My editor, Rebecca (Becky) Saletan at Riverhead, asked that I include fear of heights in Some Nerve because it was such a common fear (i.e., she had it). In the past, she’d watch her girls zipping along a ropes course and think “You could hold a gun to my head and I would never do that.” Well, watch what happens when Becky, who is extremely brave for the sake of others (wanting to enjoy family outings more is a big motivation) and for the sake of her books (anything for Some Nerve!) discovers during her #SomeNerve Challenge the personal triumph that is the best part of being brave. The story makes my heart pound, the video clips are priceless, the picture at the end says it all:
The Ropes Course
By Rebecca Saletan
So when Patty announces that she’s going to mount a #SomeNerve Challenge in the lead-up to publication, I know I’m on the hook. I’m her editor, after all! And I instantly know what I’ll choose. Inspired by working with Patty, I’ve already begun to tame a few fears–flying, driving, public speaking– and I’ve tasted the exhilaration that comes with getting braver. But I remain petrified of heights, as I’ve been all my life. Even standing on the ground at Catamount Aerial Adventure Park each summer, looking up into the trees where my kids do the ropes course, gives me palpitations. So ropes course it is.
I wake up with a new fear: my Challenge is going to be a total anticlimax. I’ll get up there and lope through the course, wondering what I was ever afraid of. I’ll be worse than a coward–I’ll be a bore.
Ha! True, I’m not scared as I drive, nor as I get fitted for my harness (though I make the rookie mistake of forgetting to pee beforehand). I’m a little overwhelmed by all the hardware: carabiners, pulleys, tweezils. Tweezils? The guy giving us the safety lesson speaks so quickly and softly I can’t follow, and when I ask my daughters and their friends for clarification we get in trouble for talking, like kids in class. Fortunately, on the way up the slope there’s a Tweezil station where I can practice.
Catamount’s ropes course features, in ascending order of difficulty, three yellow runs, two green, two blue, one black diamond, and one double black diamond. I have promised myself only that I will complete a single yellow run. My girls and their friends are itching to get on to the real challenges, but they indulge me.
I get through the first leg okay, a kind of macramé tunnel that comfortingly cradles me, and somehow through the next one as well, but at the third challenge – a series of swaying planks I have to pull myself along by a series of hanging ropes — I hit a wall of panic. Even though I know I’m harnessed and tweeziled within an inch of my life, I can’t make myself go. It’s not the instability that upsets me, it’s the height – a figure-and-ground problem that’s stumped me my whole life.
I stall. I let a couple of people pass me. I think about how I’ll rationalize it to Patty: I wasn’t ready yet. I didn’t get enough sleep the night before. I’ll come back another day and try it when I’m better rested, when it’s not so crowded, when I have professional help with me … Never. I’ll pick another challenge. This one’s beyond me. My daughter Anna, a born worrywart and empath, starts scouting on the ground for someone to bring me a ladder. But something in me isn’t quite ready to admit defeat yet, miserable as I am, and I call her off. I urge the girls and their friends to go on and leave me to figure it out. Anna and the others do, but Simone isn’t giving up. She steps off the platform and dangles by her harness, waving her arms and legs, to show me I can’t possibly fall. She jumps up and down on the thin strips of plank. “Unless you’re more than 265 pounds, you can’t break this, Mom,” she says (the upper weight limit at Catamount is 265). “And if you’re more than 265 pounds, you’ve done an excellent job of hiding it.” A nearby dad takes up the cause, urging me on.
I’m not one whit less petrified, but I do it. I cling to the idea that I’ll hate myself if I don’t. I pull myself up onto the platform whimpering, because I can look ahead and see how much higher and harder it’s going to get.
Next is a zip line, of which I have a special dread. It takes me forever to push off but finally I do, the way you finally push off into a cold lake – not because it gets warmer or easier or anything makes you, but because you finally get that the only thing that can make you do it is just doing it.
And guess what? The zip line is easy! And FUN.
After that, I start becoming more aware of what’s going on up here—which really isn’t difficult at all–than how high above the ground I am while I’m doing it. (Afterward, when I look at the video my daughter shot, I can’t believe how low I was.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPWOmcvOMUw
I finish the rest of the course with diminishing fear and increasing pleasure and ease.
The final zip line to the ground is a blast.
I tell the girls I’ll be back for them in a couple of hours. I text Patty, and Katie and Glory and Jynne in our publicity department: I DID IT. I NEARLY DIDN’T. IT WAS TERRIFYING. IT WAS EXHILARATING. I start down the hill, floating on an endorphin high. Then I pause: As long as I’m here, don’t I want to do another run? It sounds like … fun. And I do.
What will your #SomeNerve Challenge be?