When my nine-year-old son, Ben, gets scared, I tell him, “Bravery is about being scared, but doing it anyway.” When it was my turn to try something scary, though, I realized that it’s much easier to tell someone else to be brave than it is to be brave myself.
I’ve always had a fear of heights. When I was Ben’s age, I had to be rescued from the top of a jungle gym. I never learned how to dive, because I was afraid to jump off of the diving board. Yet here I was, at age 42, about to zip line across a seemingly bottomless canyon.
Zip lining across a cactus-filled canyon isn’t one of my usual Sunday afternoon activities. I normally spend my Sundays grocery shopping, doing laundry, and relaxing with a good book. So what led me to zip line across a canyon? Cub Scouts. Ben and his friends were going zip lining as a Cub Scout activity. He will do just about anything to earn a new patch for his uniform. Parents must go along on all of the Cub Scout field trips. “Come with us,” my husband said. “It will be fun.”
My idea of fun is definitely different from his.
Driving to the Boy Scout park in Irvine, California, I tried not to think about the rattlesnakes that probably lived in the canyon, or the cactus I would land on if I fell. I wondered if there was a graceful way to back out without Ben’s friends thinking I was chicken.
After a quick picnic lunch, it was time to go zip lining. While I put on my safety harness, I was told I could go across the canyon four times. Four times? I wasn’t even sure I could to it once!
For me, the hardest part of zip lining was overcoming my fear of heights. Stepping off of the wooden platform at the rim of the canyon and trusting that the rope and harness would sustain me was a huge hurdle to overcome. I couldn’t believe I was entrusting my life to the teenager who hooked me onto the line. But by now, there was no turning back.
Zip lining is a high-speed, adrenaline-filled adventure. I had visualized soaring triumphantly with the wind in my hair, but the reality was a bit different. I had to braid my long hair so it wouldn’t get caught in the harness, and the safety helmet kept my hair from flying majestically behind me. Looking back on it, the hard hat probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway if the line snapped, hurling me to the canyon floor.
I spent most of my first trip across the canyon with my eyes closed. Zzzzziiiiiiipppppppp! The ride was faster than I thought it would be, and it was over very quickly. I dragged my feet in the gravel to slow down at the far end so I wouldn’t slide back across the canyon, and another teenager unhooked my rope. I caught my breath, then crossed a wooden bridge and walked back to the starting line to try it again.
My second time across wasn’t as scary, because by then I knew I could survive the trip. I kept my eyes open, and took in the spectacular vista. The sky was a bright, cloudless blue, and the sandy-brown rock of the canyon contrasted vividly with its green vegetation. I was fascinated by the rock formations that surrounded the canyon. It was actually quite beautiful, in a rugged sort of way.
By my third trip, I realized that holding onto the rope for dear life didn’t make a difference, since the rope would fall with me if it detached from the line. I tried letting go. It felt better than I thought it would. I was finally conquering my fear of heights.
For my last time crossing the canyon, my zip line partner was the seven-year-old little sister of one of Ben’s friends. She was eager and excited to zip line again, and she encouraged me to go along with her. We made a great team. By then, I was really having fun.
When it was time to go home, I took off my harness and walked back to my car with my family. My son was proud of me. “You were awesome, Mom! You were scared, but you did it anyway.” We all went out for frozen yogurt to celebrate our victory over the canyon. My bravery paid off, and I ended up having a wonderful day.
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