Category: The Fear of Fear Itself


After about three practice zips – that got progressively longer, mind you – I was feeling completely confident.  But you know, because I’m such a polite person, I thought I’d let someone else go first as we hit rappelling experience #1.  Attached by your harness to a rope hooked to a cable hooked to a tree, your job is basically to ease yourself down slowly with your hands.  Kim bravely stepped forward to take on the challenge first.  She sat in her harness, swung out from the platform and then just…got smaller. 

As Caley and Sean prepared the rope for my own descent, I watched Kim sit down on a rock, head in her hands.  Crap.  This is a girl who has parachuted from a plane and is going to be lowering herself from a 16-story building in October.  If she couldn’t handle the rappel, how could I? 

In retrospect, the scariest part of rappelling was not the height or the rappel itself, but the way the cables above swung us out and away from each platform precariously before we controlled our descent.  But my feet were on the ground before I knew it, and I gave Greg the thumbs-up sign from below.

That’s when I noticed the giant black rope stain right across my boob.  Gah!  Not my cute ziplining outfit!

This isn't a green screen, we swear!

At some point during the beginning of our canopy tour, we took a little nature hike to our next series of challenges when Sean pointed out the location of the San Andreas Fault.  Because there’s nothing you want more when you’re already freaking out than to hear that your risky adventure course is located directly over the most notorious ready-to-burst fault line in the western United States.  Awesome.

Soon I saw what I guessed would be my favorite activity:  climbing the Sky Stairs, a steep sloping rope bridge made up of cut logs.  Totally jazzed, I waited for Sean, Mitch, Kim and Greg to climb across first.  One wrong step on the Sky Stairs meant…well, nothing, really.  There was no point on the canopy tour where we weren’t safely clipped to a line or cable from above.  So even if hurricane-force winds rocked the bridge and knocked us all out like dominos, we’d just hang out in our sexy harnesses before climbing back on. 

Kim, Greg and me on the Sky Stairs

Luckily though, this didn’t happen.  And sadly for me, the Sky Stairs were a lot scarier than I’d imagined!  Once everyone else was ahead of me, I strutted my way across the first several logs on the bridge.  No big deal!  I slid my hand from knot to knot on the ropes, carefully watching my feet and trying to block out the fact that we were something like 200 feet above the ground.  But suddenly the bridge started to wobble under the movement of my friends as they neared the upward slope at the end. 

And then it began to vibrate.  Why is it vibrating?  Oh…that’s just my legs, shaking in fear.  “Hey Jenny, look up!” Greg said, trying to film me.  Um…look UP?  But then I can’t see my feet!  Where will they go if I’m not looking at them??  Oh fear, you are so irrational.

On the narrowest bridge

Onward and most definitely upward we traveled after the bridge until we were peering out at a zipline that sloped downwards and appeared to be heading straight into some branches.  Up until this point, I could see each platform on the other side and focus on Sean’s yellow helmet, his hand signals telling me when to put my begloved hand on the line and brake.  I squinted and searched the forest, but couldn’t make out anything past the long line disappearing into the trees.

It didn’t help that Sean took this particular moment to reveal the zipline would be our fastest…somewhere around 40 mph.  My cohorts weren’t exactly helping me either.  “Jenny, you should look down at your shadow – it’s awesome!”  Um, look DOWN?  Are you kidding me?  I was having a hard enough time keeping my eyes open – though I did – to take in the amazing trees surrounding me.

With everyone on the platform cheering me on, I leaned back, took my signature two deep breaths, and cannon-balled off into the forest, a couple of giant metal hooks the only things keeping me from receiving last rites by an army of woodland creatures below.  I stared up at my fists gripping the handlebars and concentrated on breathing. 

Yabba Dabba Doooooo!

Once I hit the lowest part of the line, something incredible happened.  I relaxed and started to have fun.  The wind whipped around my face, the trees around me gently swayed in the breeze and I was alone, reveling in the majesty of nature.  I focused on the calming sound of the line and even looked around a little at the thick forest.  And just fifteen seconds later, I was on the platform again.

Oh how I loved being on the platforms, except for when we reached our second rappel.  The tree we were descending from was so tall it had two platforms on it – we’d be rappelling to the one below instead of to solid ground.  The tree literally swayed each time someone landed on the lower platform, throwing off my center of balance and giving new meaning to the term “tree-hugger.”

In the hours to come, we’d zip several more times, take a running leap from a Flintstones-style platform, climb across three more harrowing bridges and become hunchbacks under the weight of our harnesses.  It was truly unforgettable.

I learned many things from my ziplining experience.

  1. I am apparently a mute.  My cohorts would whoop and holler as they sailed into the distance; I preferred contemplative silence that was mistaken for a lack of enjoyment…ha! 
  2. No matter how scared you are, it’s tough to pee yourself when you’re dehydrated.
  3. No one looks good in a ziplining harness that accentuates the crotch.
  4. Just one zipline cable could have held everyone on our tour simultaneously along with the Unimog without breaking – now that’s security.
  5. Ziplining is fun!  Ziplining is fun!  I would most definitely go again…but after going with Navitat, would probably trust them over any other canopy tour company in the world.  Their green construction process is also admirable.
  6. I’ve never felt more invincible than I did the moment I realized I conquered my fear.

