Category: Heights


I stood two decks beneath it, staring up.  I took in the brightly-colored unusually-shaped blobs that comprised footholds and hand grips.  I gazed at the lengthy ropes, swinging precariously in the gusty ocean breeze.  I watched as the wall curved in a steep angle near the bell at the top.  And I looked at my surroundings on Deck 12, high above the surface of the sea, where the waves and strong currents had knocked me on my ass just five minutes earlier as I was schooling Greg at mini-golf. 

Sure, I could go rock-climbing for the very first time while at sea.  No problem!

My first mistake was telling everyone that I was going to do it.  “Are you going to go rock-climbing?” my in-laws would ask.  I found myself making up excuses as the questions continued day after day. 

“I don’t think the facility is open,” I’d say. 

“It’s raining…too slippery.” 

“The boat is really rocking, I’m sure it’s closed.”

It’s funny, because I didn’t FEEL afraid of the rock-climbing wall on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.  I have always wanted to take a rock-climbing class because I’m not afraid of heights, and many hikers transition into rock-climbing at some point.  So why did I suddenly not want to go?  Was I afraid of failure?  Of being schooled by the little kid who nimbly scrambled to the top multiple times as if she were Spiderman’s illegitimate daughter?   

I think what got me the most had nothing to do with the climbing.  It was watching the other amateur climbers rappel down at accelerated speeds that got my stomach in a knot. 

So after signing the obligatory waiver form, velcroing on bendy lightweight climbing shoes, affixing a harness and a helmet, and posing for this picture, the very first thing I asked my spotter was, “Is there any way I can come down slowly?” 

I hadn’t even set foot on the wall yet and already I was worrying about what came after.  At least I wasn’t AFRAID to admit I was chicken!  But that’s the thing.  The wall itself didn’t scare me; it excited me. 

I really had no fear on the way up.  I scaled the first few steps very quickly, and then I hit a mental wall.  I couldn’t find a place for my either of my feet and couldn’t reach the next grip for my hand.  I just stopped for a good 60 seconds trying to figure it all out.  My spotter kept yelling at me to keep going and just find a place to put my feet.  I don’t know how I did it, but I got one or two more steps onto the wall before calling it quits.  “I think I’m good!” I shouted! 

“Go ahead and ring the bell,” my spotter said.

I almost burst out laughing.  I was clinging to the wall for dear life with every extremity–how was I going to let go and ring it without falling?  But I had to clang the bell of success…I’d made it half-way up!  Somehow, I peeled one arm off the wall, the rest of me stuck to it like an old-school 80s Colorform.  Ding ding! 

And slowly, steadily, my spotter eased me down.


Going Over the Edge

This past weekend, my friends, the Spidermen, rappelled down the side of a 16-story hotel after raising over $1,000 each for Special Olympics.  In my eyes, these guys are heroes.  They faced several challenges and fears throughout the course of their multi-week journey to solicit donations, ignore nay-sayers and put their trust in strangers as they accomplished something very few can say they’re brave enough to do.  Thanks again to all who donated to my friends.  I hope you’ll enjoy today’s guest post about the experience, written by none other than my very good friend, Kim Rily.

Facing Fears

The first time I ever did a ropes course, I was a pre-teen. The height involved in climbing up a steeply-angled felled tree caused me to hyperventilate. I made it about two-thirds of the way up the tree and quit, climbing down, embarrassed and defeated. The next summer I went to the same camp, I attempted the ropes course again, and completed the whole thing successfully, but at the end – a quick descent via a zipline, I once again was in tears, panicked, and nearly pulled the camp counselor off the platform in the trees. (Luckily, he was attached safely to the tree, just as I was attached safely to the ropes.) A couple years later, I went again to the same camp, and had a new theory. Completely cheat on the ropes course and let this giant harness catch you and do all the work for you. Now, when I went to step from one 2×4 to another that was too far away, I put my weight into my harness and swung across. When I had to balance on a beam and I didn’t think I could do it, I put the weight on the harness and went hand over hand underneath it. The change here was that I trusted the harness and the ropes.

And like that, I was not scared anymore. You just have to trust your equipment.

When Jenny (the owner of this blog) went zip-lining, I wanted to go with her to show her how fun the whole thing could be. I had a brief moment of “yikes” when my instincts told me I was too high. But I loved seeing my shadow fly over the canyon hundreds of feet below me, like Peter Pan’s shadow flying over London.

So when my husband pointed out to me and our friends this project–Over the Edge, a company that does different fund-raisers for various non-profit organizations by rappelling down buildings–I was not scared. I pictured myself climbing down a glass skyscraper a la Catherine Zeta Jones in Entrapment. It sounded so fun and to me, the hardest part was going to be the fundraising. But I don’t want money to be a force that stops me in life. I figured between friends, family and co-workers, in addition to several businesses I work with, I could raise the requisite $1,000 to participate. And with a quick talk with my husband, we decided to go for it, and do it together!

After announcing our decision, it appeared that my fears were not the only ones we’d have to overcome. A few days later, I got a letter from my parents asking me not to do it. I had two little ones at home to think of, and I didn’t want to leave them motherless, did I? (You know, in the case that I fell to my death.) They offered me a large sum of money to try and persuade me. They tried to give me their fear, something that can be infectious, if you let it. I went back and forth for about 2 seconds and tried to persuade them that there was nothing to fear, but I was amazed at my own strength when I was able to say “No, thanks” and end the conversation.

