I have an outdoorsy husband and two children between the ages of 9 and 12. I want to be as cool as possible, of course, so I try to engage in lots of outdoor sports with them. But I come from the concrete jungle of Manhattan and, although I love spending time in nature, I wouldn’t consider myself the daring type. So why, in a moment of vacation-planning insanity, did I sign us up for the zip line on our recent vacation?
So why, in a moment of vacation-planning insanity, did I sign us up for the zip line on our recent vacation?
Several times a year we ski together in Colorado. We’d never been to that area in summertime, but we recently had an opportunity to take advantage of its warm-weather offerings. I signed us up for rafting, canoeing, fly fishing, and, yes, zip lining. I usually make sure that my adventures stay pretty tame, plus I developed a fear of heights after 9/11. (I still find it difficult walking out onto my 22nd-floor balcony.) So I really don’t know what I was thinking when I imagined that I would engage in an activity made up of cables, pulleys, and harnesses sending me flying alone over a vast canyon.
I look down at the 250-foot drop (the next five runs will be progressively higher, much higher) into cliffs and a stream. Under other circumstances, it would have been a beautiful scene in nature. To me in this moment, it looks like imminent death.
I watch as five more kids, another adult, and then my husband each take a turn. Next and last is me. My heart beats with such force that I’m afraid it might burst through my chest. My palms are slick with sweat. How will I even be able to hold onto the rope? I look down at the 250-foot drop (the next five runs will be progressively higher, much higher) into cliffs and a stream. Under other circumstances, it would have been a beautiful scene in nature. To me in this moment, it looks like imminent death.
The guide hooks my clips up to the cable, then barely grazes the lock with his thumb to seal it. Like that’s going to make me feel more secure. All I can think about is the cable snapping, leaving my children motherless and my husband a widower. After 9/11 I learned to associate heights with death, an issue I try to work on when I have the chance, but do I really have to do it right now? I look wild-eyed at my guide and ask, “Is this safe?” A question I really should have asked before my children went across, don’t you think?
“I don’t think I can do this,” I say. Too late. My guide is holding me in starting position. We are in the middle of the mountains, and there’s nowhere to go but zipping like a madwoman across the canyon to the next canyon and then the next….
I had a choice that day: to cling to the fear or to have the courage to step away from it.
I look out at the horizon, take a deep breath, then look across at everyone else who has already made it safely across. “Well,” I say to myself, “they did it; so will I!” I keep up a little mantra in my head: I’m safe, it’s fun, I’m not going to freak out. Suddenly I realize I have let go of my guide and set sail across the canyon. I manage to glance down for a split second at the beautiful plush greenery below, and it feels okay. I even like it!
I am here to tell you that I made it across all six zip lines in the course!!
What sticks in my mind now is the mechanism of my fear, a paralyzing fear that took over my entire body. I’m pretty sure I was the only one of the group who felt so scared. Looking across the canyon at those who did not share the same experience helped me realize that I was allowing my fear to take the lead in this situation. I had a choice that day: to cling to the fear or to have the courage to step away from it. I stepped away from it, and I hope I’ve made it that much easier to do the same thing the next time I’m confronted with a similar fear.
Oh, and if you have a chance to go zip lining, do it!