As children, we tend to be fearless, but as we get older and realize the potential consequences of some of our actions, many of us become more conservative and yes, even fearful. Then we allow those fears to dictate what we do and don’t do. They limit us.
It’s certainly happened to me. Years ago, I had an experience that allowed the natural human caution around heights to balloon into real fear. When confronted by high places, my heart would beat wildly, my breath came in short gasps, and I’d feel seriously afraid. It caused me to avoid high situations. I remember once standing in the former World Trade Tower plastered to the back of the glass elevator. As others enjoyed the dramatic views, I was busy feeling fearful and not having a good time at all. I avoided walking across bridges or other places where my fear of heights could rush in.
However, as a travel writer, a fear of heights – or of just about anything – is limiting. Over the years, I’ve tried to confront my heights fear by exposing myself – little by little – to high places. I’d climb up the spiraling staircase of lighthouses. I’d walk across high bridges, but refuse to look down. In Mexico, I forced myself to scramble up a muddy cliff side and rappel down – again without looking down.
This year, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of allowing fear rule what I did and didn’t do. So a recent opportunity for an “adventure” trip to Kentucky enabled me to confront and win over my fear. The trip involved several activities – rappelling down a cliff, whitewater rafting, hiking up high places, ATVing, and ziplining. I signed up for all of it and tried not to think about any of it.
Rappelling was my first activity. As I stood on the edge of the 120 foot cliff, tethered to a sturdy tree, our guide said, “Just step off backwards.”’
I felt the rush of adrenalin. This fight-or-flight chemical feels the same whether we’re feeling fear or excitement. I chose to label it as excitement and stepped over the cliff face. One step, two steps, three…. I was walking down the cliff. I wasn’t doing big, swinging jumps or anything, but I was doing pretty well and making my way down the mountain.
Then, suddenly, the cliff face slipped away, taking an unexpected inward turn and I was dangling 60 feet in the air by this tiny rope. At that point, my fear could have swallowed me, but I didn’t let it. I looked up at our guide and he said, “You’re good. Keep going.”
I ratcheted the rope release and began moving again. Then I actually stopped and allowed myself to look at the verdant forest all around me as I slowly twirled in space. It was absolutely beautiful and, to my amazement, I didn’t feel afraid.
After my rappel experience, hiking high atop the arch at Natural Bridge State Resort Park, AVTing, and whitewater rafting were a piece of cake. Then came the ziplining, the one activity I had really avoided thinking about. One of our group backed out, but I knew I had to face this fear once and for all.
The zipline started with a relatively low and short practice line. We climbed up a wooden staircase and onto a platform. Our young female guide clipped us onto a steel cable and instructed us how to pull down with a gloved hand to slow our speed. I leaned back and suddenly I was flying through the air. Before I even had a moment to think about it, I landed on the opposite platform. “Good job,” the male guide said as he helped me unclip from the line and re-clip to the safety line that ensured we didn’t inadvertently tumble off the platform.
Then it was time for the high stuff. We piled into the back of a flatbed truck and bounced our way up and up some more on
a dirt track. When we stopped, I made sure I was in the first group. I didn’t want too much time to think about what I was about to do.
The first guy and then the second clipped on and zipped away through the trees to a platform several hundred yards away. It was my turn. My heart beat hard and my stomach churned, but I didn’t label what I was feeling as fear. I “sat” in mid-air with my legs out in front, one hand clasping the straps in front, the other lightly holding the cable. The guide gave me a slight push and I was off.
I could hear the air rushing by, the zzzing sound of the zip line. I watched for the signal from the guide on the opposite platform and I reached up and pulled down on the cable, and landed, though not too elegantly, on the wooden landing box.
Over and over we clipped on and zipped off, each launch getting higher and wider. I didn’t think about it. I just did it again and again.
Finally, we faced one of the biggest zips — 400 feet above a wide, green gorge at speeds of up to 60 mph. My guide clipped me on. “This is a two-hand stop,” she warned. “Use both hands on the cable to slow yourself as you approach the landing.”
“Okay,” I said, sounding more confidant than I felt.
Clip on, lean back, launch. Suddenly, I was flying. I was Superwoman streaking across space, feeling the air rush at me, the achingly beautiful landscape below a green blur. I relaxed into the carabineers and let out a yell that carried cross the canyon, “Yahhhooooo….”
Am I still afraid of heights? No, I can’t say I am. But I can’t wait to face — and conquer — my next fear.
— by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor
Want to know more about adventuring in Kentucky? Check out http://www.kyadventures.com/
Black Mountain Thunder Zipline www.blackmountainthunder.com