Okay, I’ve done it. I faced my fears. And they won. Today was the one activity I’ve been dreading this entire trip. Swim with sharks? No problem. Navigate a new city, avoiding drive-by purse snatchings? No problem. Eat fermented tofu sauce? No problem. Do a canopy walk? No way.
I’m afraid of heights. It took me years to go higher than the first step on a ladder. I do not climb.
The itinerary read: “Ascending heights of 25-40 meters (80-130 feet), we’ll walk one of the world’s longest canopy walkways (installed without any nails being driven into the trees.) Just one innocuous-sounding paragraph in 26 pages of itinerary. Yet it was the stuff that nightmares are made of. Mine, at least.
Fortunately, my roommate was also afraid of heights, so I wasn’t the only seemingly cowardly one. We climbed about 80 steps up the jungle hill to get to the beginning of the canopy. The first bridge wasn’t too high up, just a two-story climb inside a wooden tower.
Anyone who knows me well knows I’m a crybaby. I cry when I’m angry, tired, frustrated or scared. This was all of those. As I watched the others in my group start to cross, the tears began.
The bridge was solid planks of wood, so you couldn’t see through to below, but only about two feet wide, suspended by netting attached to cables between large trees. The guide kept asking if I wanted to go back, but I just stood there, unable to answer, rubbing my running nose on my already damp-with-sweat shirt. The walkway bounced and swung as the others walked.
“You don’t have to go,” he kept saying. “We recommend people who are afraid of heights not do this.”
My roommate set off, non-emotional as usual, calmly crossing.
I know my limits, but I also know I don’t give up without a fight. And that if I didn’t at least try it, I’d regret it forever.
I stopped crying just long enough to sputter, “I want to try.”
He and the local official forest naturalist told me I could go back and wait for the others if I couldn’t do it after the first bridge. The naturalist took my backpack, which had about fifteen pounds of water in it, and said he’d be right behind me.
I took my first step and kept moving, grabbing ahold of the rope sides. As I progressed, the crying went from weeping to all-out sobbing, and I had to keep blinking away the tears so I could see where I was grabbing. At one point, the bridge really shook and swayed, and I let out a yowl, sounding uncannily like the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz. But this was no act. I was obviously quite terrified. I realized the height wasn’t as big a factor as all the moving and shaking.
I reached the platform at the other end, stepped up onto solid ground (sort of–it was also swaying) and put my forehead against the tree and cried some more. I must have cried a pint of water in those 20 minutes. The crying stopped momentarily as I accepted the fact that I had made it so far, but the decision still needed to be made as to whether I’d continue or turn back.
“Are there four more bridges?” I asked.
“No, there are nine more.”
“Oh God, no, I’m not going.” Four more I thought I could handle. Nine more, definitely not.
The naturalist waited for me on the platform as I tried to calm down.
“Relax, tek a look at de nice scenery,” he suggested. After I had leaned against the tree for a long time, I did. There wasn’t much to see except the leaves and branches.
He told me some of the bridges were a lot longer and one was shaped like a “U”. You had to walk down, then up again. I was so happy I had given up when I did. But I still had to re-trace my steps to go back.
This time I was pretty dry-eyed until the very end, when it shook a fair amount, and I started crying again. But we got back to the wooden building and I was happy to be back on solid ground, so to speak.
Back on the main jungle trail, we climbed another 40 or so stairs to wait for the others, who emerged some 30-40 minutes later. Despite outward calm, my roommate said she was very scared and had been teary after the first bridge. She said she wouldn’t do it again.
Others told me there was one bridge with ladder-like steps they needed to climb that I wouldn’t have liked. Besides, even after all of that, all they saw while up there was one small lizard in a hole in a tree. I was happy to have wimped out after all. And that was just the start of our day.