Conquering My Fear of Heights While Ziplining
By Matt Marine
“If you look down– ” my guide, Casey, said.
“I can’t look down,” I replied through the howling wind.
“I need to show you your braking point. That’s the only problem with that.”
It was a problem. A big one. Because I was at the top of a forty foot wooden tower waiting to take the fifth and final plunge back to the main station at Arizona Zipline Adventures in Oracle. And I was scared to death.
I took a deep breath.
I needed to do this. One of my goals this year was to conquer some of my fears. And right at that moment in time, my fear of heights was kicking my butt.
Okay, maybe “conquer” was too strong of a word. Right then, I would have been happy to just manage my fear of heights. I took another calming breath and told myself I was I was not going to let my fear control me. Not today.
But I also knew that was a lofty goal. In order to zip down to the station, I would have to step off that platform and put my trust in that seemingly thin steel cable spanning 1,500 feet from tower to tower. I also had to trust I didn’t pee my pants in the process.
I had a lot more confidence in the former than the latter.
This was my second trip to Arizona Zipline Adventures. The previous trip had been a few days prior (mid April) with my U of A Journalism intern, Tobey Schmidt (click here for her story). We had gotten through two of the five ziplines before we got rained out. Now, four days later. The weather was almost perfect – sunny and warm, but with a strong breeze.
My sister’s husband, Mike, was with me on this return trip. Mike was a pro at ziplining as he’d done it in Panama a few years ago. Also, he’s pretty much fearless.
Not so for me. I don’t like heights and they don’t like me. I get a fairly bad case of vertigo with anything above thirty feet. The first four zips had been pretty easy as AZA does a great job of getting you accustomed to ziplining. They start you off easy, with each zipline going a little faster and adding things you could do, like brake to slow yourself down, which is exactly what you want to do on the final zip.
Now, standing on the last platform, Casey was very patient with me as the wind whipped around us. It had taken me a few minutes to climb up the stairs to the top. Every time the wind picked up, the tower would sway slightly and my hand would clamp onto the handrail and I would freeze. I guess Mother Nature decided I needed a little more challenge than just a tall tower, so she added a large helping of wind.
Determined not to let my fear rule me, I pressed on and finally made it to the top where Casey hooked me up to a bunch of safety lines so if I slipped off the platform, I wouldn’t die.
Then Casey began explaining what I needed to do as far as braking and leaving the platform. He said that he needed me to really step off the platform, not to be tentative about it. With such a long span, the sag in the line was significant and if I didn’t step off with some force, I would risk hitting the platform as I left it. For me, that was almost a game changer. On the other lines, I was able to just take a deep breath, sit down in the harness, lift up my feet and gravity would do the rest. Now, I had to jump off the platform?
I looked down into the canyon and almost lost my lunch. I wasn’t sure I could do it.
The wind picked up for a minute and the platform swayed again. That’s when I realized there were only two ways to safely get down from the platform: on the zipline or climbing down the stairs. The thought of climbing down the stairs in the wind scared me more than the zipline. And the longer I was up there, the more I had to ride the platform in the wind.
So, to my surprise, I did not hesitate at all when he told me to “Go!” Actually, I was a bit relieved. And it wasn’t bad at all – even for someone who is afraid of heights. There was no sensation of falling as you would get when jumping off a cliff into water.
It’s a smooth transition between the platform and ziplining and I began to pick up speed very quickly. I took a quick look over at Mike – and he was zipping slightly ahead of me. This final zipline has two parallel lines and AZA sends two people off at once as you would in a race.
I remembered that Casey had told me that if I wanted to go faster I should curl up into a cannonball. I did, and I immediately began to gain on Mike. I smiled to myself as I passed him.
At this point I think I was going somewhere between 50 and 60 mph, which was a real rush, but not scary at all. I really enjoyed the sensation. It was almost like I was flying.
All too quickly, I saw that it was time to brake and I pulled down on the strap that works the brake. I felt myself starting to slow down. I pulled harder. I really began to slow down. Mike passed me again.
Uh oh. Not that I minded Mike beating me to the station, but I was afraid if I slowed down too much I would be stuck in the middle of the line (even though Casey had told me he didn’t think that would happen). I completely let up on the brake.
Not a smart thing to do.
I zipped by Mike as we came into the station and I hit the braking system they have at the end of each line still going very fast. It felt as though I had jumped off an eight foot wall.
For most people, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but with two previous back surgeries and a third not far away, it sent a painful jolt through my body to remind me of this fact. My recommendation: keep hitting that brake from the point they tell you until you get to the station. The good news was no damage was done and the pain went away after a few minutes.
As I waited to be unhooked from the zipline, I relaxed in my harness and looked back at the tower that I had just come from. It seemed a little less daunting than it did just a few minutes before. Although it could have been the relief sweeping through my body, I want to believe that it was more than that. Not only had this adventure been a lot of fun, I had come a little closer to managing my fear of heights.
Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be brave enough to go skydiving….
But don’t hold your breath.
The bottom line: I had a great time at Arizona Zipline Adventures. It's a fun time for those looking for a little adrenaline rush and adventure. The people there are super friendly and knowledgeable. Even if you're afraid of heights like me, you may be able to enjoy yourself and help you conquer your fear.
For more information on Arizona Zipline Adventures, please visit their website at:
Arizona Zipline Adventures
Click here for Tobey's story about our first trip out the Arizona Zipline Adventures
Video from my trip (include footage from my fifth zip)
Have you been on this adventure? What did you think? Comments and updates welcome by clicking here.
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