Casey shares her story of conquering her fear of heights by conquering the zip-line. ~MC
As far back as I can remember, I’ve had a fear of heights. Not the normal “awareness” or “caution” that is programmed into us as human beings and prevents us from walking off the edge of a cliff—I’m talking about the full-blown, gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, head-spinning, dry-mouth, weak-in-the-knees kind of a fear.
I hope that none of you can relate to this terrible feeling, but, unfortunately, statistics indicate otherwise. According to Health Research Funding, between 2 and 5 percent of the population suffers from the fear of heights (known as acrophobia). And ladies, we are actually twice as likely to suffer from this disorder than men. Acrophobia ranks as one of the top 10 phobias experienced by the adult population.
Now, I am the type of person who likes to push my own limits in all capacities…but this is one area that I’ve never fully been able to conquer. I have hiked up steep, winding cliffs along the Oregon coast, only to end up crawling to the edge to be able to peek out and see the gorgeous scenery below. I’ve ventured up to the top of the amazing Space Needle in Seattle, only to drop to my knees upon getting within 5 feet of the observation window, needing my friends to hold me up as I felt my world spinning out of control. I’m “that mom,” standing behind my kids at any observation deck with my hands clutched over my heart, telling them to stay away from the edge when they’re a solid 10 feet away from even being able to see what we came to observe. My older daughter has a daring spirit that I adore, and she loves to tease me in parking garages, always wanting to peek over edges and giggling when I turn pale and wide-eyed, pleading with her to step away. At amusement parks, she drags me onto rides like the Ferris wheel, and I feel like a child clinging to her little hands for comfort as we hover high above the park. I was getting frustrated trying to overcome my fear; I was physically not capable of tolerating heights.
So, naturally, after a quick Google search, I booked a trip to the local zip-line park. I was determined to go to high places and conquer my fear, one way or another. I had booked my experience at Tree to Tree Adventure Park, a little gem nestled deep in the forest surrounding Henry Hagg Lake in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The park offers different levels of aerial adventure courses and zip lines, ranging from kids and beginner levels up to expert. The trip included a half day of aerial courses; I’d start with the beginner level and work my way up, wrapping it up with an hour of their most “advanced” zip lines.
I arrived bright and early, excited but nervous about the exhausting day ahead. After checking in at the front desk, located in a small lodge-like garage, my group was paired with a friendly guide, who outfitted us with safety gear. We assembled at the base of the beginner course for step-by-step instructions on how to properly wear and use our safety harnesses, latch systems, gloves and helmets. The safety gear and attention to proper protocol made me feel less nervous, and more eager to get started. We practiced on a wobbly bridge only a few feet off of the ground, testing our ability to properly hook into safety ropes and getting used to the swinging obstacles attached to trees with long ropes. My heart was racing, but my hands were surprisingly steady as I focused on the task, assured by the fact that I was safe even if I fell. That dizzy, head-spinning feeling that I usually get while standing in an unsecured high place was just part of the course; everyone felt unstable and wobbly, because that’s what the suspended course is supposed to feel like.
We progressed to a course a little higher off the ground, with different, more challenging obstacles. Without even realizing it, my heart rate slowed and I forgot to be scared. I was so focused on finding the next step, getting the proper latching, and plotting my course that I actually didn’t even think about how high I was off the ground, or dwell on any of those ominous “what if’s” that usually creep into my brain when I’m high up. I could feel myself able to control my movements. I used the wobbling sway of the obstacles to propel me forward and guide my steps. I wasn’t afraid.
As an added treat, at the end of each course, there were zip lines to get to the platforms with ladders back down to the ground. We had received training on proper posture, rope holds, and hand positions during the zip, so I entered my first one eagerly and without fear. It was exhilarating, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next one. The aerial course took about 3 hours, but it passed in no time because I was having a blast. After the course, we sat outside at a picnic table and had a bag lunch provided by Tree to Tree.
After lunch, we moved on to the zip-line course. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. We were assigned 2 new guides: the zip-line experts. It took about 15 minutes to hike to the first zip line. We trekked up a steep trail through the woods, winding and weaving through the beautiful forest, where we came to a tree with a wooden ladder nailed up the side. The ladder took us up through a hole cut in a platform, and a cable extended through the trees and seemingly deep into the forest. Our first guide latched in; in an instant, he waved goodbye, took a flying leap off of the platform and zipped through the woods, disappearing into the foliage. We heard him whooping and hollering all the way down.
The second guide asked for volunteers, and one of the girls in our party raised her hand. He helped her latch in and reminded her of the safety basics; she took a little hop over the edge and flew away. We could hear her giggles and laughter trailing behind her as she, too, disappeared. I raised my hand to go next. I felt no fear, only excitement, as I got latched in and gingerly stepped over the edge. My slide started off slow and bouncy, but I gradually picked up speed. I could feel the wind blowing across my face, and I couldn’t help but smile the most genuine and childish smile. From the pit of my stomach to the corners of my uncontrollable grin, I felt truly happy, alive and free. The zip lines were all configured differently, with different lengths and speeds weaving through the trees and green foliage, and they were all incredible.
Whether you’re suffering from a debilitating fear of heights or just looking for amazing and unforgettable family-friendly excitement, I highly recommend both an aerial adventure course and a zip-line tour. Not only was this one of the most genuinely fun and exciting adventures I’ve ever had, but it was also one of the most empowering and liberating. My fear of heights melted away that day, and I conquered something that had previously felt insurmountable. Things haven’t changed completely: I still feel my heart pound when I’m in high places without the security of a safety harness, and I still am “that mom” who clutches my heart when I see my kids near any ledge. But nonetheless, I can’t wait to take my children to experience the same kind of safe, high-flying adventure that I got to experience at Tree to Tree.