Friday, August 12, 2011

Fear of heights, you ask?

When a conversation begins with, "Do you have a fear of heights?", you should already know that whatever comes next is not going to be good. Unless you have the opposite, some kind of acrophilia. Neither are my case. My answer was, "I have fear in general, but not specifically of heights..." --and I should have left it there, but I proceeded to ask, "Why?"

I was then invited on a climbing trip to a Kletternpark, or Hochseilgarten. Of course I said yes, because I was sure Honey would say no; it was to be on a weekday, and Honey works. In my mind, it was a perfect plan. Only that Honey took the day off and, before I realized what the heck was happening, a couple of days later a young, handsome man was asking my name while attaching my harness, my rope and my carabiners.

"You do speak German, right?", he asked, because I was not answering any of his questions (which were, "How are you?" and "What's your name?").

I nodded and looked away again. I looked at what I would be facing the moment he was done dressing me.

Crazy German idea of fun... But all the Germans were so excited, and I was not about to be the scardy-cat Colombian. No siree! I put on a huge smile and pretended to be brave. On level 1.

They have 8 levels, 8 being the hardest. I began with level 1, and did ok. Being that it was my first time EVER climbing and jumping around in the air (always less than a meter over ground), I was screaming in fear.

Level 2 was better, although scarier. This time I was all the time at least 2 meters above ground.

Level 3 should have been my last one, but the group wanted to climb one more, and I was not about to sit down and wait for them all bored and lonely... so I went to do number 4. Unfortunately, there was a long line - but 5 was alone. All alone. Waiting for me. Calling my name. Enticing me. Evil 5.

So we went ahead, two Germans (Meria and Mareke) and me. Meria went ahead first, she is so brave. When she thought she had gotten to the platform, she looked down and said, "Woo-hoo, I made it!" But we burst her bubble: "You still have a long way to go! Look up!" Dude - she still had an eternity to climb. But she did it. Tall Germans.

Then it as my turn. As I was on the second step, Mareke said, "I don't think I'll join you up there - it looks too scary.| Pfff!! Puh-lease! I told her to not be chicken.

 She was a chicken.

In retrospective, I should have been, too.

So I climbed.

The Number 5 course has the most obstacles, that is, it is the longest. Ish. So there comes a moment when it is not so much fear of dying that paralyzes you, but rather total exhaustion. Muscles you had no idea you had ache - and your body weighs a thousand million kilos. Damn German chocolate...

Everything was ok until I got to this obstacle:

This is the point where I am no longer scared but rather tired. And I am so tired, that I let the two KIDS behind me go ahead. The first one, a boy about 10 years old, runs by. Like that--swoosh. Like he had no idea that one can die in these kinds of things! Then a girl, about 10 - she was very polite and asked if I didn't want to go first (chicken!!), she said she could wait. I told her I just needed a few minutes...

Then my turn came, and I did the first thing EVERYONE tells you NOT to do: I looked down.

Look, the only way you know you have a fear of heights is when you look down and feel a very specific fear that paralyzes you as you stand there, facing a possible imminent death 17 meters below you (which of course I will SWEAR was more like 170 meters) and  hanging only by a lame, tiny, totally unsafe rope and carabiners (which, of course, are totally safe).

Yes, I should have said. Yes, I do have a fear of high heights.

I began to cry. At first, only cute little tears. But also, I have recently discovered I suffer from hysterical laughter - so I started to laugh hysterically. I call down to Mareke and ask her to bring a coach-person-thingy to come save me. She runs. From a million meters under, a man yells something unintelligible. Then Mareke replies on my behalf, "Her name is Natalya." He says that there are two choices and proceeds to explain them - for the life of me, I have no clue what he said. When it looked like he was finished, I yelled, "Do any of those options include you coming up here?" He said no... so I let out a huge cry, which of course sounded like laughter, so he laughed. He was kind enough to say he'd climb right away...

So there I am, a gazillion kilometers above ground, hugging a tree, and I realize how ridiculous I look. So now I am not only crying due to fear, but also due to shame. And my muscles hurt, so I am also crying due to pain. That was the only time I was happy to be so far away from civilization. No one really saw me crying. 

A thousand hours later, the guy finally comes to my rescue. Martin. He goes over the two options again, and now I understand them:

1) He will lower me with a safety rope blah blah blah - I stopped listening because my fear of heights kicked in. And I cried.

2) He will climb this and the remaining obstacles with me and blah blah blah - I stopped listening because my fear of heights and my embarrassment kicked in. And I cried more.

But then there was a new option:

3) He will stay on the platform and talk me through this obstacle so that I may go ahead and blah blah blah - I stopped listening because my fear of heights and my embarrassment and my pain kicked in. And I let out a sorrowful yelp.

I think I scared him a little. 

And then this was my reasoning:

Option 1 will not work because I will die in the lowering process. No. Option 2 will not work because - look again at what I had to do:

I had to walk through these wood thingies. And I thought, when I get on the first one, it will swing. Swinging means falling, and falling means death. If the both of us get on the wooden thingy, it will swing more and we will die faster. Yeah - no.

And Option 3 was not going to work because, OMG, I was in so much pain, the idea of having to continue was just excruciating. Might I mention that I was not even half way through at this point, but I was at the highest point of the whole climbing park thingy.

But then I also realized that I had to get a grip on myself because people were waiting to experience the super fun of having near-death experiences!

So I said, I can do it. And I started to cry again. And I continued to be paralyzed. So much for action words.

I said again, I can do it. I looked down. Started crying again. Continued to be paralyzed. Hated myself a little.

I said again, I can do it. 

Martin, by the way, was super cool and super sweet and not at all patronizing. The best coach-person there. 

With this last "I can do it", my foot climbed on the swing and, as expected, the thingy swinged and my whole body was brought onto the swing. This was, of course, melodiously accompanied by my shrieks, which I am sure could be heard in China. Once I was safely on the wooden thingy, still screaming, Martin congratulated me, and I began to cry hysterically, my tears making the people 17 meters below me wet, I promise. And my hysterical cries made me laugh hysterically, and poor Martin didn't know what to do, so he laughed uncomfortably. Honey, 17 meters below me, was being the most supportive boyfriend in the world, telling me he was so proud and he loved me so much. Mareke was also encouraging me. Even Hendrik and evil Nicole (this was all HER idea!!!) were cheering me on.

So there I am, like the lady in the picture above - hanging on to dear life. Laughing and crying. 

And completely paralyzed.

I could not move. I could not go on. I could only laugh and cry. 17 meters above ground, laughing and crying hysterically. 

What a sight.

Somehow I was able to regain movement and slowly, but surely, began my way through the Level 5 hanging obstacle course.

It was scary. It was terrifying. It was a horrible experience. I am afraid of heights. I was in pain for 3 days afterwards. I don't understand how people consider this fun. 

So, Nicole, when are we going again?


  1. I can't see the pictures!!! =(
    (I'm already laughing, I'm soooorrry) I wanna see the pictures! ;)

    Ps: you are SO brave =)

  2. My little coffee bean! Don't you know that you grow best closest to the ground? Of course you got a bit scared. Reminds me of....
    "Promise me you'll always remember: you're braver than you believe, and stronger that you seem, and smarter than you think." ~~~said Christopher Robin to Pooh