When I was eight years old I tried to jump off a high-dive board into the swimming pool at school. I realised for the first time that I was afraid of heights as I sat down, clutched the edges of the board and shook uncontrollably until I was able to crawl back to the platform.
By the time I reached 15 or so heights had become such an issue I found myself unable to stand on a desk without shaking, and walking over bridges made me incredibly nervous.
So anyway when I was fifteen I went on a school camp where rock-climbing and abseiling were two of many incredibly cool activities (like archery and raft-building) and I decided that it was time for me to get over all of my nonsense and climb that silly rock face.
Much screaming and crying and shaking and swearing in front of the headmistress later I got to the top! Unfortunately abseiling did not go as well, as I freaked out, went into hysterics and clawed my way up the rocks to the top again (I tried about five times, including once with an instructor next to me holding my hand).
Since then I’m largely better with heights. I climb things whenever I get the opportunity (kind of like poking at an old scar to see if it still hurts) and I discovered years ago that if there is a lizard to catch I lose all fear of anything, and so I’ve become relatively comfortable scrambling around rocks.
The fear of abseiling stayed with me though, and even though I was invited a few times I was always too scared. At the same time it was annoying. How can I be the fearless lizard-hunter if I’m terrified of dangling off the side of a cliff?
Anyway on Saturday evening as I was fixing up my nap-smudged eyeliner (I know you’re not supposed to sleep with makeup on, but does taking a nap count?) I got a call from Leia inviting me to go abseiling on Sunday. I agreed immediately (which was rather funny because I think she was expecting to have to beg and stuff).
So early on Sunday morning, she arrived with coffee and took me off to meet the other crazy cliff-danglers. And they pointed out the first place we’d be abseiling from/off/at/on (?)
You have got to be kidding me!
“Don’t be silly it’s only 50 metres! You’ll be fine…”
By this stage the others went to admire a little waterfall (complete with dismembered cow-head)
while the view of the bridge started doing this to me:
We got to sit around and wait for Leia and another guy to set it all up, and the bridge loomed over us, looking higher and higher by the minute. Fortunately the others were really nice and one of them even had blue hair so we compared notes and all chatted about silly things while I felt my heart-rate rising with each passing moment.
By the time we got to the bridge I felt like I was somewhere between throwing up and passing out. One of the other guys went first so that he could help people at the bottom and he very happily climbed over the edge and slid off.
And then it was my turn.
Let me just say: kneeling on a tiny little pipe while shaking (and apparently ghostly pale) and being unclipped from the safety line because it got tangled is NOT fun at all.
It is a good thing I hadn’t had breakfast.
I didn’t cry (yay!) but it was close.
I clung onto the bridge so tightly I ended up bruising my palm.
And for some reason once I had finally done the ‘letting myself slip off the bridge’ step (talk about going against every instinct known to man…) while being photographed a LOT and not really caring much at all (I cared later). I opened my eyes and looked around and… it was really pretty up there!
So i said so, and everyone laughed a lot and took MORE photos of me (smiling and with my eyes open this time) and then i got to work getting down to the ground because the harness had shifted slightly and become rather painful.
(this isn’t me, as I kind of had my hands full while trying to avoid an ugly death)
(This isn’t me either)
All this next to the crazy bungee jumpers leaping around…
(I thought they were supposed to go straight down?)
(It may look graceful here, but you didn’t hear the guy screeching like a girl…)
From there we had a lunch break and then headed off to the next spot – a cliff-type thing that looked a lot shorter from the ground than from the top. We got to swim in the river, take a nap and generally enjoy the scenery for a few hours
While Leia and co set up the ropes.
For the record, I don’t care that those ropes can theoretically hold up a car. They’re SO thin! And the little spindly trees…
I had a full-on freak out and said lots of nasty things. To help matters my ropes got tangled up again which meant I had to do some square-dancing on the cliff-edge (step left, then right, turn around, turn back, step right…). Leia responded to my stream of verbal abuse (I don’t remember much of what I said, I was terrified and having nasty flashbacks to my previous experiences) by laughing, which made me yell even more. I do remember her explaining that she was giving me some slack on the safety rope and I yelled at her and made her take the slack in immediately.
Slack is scary.
and of course once I’d got going, yelled at her for laughing (you can’t grip properly if you’re laughing…) and had to negotiate the whole falling-over-backwards thing after a pesky ledge I made it down, collapsed into a quivering heap and confirmed via the radio that I was alive, albeit shaky (you should see the photos I took after this point, they’re completely blurred…).
I felt kind of bad for all the things I’d said, particularly since I hadn’t died and so most of it was entirely unfounded. Plus I hated that although I had finally ‘beaten’ the fear, I was still scared and it didn’t feel like I’d accomplished anything. A few minutes later the guy in charge radioed to ask if he could use my camera up top (I’d left it up there), so I gave him one condition:
“Can I do that again?”
And I managed to smile most of the way down the second time!