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FINLAND, MINN. – My 10-year-old daughter was stuck on a tower 30 feet in the air, crying and shaking. She had already conquered a series of ropes course obstacles, growing shakier and weepier with each skootch across thin wires and tiptoe over rounded logs.

The finale, the zipline, had been the carrot coaxing her. She imagined a leap and a "Wheeee!" into the dark, chilly night. This vision changed into a fear once she got close.

My daughter could either fling her body into the void or she could turn around and redo the ropes course backward, exiting at the point of entry. There was no ladder, no tele-transporter, no do-over for the decisions that brought her to this point. She was here, helmeted and fully harnessed, and desperate for a third option.

And here I was, also helmeted and fully harnessed, with a front-row seat for this moment. It was the reason I signed up to chaperone — but now I wasn't sure what she needed in this moment, or even if I had the ability to help her.

Wolf Ridge is one of a handful of environmental learning centers in Minnesota. In its more than 50-year history, it has seen 750,000 visitors come through the outdoor school — students, teachers, chaperones there for hands-on learning in outdoor spaces from on-site naturalists, according to executive director Peter Smerud. The 2,000-acre property near Silver Bay includes classrooms, dormitories, a cafeteria, but also hiking trails, scenic vistas, geocaching sites and beaver-gnawed trees.

You might have a chance encounter with a hawk named Ruby and her friendly minder, with his pocketful of rat meat.

Students from Duluth are among the busloads from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and North Dakota who make this trek. At my daughter's elementary school, the three-day trip is a rite of passage for the fourth-graders.

Fourth-grade teacher Troy Erie, of Lowell Elementary School in Duluth has been organizing the Wolf Ridge experience for a decade, long enough to see three of his own kids go through it. He credits the center with exposing kids to the experiences they can have in nature — and potentially opening the door to a new lifelong habit.

My daughter's classmates from Lowell, a crew of 100-plus 9- and 10-year-olds, were divided into groups, each with a schedule that included classes in geology, Lake Superior, art and habitats, that started in classrooms and then segued to hours spent outside.

But it was the kids headed to or from the ropes courses that had a certain sheen.

This is where the stories were made — and everyone had one, whether they opted out of the course and stayed landlocked or zipped through it with ease.

One kid purposefully dangled from a harness, but then struggled to get back on the wire. Then she panicked.

"I want to go home," she told friends gathered 30 feet below. An instructor talked her back onto the ropes and back to land. Another child, who claimed a fear of heights, shouted deathbed confessionals while rushing through the course, which she finished with no problem.

The cafeteria buzzed on the second day with the story of a student who was still out there, late for nachos. Stuck, his friends confirmed, completely disinterested in exiting via the zipline. Eventually the young adventurer turned around and recrossed the entire course. Another triumph!

He walked to the cafeteria and received a hero's welcome from classmates.

Each of these scenarios has a lesson attached, according to Smerud. Kids might work through a fear in a dangerous-seeming safe space. The ones who opt out are standing strong in the face of peer pressure and instead doing what feels right in their own bodies.

"It's easy to celebrate all the people who go through," Smerud said. "How much strength does it take to say no?"

My daughter, too, would make her own story. She's a real will-she-or-won't-she in scenarios like this. She loves climbing trees, but won't learn to ride a bike. She's selective at amusement parks. Peer pressure holds no sway and she shrugs at regrets.

On this day, though, she was heady with a morning victory on the climbing wall.

She was the last student on the ropes course. Most of the kids had gone back to the dorms for snack time. She started the course easily, but stalled at the midpoint. She cried as she crossed a wire sideways — unwilling to look forward, backward or down. Safely on the platform, she panicked. The thought of the zipline brought short breaths and messy tears.

I told her to take deep breaths, my go-to parenting advice after "drink more water." I told her the equipment was safe, made of airplane-grade material and able to tow semitrucks. But short of wrapping her in a bear hug and catapulting us from the perch, there was nothing I could do. She had to want to do it — or at least have that outcome outweigh starting a new life 30 feet above the ground.

Through the trees we heard another team counting backward, encouraging a kid on the other ropes course. A countdown! The idea took hold. My daughter's physical response was sudden.

She straightened. She emitted a powerful growl of a voice. "3, 2, 1," she roared, then leaned backward into her harness, dropped from the tower and zipped away into the cold, dark night.

Who was that? I wondered, breathless.

Then I burst into tears.

I inhaled deeply and followed her lead — toward my own rite of passage.