“Eleanor Roosevelt, this one’s for you!”
The words popped into my head, even before I saw the reminder on my bathroom wall: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
The quote from the former first lady, imprinted on a plaque just above my sink, has always been one of my favorites, though I haven’t exactly made its bold exhortation a daily practice.
But last Sunday morning, as I nervously prepared for my first ziplining tour, the words couldn’t have been more apt. Even my boyfriend Zane repeated them to me, not knowing they’d already been echoing in my head, as we made our way to the guides who would equip us for our adventure through an effulgent fall canopy under a cloudless Lancaster County sky.
Never mind that this was my idea, as I’d thought it would be a great way to celebrate Zane’s birthday. I was so anxious, I’d been sneezing and coughing all morning — symptoms, I was sure, of a quaking fear that had me hoping I would not meet my breakfast once more somewhere along our trek.
Zane was excited, as I knew he would be, and I admit I had been, too, when I purchased the tour, imagining the exhilaration, the freedom, the plucky joy of soaring through the trees. Not that this didn’t inspire a twinge of alarm, especially for someone who’s long professed to a great discomfort when not rooted to the ground by my own two feet (water skiing, ice skating, horseback riding and even bicycling have all belied any initial appearance of grace that I may have).
But perhaps it had been Eleanor whispering in my ear the day I booked the tour, that same little voice that had risen with surprising alacrity from a more typically timorous nature to cast me into the aquamarine depths of the ocean in Hawaii in search of dolphins and to set me some 10,000 feet above sea level after climbing Machu Picchu mountain in Peru.
Outside of such physically daunting feats, it was also that voice which led me to begin performing weddings when the thought of speaking in front of hundreds filled me with anxiety, and to sign up for my first poetry workshop, though it would be across an ocean with a group of seasoned writers whom I had never met.
I do believe every now and then, it is healthy to step outside our comfort zones, to breach the cocoon of our fears. When we arrived at Refreshing Mountain Camp and approached our group, I openly acknowledged that I was scared, only half-joking that I was about to begin hyperventilating, as our guides, Joel and Chris, led us to the stairs that would take us to our first platform.
Zane and I were the first to climb to the top, and I, much to his surprise, accepted the offer to also be the first to fly to the next platform, even though the only part of me ready to make any kind of leap was my heart, pounding as it was against a tightening ribcage.
Yet I clutched the handle bar of my harness, squeakily asked Joel to repeat his instructions and zeroed in on Chris, waiting on the other side, instead of the ground below us — and then pushed off, just as Zane predicted I would, with a mighty, warbling “Whooooooaaaa!!!”
The air swished around me, my legs dangled before me and my body began twisting to one side, but before I could marvel or panic at my lofty swinging perch, the second platform loomed before me and I braced myself for a landing that wouldn’t involve splattering against the pole.
Once I hit the deck and righted myself, that’s when my true terror began. We were at the high-ropes course, 30 feet above the ground, and though there was a narrow bridge spanning the distance to the next platform, we had the option of tackling one of two obstacles courses that would get us there, as well.
Of course, I would take the bridge, which seemed perilous enough without the wild balancing acts the high ropes entailed. … But my mouth, sneaky, traitorous thing that it was, announced that I would try the “easier” of the two courses.
There was only one problem. I couldn’t move. Though I listened as Chris told me to put my foot on the swing that would push me off to another small platform. Though I put my foot on the swing and inched to the edge. Though I heard the others in our group coming up behind me. And even after Zane went across first so he could coach me from the other side. I stood frozen, wanting to push but utterly incapable of doing so.
And then somehow, after what seemed like an eternity, and with a small chorus assuring me that I could do it, I swung out and landed next to Zane, who grasped my hand and pulled me close in a quick, reassuring hug.
I had done it, but by that time, my legs were like jelly, and I would wait another trembling eternity before putting one foot onto the rope I would walk to get to the next challenge. My legs were shaking so badly, I was sure they would pitch me to the ground, though, of course, that was impossible since I was harnessed in.
But thus I proceeded through the course: the paralysis before each challenge, the certainty I’d need a rescue mission as I dissolved into a blubbering, hapless mess in mid-route, the desperate grip on whatever I could hold as Zane encouraged, “Breathe, honey, breathe,” or “You can do it,” each time I teetered forward and then just as tentatively stepped back. … And somehow, I did. I walked across the wobbly log, the series of loops and the wire with only dangling ropes above to grasp.
Once I made it through the final challenge, and after Zane, aka George of the Jungle, repeated the easy course and tackled the tough one, we still had about four zip lines to go. We would ultimately end up 60 feet in the air nestled within a giant oak before ziplining back to the ground.
I want to say I had fun, that somewhere along the way, fear gave way to euphoria or even ease. Flying through the trees, I did experience a fleeting wonder.
But back on the ground, standing with Zane in the dappled sunlight, I felt relief and a sort of dizzying awe that I’d made it to the end at all.
Later that night, as he shared how proud of me he was, I was surprised when tears filled my eyes. I may have been terrified that day, but somehow, I must have known there was a force supporting me, one that already believed I was capable of so much more than my perceived limits.
Along with that awareness came the realization of just how much I truly trusted Zane, whose gentleness and patience had inspired me to a bravery I didn’t think I possessed.
I can’t say I’ll be ready to repeat ziplining anytime soon. But worth all my trepidation is the sense of accomplishment I do feel, as well as a renewed faith and trust in myself, in Zane and in a Universe that not only champions our success, it sometimes ferries us to our fears so we can leave them behind as we fly.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times