The Only Depressed Adult At The World’s Largest Indoor Ropes Course
2:53 PM EDT on September 20, 2023
If your city had a furniture store that also boasted the “world’s largest indoor ropes course,” I’m sure you wouldn’t wait three years to finally investigate it, but my clinical depression had been getting in the way of living lately. Apparently I had “better things” to “do” than experience the sublime in the form of “shoppertainment.” As a YouTube influencer I follow said in a video I watched last weekend, “things don’t change unless things change.” I took that to heart and finally got out of my own way.
Jordan’s Furniture is a Massachusetts-based furniture franchise with locations in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and throughout Connecticut. Some of its locations also have indoor ropes courses, and others have IMAX theaters or “enchanted attractions,” but only one has the "world’s largest indoor ropes course." And that is in New Haven, Conn., right off of I-95.
This has always intrigued me because it exists on a drab stretch of I-95 right by Ikea, and you can pretty much guarantee that wherever there’s an Ikea, there’s not much else going on. The sign always loomed over the side of the highway, beckoning me to come, to experience the wonder, or at least the furniture. I should mention the sign says “IT,” because that is what they decided to call this "adventure ropes course."
Emails attempting to reach Jordan’s for answers to my questions—“What governing body determined that this is the world’s largest indoor ropes course?” and “Why is it called IT?” and “Whose idea was it to put a ropes course in a furniture store?”—went unanswered.
I was able to find the answer to one of my questions after a few rounds of googling. IT seems to have been granted its title by an organization called the World Record Academy, which bills itself as “the world's largest organization which certify world records [sic]”—another record that the WRA reserved for itself, apparently. It appears to me, someone who has never had an interest in world records, that WRA’s primary function is to bestow world records upon businesses so they can use those titles in marketing materials. The “World Records for Businesses” page lists testimonials, including this one from Kurt Wojda, Internet Marketing Manager of Heinrich Chevrolet (Largest Chevy Truck Parade): “I apologize, had I known about your company I would have came to you guys first. It was actually a member of that forum that tipped me off to you guys. I certainly wish I had known beforehand. Guinness really has been absolutely nothing but a nightmare.”
Jordan’s has really taken over the SEO for “world’s largest indoor ropes course,” so to my knowledge there isn’t another course coming for their title, unless you want to count the ropes course at family favorite American Dream, which claims to be the world’s tallest indoor ropes course. (This appeared to be true: IT stands at 56 feet, while American Dream towers at 92 feet.)
I enlisted my husband and a friend to finally check out IT on a Saturday evening a few weeks ago and got there right as the sun was setting over the New Haven Harbor. The parking lot was mostly empty, though before we went in I noted that the parking spot lines were painted in the distinct Jordan’s purple for brand consistency.
Jordan’s is housed in what was formerly the New Haven Register headquarters, renovations began in 2015. In what feels like a bittersweet commentary on the state of journalism in the 21st century, Jordan’s president and chief executive officer Eliot Tatelman told the Register: “It doesn’t look like much now, but Connecticut doesn’t know what’s coming. It has never seen a furniture store like this.”
You know who else didn’t know what was coming? Me.
We walked into the front doors of the store, which still looks and feels very much like an office building, except that Taylor Swift’s “Look What You Made Me Do” was blasting from speakers all around us. We expected to see signs directing us to the ropes course, but there were none. Inside, all we saw was a staid furniture store, all grays and beiges, armchairs and sectionals and rugs and dining tables. Not the adventure we were promised, and certainly not the “world’s largest indoor ropes course.”
I walked toward the front desk trying to think of the best way to ask where “IT” was, when I glanced to my right and I saw something: A deep black void at the far end of the store with a huge glowing pink “IT” that seemed to hang in midair.
As we walked closer to the void, we heard classical music playing and the sound of rushing water. It was only once we entered the darkness that we realized there was a massive water show that lit up in conjunction with an orchestral arrangement of Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong.” I looked up. A grown man was up where I belonged, careening hands-free through the air while hooked into a zipline. The soft rock water feature splashed his tennis shoes and no doubt soaked his socks.
We each paid $20 for our tickets and signed a waiver. At this point, I was starting to feel clammy. Even though it was my idea to go to IT, it didn’t occur to me until that moment that I’d have to face my fear of heights (those who read the Normal Gossip tour blog might recognize this shortsightedness in me). The fact is that I am pretty scared of heights—I hate roller coasters and tall bridges, and I once stayed in a Midtown hotel where I had to close my eyes every time we entered the glass elevator.
