When I get nervous, I talk. Even worse, I make inappropriate jokes. Force me to attend a work happy hour, and I’ll “break the ice” by bringing up anal sex. Immobilize me on a stretcher with a fractured spine and tell me it’ll hurt to be on my back for a while, and I’ll groan an innuendo-laden apology to my boyfriend.
So it should be no surprise that when I went ziplining through one of the highest canopy tours ever created this weekend (you know, the one we missed last month), I immediately resorted to a combination of incessant chatter peppered with base humor. You know, since I’m TERRIFIED OF HEIGHTS.
Two minutes into the training, after announcing that we’d be zipping between teeny tiny platforms attached to redwoods 200 feet in the air, someone came to help me with my harness.
“And now you just pull it up and around…’
Within five minutes, it was clear to everyone in the group, including me, that I was going to be the “annoying person” on the tour. Because, not only do I get chatty and inappropriate when I get nervous, I get very, very inquisitive. I want to understand how everything works and exactly what’s happening at all times.
“How are the zipline cables bolted to the trees?”
(The cable is actually wrapped around the tree and bolted to itself. Four times.)
“How high up are we?” (At every platform.)
(Anywhere from 80 to 300 feet.)
“Why is this platform swaying so much?”
(Because you’re in a 200-foot Redwood.)
“Has anyone ever fallen off of the platform?”
(Yes, but you’re always clipped in so you don’t fall far.)
“What’s this bag for?”
(Ropes to lower people down if they freak out.)
“Do you have to lower a lot of people down?”
(DON’T WORRY. I WON’T MAKE YOU LOWER ME DOWN.)
“How long was your training?”
(Two intense weeks. In the rain.)
“How many people dropped out?”
“How fast do we go?”
(Up to 25 mph.)
“Do Coastal Redwoods grow anywhere else?”
(Yes, the 300 foot trees can be found as far north as Oregon. They need to be within 40 miles of the coast because they require around 500 quarts of water a day, but they can absorb the water through their bark and needles and get up to 40 percent of their water from fog.)
“Am I ready?”
“Should I go now?”
“Is he ready for me?”
“So you want me to go now?”
(Okay. Okay. OKOKOKOKOKOKOKOKOK.)
“Shit. Did I just knee you in the balls?”
“Do you guys wear cups?”
(Athletic cups? No.)
To be honest, once you jump off of the platform and are flying through the air, all of the fear goes away. It’s just a moderate adrenaline rush with a completely gorgeous view. The only thing that’s a little nerve-wracking is that you’re responsible for placing your (gloved) hand on the zipline in order to slow yourself down as you approach the platform. I didn’t take in too much of the view for fear I’d miss the guide’s signal. He’s there to help you land, which is also how I kind of sort of put my knee into his testicles. Gently. I hope.
Also, as the guides explained, using your gloved hand to slow yourself down can be somewhat painful. “The more friction there is, the hotter it gets.”
“THAT’S WHAT SHE SAID.”
Basically, I have Tourette’s.
Seven ziplines, two sky bridges and one majestic spiral staircase high up in a tree later, the tour was almost over.
“Now you just have to rappel 80 feet to the forest floor.”
“It’s super easy. You just swing your leg out and around…”
“I already told you I can’t hear directions when my adrenaline is flowing.” (Seriously. WHAT is wrong with me?)
The guides were right though (AGAIN). Once I convinced myself to leave the platform, I could have hung out on that line for days.
Finally, when my feet were firmly planted on the soil, Campfriend turned to me and asked, “Did you have fun?”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “It was cool. I mean, I thought it was going to be a lot scarier than it was…”
He just laughed and shook his head.
But as we drove away down the Pacific Coast Highway, I realized that if only I approached all of the obstacles in my life like I’d approached ziplining, I’d probably have a lot less anxiety and lose a lot less sleep. I watched the sun sparkle on the ocean and breathed in the scent of the Eucalyptus trees growing on the edge of the staggering cliffs and made a mental list of how I was going to tackle everything that keeps me up at night. I'm sharing it with you because, hey, I'm having a hippie moment and something good should come of it.
Ask lots of questions. By understanding how the ziplines worked, I was able to take a literal leap of faith. Plus, people like to answer questions as it gives them a chance to showoff how smart they are.
Learn new things along the way. Listen, ask questions, and appreciate wonders like “Walter,” the Redwood Tree who “tricked” clear-cutters into thinking he was cancerous so that they’d let him live (it was just a burl on his trunk), and then survived a forest fire (Redwood bark contains tannins, which are fire resistant) and getting struck by lightning.
Trust those who are worthy of it. Without the guides, I could not have made it. But I assessed their training and experience (lots) and their fatalities (none) and took a calculated risk. Also, like “Walter” the Redwood Tree has to rely on his “Family Tree” (sprouts that grow from his roots) to keep him upright after half of his roots were severed to create a logging road years ago, I relied on having Campfriend there. You know, just in case.
Enjoy the ride. Make jokes. Take in the view. Tell your boyfriend he looks like a member of The Village People. Meet new people. Fly through the air with a smile on your face.
Try not to knee people in the balls. Working together doesn’t always go smoothly, and it can be hard to rely on other people, but most people genuinely want to see others succeed. And the nicer you are, the kinder they’ll be.
And if you do accidentally knee them in the balls, say you’re sorry. And maybe don’t write that kneeing them in the balls was the “highlight of the trip” on the comment card afterward. Or do. Whichever!
And if all else fails, take a deep breath and yell “VAGINA” at the top of your lungs. It feels super good. I promise.