Feeling carefully with my sneaker, I take another step up. Dizzying swirls of green mock me from below, but I stand resolute in my insistence not to make eye contact. Just keep going, a voice in my head directs. But whatever you do, do not look down. Looking down is not an option, absolutely non-negotiable. I stare straight ahead, eyes glued to the horizon. I am feel-climbing each stair one by one, one hand gripping the cable, one clenching the iron handrail, focused on above and beyond, and not left, right, or below. It feels like a trance. Just do it, no thinking.
I reach the sixty foot high, wooden platform faster than anticipated. And immediately burst into waterfalls of tears. This was a bad idea. My body starts shaking uncontrollably. The ascent was unnerving, for sure- but this, this physical response is unexpected. Jeff and Dev seem caught off guard with my outburst. Well, this is the real me, I think: I am slightly afraid of heights. Slightly. I will not deny it or make any more excuses. Lord knows I spent half of the holiday break thinking up excuses not to go, and the other half with positive self-talk, imagining that I would be in ‘discovery mode’ and a Lara Croft ninja-warrior superhero for a day. Now, I am staring in only one direction, mainly because I am not convinced my neck knows how to turn anymore. “The clouds are my friends.” This is my new mantra. So much for Lara Croft.
My lips continue to quiver, hands trembling, legs shaking. And my eyes, my eyes won’t stop filling with tears. Erika patiently deals with the death-grip I have on her hand. She is breathing intentionally, trying to slow down my breaths, bring me calm. The mantra is not helping, but I repeat it silently anyway: “The clouds are my friends.” They are white and puffy, punctuating gaps of deep blue. My gaze shifts slightly to a lake in the distance, rays of sun glinting off the smooth, glassy-like surface. The water brings me a sense of peace, quieting my soul.
“Your turn now.” Oh, God. His words command I do something about the fact that my feet are currently glued to the platform, held in place by a strong magnetic force. I am not certain they will move on their own. Somehow, they do, and I find myself clenching a new hand–that of the instructor’s. He is calm and patient and supportive, and has a comforting, teddy-bear type quality about him. He will not let me go until I am ready. “You can do anything you set your mind to,” he says. Words I have repeated my entire life to others–and just now realized I am not sure I believe them in action. I refuse to look down, and focus instead on the goal: the next platform. I can do this. Maybe.
I let go and am flying, really flying. A gentle breeze pushes me along as the forest below zips by, no longer mocking. I am free from its taunts. The clouds are my friends. The forest is my friend. The world is my friend–and suddenly, a tiny bit less scary.
Thoreau went to the woods because he wished to live deliberately. I went to the woods to conquer my fears–and fly above them.