Confronting your fears is sometimes overrated. Failure stinks. Hi, my name is Kim… and I’m a ZIP LINE CHICKEN. Don’t laugh…well, okay, I admit that NOW it’s kind of funny, but at the time I wasn’t laughing.
My mother and I were on an adventure. We had traveled halfway across Nebraska to the Sandhills to attend a Becoming an Outdoors Woman workshop. We had bravely (for us, anyway) hitched up my camper and driven four and a half hours from home, gotten lost on the way, successfully backed the camper down a very loooooong pad, set up camp, sat around the campfire and smoked cigars, and attended the first two of four classes of the weekend. We were feeling pretty bad-ass. We were intrepid explorers. We were invincible.
It was Saturday. Morning classes were finished and it was lunchtime in the dining hall at the 4H camp where the event was held. Roughly 100 women were gathered to eat and their enthusiasm for their morning endeavors was bubbling around the room; everyone sharing with others at their table what class they had taken, their successes, their bruises, and their laughter. It’s heady to be surrounded by such excitement. That is my excuse for what happened next.
When the director of the event, picked up a microphone to address the group to ask whether we had all had a good morning, a resounding “YES!” was the answer. She introduced a Forest Ranger who told us a little about the Nebraska National Forest, thanked the kitchen staff for their efforts, and briefly outlined the remaining activities for the day, but the thing that caught my attention was that during our hour of free time following lunch, the zip line that ran across a small valley within the camp would be open for business.
Do you know what a zip line is? A zip line is a cable that is strung from a high point across a valley to a lower point on the opposite side. Users strap on a lap harness that clips to a pulley on the cable, jump off of a starting platform and are propelled by gravity down the cable. The weight of the rider causes the cable to dip in the middle so that a slight rise at the end slows the speed of the rider as they near the stopping point.
I must have been drunk on the success of my weekend adventure. I must have been feeling like I could take on the world. I must have felt like I should face my fear of heights. I am the person that can’t lean on a balcony railing. I can’t climb into tree stands to hunt. I’m not even comfortable climbing a ladder. At the Space Needle in Seattle, I had to have my back touching the wall and focus on the horizon line. On aerial tramways, I close my eyes and focus on breathing while trying to ignore the little voice in my head that is absolutely certain that the cable will break and we will plummet to our deaths. I don’t know what I was thinking, but half an hour later I was the first woman in line to try the zip line.
There I stood, helmeted and harnessed, on the starting platform with an assistant. My palms were sweating. My breathing was shallow. I was afraid that my lunch might make a reappearance. My mind was racing as I tried to calm myself; this was a perfectly safe zip line in good repair, it’s not THAT high up, the valley is not very wide, this is a 4H camp – this zip line was designed for children, for crying out loud! From below me, I could feel the eyes of the women who watched my obvious inner struggle while patiently waiting their turn on the platform. They began to shout words of encouragement to me. “You can do it!” “Just close your eyes and jump!” “It’ll be fun!” Several times, I warily stepped to the edge of the platform, only to panic and back away. I looked across the valley at the catcher , the person at the other end of the cable that helps riders stop, who was beckoning me “Come on!” with hand gestures. The jump assistant with me on the platform suggested that perhaps it would be easier for me to sit on the edge of the platform and just lean forward until I fell off. I sat down. I tried. Please believe me…I really did try, but I just couldn’t do it. I was beginning to feel like I was wearing out my welcome on the platform when the jump assistant said to me, “If you were one of my kids, I would push you off this platform”.
I wish I could tell you that I screwed up the courage and jumped. I wish I could even say that I closed my eyes, jumped and screamed the whole way across. But, I didn’t. I chickened out. I gave up. I unclipped from the cable and climbed down the ladder. I took off my helmet and harness and handed them to the next woman in line. The women around me were still being supportive and encouraging and I was greatly relieved to be off the platform, my heart rate was returning to normal and I stopped sweating, but I was disappointed in myself. I had stood on the edge of perdition, looked fear in the face, and backed down. As I walked away, kicking myself, the next woman was zipping across the valley, whooping with the exhilaration of the ride. I have returned to that same workshop at that same camp for the past seven years and to this day, no one else has chickened out on the zip-line!
I could end this story here, but it would be a tale of failure and I don’t swing that way. I still don’t like heights. I’m still the only person in my family who doesn’t rock climb and I’ve never again attempted the zip line. Then how, you may ask, does this become a story of triumph? Yes, I choked. Yes, I stepped down from the platform. Yes, I was disappointed in myself that day, but…. I TRIED! I challenged myself and discovered that there may be some things that I cannot conquer. That’s okay. At the end of the day, I am content to know that I am still curious, still capable of learning, still able to feel my heart tripping in its quest to leap out of my throat! I am what I am.
Since the day I became a Zip Line Chicken, I have tried many new things at which I have succeeded, and a few at which I have not, but I have gained something from every endeavor. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face…”
What is your fear? Are you ready to gain some strength, courage, and confidence? I’ll see you outside. I’ll be the one on the ground cheering for you. Just close your eyes and jump!