And because of number 6, I’ll reveal that my fear-conquering journey is not over.  I’ve already decided on my next challenge…it’s just a matter of making it happen.  But I’ll save that story for another day.

Until next time, this is just your friendly neighborhood Feardom Fighter, signing off….a little less scared.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNiPlCC_Uog

"Nooooo..." "YEAH!"

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I decided I wanted to zip first. I had made up my mind maybe a week or so before Do-Or-Die-Day that if I was the first person to zip, I could prove that I was more than just a Cowardly Lion holding my tail, and as an added bonus, I wouldn’t have to stand around biting my fingernails as I watched everyone else fearlessly depart for the other side.

I was fortunate enough to embark on this adventure with not only my husband, Greg, in tow, but alongside my good friends the Spidermen (aka Mitch and Kim), who also covered the event as press, for In Park magazine.

As we drove east along the 210 freeway, the last thing on my mind was how scared I was to zip – traffic was threatening to get us to our destination late. Fortunately, we were able to call Navitat Canopy Adventures and assure them that two-thirds of their 12:30 group was not, in fact, chickening out, and we’d be there as soon as possible.

The lunar landscape on the way to Wrightwood was incredible – giant white rocks protruded from the earth on either side of the 15 freeway. Gwen, the voice of our friends’ GPS, nearly took us off course, but soon we were heading into the cutest little mountain town I’d ever seen, with little general stores and a weekend festival we couldn’t wait to hit up after our zip.

Of course, as soon as we entered the Navitat office, we had to sign the liability waivers. Now, I was prepared to agree not to sue them for loss of personal items or (gulp) accidental death, but the laundry list of other things we had to sign that we were okay with included things such as: scrapes, bruises, injuries due to stings or bites from insects and snakes, broken bones, neurological damage, psychological trauma, breathing difficulties – wait, back it up—psychological trauma? Why am I doing this again??

A very serious Jenny gears up

But alas, refusing to sign meant the adventure would never happen, and I had to conquer my fear. Even worse than peeing my pants while ziplining was the thought that I’d be letting you all down by not going through with it. So one John Hancock later, I was standing in the back room waiting to “gear up”. This is when I realized it was actually happening. This whole ziplining thing was no longer just talk, and the denial phase of my emotional breakdown was now over.

There was no time for anger, bargaining or depression. I had to move straight to acceptance, because there was Sean, one of our canopy tour guides, tightening the 10-pound harness to my body. Oh hello, muffin top, there you are.

Along with Sean’s partner in crime, Caley, we met our ziplining companions, Janet and her grown daughter Karen. At a surprising 50 years old (I was sure she was 30), Janet had ziplined twice before but she seemed nearly as nervous as I was. “We got this, Jenny, we got this,” she kept reassuring me.

After we were all geared up, red helmets securely fastened to our heads, it was time to take the Swiss Army Unimog vehicle up the mountain to our zipline site. This 4WD behemoth contained two rows of seats that ran vertically across the open windows, reminding me of every movie I’d ever seen where military men parachute from an airplane. Breathe, Jenny. Just breathe.

The Unimog

We strapped seatbelts around the giant carabineers and prusik knots that hung from our chests, then set off on a bumpy, dusty ride up the mountain. If I closed my eyes, I could have been on the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

Karen, Janet and Mitch inside the Unimog

The temperature was approximately 91 degrees Fahrenheit. Clouds of dirt were kicking up from the tires. I couldn’t help but feel like we were all first-time soldiers heading to battle, a mixture of equipment and uncertainty weighing us down as we all silently prayed we wouldn’t tumble over the side of the mountain. However, the sheer delight in Caley’s eyes gave me reassurance that I would be okay.

After our 20-minute Parkinson’s simulation and one brief hike through the Angeles National Forest later, we were standing on our first wooden platform in a tree and Sean was demonstrating body positioning on the line as well as how to brake. And before I could wrap my head around it, he’d sailed across maybe 30 or so feet to the other side.

At this point I was sure my panic attack would start. My heart would start pounding any minute. Nausea would take over. I’d break into a cold sweat. I’d start shaking. My legs would collapse. Cotton mouth would ensue.

I waited in nervous anticipation of all of these things. But none of them came. Caley hooked me up to the line and with my fellow adventurers cheering me on, I gripped the handle bars, took one deep breath, two deep breaths, and picked my feet off the platform. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzziiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiip! My feet were on the platform on the other side and Sean was reeling me in. Oh my G-d! Oh my G-d! I did it! I DID IT!!!

There I go!

My legs only slightly wobbly, I pumped my arms up in the air in celebration. I was golden. I could totally handle the rest of the day.

But then Sean reminded me how very short, low to the ground, and slow that practice line was. We’d be rappelling from up to 60 feet, crossing lengthy rope ladders and zipping across 1500 feet of pure forest before the day was done.

Ah, there’s that psychological damage they were talking about.