Peace Corps Writers
Outward Bound
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Outward Bound (page 4)

Burma Bridge
The dreaded Burma Bridge
Other challenges we’d faced
I felt sorry for them. I was having fun.
I craved stuff like this. This was a lot like adventures and physical challenges I’d already managed to surmount in recent years: wilderness canoe camping, Colorado mountain climbing, pathfinding, water sports.
     But it was still challenging stuff, more for some than for others in those 28 days in Puerto Rico.
     For some, it was the shaky instability of the Burma Bridge, a three-rope arrangement on the obstacle course that bridged two trees forty feet above the ground. The Burma Bridge never delivered on the promised stability it seemed to visually offer, one large rope for your feet and two smaller ropes on either side as hand-holds. The smaller ropes, positioned hip-high, were lashed at intervals to the larger base rope. But somehow as you stepped aboard and moved forward, the whole arrangement began to swing and steadily became looser with each advancing move. By the time you advanced to its midpoint, it transformed into a sort of ugly death swing, assuming lateral looping motions exacerbated by your legs that were now shaking uncontrollably. This in turn froze you in your tracks, certain you’d plunge to your death below, once again fighting instinct: I can stay here motionless and not fall, but not make it to safety. Or I can risk everything on the slim hope I can make it to the other end. Which will it be? Confident steps became timid mincing, pathetic motions toward the other end where the lines were anchored high on another tree.
     The Burma Bridge did to each of us exactly what the underwater swim was now doing: it challenged us to move beyond self-preservation instinct and comfort, to seek something of unknown dimensions even more challenging.
  Rio Abajo
On Rio Abajo
     And if the Burma Bridge failed to impart this, it was the rock climb on rocky ridges bordering Rio Abajo. We climbed straight up sheer vertical surfaces, a safety belay rope secured around us. Scrambling for handholds and footholds, we individually clawed our way up. Two footholds and one handhold was security, the remaining hand groping for the next fissure or surface. Then it was a choice: leave this known level of security and advance further, higher, leaving safety and security behind for something surely more perilous. And what then? Slowly we made our way up, sweating profusely, occasionally looking down to see how far we’d advanced, how little the people had become, then a darting glance upward to see how much further we had to go
     Before long we forgot the belay rope. The whole ascent was a trial beyond the point of no return. By remaining focused and treating it as a challenge, one could scale the rock with a minimum of terror and psychic damage. But others froze midway, paralyzed with conflict and fear, unable to make the death-defying choice of leaving what was tenuous security for the unknown. Then we’d sense it, just as I was looking for involuntary head twitches through the clear water of the pool, and we’d shout encouragement from below.
     We knew that once we got to our assignments, Peace Corps was an individual thing, not a matter of squadrons or platoons. But for now we were together, caught up as a group, each of us wanting desperately to Make A Difference, do something meaningful with our lives. And now it had become possible. This was our shot, thanks to a new, enlightened national policy.
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