We all have fears. Clowns. Spiders. Heights.
Clowns don’t bother me but spiders? Ick.
Sometime in my adult years, I developed a fear of heights which seemed to be quite the ridiculous development because I spent a lot of my girlhood climbing trees and dangling upside down from tree limbs and flipping out of them to land upright on my feet. These days, leaning over a second story balcony railing can make my stomach quake. But there comes a time when one must look a fear in the face and make a not so polite gesture.
Do notice I did not say conquer the fear. Small steps.
During my time in Ohio, I was extended an invitation to ride zip lines with the Hocking Hills Canopy Tours. I took a brief look at their website to see exactly what all was involved with zip lines (heights!) and rapidly closed the page. I took a deep breath and wrote an email of my willingness to participate in the zip line tour. Then, I channeled my inner Scarlett O’Hara by ‘not thinking of that today and thinking of it tomorrow’ and that method stood me well in the time leading up to my zip line adventure.
There were a few papers to fill out and then our group was introduced to our guides. Both guides were young and friendly and they chatted freely as they guided us to the gear we would need to wear while riding the zip lines. Great masses of straps and buckles were in a long line of piles and we lined up one person in front of one pile. Upon closer inspection, the straps were not just heaped on the ground but instead neatly spread out and we were directed to take a step forward and place one foot in each loop. Then, it was a matter of reaching down and pulling up the outward straps and the confusing jumble rose up tidily almost like a pair of pants. A few snaps and adjustments and the first part was on. Then, another set of straps was passed to each of us and it was put on in the same manner of a vest and then it was fastened. The guides carefully went over each person’s harness and straps checking fastening points and the fit to make sure everything was just right. A hard helmet and a pair of leather gloves finished our outfitting.
Just over a slight hill there was a practice zip line set up and our guides demonstrated the methods we would be using including the signals we would receive when it was time to brake. It didn’t look very complicated but each of us had to step up on the block and go through each step before we were allowed a practice ride. Step up, guides buckle the trolley and lines on, hands on the trolley, step down, sit back, lift feet—Go! It all seemed very simple and my nerves appreciated that we were only about 12 inches off the ground.
Soon everyone ‘graduated’ from ground school and we all piled in a small truck. We bounced over the dirt roads through the early spring forest as the truck made a slow progress up to the top of the course. Unceremoniously, we all got out of the truck and one of the guides clipped each of lines to a safety line above our heads. Then, in a single file we walked over a swaying sky bridge. Halfway across the bridge, I remembered that scene from that one Indiana Jones movie and I remembered I had a fear of heights. Oops.
Photo Credit: Bethia Woolf
Columbus Food Adventures
I think I was a little pale as I stepped onto the first tree platform and I stammered out my fear of heights. The guides were very nice and understanding and let me know that I could ‘stop’ if I didn’t want to but they, of course, hoped I would try. There wasn’t any way I wasn’t going through with the zip line tour so I smiled and said I thought I would be okay. Pride would goeth before a soar through the trees.
When it was my turn, I listened carefully to the guides as they walked me through all the steps they taught us in ground school and then I lifted my feet and away I went. It was fun…until halfway through and I had a sudden vision of every old cartoon where the character crashes into the oncoming tree with limbs akimbo. How on earth would I stop?! The guide on the approaching tree platform made the gesture for ‘Brake’ and I lifted my right hand off the trolley and set the palm flat on the line behind the trolley. Immediately I began to slow just as we had been told we would. The platform came closer and I lifted up my feet to catch the block. They caught it, the guide caught my harness and assisted me the rest of the way on the platform before clipping my safety lines, one at a time from the zip line to the safety wires above the platform. It was that easy.
Photo Credit: Bethia Woolf
Columbus Food Adventures
And from there on my fear diminished and it got more and more fun. The zip lines got longer and faster and higher. After the first couple of zip lines, the process of being clipped properly appeared not to be the confusing series it had been before and it felt that I could watch the guides and ‘make sure’ they did it correctly. I found that to be immensely reassuring. At one point we all held our lines and were told to walk backwards to the edge of the platform and lean back. Way back. It was frightening but it helped us all learn to trust the equipment.
There was an added bonus to the tour. Not only did we get to walk five sky bridges and ride ten zip lines, but we also were encouraged to ask all the questions about the natural wildlife around us that we could think of. Both guides were knowledgeable about the native species of plants and taught us how to identify them. We also learned about the construction of the course that was the first of its kind in Ohio. Those who built the course tried hard, and succeeded, in fitting the course to its surroundings so that very little of the forest had to be disturbed in the construction. I found this admirable because as the guides stated the ‘trees are their number one employees!”
The last part of our tour was to get from the last tree platform and down to the ground. The first guide pulled over a set of straps, fastened them to herself, swung out over the platform backwards and pushed off gently with her feet before slowly descending to the ground below. It wasn’t quite ‘true rappelling’ but was close enough for me. It felt very odd to be back on the ground after a couple of hours up in the forest canopy. After our entire group came down from the final tree, we were provided with water and snacks while we waited for the truck that would take us back to the main building.
When we returned, we were presented with certificates declaring our completion of the course. Then we were given an opportunity to see and purchase pictures that had been taken during our canopy tour. I purchased a couple to bring home to show my family and I plan on framing both of them with the certificate because I AM proud of myself for challenging my fear of heights and being rewarded with such a fun and exciting opportunity!
Photo Credit: Hocking Hills Ohio zipline Canopy Tours Photographer