I am not fond of heights.
I wouldn’t call it a fear, because I’ve seen people with a true fear of heights, and that is suffering. Me, I just get a bit shaky and my stomach drops down into the extra spaces in my genitals. Like when I watch this video:
I could never do anything like that. Not that I’d want to. I just picture one gust of wind carrying that guy off the edge as I watch that video, and then that’s it: he dies of dumb. But no, like so many climbing videos emerging (seemingly mostly from the Eastern European/Russian portion of the world), he survives to post that video on YouTube, getting mad hits, yo. And all he had to do was risk his life. No big deal.
I don’t have any aspirations to behave like this man, but I do have aspirations to conquer my fears. And heights are a problem for me. I want to conquer this fear/problem for more practical reasons, like cleaning my gutters or performing stakeouts on my rooftop to kill psychotic birds before they lay an insane nest inside of my attic…that sort of normal, everyday stuff. Never, to scale buildings for YouTube videos.
I think defeating my fears is a part of the whole “becoming a Viking” experience. And I’ve actually noticed a difference in my upper body strength since starting this whole thing. It was time for a test.
Enter: the Go Ape Treetop Adventure.
We’ve had this amazing high ropes course within 20 minutes of my house for the past several years, and I’ve never been brave enough to go. Nothing much really changed in the past few years except for my attitude. I’m a fucking Viking now. Why would I shy away from a challenge, unless that challenge is to go gallivanting around the top of a skyscraper. I made a ton of progress over these past few weeks, and I wanted to gift myself with a challenge for my birthday. Bonus: I went alone.
I felt I needed to go alone, to be honest. It’s not that I wouldn’t have appreciated the teamwork, but most of my faults in self-esteem are self-constructed, therefore I find it a bit more therapeutic to tear them down myself. This doesn’t go for everything, but as this entire course consists of everything I was too ashamed to try in front of an audience in gym class, I felt it near-essential that I go it alone.
Naturally, the course is all built around safety. You clasp yourself in with carabiners on everything, so essentially you could finish the entire course by sitting on your harness and arm-pulling yourself on the safety wires, but where’s the fun in that? I went in challenging myself to finish without falling and without giving up.
I took tons of pictures of the course while on the platforms in between obstacles (with hesitant, shaking hands), but I could not manage to get any video of me completing any of the obstacles, as I do not have a GoPro or anything cool like that. I did, however, take plenty of pictures to show, and I’ve put them together into a neat little album below, because I am a master of all things internet.
But let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
That first picture in the upper left that has other people in it is the training portion of the course. We learned how to clip in and then we did a basic line walk and then a 20-foot zip-line down. The instructor needed a “volunteer” to help her demonstrate, and she chose me as her “volunteer.” Did I mention that my stomach was in knots? Did I mention that it was the other people watching that kept me from doing stuff like this before? Did I mention that I had never done a zip line or anything like it, ever?
Well, I suppose Vikings don’t mind if their first time on an adventure is witnessed. I clambered up onto the platform and just went through all of the motions, taking deep breaths. Then I walked across my first wire in front of ten other people. Then I zip-lined the short distance and landed lightly on my feet…like a natural.
Just kidding. I totally somehow flipped around and landed on my back. I leapt up to my feet and smiled in a “meant to do that” fashion, and the instructor asked everyone to clap for me. Cool. Got through my first flub. It’s all downhill from here, right?
No, you idiot. It’s all UP.
Having completed my performance, the instructor cleared me to enter the course. First. All alone. Ahead of everyone. Perfect. And it was perfect, since all of the other people in my group were in teams that had to wait for one another. I could just take off. I climbed the first ladder, got mildly dizzy, shook it off, walked across the first simple obstacle, felt good about myself, and then got to the final “challenge” before the real obstacle course started: a Tarzan swing. Because I was being watched and potentially had people catching up to me, I did not take pictures of this swing, but I did get the second, larger swing on video. Basically, you hook all three of your harness clips into a swinging line, jump off into a cargo net, trust that the equipment can handle your weight, and then try to use your new Viking muscles to climb up your first cargo net in well over a decade.
I will freely and openly admit, this thing terrified me. I was supposed to just jump off a deck forty feet in the air. Here is the perspective from the second one on the course:
And here’s a video of a woman from the group in front of me jumping into that same net:
A woman perhaps half my weight, too. Ugh.
And I’d like to be able to write some sort of colorful, witty, long-winded monologue about how difficult it was standing up there and how I was frozen nearly using my provided emergency whistle to get someone to get me down, but…
…I fucking nailed it, actually.
It’s weird, this Viking attitude. It’s a silly thing, but somewhere in my head, it’s recharged/rebooted some failed reasoning processes. I think it works for me because I intend it as half comical/half serious. I took that course out. I was shaking during breaks from the height, I was wide-eyed witnessing some of the difficult obstacles, and I was downright afraid I couldn’t do it for at least half of the 2+ hours it took to complete.
But I did it. And each obstacle I came across, I jumped right into. I did not fall a single time, and I FUCKING KILLED IT.
Could I have done it better? Sure, and that’s what this journey is all about. I will, one day, take the obstacles that were labeled “extreme,” and I will cross some of the obstacles without holding on to a wire. But this time, it was all about accomplishment, and I sure as hell accomplished something.
I had never even gone down a zip-line before going on this adventure, and by the time I was done, I looked forward to going down. Here’s me right before the last zip-line, feeling quite proud of what I had done, yet somewhat sad that this milestone was coming to an end:
And when it was all over, I was drenched in sweat. I looked like hell. I was a nasty, sweaty thing that no one wanted to touch. But my proud ass still asked the fit instructor to take my picture for posterity:
And you know what? I teared up as I went back to my car. Because this all means a lot to me. I’m a Viking, damnit. This has been a lifelong problem, and I finally feel like I’m solving it. Conquering a two-hour course in the trees seemed impossible even a few months ago. But now I have momentum. Now I am doing this.
Now, I am a Viking.
Nothing can stop me.
My birthday theme was Viking. I even got a Viking helmet and shirt:
And we just so happen to have a children’s book that is an illustrated guide to all of the gods and goddesses from ancient roman, greek, and nordic culture. My daughter likes to leaf through it from time to time, and recently she came across a page and announced, “He looks like you, daddy!”
This is the page in question:
I’d say that makes me a badass.
I shall carry on, then.
What an amazing birthday.
If you want to see a GoPro version of the same course I defeated, here ya go: