Edges of Regret
Recently, my bucket-list changed. I was at a convention in Denver, eating breakfast with a new friend, Elizabeth from New Jersey, when she told me she had gone ziplining over the Royal Gorge. I didn’t know one could do such a thing even though I’ve been going to Royal Gorge my whole life. My bucket list appeared before my eyes and I saw the hand of God or somebody write at the top: “#1: Zipline Across Royal Gorge”. I knew I HAD TO DO THIS THING. My husband and our 17-year-old grandson, Caleb, agreed.
For the uninitiated, the Royal Gorge is a deep, incredibly beautiful, narrow canyon in the Colorado Rockies. Early 20th century entrepreneurs, propelled by dreams of tourist dollars, built the world’s highest suspension bridge way above the Arkansas River. Since the view from the bridge is breathtaking, even repeat tourists like me joyfully shell out for the exorbitant entrance fee.
“Do you want me to buy the zipline tickets on-line?” my husband asked.
Reality, as they say, set in. The shitty little doubter (SLD) that lives deep in my soul raised its ugly head and whispered: “You realize, don’t you, that to get to sailing through the air, you have to step off an edge? You hate edges, even lower ones than this. Do you really think you’re gonna be able to walk to the edge of a 900 foot drop? No way. You’ll freeze.”
I swallowed hard and answered my husband, “No, they don’t sell timed tickets, and the reviews all said there’s no need to get them ahead of time.” And if I chicken-shit out at the last minute, we won’t be stuck with an expensive ticket, I admitted only to myself.
Damn that SLD, but it had a point. Edges terrify me. My daughters’ childhood memories are filled with me screaming, “GET BACK FROM THE EDGE!” at them even if they were five feet away. One might even say it’s become a family joke, but I digress.
“Fear of edges is justified and reasonable,” the SLD soothed. “And, aren’t you afraid of getting stuck on the line? Will you just dangle there for hours? How will they rescue you? Maybe you’ll have to truss yourself up like a burrito and be hoisted into a helicopter at the end of a cable.”
“And, aren’t you afraid …” the SLD went on to paint a picture of what could go wrong with that rescue operation.
I felt my desire to zipline across the gorge diminishing. At the same time, I knew I had to do it. I didn’t need one more item in my bucket of regrets.
“Shut it, SLD. We’ve already got the hotel room. Nonrefundable. We’re doing this thing. Watch me.” I snapped my fingers and left the conversation.
On the first day of our two day trip, I drove four hours straight to Royal Gorge without stopping. Looking back, I think I did that so that I wouldn’t have the time or the bandwidth to overthink it and talk myself out of ziplining because of the edge involved.Fortunately, our bladders held for the entire drive.
The line for the ride moved super slowly. During the hour and a half, the SLD tried to talk to me and get me worrying about stepping off the edge. I ignored it and instead, talked with my family and the other people in line about the beautiful scenery. At one point, a few Rocky Mountain bighorn ewes helped distract me as they made their way up the side of the canyon right next to the line. The sheep delicately hopped across boulders until they reached the top of the canyon. They stepped lightly through the tall, brown grass on the plateau and then disappeared behind a little knoll. Soon after, it was my turn to step on the scale (yes, they weigh you) and pay another exorbitant fee and approach the starting gate.
The zipline at Royal Gorge is different from others I’ve seen on TV. For this ride, you sit in a red canvas chair that’s hooked via a steel cable to a big metal box that rides the line. You don’t get a helmet. The attendants hook up your chair to the line and then you sit in it and they strap you in six ways to Sunday.
I meant to ask my attendant to shove me out the gate so I would avoid freezing at the edge of the edge. But before I could shout, “Push me!” the gate slid open and I was through it without any effort on my part. Looking down, I was surprised to see my feet were already in the air above a long concrete slab, no edge in sight. I glanced across the gorge. Then, I looked down expecting to see the edge of the slab, but all I saw was the bottom of the canyon 900 feet below me.
Trying to spot the edge, I looked back, but instead, I saw my grandson flying right next to me, his face filled with pure joy. My chair picked up speed just then and whisked me ahead. I turned and waved and he waved back.
I settled in to enjoy the view. There wasn’t just one canyon wall beneath me, at least three parallel walls of jagged black rock laced with white, billion-year-old stone jutted from the canyon floor. Beyond the walls, the river romped and tumbled, foamy white and turquoise green. I couldn’t hear it roar because of the wind screaming in my ears, beating my dangling copper coin earrings against my cheeks.
As I flew towards the river, I wondered if I could do something to slow the chair, or maybe even stop it. Just for a few extra seconds so I could hear the roaring rapids and enjoy this experience for just a teeny bit longer. The irony of that wish dawned on me, but no fear arose to diminish my fun.
I whizzed on. The river disappeared and the far wall of the gorge loomed. Then, I flew over it and careened towards the visitors center. A telephone pole appeared directly in front of me. Surely I’ll stop, or at least slow down before I hit it, I thought. No such luck. While my body was spared crashing into the pole, the metal box the chair hung from slammed into it at full speed. The jolt rattled my bones and teeth and whipped me backwards towards the gorge. The momentum abated and as I floated towards the pole again, an attendant appeared on the platform and snatched my chair, bringing me to a stop. For a split-second, I grew angry that they let me hit that hard. Then, I caught a glimpse of people watching me from the cafe windows next to the landing strip. Damn if I was going to give them the satisfaction of thinking I couldn’t handle the ride. So, I laughed instead. And, surprise, I didn’t even have to fake it. I was fine. More than fine. I had conquered the Royal Gorge zipline! I hooted and pumped my fist before allowing the attendant to help me out of the chair.
Caleb flew in just then, laughing and whooping at his slam dunk landing. Then, we waited for Mark to sail in, all grins and laughter as he hit, too.
As we wobbled towards the famous bridge (it took a few minutes to get our “earth-legs” back) I marveled at how once again, as with so many things in life, a fear that had terrorized me never materialized.
I do have a bucket full of regrets, including things that I had a chance to do, but didn’t, because I listened to my shitty little doubter. Now that I know that it works to tell the SLD to STFU, I’m rummaging around in my regrets and have transferred a few of them to my bucket list. Waterskiing, anyone?