I stood at the edge of a cliff high above the Mexican jungle, the full weight of my decision crashing down upon me. I agreed to join my friends on a half-day zip lining tour, which sounded like a blast after slamming back innumerable cans of Sol. Now this seemed like a rather dangerous way to spend 130 pesos. Stress sweat was starting to flow into the already rank smelling wetsuit top they made us wear before mounting the burros. Those were innocent times.
A group of energetic young men led us along a dirt path to the top of the cliff shouting, “run burro, run!” and having a good chuckle at our expense as we bounced around on their backs.
Now, we were standing at the top of that cliff attempting to retain the safety instructions our guide Danny delivered with a thick accent. My mind wandered to places of safety and non-consequence. Perhaps I could ask him to show us where “Predator” was filmed instead. We could just turn these burros around and go.
But Danny was busy vigorously demonstrating how to control our speed using our own thickly gloved hands. We collectively agreed not to do stupid things, then lined up on the platform. Danny attached my harness to the steel cable overhead.
“Sit back and pick up your feet.”
“Uh…okay,” I said as I sat back.
“Now pick up your feet.”
I stood frozen in place. Behind me were 12 silent friends watching my every move. I took a deep breath and another look around, then resigned myself to the fact that if I were to die today, this would be a lovely final view. I picked up my feet.
The harness tightened around my hips as it grabbed onto the steel cable. The combination of speed, height and amazing views was so thrilling, I forgot to be scared. I made it to the other side with minimal amounts of screaming and managed to stop myself a few feet short of the platform.
I had the system down after the second run. I even agreed to do the final solo zip line upside down.
This sort of thing is way out of character for me. I hate speed and danger. I especially hate the two combined. As a general rule of thumb, I try to avoid situations that threaten to inflict bodily harm. One of the few exceptions to this rule is my recent penchant for downhill skiing. But it’s taken years (a dozen, to be exact) to transition my outlook from fear into fun.
Initially, I was more interested in the lifestyle aspect of the sport. Skiing was the burden to bear for the reward of drinking in a hot tub. But after a decade of haphazardly throwing myself down steep grades affixed to waxed sticks in a semi-controlled fashion, I was finally ready to commit to killing the fear. But first, I had to kill my checking account.
I invested in an annual pass to a local hill, a new wardrobe of brightly colored winter apparel and my own set of skis. While looking good on the slopes is half the battle, the remaining half was so damn daunting, I would shake every time I drove to the hill. And man, was it ugly. My form, my turns, my ability to stop and my crashes – UGLY.
Eventually with enough practice, it got less ugly. Occasionally, things even looked decent. We went to Breckenridge at the end of the season and I was rewarded for my good behavior with 14 inches of fresh powder. With enough fluffy stuff to slow me down and soften the blow of falling, I skied with confidence down runs I had no business being on. There will always be fear and crashes in my skiing future. But there will also be large amounts of fun in the mix. And that’s kind of the whole point now, isn’t it?
Fear is something that either controls or heightens our experiences. I spent the first part of my adult life trying to insulate myself from the dangers of it. Now, I’m learning the value of letting go and letting ‘er rip. It’s been eye-opening to realize what I’m capable of when I do.