Acrophobia at Yellowstone . . .

Fear is a funny thing. Not so much a conscious choice, but more a thing that lives in the belly, fed by adrenaline bursts, fueling a stampede of electrical zaps to the heart. Hands tremble and knees grow weak: a daunting autonomic roller coaster ride.

Now, I knew we had planned to zip-line during our West Yellowstone vacation. I definitely did agree to do it. Any flinching at the prospect remained decidely imperceptible. But I know myself.

After all, I was there when Blarney Castle caught me by surprise and brought me to tears. Luckily, halfway up my Castle climb, a small doorway led to a momentary respite from the narrow staircase. I had to practice breathing in and out to let my heart slow down before I could continue to the top. Up on the roof, I passed on the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone, skirting the area cautiously to find the stairs leading back down.

A few years later, I managed to make it up the Eiffel Tower, once again accompanied by a genorous supply of unwelcomed adrenaline. I spent much of the time, when not in an elevator, plastered to the center wall.

Two years after that, I climbed to the top of St. Stephen’s tower in Vienna. Talk about steep, narrow staircases! It wound in a tight spiral, 343 stairs, about 446 feet, straight up. An adrenaline field day! My husband dutifully stayed behind me all the way up. My pitiful equilibrium could not be convinced that the world hadn’t tipped sideways. All I could do was stare straight ahead and keep one hand in constant contact with the outside wall. One turn of my head would certainly have sent me tumbling to an untimely death!

The view from atop the tower was nothing short of breath-taking. But the knowledge that I still had to climb back down colored my ability to completely enjoy it. My husband stayed in front of me on the way down. Staring straight ahead again, with my hand on the outside wall, I checked each descending step with the back of my heel before stepping down. The sound of other visitors coming up from below released a fresh bolt of panic. My weak legs turned to jelly. Unlike Blarney Castle, this was a 2-way staircase. And I made the poor ascending tourists pass me by toward the center of the spiral. The outside wall was mine! But I survived to tell the tale of another height conquered. 🙂

Although I climbed trees as a kid, somewhere along the way my body decided that heights were not my friend. All I can do is keep trying to teach it to chill a little! So, today I went zip-lining.

It’s easy to anticipate and fixate on how scary something will be. It gives the body a running start towards full-blown anxiety. But it’s also possible to remain calm, to refuse to even think about a pending encounter with a zip-line. Either way, the first climb straight up a ladder to a crowded platform hugging a man-made tree told my body it was showtime. My hands shook, my legs practically dissolved, and tears welled up out of nowhere. My sole job became breathing. Slowly. Trying to counter that nasty adrenaline monster.

Then, I was supposed to ask my feet to step off the edge of that relatively safe platform into nothing but air. Maybe even jump off. It’s safe, I assured them. But they didn’t believe me. I can’t say enough about the patience of our zip-lining guides (Kyle, Cole, and April) who encouraged each of us along the way. They suggested that I sit first and get a feel for the seat-like harness and to trust it. Which I did. Eventually.

After a couple of ladders and suspended rope bridges, the third zip-line, which brought us back to earth, gave my legs slightly less pause and my heart-rate barely blipped out of rhythm. My body decided to trust me. But would I do it again? Let’s not push it, shall we?

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