You are now likely asking why I would spend the evening at the “world’s largest indoor ropes course.” Why would I bring friends to witness my cowardice? I asked myself these questions as I unclipped my fanny pack and stuffed my sweatshirt into an empty locker. It felt like I was at Chuck E. Cheese, and that’s because this was an attraction for children. I reminded myself that I was not a child, and I would soon show those four levels of shaky ropes and beams who was boss. I would walk over them so quickly no one would even know I was scared.
As a bored teen fitted my harness, I noticed a wall of discolored white Crocs. I had never seen so many Crocs outside of a department store. I asked the bored teen what the Crocs were for, and he said, “For when people wear open-toed shoes.” It makes sense that one would want secure shoes to traverse the “world’s largest indoor ropes course,” but I would hardly consider Crocs to be “closed-toe” shoes. I have never owned Crocs, but I came close during the summer of 2020, when nothing else gave me joy. Maybe a pair of rubber shoes would. But my coworkers and friends gave me too much shit, so I settled on a pair of Tevas instead. I have tried on a pair of Crocs once, and they were unbelievably cushiony for shoes I imagine are manufactured by pouring liquid into a mold. I thought, “The only thing that could make the ‘world’s largest indoor ropes course’ a more choice experience would be a pair of Crocs on my feet.” But once again, this experience was for children, as were the Crocs.
Once my harness was secure, I hooked into the cable system that would keep me from falling to my death. I took one non-Croc'd step up the staircase leading to the first level and immediately felt adrenaline flood my body. I mentioned before that I hate roller coasters, and as I climbed the stairs, I felt like I was the roller coaster, but instead of giving way to gravity at the top of the climb, I would have to willingly throw myself off a ledge on the zipline. This was hell. This was my personal form of hell, and I paid $20 to endure it.
We took turns walking across increasingly shaky planks and climbed higher and higher, and I felt myself sweat through my shirt. Finally, the moment came for us to brave the zipline. I stood on the platform, two stories up, and willed myself to jump, to let go, to trust that the harness I was hooked into by a bored teen would keep me from dying, or at least from breaking my tailbone. After weeks of being deeply depressed, it was a jolt to feel every cell of my body screaming to stay alive, begging me not to fling myself off that platform. I held my breath like I was diving into a pool, and let go.
I screamed even though no one else screamed, including every single child who was there with a parent. For about fifteen seconds I was flying through the air, I felt light and giddy and cold from my sweat and the wind. I landed on the other side and screams had gave way to a burst of giggles. There was no one to giggle with, but I looked around wildly like, “Can you believe that?”
The zipline cured my fear of heights for the night. After that first ride, I ran across the most precarious ropes and speed-walked through obstacles so I could ride each zipline as many times as I could, as quickly as I could. I flung myself off the platforms with as much momentum as I could muster so I could go even faster during my fifteen seconds of flight.
After an hour, I realized I was exhausted and thirsty and so sweaty. I climbed back down to earth and unhooked myself. I splashed cold water on my face and sat in front of the colorful music fountain while my friends kept zipping—is that the verb for ziplining? Parents sat at the tables near me, scrolling on their phones while their kids wore themselves out.
The furniture store closed at eight, so we had to leave through the side door, which lent the whole experience a clandestine feel. The perfect sprinkles on the ice cream sundae of oddness that was our evening.
I’ve never been punched in the face, but I’ve heard that in the microsecond after the hit, the victim experiences a moment of shock, like the circle of birds that float around a cartoon character's heads are actually real. Then they shake it off and get back in the game. When we pushed out of the side door into the nighttime, I had this big silly grin on my face and I felt like I’d been punched. I blinked in the purple light from the giant glowing IT sign and said to my friends, “What the fuck was that?” That night, the cartoon birds wore off and I went back to the same apartment I’d haunted in my depression earlier that day. Everything was the same as I’d left it.
The "world's largest indoor ropes course" didn't defeat my depression, but it remind me how weird the world could be, even in the most nondescript corner of a city I’ve lived in for years. Encountering the truly bizarre, especially in a place you think you know so well, is one of the things that can shake you out of a depressive funk, even if it's just for a little bit. That night I remembered that experiencing the bizarre is only ever a matter of mustering up the energy—which, of course, often feels impossible in the depths of depression. But you know, as my YouTuber girly would put it, “Things don’t change unless things change.”