Aging as a State of Mind
Last year, when I traveled to Kentucky, I decided I was finally going to let go of my fear of heights. Since childhood, I’d been terrified of heights and it made going places as a travel writer challenging.
When I’d climb up the spiral staircase of a lighthouse, my heart would race. When we’d step out on the deck of a high building or hotel, I’d be incredibly uncomfortable. And more and more, when I went on press trips, I was asked to sign up for activities like rock climbing and zip lining and write about them. My fear was interfering with my job and my enjoyment.
In Kentucky, I took the bull by the horns and rappelled down a 500 foot cliff. And then I faced my biggest fear – a super-high zip line course where we controlled our speed and had to stop ourselves using padded gloves. I did it, felt proud, and even had fun.
Recently, I traveled to the North Coast of Oregon with a bunch of travel journalists and one of the activities was zip lining at High Life Adventures Zip Line Tours in Warrenton, Oregon. I wondered if my Kentucky experience was just a fluke. Was I really over my fear?
Nearly everyone in the group had signed up to zip line, including an older woman journalist from Toronto named Katherine who confided that she was afraid of heights. As we geared up, she appeared less-than-comfortable and several of us good-naturedly teased and encouraged her.
Then we went through the first zip, a low level one designed to familiarize us with the sport. Fortunately, we had to do nothing, but hang on and enjoy the ride. There were no bulky gloves or worrying about coming in too fast or too slow. The guides, all of them certified by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), did everything. It was easy and, rather than worry about heights, I found myself watching Katherine.
As Katherine came in on the second zip line, she tightly gripped the harness, her face creased with terror. When the guide unhooked her, she announced, “Well, that’s enough for me.”
I didn’t want her to leave like that. I knew how it felt to be afraid of heights. And I didn’t want Katherine to go away from this experience feeling fearful and defeated. “No, no, no, you’re good, Katherine,” I said, hooking her arm in mine. “Come on; we’ll go together.”
I marched up the hill with her and I told her how I’d been afraid of heights for so long and that I’d decided I wasn’t going to let that stop me. “You go right after me,” I said, as I swung out over the abyss, launching into the next zip line.
As instructed, Katherine followed right behind. We all clapped and whistled loudly as she came in for a landing, this time looking a bit less stressed. We repeated the process again and again, each time the lines getting bit more challenging; each time, the group clapping and high-fiving our friend.
When Katherine felt fatigued, I rode with her in the little four-wheel vehicle that followed us. The weather was wet and cold and, when Katherine felt particularly chilled, she and I retreated to a cozy cabin and drank hot chocolate until she warmed up. At a particularly high line where we had to climb up a two-story tower and launch ourselves over a lake, the guide asked Katherine if she wanted to tandem with him. She did and the two of them flew effortlessly over the water. She was grinning when they landed.
By the time, we’d reached the seventh zip line, Katherine was no longer gritting her teeth with each flight. In fact, half way across a deep chasm, she waved to us.
The final zip line was a double where we raced one another. I challenged Katherine and she gamely strapped in and we launched off together. Out weighing her by a good 30-40 pounds, I easily slipped in front and landed first. I stood on the landing platform and watched her glide in, smiling and looking relaxed.
As she got off the line, she said, “That was fun.”
Katherine McIntyre is 89 years old. She’s the oldest person ever to have zip lined at High Life Adventures. She’s a working travel journalist. And she kept me from even wondering whether I’m afraid of heights.
And, you know what? I’m not afraid. Because Katherine isn’t afraid and she’s one of my heroes. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor