By Kim Watkins
Today I defied death in the rainforest.
Well, maybe I should give you a little background first.
You know how we all have at least one vivid memory from our childhood — maybe it’s your 8th birthday or sitting on your grandfather’s lap to watch a movie or something like that? Mine is of my father trying to “cure” me of my fear of heights. And since I inherited this fear from him, I realize now he was probably using me as an excuse to help himself, as well.
When I was about ten years old he took me to Windows on the World near the top of the World Trade Center. The elevator was fast, and I could feel my knees buckling on the way up. As I stepped out onto the 106th floor I must have looked like a newborn colt struggling to stand for the first time. You don’t need a vivid imagination to have that picture painted.
To relieve me of my acrophobia he walked me over to the window, and we both pressed our noses against it. There I was shaking like a leaf, leaving a huge nose smudge as ant-sized people scurried about 100+ floors below.
It didn’t cure me of anything, but it did leave me with a vivid memory, one with which I still torture my father by telling him it emotionally scarred me for life.
Now fast forward to today when I have that same tight-chested feeling as I stand in the Costa Rican rainforest looking down on the valley 656 feet below. I’m with a great group of people, yet I question the sanity of every single one of us. We range in age from 60 to tween and are all here to simply defy death…well, some call it ziplining. Yep, we are CHOOSING to fly across the valley at a height of more than half that of the World Trade Center where I left my nose smudge. We are entrusting our lives to a cable and a harness. That’s it. No safety nets. No “do-overs.” Just a cable and a harness.
As I near the edge I can hear my heart pounding, and it’s becoming deafening. My chest is tightening. My legs feel colt-like once again. And as the voice in my head continues to yell, “Run! Run away!!,” I hear someone else telling me to pick a number from one to ten. But before I can answer I’m shoved off the edge!
Within seconds I’m screaming expletives that would have gotten me spanked in the World Trade Center. I fly across the valley hanging from that seemingly tiny cable. I feel as though I’m flying with toucans, high above a verdant canopy that hides hundreds of howler monkeys, sloths, and jaguars far below.
To be honest, I really have no idea if there were any toucans around me, because my eyes were sealed shut with not one pinpoint of light penetrating my lids. But I knew I had to break that crazy-glue-like seal if I didn’t want to crash, so I peeked as little as needed out of my left eye and saw I was still as high as the heavens. I quickly closed my eyes again as tightly as possible!
I was flying like a rocket all this time and couldn’t estimate how soon I would crash land, so I had no choice but to peek again. It was then I saw someone waving his arms at me and knew I had made it across the valley, ziplining to safety in an eternity that had lasted only 44 seconds.
I didn’t breathe the entire time and now, just like that, I’m standing again. And I take a deep breath.
“I survived,” I told myself.
I was then reminded we have five more ziplines, leapfrogging back and forth across the canyon, until we are finally on the ground safely once again.
Maybe I’ll try skydiving next. But I wouldn’t bet on it.