that first step
The others are waiting for me to take my turn. I started forward, but checked my step and pulled back again, and am fighting to keep from audibly whimpering.
I know this feeling well - it comes when I’m looking down: down a ski slope beyond my ability, down a mountain bike trail with vertical exposure, down from anything above the third step on a ladder. It’s a weak-stomached, shaky-kneed feeling, and we might as well call it what it is: fear.
The zip line seemed like a great idea: a low-grade adventure that’s active, but not requiring too much actual aptitude or fitness. It was something MSL and I could do together on our mini-vacation in the northwoods, so I suggested it without really comprehending that I would have to step off a tower, or jump off a cliff.
But here we are, on top of this pole, swaying in the wind. There are no railings. A thin cable stretches away through the treetops to another spindly platform, and I’m supposed to, you know, just step off, and slide down the string like the other people did.
The guide instructs me to clip my pulley trolley onto the cable. He moves my safety clips to the “go” side of the stop-nut. I’m cleared for takeoff.
I’m fully strapped into the harness - heavy hardware goes under my legs and over my shoulders and supposedly provides enough protection that I couldn’t fall even if I wanted to. The equipment appears to be in good repair. I paid close attention during “ground school”. Our guides seem fully committed to the safety procedures. There really is nothing to worry about.
But that first step off the tower . . .
It’s an unnatural thing to do - to walk right up to the edge, and then take one more step. I’m finding it difficult to communicate that command to my legs.
The view is sensational up here, and it’s a beautiful day. There are hills and exposed rock faces. Looking down makes me dizzy so I keep my eyes on the horizon instead. Dense greens of pine and birch forest carpet the land as far as I can see. It smells good. I count at least three deep blue lakes. Canada is right over there. It’s a gaze I could lose myself in.
“You OK?” the guide asks, and refocuses me. I can look at the view when I join the others on the next tower, but right now they’re waiting for me. That other couple already did it. The two guys did it. MSL did it. They’re all crowded onto the far platform and are making encouraging motions to me with their arms. They’re smiling like it was fun.
From them, there’s an urgency for me to get on with it, and from within me, an urgency not to. But I’m an accommodating sort - sometimes sacrificially so - and so I start forward again.
While I marvel at the lack of foresight that got me here, on top of this tower, I am aware that there’s really only one good way to get down, and that is to go forward - over the edge, into the air, and to follow this cable trail until it returns me to ground-level.
At the very edge, I commit my weight to the harness and force the next step: heart pounding, hands sweating inside the gloves. The cable sags as it takes the load of my body, and now there’s nothing under my feet. I curse out loud. Gravity takes over. The initial acceleration is instantaneous, but then speed stabilizes. It’s as close to flying as I’ll ever get and now I’m smiling too, because it is amazing.
For the next hour or so we zip from platform to platform. We walk off a plank on top of a cliff, tuck our knees up tight and shout, “cannonball” for more speed. We get kind of good at this: improving our launches and landings. Twice on the early zips I stopped too soon and was left hanging short of the tower - just dangling in midair. It wasn’t that bad. I had to pull myself in on the cable, but now I’m nailing it every time.
I love hanging from the cables, but I continue to hate being on the towers. As long as I stand on those shaky platforms, I keep a death-grip on the safety lanes. It is unnecessary to do so because my harness is fully connected, but it makes me feel like I still have some control.
As much as I hate the towers, riding the cables is thrilling. Trees blurr by. Birds fly below us. The scenery is spectacular. It’s a rush of speed and adrenaline in a beautiful setting and if I wasn’t getting hungry, I would happily do this all day.
But, jeez - that first step!