Regular readers of this blog know that two months ago today, I made a pretty drastic career change. People ask me about it all the time. I get a lot of “how did you do it?” “Are you happy?” and “How’s business going?” But the question I am asked less often, and the one that particularly resonates with me is, “what does it feel like?”
A few years ago, Ken and I went on vacation sans kids. We planned, we researched, we saved money and we went. During our trip, we had an opportunity to go ziplining, which is something that I had always wanted to do. It didn’t take much to convince Ken to go; he knew he would regret it if he didn’t, and I knew he would love it.
The ziplining experience we signed up for was advertised as fun, safe and exciting. “Sounds perfect!” we said. We giggled on the bus up to the mountain and jokingly made bets on who would chicken out first. We arrived at the adventure company and were outfitted with harnesses and helmets. A quick lesson on rules and safety was our only training, and we were off.
In the beginning, it was a nice, breezy, fun ride through the trees; a series of wires set not too far above the beautiful forest floor. Being on the first few ziplines engaged all our senses; the feel of the wind, the distinct smell of the jungle, the sounds of the tropical birds and distant howler monkeys. It was sublime – we were doing it. A dream come true! It was easy and SO much fun!
Gradually though, the wires grew longer. The angles changed and the runs grew faster. The landscape was opening up into expansive, rocky outcrops that felt a little too far below our feet. We smiled brave smiles and held tighter to the thick wire above our heads. A few beads of sweat were forming, but it was an ADVENTURE! An unexpected rappel at the end of the second last wire made our guides laugh out loud when they saw the surprised looks on our faces. “That’s nothing!” said one guide in broken english. What????
We started hiking down the path to the next wire, not sure what lay ahead of us. When we noticed we were climbing instead of hiking, the butterfllies started. How high were we going? What was that guide talking about?
And then we reached the top of the mountain. And we turned around and saw it. It was so high and so long, you had to squint to see it. It was the Grand-Daddy of all ziplines. It was over one kilometre long over a canyon. A canyon. A canyon above a uninhabited rainforest (probably full of spiders and snakes). We were both terrified.
But It was the only way off the mountain. There was no trail back to the parking lot…we had to cross that canyon. One by one, we watched people ahead of us clip on and push off over the cliff. We laughed nervously at the expressions on their faces and cringed as one unfortunate lady stalled at the mid point of the wire (the guide went out to get her). Then it was our turn. How were we ever going to do this?
We had the option of hooking onto a guide and riding tandem across, but we didn’t travel all the way to Central America to be carried across this wire. Ken went first. He was quiet, not a word came out of his mouth, but he did it! I think he held his breath the whole way across and he can’t remember if his eyes were open or not, but I was so proud of him. I remember watching him jump off and being SO excited for him, momentarily forgetting that I would have to do it too.
People do this all the time, I thought. I can do this. I took a deep breath, said a little prayer to any God who would listen, stepped gently over the edge and let gravity pull me across the immense valley. I opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out. My first instinct was to close my eyes as tight as I could and just try to survive the two minutes of sheer terror. My stomach was in my throat and my legs were weak with fear. But then a funny thing happened. As my body adjusted to the feeling of soaring through the sky wearing nothing but a cheap harness and some metal clips, I forced my brain to trump my instincts and told my eyes “open.” When I did that, and looked around me, life stopped. It just stopped for a minute. I felt small, but I also felt brave. I was doing something that no one I knew at the time had ever done. I was flying on my own and felt as though I was truly accomplishing something, though I knew thousands had done it before me. For me, it was life-changing. I happily travelled the remaining length of the wire wearing a smile instead of carrying fear.
I arrived safely on the other side of the canyon to a small sea of smiling faces. Ken and I stared at each other with a “did I really do that?” look. The group of us giggled and raved about the experience as we headed back toward the small bus that brought us from our hostel to this crazy place. The anticipation of heading to the incredible hot springs down the road and setting in with a few cold drinks was beckoning. Little did we know at that moment, that between us and the hot springs lay one more opportunity to change the way I would think about certain things in my life.
It wasn’t over yet.
(…to be continued)