I figured this was a company who did this routinely, who did it to raise money for good causes, and neither the company nor the non-profit group wanted any deaths linked with their names. I never felt like I was in danger, but the idea came in my head several days before that “Maybe you should get that will in order. Just in case.” But no, I figured, if I felt like I was doing something dangerous, I would just not do it.

Kim and Mitch wave from the roof

And as the days pressed on, I got more excited. Saturday morning, an hour before climbing down a building, I paced as we waited for the proper equipment to wear. I went to the bathroom multiple times—a sure sign that I was just a bit nervous. And as we went up in the elevator to the seventh floor for a practice run (from the roof of the 7th floor down to the 5th or 6th) I felt like I was an astronaut, headed up to the rocket, ready to be launched. I was happy; I was excited; I was proud.

I watched the gentleman in front of me do his practice run. (The Chief of Police of Long Beach, he had extra cameras and media with him.) And then the guide looked in my direction and said, “Who’s next?” I had told my husband that I wanted to go first. I didn’t really like stepping up to the edge of the balcony overlooking the lower portion of roof (about 15-20 feet difference.) There was an A-frame to hold on to, and I forgot for a second that this harness will hold your weight.  As soon as I felt that harness do its job, I was not afraid at all. I climbed down in a few seconds and waited for my husband to do the same. (I did look down to see if my kids and friends were outside yet. I didn’t want them to miss us!) Luckily, I saw Jenny and heard my daughter playing with her toy by the pool far, far below.

Then we were led to the top-top of the building. The 16th floor. We walked past heating ducts and water pipes, employee break rooms, etc, and finally out onto the roof. Signs pointed “This way” and “Almost there!” This was it. We were going to climb down a fracking building! The Chief of Police was making his way down and it was our turn next.

So, we checked our names off a list and went over to the edge of the building where ropes were set up with large metal contraptions. There were three steps leading up next to a railing—the only thing separating me from a long way down. The young man (probably in his early to mid 20s) who hooked me up said, “Okay, get on the top step.” And a small voice in the pit of my stomach said, “But I don’t want to.” I got on the second step, and then took one more 3-inch step up to the top step. He hooked up the back-up brake first and then hooked up the regular levered handle that I would squeeze in order to lower myself down slowly. And he looked at me and said, “Okay, swing your leg over.”

Stepping "over the edge"

This was the moment of truth. I’ve done ropes courses before. I’d conquered the fear of falling as a teen because I knew the ropes would hold me. Just minutes before, I’d done a practice run. Over the summer I did zip-lining twice. (Hell, I’ve even gone sky-diving years ago.) Was I still afraid of heights?

Then I saw my husband, both feet over the railing, standing on the ledge of the building—on the opposite side from me. I took a few seconds to look at my ropes, make sure they were secure and attached to me as well as something else. Then I joined him. I put one leg over, then another, until we were both on the outside of a building! I looked down to the platform below me. I could hear my 5 year-old daughter shouting “Go Mommy and Daddy!” over and over again. My eyes locked with my husband’s and there it was: “Let’s do this thing.”

So, we went down the building, side by side. The ropes were so taught, that although my feet were touching the glass windows, my heels couldn’t go all the way to the glass. I let out some more slack and kept my legs at a more perpendicular angle to walk down the building. More and more, foot by foot, I went down. My husband was a little bit faster than I was. (It turns out his harness was a little too tight for comfort.) And to keep from freaking out that my heels wouldn’t touch the building, I decided I would just push off a bit more on my toes, hopping away from the building. It was fun, but I didn’t want it to be over too soon. I tried looking into the rooms we were walking down. Most had their curtains shut and I could see nothing. Other times, I could see theLong Beachharbor reflected in the glass, so it looked like I was floating in air. And when I reached a ledge that I could put my feet on, I knew we were getting to the end. I didn’t want to stop! But, slowly, I made my way down a bit more. I wanted to enjoy every minute, but Mitch was in a bit of pain, and we wanted to do this together. Until the last floor, we were side by side. I told him to go ahead and touch down to take his weight off his ribs. (He was in an accident and had broken or bruised a rib earlier in the year.) And then I touched down to the blue-carpeted metal platform, and that was it! Adventure over. I had done it! I had not fallen to my death. (See, Mom and Dad?)

Tag-team rappelling

My brother, who was there and waiting at the bottom with my kids and friends, pulled out the cell and called our parents on the opposite side of the country to let them know I’d survived. “I want to do it again!” I shouted over his shoulder, hoping they’d hear.

I walked down. My kids hugged me. I picked up my son who did not think “it was good” when I asked him. Of course, he’s two, and his favorite word is ‘no’, so who knows if that was what he really thought.  I had a little bit of an adrenaline buzz going, but really, what I wanted to do was run back to that elevator, up to the 16th floor and do it all over again.

Over the course of six months, I’ve had people offer me a large sum of money to not rappel down the Long Beach Hyatt because of their fear. I’ve had people ask me, “Are you crazy?” I’ve had people joke, “They call it rappelling because it’s supposed to repel you from doing it!” I’ve had a co-worker say, “The only way you’d get me to do that is if you put my son’s life at stake.”

Disproving fear as inconsequential and making myself feel brave and adventurous?

My friends, the Spidermen, dressed as Jedis

Sounds good to me!


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