The wood creaks and groans under my feet, the whole structure seemingly swaying in the wind and making my already uneasy stomach feel even worse. How Phil coaxed me to come up here, my mind is too foggy to remember. All I know is I’m here and there is no going back now. No matter how much my entire body is screaming at me to climb back down the ladder to the safety of ground.
Looking down is futile, and I know it will only make me throw up, so I try as hard as I can to focus my eyes straight ahead and not think about how high I am. Phil glances at me worriedly and reassures that it will be fine and we will have fun together.
Tandem zip lining. How in the world did I let him talk me into this?
I can hear the voices in front of me, English mixing with Spanish. Three natives are at the front of the line of people, in uniform, strapping people in and letting them go. Behind them is the small line of people, four groups of two in front of Phil and I. It takes five minutes for each group to descend the zipline and safely get off before the next group can go, which means twenty minutes of standing and waiting before five minutes of pure torture. I know already that the little contents in my stomach from lunch a few hours ago will not last on the way down, they will fall and with my luck end up landing on one of our fellow students, or even worse a teacher. Or one of the natives.
Upon being forced into Spanish class by my mother, I was not aware that this trip would include facing my fear of heights in the worst way possible, or there is no way I would have let her put me in the class. Of course I ended up here anyway, and Phil was the one who convinced me to not only stay in the class, but go on the trip in general, and now look where it’s gotten me.
“Dan, you’re shaking.” Phil says, glancing at me again.
I look down at my hands, which are in fact shaking. I look back up and meet his eye. “It’s fine.” I say. “I’m fine.” But my heels are tapping the wood, and there is no hiding my nervous energy, especially not from him.
“No you’re not.” He says. “We can go back down if you’re that scared.”
“You’re the one who begged me to come up here with you.” I retort, looking at him pointedly. He looks away, leaning against the wooden railing and looking out at the forest below. My stomach lurches with just a small glance downward. “Oh, dear God.” I say, hand to my stomach. “How can you do that?”
Phil merely shrugs. “I guess it’s not that scary to me. Heights have never scared me.”
“Yeah, well they scare me. A lot.”
Phil tries to calm me down a little and assure me that everything will be alright, and all too soon the group in front of us are flying down the zipline, their yells flying away just as fast as their bodies. And all too soon the natives are waving us forward.
“iVamanos!” One says excitedly. Another hands many cables and straps to another that starts hooking them onto the zipline. They speak back and forth to each other while setting up the cables, while one explains to them, thankfully in English, about what will happen.
“Okay,” He says in that accent that all native Spanish speakers have when speaking English, with the vowels slightly off and the pronunciation of certain words sounding odd. “So, you’re going to be strapped in tightly, don’t worry there’s no way the straps or anything will come loose or break, you’re completely safe.”
Phil glances at me and I glance at him.
The native continues, “The ride down is nice and smooth, the wind is kinda loud so if you wanna talk you gotta yell. You can move around if you like, lean back or throw your arms out, whatever, it’s all safe. Then when you get closer to the bottom you’ll enter into the trees and down into the forest, and then not long after you’ll see the end platform. They’ll loosen the line and the stopper will let you easily cruise into the platform. It’s fun! You’ll see!” Then he gestures us forward.
My heart is pounding already and I’m not sure if I can do this. Phil grabs my shirt sleeve and tugs it a little, and his encouragement is the only thing that gives me the strength to move closer to the edge of the platform.
Phil gets hooked in first, leaving me to walk over and stand under the zipline. Two of the natives stand on either side of him and strap him in, tightening every strap and making sure it’s all right before waving me forward.
I know I’m shaking bad now, but nevertheless I walk slowly forward and stand at my place behind Phil. The natives strap me in, encapturing me in the torture device, making sure I cannot escape in any way. Now there is definitely no going back.
I try my hardest not to look down and see the ground, the trees and lake and everything feeling as if it’s miles below me. I concentrate on the horizon, anything that will keep my lunch from launching up my esophagus. I keep doing this until every strap is buckled and tightened and the natives step back. The one who told us the directions steps up and grabs my top strap, the one that tethers all of my straps to the zipline, since I’m in the back.
