There are a lot of things to be afraid of in life: gravity (barophobia), string (cnidophobia), peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth (arachibutyrophobia), long words (hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia), bald people (peladophobia), and the list goes on. For me, it’s heights.
It’s a pretty bad case. When I was a kid, I freaked out about going on escalators. I made the county fair ride operators stop the ride and get me off. Don’t even get me started about my experience on the PeopleMover at Disneyland- the terrifying monorail that catapulted visitors around the park at a dizzying maximum speed of two miles per hour. And that was when I was in middle school.
My sister loved to capitalize on that fear when I was a kid. She’d grab me, hold me over the banister of the top floor of our house, and threaten to drop me- just to see my reaction. When we’d stay in tall hotels, she’d hold me up to the window so I could see how far below the ground was and then give me a jolt while saying, “Don’t fall!” I’m sure it was hilarious. (I’m still plotting my revenge, Sister-Who-Shall-Remain-Nameless…)
Thankfully, age has tamed the wild fear I experienced as a child. I ride escalators like a pro. I have gone on some mild roller coasters without flinching (much). And best of all, I did a ropes course that taught me something profound – that fear and exhilaration are two responses to the same stimulus: adrenaline. My mind’s perceptions determine how I interpret my experience. From that same ropes course, I also understood the limiting nature of fear. I learned that I am capable of much more than I think I am, and that by challenging those self-imposed limitations, I can do anything. Talk about empowerment.
I thought of many things I could do to face my fear of heights once again this week. The winning idea came from my good friend and co-worker, Eric. He suggested something he’d done with his family: taking Snowbird Ski Resort’s tram for a spin.
I loved this idea for a couple of reasons. First, Snowbird is such a beautiful place, regardless of the season. And secondly, it would allow me to experience my fear of heights in a pretty safe way. And safe = good.
I was fine until I was waiting in line to board the tram. I looked down and noticed the platform we stood on was not solid… I could see how high we were off the ground. And then I started to think about how high the distance of 2,900 vertical feet was that I was about to ascend. I had to remind myself that it was all in my mind as my legs slowly turned into a pudding Bill Cosby would have been proud to market.
A mother and daughter boarded right behind me. The daughter, who was nearly hysterical, was screaming, “I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS!!!” and sobbing as she clung to her mother. She was about middle school age also, and I contemplated telling her about how she had me beat with the PeopleMover, but she didn’t seem in the mood. Instead, I patted her hand and told her that we were going to be okay. Her sobbing diminished a little, but then reached new crescendos as the tram started to move.
Each time we passed a support pole, the tram sped up and would swing slightly. I had placed myself in the end furthest from the mountain (so I could get the full visual impact of our ascent) and had to hold on to the bar and plant my feet so I could feel the tram solidly below me as I watched us climb.
At the top of Hidden Peak, my little sobbing friend and her mother got out with the other passengers. The view was just beautiful, and the tram lingered for a few minutes before beginning its descent.
Going down was scarier for me than going up, since it felt like we were going faster and the swinging of the tram at each support post was more pronounced. But it was fun and in no time, we were back at the loading area where I disembarked.
On the way back to my car, the shuttle driver that had taken me to the Snowbird Center stopped to ask me if I had been on the tram. I told him I had done it, and he confided that he’d worked there for a long time, but that the tram terrified him. He said he’d probably scream like a little girl if he were to get on it. I’m sure he said it just to make me feel better, but it worked.
My fear of heights isn’t conquered… yet. But each time I challenge it, I make some progress toward finding out my true limits.
Take that, PeopleMover.