Not long ago I had never heard of the Leopard Crawl or the Zip Wire. Now I slip them into conversation--with Bogartian cool--whenever I can. They are high on my list of life accomplishments.

I confronted these hurdles as part of a Great Encounters course designed to improve women's confidence and leadership skills. Our group of nine women--occupations ranging from the military to housewife, and ages from the 20s to 40s--had been out all day, solving a variety of problems in the woods.

The finale of the day was the Zip Wire, a cable stretched over a chasm, down which each of us would ride on a pulley. First, however, we had to get to the platform 30 feet above the ground by means of one of three rope bridges.

One of the bridges, nicknamed the Executive, involved walking sideways on one cable while holding onto another. Since this one seemed to be considered a bit wimpy by our leaders, I resolved to take on something more challenging. The other two methods of approach were called the Leopard Crawl and the Commando.

I signed on for the Leopard, purely for the fierce sound of its name. It turned out to involve lying on a pair of parallel cables--stretching uphill to the platform--knees outside the cables, feet inside. Locomotion forward? By extending the legs while pulling with the arms. Not so bad if you have good arm muscles, which to the best of my knowledge, I do not.

But I started out smoothly enough and covered a quarter of the distance in a few minutes. That depleted my energy. From that point on, my arms were noodles and I could go no more than a few yards at a time before resting. My cohorts on the ground were cheering me on . . .

I was determined to go the distance, but I was worried about getting there before dark. Only a few hours of light left!

By now one of my socks had slipped down, exposing a bare leg to the cable. One does not adjust one's socks on the Leopard Crawl. Now with every move I was in pain. The agony of the long-distance crawler.

Finally I was within a half-dozen feet of the platform. With the end in sight, I was still not sure I could muster the strength. I groaned, I grunted, I cursed our leaders.

But at last I--a proud woman--pulled myself onto the platform. True, it had taken over half an hour. But what guts! What endurance!

Now I had the additional challenge of stepping off the platform--roughly like stepping off the roof of a two-story house. No amount of checking and rechecking the equipment--essentially a cable attached to a belt--seems to eliminate the fear of equipment failure . . . but I wasn't going to crawl back over that bridge. There was nothing to do but step off. A leap of faith.

I stepped off into space, hurtling over tree tops, 350 feet in 14 seconds . . . Heart in stomach all the way.

But when I landed, I felt terrific. One of the tough and the brave. Now I understood things that had always mystified me: roller coasters, mountain climbing, even Ranger School and the Green Berets.

I haven't developed any desire to do any of those insane things, mind you. But I have come to understand them. I felt a macho heart beating--faintly, yes, but beating--in my breast.