Yes, I am afraid of heights. I have always been afraid of heights. A long, long time ago, I was told that the only way to overcome such fears is to confront them. I listened to that advice, and every time I had an opportunity to confront my fear, I took it. But each time I was rocked by vertigo and dizziness and fear. It never seemed to go away. Time after time, I tried. Time after time, I failed.
In 1985 I traveled alone to Mexico. I met up with some interesting people, and one day in Mazatlan we discussed different paths of exploration together: horseback riding in the jungle? Shopping? Parasailing? Not being much of a shopper, and scared silly of heights, I opted for horseback riding. Unfortunately, my companions unanimously decided that we were going to parasail. It was 10:00am on a blazing hot July day. I hadn’t slept in two days, and the tequila I drank the night before was still coursing through my veins. I wasn’t thinking clearly when I decided that I wouldn’t be a coward. I would parasail–and maybe this time I would overcome my fear.
In this scenario, the parasailer is strapped into a harness attached to a parachute, which is attached via tow rope to a small motorboat in the bay. When the boat accelerates, the parasailer is lifted into the air, and voila! Grand view of the Pacific Ocean–and the steep high cliffs surrounding the bay. The boat then circles the bay, stops, and the parasailer floats gently down to the sand.
As we walked to the beach, I told my friends they had to let me go first, or I would never do it. They grinned at me like ravenous wolves when I explained my fear of heights. With a malicious glint in his eye, one of them offered to pay for my ride. We saw that a parasailer had just come down and no one was waiting. Somebody shoved me and said, “Run, hurry! It’s your turn.” So I did. I ran to the man holding the harness and asked him, “Voy ahora, por favor?” (I go now, please?) in my terrible Spanish. He smiled and strapped me into the harness. He gave me a few instructions, my friend paid him, and before I could change my mind, I was hundreds of feet in the air.
My friends had said they were looking forward to hearing me scream or pee my pants. I did neither. No screams came out of me (I’m generally not a screamer, anyway) because I wasn’t breathing!!! The fifteen minute ride seemed to last hours. I eventually did breathe and then I realized that tears were streaming down my cheeks. The view was intensely gorgeous. I remember thinking, “It’s nice and cool up here, under the chute, out of the hot sun…” After a few minutes I enjoyed it. It was a breathtaking experience–literally. And at the end, I didn’t want to come down.
So you’re probably thinking that I overcame my fear of heights that day. No, I did NOT. 🙂
Ten years later, I had a friend who was interested in experimental homemade aircraft. They’re not tightly regulated (or they weren’t at the time), and if you don’t fly too high, you can just build a little plane and fly it (you don’t need the same kind of certification/licensing that other pilots need). My friend asked me if I wanted to come along and see these little planes and maybe take a ride. I said, Sure!
Come to find out, they’re made from cheap pine 2 x 4’s and clear plastic sheeting with something like a modified lawn mower engine for power. And yes, you can see through the all sides, including the bottom of the plane. Of course, I wasn’t aware of this until I was seated in that little deathtrap. I started sweating and told myself everything would be OK…until the pilot asked me how much I weighed. “About 135 (61kg),” I answered. “That’s great!!” he replied, “we’re going go up like a rocket!” He was right. We went nearly straight up–barely any runway necessary!
So I had another fifteen minutes of breathlessness, sweaty palms and palpitations and vertigo that made me think we were going to crash because the world was spinning around us. He actually asked me if I wanted to take the controls (it was a learner plane, so there were dual controls). I just laughed hysterically. He got the message.
Like the parasail ride, it was beautiful, we flew over a lush verdant valley, and my pilot told me how he had built the plane, how easy it was to fly…when he finished I told him the day I learned to fly a plane would be the day I became a kamikaze pilot, because I’m deathly afraid of heights. He looked at me incredulously and asked me why I was up there. I told him I was trying to get over it…
When we landed, he told me I was very brave, and he was impressed with my courage. I thanked him and said it was a really nice flight.
I am no longer interested in trying to get over my acrophobia. Though I must say, I’m glad I tried…it sure has made my life more interesting.
Copyright © 2017 Marla K. Greenway