From Iceland — A Really Wild Safari to the Brink of Human Endurance, Sort of

A Really Wild Safari to the Brink of Human Endurance, Sort of

Published June 30, 2006

Adrenaline: the product of the adrenal gland, trigger of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response to dangerous situations where one’s physical safety is threatened. People with adrenaline surging through their veins have been known to perform astonishing feats in defence of themselves or their loved ones, pushing the limits of human strength and endurance to the absolute maximum.
One can do any number of things to feel the effects of adrenaline: shoplifting, ‘extreme’ sports such as whitewater rafting, picking a fight with a leopard, playing Russian roulette; whatever floats your boat.
However, if you feel like floating your boat in a way that ensures its safe return to friendly waters as opposed to sinking into an obsidian abyss or exploding spectacularly in a raging fireball, you might want to consider the ‘Adrenaline Park’ located about 25 miles from Reykjavík.
A collection of wooden spires 20öfeet high, connected by various ropes and lines, it stands just outside Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant, looking for all the world like an exceptionally primitive high-voltage grid. However, its purpose could not be much more different than the power plant beside it.
“We live in a world where we have become insulated from the dangers our ancestors faced, swinging from tree to tree in search of food,” claimed Karl Ingólfsson, our navigator through this sea of epinephrine… or maybe it was a lake… or just a decent-sized puddle.
The contestants are first made to climb some not-particularly-scary fake rock faces while their buddies support their weight from the ground. The guide, Karl, claimed that whatever it was that we saw on the top wall we were climbing was a secret and we should not tell anyone what it was; they would have to see for themselves what lay at the top.
This being a thorough and complete journalistic report on the activities available to people at the Adrenaline Park, I feel obliged to point out to you that there is indeed absolutely nothing at the top of the wall, save for a 10’ by 6’ wooden platform. With nothing on it. Well, I have to admit, nothing was the last thing I was expecting after the way he’d hyped the whole thing up, so it was, technically, a surprise. Perhaps a scantily clad woman of loose morals with a ‘thing’ for dishevelled-looking young journalists would have satisfied my curiosity, either that or a large amount of wood termites making pulp out of the whole assembly, but no such luck; I sprang back down non-commitally, just in time to hear Karl respond to someone’s griping about the weather with “there is no bad weather, just bad clothes.”
When the ‘rock climbing’ was completed, Karl talked us through the whole ‘swing’ procedure. The swing was, in reality, little more than a tough elastic rope drooping slackly from between two poles and connected by another rope to a third pole about 15 feet away.
Usage of it requires that you sit in a harness, which is connected to the first rope, and is then hoisted up to a height of 20 feet. When you feel prepared to abandon slight discomfort for utter horror, you pull a short length of cord attached to the closure at the back of the harness, firing yourself directly at the ground only to be bounced back in a physics-defying and stomach churning slice of the kind of pointless insanity normally reserved for the dens of Roman emperors.
Or so I thought. The swing produced a momentary sensation of fast movement, followed by several bounces back and forth that released some stress, but that was it, really. I was unfastened from the swing after a short dangle at the end of the rope, which I found rather relaxing.
Time restraints did not allow me to attempt the final stunt on our schedule, the balancing-oneself-atop-a-big-stick, but I witnessed a fellow journalist, Steinunn, make her way up there on the metal spokes sticking out of either side, standing up, attempting to turn around, and falling off to be caught by the triplicate safety cord attached to her.
When she asked if she could be lowered down again, the guide said, “You have to swim down. Yeah, that’s right, everyone who falls off has to swim.”
I tried to give him my best impression of a man who has just found out that all of his extremities are up for auction, but it went unnoticed. Instead, I had to watch as Steinunn performed a mid-air breaststroke movement as she was very slowly lowered back down to the ground.
Maybe I’m just being gripey and pessimistic. Maybe it was just the weather that brought the whole thing down. Maybe it was that forceful winds sprayed Iceland’s trademark ‘every-direction-imaginable’ rain down (and sideways and up) on us. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the plain and simple fact that for the uncomfortable gear, the disappointing surprises, the two seconds of excitement on an oversized playground swing and the faux-Zen wisdom of the condescending guide, a visitor to the Adrenaline Park will have to pay 6,900 ISK.
With a deal like that, how can you lose?

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