September 1, 2007
I walked up to the tarp placed on the dirt with a harness laid on it and slid my legs into the straps. This wasnÕt going to be so hard. It was only a zipline, after all.
The first few steps of the spiraling metal staircase were simple. But the steps carried me higher – suddenly I was ten feet up, ten feet from solid ground. A breeze rustled through the trees, shaking the entire flimsy staircase. I gripped the railing with slippery hands and thought about the instability of the stairs, held up by a thin cord attached to a tree. In a high wind, it was easy to imagine it toppling. A high wind, like the breeze drifting gently through the trees this moment.
Oh no, oh no, oh no. I told myself I had to go back, make a fool of myself in front of all the waiting people if need be. But my legs refused to listen, walking steadily upward. Oh no, oh no, oh no. Why on earth had I done this? I hated heights. I was starting to wonder if I was addicted to terror.
Finally I reached the top and, emboldened, peeked over the edge. That was the first mistake.
I reeled back dizzily, the harness that was uselessly not attached to anything weighing me down. No! I thought frantically, dizziness blurring my vision. DonÕt look down! Look up. Always up.
Another breeze caught the platform, swaying it alarmingly. I grabbed the wooden pole supporting the platform and clung to it like a lifeline, breathing hard and clenching my eyes shut. If the thing toppled, I would prefer to be closing my eyes. Here,Ó I heard a voice say, as though from far away. IÕve got to rope you in.Ó
I opened my eyes. A woman who looked like she was in her early twenties was clipping my harness to a rope with the sort of quick efficiency that told me sheÕd seen it all: confident kids, scared kids, and kids who would rather die a slow death by torture than take the leap. I probably belonged in the third category. I didnÕt want to open my mouth – I was afraid IÕd throw up all over her – but I had to explain. I had to get off this thing before they made me jump. I donÕt want to do it,Ó I said, careful to stare as though fascinated at the rope she was clipping to my harness so I wouldnÕt see the ground, so dizzyingly far below. ItÕs all right,Ó she said calmly, with a final clank of rope clip against harness clip. Once again I glanced down. The zipline stretched from the platform I stood on over a wide expanse of boulders, all the same color: a chalky shade of white. One!Ó she called. I crouched, ready to spring. I really felt sick now, staring down at those sharp rocks. Two!Ó

Surely a cord this thin couldnÕt support me. Surely IÕd slip out of the harness. Surely – Three!Ó she shouted.
Everyone else jumped. I could see them riding along, every second getting farther away and making me feel more and more like an idiot. I told myself to jump, do it, do it now before too many people notice, but my legs – ever the rebels – wouldnÕt obey.
Finally, I took a deep breath and leapt off the wooden platform, into the open air.
It goes against all human instincts to leap from a fifty-foot tall platform, whether youÕre attached to a cord or not. My whole brain – and, subsequently, my heart, which did an abrupt cartwheel before going numb – screamed this to me in that half-second it took for my feet to leave the wood and surrender my body to gravity, and the life-saving, but still perilously thin, cord.
Finally I stopped. A seventh grader ran up and took the harness without a word, pulling me up the hill. My whole body was shaking, and my heart had restarted and was pounding faster than ever, but I had a new feeling, too. Exhilaration.
I raced up the hill to do it again.

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