I am afraid of heights. I have been for as long as I can remember. It’s called acrophobia and is defined by Wikipedia as “an extreme or irrational fear or phobia of heights” and is likely something I was born with along with some of my other non-specific anxieties. So, when a friend at work wanted to go on the new Niagara Falls zip line in celebration of a significant birthday, my initial response was a quickening of my pulse at the mere thought of it. However, as Elisha Goldstein suggests, ” life begins at the edge of your comfort zone,” and instead of backing away, I told her I was in!
It was the weekend after my friend Shirley’s birthday that we decided we would take advantage of having Monday as a holiday by booking our adventure. She registered us and we both filled out our waiver forms (I confess to being a little anxious as I agreed that the activity “involves many inherent risks, dangers and hazards” followed by an exhaustive list of possibilities including wildlife, falls, and collision with trees or structures.” I decided it was best to not read the fine print too closely). Early that afternoon we were on our way to Niagara Falls.
The MistRider Zipline to the Falls is new this summer. It advertises “an amazing rush to soar high and fast towards the breathtaking natural Niagara Falls phenomenon.” There are four 2,200 feet zip lines that run parallel to each other through the river gorge that promised a perfect view of the Canadian and American falls.
We made our way to the Zipline only to find that we had to check in at another building on the other side of Clifton Hill. It was a bit confusing, but we managed to find it after asking a second time. We checked in and asked about pictures that Shirley had been assured on the phone would be available today; we were more than a little devastated to find out the photographers were gone for the day. We asked to talk to a Manager since we didn’t know if we wanted to go if we couldn’t have “proof” of our journey. A young man named Matt met us and explained that the photos were just being pilot tested and there was no guarantee of when they might be available. When he saw our disappointment, he got out his own phone and showed us pictures that he and his Mom had taken themselves and assured us that we could easily get our own pictures with our phones. With this information, we decided we would continue with our plans and joined the others who were part of the 5 p.m. group.
As we waited in line, we struck up a conversation with the couple behind us. They were from New York and had decided to drive back tomorrow, leaving them time to try out the zip line this afternoon rather than battle the border traffic. As we received our helmets and took the elevator up to the landing, we chatted amiably with them about our unique celebration of Shirley’s birthday. They laughed along with us when we told them that we worked in mental health and said they would enjoy going down the Zipline as a foursome to share our experience!
I watched the attendants leaning casually against the glass partition between the platform and the sky and felt my heart beat faster. For the first time since arriving, I quietly said, “I’m afraid of heights.” Just a statement, not a game changer. I became a little more anxious as we donned our gear – a durable (I hoped) canvas seat and harness that you stepped into, clipped here and there around your body and attached to the pulley attached to the zip line. I half- jokingly asked the attendant to reassure me that they hadn’t lost anyone yet. She looked to be less than half my age; she smiled and put her hand on my should telling me, “You got this.” I wasn’t entirely sure this statement was true, but I was strapped in and ready to go; at this point there was only one way down.
The glass panel opened and we were on our way. As previously discussed with our New York friends, we all screamed as we left the platform (I was glad I was able to scream since I had feared I would be catatonically silent). Then, everything became quiet. We were flying. Shirley, who had shot out in front of us for some unknown reason, later described her experience as feeling a lightness and serenity while enveloped in the tremendous roar of the wind. The journey takes less than a minute and reaches up to 60 kilometres an hour, but it felt to me like I was almost suspended in mid-air; the beautiful views on the gorge, the trees, the falls passed by as if in slow motion. I had no fear; it was peaceful.
At the bottom our foursome reconnected and we all spoke about how amazing our experiences had been. Shirley and I remained at the bottom for some time enjoying a view of the he Falls from a vantage point that one of the attendants said had not been open to the public for more than 30 years. Finally we conceded to get on the shuttle that took us back up the gorge. We looked at the pictures Shirley had taken and realized they were at least as good, if not better, than any we would have purchased, and we saved money in the end.
We continued to be in awe of our experience for the rest of the evening. Both Shirley and I are “mature” and experiencing transitions in our worlds, which resulted in not just the fun of zip lining, but also a more philosophical reflection on the life lessons that we could glean from our time in the air:
- When you are in flight, you can see in front of you and look around you, but you can’t look back;
- You can experience your own serenity even when the world is roaring around you;
- New experiences can be scary at first, but once you take the step, the journey can be so worth it;
- Sometimes what you anticipate to be essential before you begin turns out not to be important at all in the end;
- Experiences shared are double the fun!
My greatest of thanks to Shirley who helped me to once again live my life just a bit past my comfort zone.
Next up: Walking through history in Niagara Falls