So last week, before the paragliding fiasco, I went zip-lining. Melissa and I were supposed to go in Puerto Rico, but then one of you mentioned in comments that there was a newish operation nearby in Santa Cruz. I decided I’d rather zipline through Redwoods, so we signed up with Mount Hermon.
I called Evany to see if she wanted to come along.
- Do you want to go zip-lining with me?
- Wanna go zip-lining in Santa Cruz?
- Is this a life list thing?
- What does zip-lining entail?
- I do not know.
- Hmm. I don’t know if I can be away from Desi for the day, I’m nursing.
- Bring the baby. We’ll strap him to you.
Then the folks at Mount Hermon were all, “You cannot strap a newborn baby to you while you’re zip-lining six stories above the ground.” And we were all over Twitter like, “MT. HERMON HATES BABIES!”
Oh, but I kid. Evany’s husband Marco came along for baby support, so Evany could feed Desi and still live life on her own terms. Boo-yah.
She fed the baby, and then Max and Jon (our instructors) strapped us into our harnesses. That may be the kinkiest sentence I’ve ever typed.
I was impressed by Evany’s willingness to do something so daring right after going through labor. New moms tend to be mortality aware, and Desi was very concerned for our well being.
Speaking of mortality, let’s revisit the six-stories-up concept. Once again, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I pictured some roadside operation with a little cable strung between two trees, and people zooping back and forth ten feet off the ground. Zoop. Zoop! Sort of like the training course, but slightly higher.
I realize my ignorance has become a running theme with these sportier adventures, and my reasoning is thus: If I were to research these things beforehand, I would not go. I’d simply spend a few weeks obsessing over what could go wrong, and I’d eventually decide adventures were for stupid people. Then I’d snuggle up with a down comforter to read back issues of The New Yorker until I grew old and withered — which sounds rather pleasant, actually.
At any rate, that’s how I found myself on a platform contemplating the surprising chasm below. Surprise!
Actually, it doesn’t look as threatening in the photo, but that’s only because you can’t see the giant teeth lining the edges. In real life, it looks more like this:
Intellectually I knew I was safe. They let ten-year-olds zip-line, because it’s difficult to seriously damage yourself. At every point, you’re double-hooked to cables so strong that they’d shear an old-growth redwood in half before they snapped. I was safe, but my spine begged to differ. My spine thought we should go find a nice glass of warm milk and see what was on the History Channel.
I peeked over the edge of the platform.
If I hadn’t signed a contract with Intel saying I wanted to do this (for fun! for kicks!), if Evany had not been equally terrified but holding her ground, it’s possible I would have walked away.
Instead, my medulla was throbbing like a dental drill. I tried to fight the vertigo with Zenlike thoughts. I am well. I am healthy. I am whole. I am plummeting to my death.
Evany went first, and I couldn’t watch. When Max told me the line was clear, I closed my eyes, let out a low whine, and stepped off the edge.
I could feel the wind on my face and hear the cord humming, so I peeked to see my feet dangling above the abyss. Bad idea. I closed my eyes.
About half way across I started to relax. I felt strangely light, like I was flying. It was exceptional. I opened my eyes again and my keening turned into laughter.
Then the next platform was heading at me like a bullet, so I grabbed the cable with my hand and stopped a few feet shy. I had to do what they call a self rescue, which involves dangling with your back to a chasm while you pull yourself hand over hand to the next platform. It’s a treat.
There were six or seven lines on the course, plus an air bridge, and after that first zip, both Evany and I relaxed considerably. I felt the most vertigo and distress on the platforms, perhaps because my brain kept trying to balance so I wouldn’t “fall.”
Every time I left the platform, I had to disregard my terror. I felt my heart in my mouth, swallowed it, and stepped off the edge. Once I was moving, my body understood the physics involved, and I could fly. Evany said, “Next time, we should bring capes.”
The day made me braver, and more secure in my ability to tell the difference between actual risk and perceived risk. I have never been so afraid of something — with the possible exception of labor — and done it anyway. If you’re anywhere near a zip-line, I hope you’ll try it. It will change your subconscious.
Here’s to fewer falling nightmares, and more flying dreams.
As part of my Mighty Life List campaign with Intel, I thought I’d go parasailing. I figured I could do it in Puerto Rico or Greece, but it wasn’t available, so Bryan did a little research near home. We’d mostly missed the parasailing season, but we could go paragliding instead, he said. It’s really similar, he said. Sure! We booked it. Then, I did a little research.
Y’all. Paragliding is nothing like parasailing. They are so dissimilar, in fact, that the description on the parasailing Wikipedia page actually reads, “Parasailing is primarily a fun ride, not to be confused with paragliding [which is terrifying and will kill you dead.]” I teased out the subtext for you on that last bit.
The paragliding we booked involves strapping yourself to an instructor who’s attached to what can only be described as a large fan. Then you run along the beach and lift off alarmingly high in the air. It’s like flying a helicopter without an actual helicopter around you, or skydiving without an airplane, or building a pair of wings from feather and wax and jumping off the roof of your apartment.
Nonetheless, we flew to LA to meet the paragliding guy on the beach. Between kayaking and zip-lining (which we’ll discuss in more detail soon), my adrenal system was rather taxed. My body wasn’t used to all this fight-or-flight action — the most my pulse usually quickens is when there’s a new episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” on the TiVo — so I was kind of a mess.
It was too foggy to take off from the beach, so we had to wait around while I pondered the intricacies of Fast Descents and In-Flight Wing Deflation with my head between my knees.
A pinhole of light came through the fog, so we helped our instructor tow his equipment out onto the beach, where we waited for a few more hours. Four stomach churning hours, while sorority girls made human pyramids in the sand next to us, and I looked around for a paper bag into which I could breathe.
When the weather refused to cooperate, our instructor decided we’d just have to go up on the nearby hills and jump from there instead. I lifted my head from between my knees and threw Bryan a panic-stricken look. “Uh,” I said. “Um.”
Jumping off a cliff strapped to a fan was so very far from my original goal of being swept up like a kite over the water that I could no longer squint and see the comparison. Jumping off a cliff was not on my effing list. My throat began to ache.
We walked over to the cars to prepare for our drive. “From where will we be jumping, exactly?” I asked. “The hills up there,” the instructor said.
The taste of tin filled my mouth. I blinked back tears.
“No,” I said.
“You’ll like it,” the instructor said.
“No,” I said.
“I’ve done it from there many more times than from the beach. Thousands of times.”
“No,” I said. “I have no desire to do this.”
And so we drove to the hotel, where I wept with relief and disappointment at my failure to strap on a pair.
And several glasses of wine.
And after that I felt much better.