Sunday, January 10, 2010

Falling With Style 1

Heights and I have always had an odd relationship. (If you want to read how the skydiving went, mosey on over to part 2)

In elementary school there were certain Fridays where instead of the normal gym class consisting of soccer, basketball or any other type of game we would get to do more gymnastic type activities: a pummel horse, a section devoted to somersaults and for some odd reason a rope swing suspended off a platform. You would make your way up some stairs, step across the platform and swing a few feet off the ground. I don't remember the exact height, I do remember hating the fucking thing.

I'm not sure exactly what I thought would happen, the worst the fall would have done is knock the wind out of me but at the time the idea of stepping up off the platform and sailing into the air really scared me. I boycotted the swing for years, the last thing the gym teachers wanted was a hysterical child so they let me be. Years passed. It's not like these hybrid gymnastics days occurred that often so avoiding the rope swing became kind of a common practice, there was no reason to do it. That is until one day it occurred to me that there would come a time where I would be older and regret never having conquered that damn swing. Yes, even my undeveloped brain realized that adult Greg would not want to look back at what a little wuss he had been so one random Friday I just did it. Much to my surprise when I returned safely to the platform the whole class applauded. Looking back is a weird feeling because on the one hand it was a very nice gesture, I appreciate that they were happy for me. But there is another part of me that gets angry because in reality they weren't applauding my bravery, they were clapping because I had gotten over being a really big pussy. I'm not angry with them, I'm angry with me, what the hell was I so afraid of?

Several years later I'm being forced to take an outdoor adventure course (my father reasoning that being inside reading comics, watching black and white movies and cheering as Bret Hart wrestled people were not the most constructive activities) when we come across the day I've been dreading. There's a ropes course laid out 30 feet up in a row of trees. The only way to get up to the course is by a swinging rope ladder and you have to attach your own safety harness once you're at the top. I don't even think I could sleep the night before.

Getting up was easy, just grin and bear it and haul ass up that ladder. Passing the ropes course was simple as long as I didn't look down, this strategy only worked for so long however since upon climbing to the third tree I came across three platforms swinging in mid air which I would have to jump from one to the other.

Nailed the first.

Second one, little shaky but I'm on it so not a problem.

Third one, different story. I fly in between the support ropes and just hang by my safety line, the one that I tied. No words can describe the feeling, it was mortifying and it lasted for several minutes as I flailed around in mid air. Eventually it occurred to me that either:

A. Hang on this line until I die of fright or for some reason the rope snaps.
B. Wait for them to grab a big ladder or something to rescue me where I would die from embarrassment so same result as A.
C. Pull myself up to the third platform and continue on.

After five frantic minutes (holding up the line of kids behind me) I climb up and finish the course. I'll admit feeling pretty great when I reaches the ladder leading back down to sweet, safe, Planet Earth. I went to jump off in celebration, a sign of conquering this day but misjudged what step I was on, landing flat on my back. While my dignity had taken a blow the overall result of not having died while hanging thirty feet up seemed to electrify me. To this day my mother says a different child came home that afternoon. I guess having the just about worst case scenario play out was a blessing in disguise.

(NOTE: Some poor bastard behind me ended up disturbing a bees nest and ended up stuck 30 feet up getting stung repeatedly by bees and no one could help him. He was halfway through the course and had to complete it just to reach the ladder to get down. I hope he's off blogging somewhere about THAT.)

Shortly thereafter I became a huge fan of roller coasters, whereas I had avoided them like they were covered in bubonic plague as a kid, after the ropes course they seemed like nothing. I also reasoned that large companies wouldn't spend that much money on devices which would kill children so that logic helped as well. In other words, for all intents and purposes, the heights issue was closed.

Yet when my friend Josh purposed going skydiving back in 2007 I answered: NO WAY.

Why? Why bother to even tempt fate? It's literally like the grim reaper has you in the palm of his hand until someone pulls the parachute cord. Your hand slips or the chute doesn't open and that's it, you're street pizza. I shook my head, told him no and that was that.

But that was 2007.

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