“You can lift your feet up now.” He says.
My stomach lurches and I swallow hard before gritting my teeth and lifting my feet up. Phil does the same and gravity pushes down on us, bringing us down a centimeter. I’m glad we don’t have to push ourselves, because I could never do it and the last thing I want to do is let Phil down.
The native tells us that he can either push us or let us go, and thankfully Phil says, “Let us go, please.” Even in this horrifying moment, even if he wants to be pushed, he’s still looking out for me. But it’s hard to focus on being grateful when the entire world is morphing together in a kind of drunken slur. I can barely keep focused on the horizon anymore, I decide to focus on the back of Phil’s head. He looks back at me for a second and smiles. Somehow I find the strength to smile back.
And then we’re falling.
The wind rushes in my ears and the sickening feeling of dropping pulls me down. I wrench my eyes closed and make a sort of yelping noise, like a wounded dog. I don’t know how far or how long we have gone when I feel Phil’s hand slip into mine.
“Open your eyes, Dan.” He yells over the wind. “Look at me.”
I shake my head. His hand is comforting, and makes me feel, less alone in this falling, but I can’t open my eyes, I just can’t.
“Come on. You can do it.” His tone is soft and encouraging. He’s not forcing me, he’s just trying to encourage me. I know he wants me to like this as much as he does. So I do it for him.
My eyes slowly open and almost immediately I want to shut them again. The world is whizzing by and it makes me sick to my stomach seeing it out of the corner of my eye. I make a sort of moaning noise and clutch my stomach.
“Look at me, Dan! Just focus on me!” Phil yells. I focus my eyes on him. He’s turned back, looking at me with a concerned look. It helps, focusing on him, the rest of the world almost melting away, and I start to forget the sick feeling. “Good.” He says. “Now when you’re ready, slowly look out.”
I grit my teeth and prepare, knowing that I will only jerk my eyes shut again, but I bring myself to look away. I look at the trees and the approaching lake and then straight down at the ground. My mouth hangs open and my eyes widen. It doesn’t seem to be going so fast anymore, and now the feeling of flying replaces the sickness. Without realizing it, I throw my arms out and cry out with joy. I hear Phil laugh. I keep whooping and calling out, and Phil joins me. It’s so beautiful, seeing the world rush past and flying over it like a bird. I feel free. I feel safe.
I lean back and the straps hold me, and it is then that all of my fear melts away. Phil must have known this would happen because he smirks at me, all superior-like. I laugh and lean back more, almost like lying down in bed, and let my arms fall out to my sides and blow in the wind. It was because I trusted Phil that I got to experience this, and I’m so grateful that I did.
I look all around, admiring the trees and the lake and all the forest surrounding me, the wind blowing my clothes and my hair like wild, but unaffecting me. Nothing could spoil my mood now. I feel so relaxed, and as we head down into the trees I lean forward and rest my head on Phil’s shoulder. I watch as the ground slowly approaches from below, smiling a little. I can see people walking along the trails, and a few look up and wave their arms, whooping. Phil whoops back to some of them, laughing.
All too soon the ending platform is in sight. The people on it loosen the zipline and it slacks a little. The long spring surrounded by black foam brings us to a slow stop and the wind stops blowing. We come to rest at the platform and my feet touch the wood again. I never thought I wouldn’t be grateful to stand on the ground again.
They unhook us from the straps and it feels strange holding my own weight on my feet again. It takes a second to get used to walking, but by the time Phil and I are on the ground again, I’ve gotten the hang of it.
Phil turns to me and smirks. “Afraid of heights?”
I shove him lightly, chuckling. He smiles at me and I smile back. “Thanks for that.” I say gratefully. “That was… probably the most fun I’ve had so far.”
“That’s why I brought you!” He exclaims. “That’s another part of this, I remembered you telling me about your fear of heights. And I told you that I could change that. You didn’t think I could.” He smiles and pokes me.
I shove him again. “Shut up.”
And with that we continue down the trail, off to do something else.