I couldn't make my body do it on the first try. And when I did, it was terrifying, not because I thought I might, you know, die, but because the experience was so foreign. I don't exercise much, and don't generally do crazy things with my body, so this was completely outside the realm of my experience.

Not to mention that everything happens so fast. It takes a second, maybe two, for the trapeze to swing from one end of its arc to the other. And in that second or two, you're supposed to tuck your legs up and put them over the trapeze. You're supposed to do this at the far end of the swing, at the top of the arc, so the centrifugal force on your legs is minimized. And you're supposed to be done with this by the time you swing back to the near end, so you can release your hands, arch your back, and reach out with your arms so the guy on the other trapeze can catch you on the next swing.

Right.

I didn't quite make it to the catching. One problem was, you're supposed to focus on the movements, but I was also fascinated by the experience of being on the trapeze at all. First it was disorienting, then it was really cool, and then there was too much input as I tried to hear the instructions being called up to me. I should probably have just focused on the instructors. Maybe next time.

The very last step was nothing but fun. You let go of the trapeze when the instructor on the ground says "Hup!" Then you fall, I don't know, ten or twenty feet into the huge, springy safety net suspended above the floor. You bounce a little, then stand up, disconnect the safety lines from your belt, clip them together, and walk them back to the other end of the net so the instructor up on the board can grab them for the next person. My girlfriend remarked that they could probably charge people just to walk around in the net.

We also got some advice from Sergey, who was there at the same time taking trampoline lessons: "It's all about strength and timing," he said of the trapeze. "There's not much you can do about your strength in the next few minutes, but you can work on your timing." Ah, the wisdom of simplicity.

Susan told us that trapeze work is a great full-body workout, and I believe it. I don't think there was any part of my body, except maybe my head, that wasn't complaining when I woke up this morning. I actually had trouble getting out of bed because my abdominal muscles were so sore. Well, there were probably other reasons I wanted to stay in bed, but I did have to turn off the snooze alarm, and I often do that in my sleep-- literally. Not today.

Totally worth it, though. I might even do it again. After I recover.

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