Saturday was filled with activities for the kids. What I thought was an anti-smoking camp turned into an anti-drug camp but I wasn’t understanding any of it anyway. When the straight lectures began I tuned out and headed to the beach to walk in the surf. I was on the Gulf of Thailand after all and the reputations of the beaches of this beautiful country are well deserved. I returned back to the camp in time for lunch. The afternoon activities were more active and understandable to me and I watched and laughed and began to enjoy myself a little more. The 30 students I came with were engaged in games involving teamwork and problem solving, things I could easily pick up on and could participate in, if only with my eyes.
When the round of games was completed the Air Force trainers pointed to the exercise field next door and more specifically to the six-story concrete tower. The kids were going zip lining. They got instructions on how they’d be strapped into the gear and how they should fall/jump from the tower. Even before seeing the first kid plunge and bounce, flailing across the zip line, dangling from his harness, I knew I had to do it. I don’t know why, I’ve always been afraid of heights. I just knew I had to. If I didn’t do it now, I never would. At 60, who needs regrets? Dtarn timidly asked how much I weighed and checked with the trainers to make sure the line would support my 86 kilo body. They assured her it would, but did I really trust their smiles? They made sure I was last. I think they knew that after I leapt they would either need to replace or restring the line I had broken or they would need to readjust the tension and tautness of the cables.
I donned the helmet and got strapped into the harness, the Air Force guys adjusting the straps, tightening them around my chest and groin so there was no give and little chance for injury when the line caught and I bungeed and bounced against gravity. I ran up the tower stairs and stood in line. My breathing was heavy, from the climb, from the heat, from the weight of the helmet and harness gear, from the anticipation. Being the military there were foot prints painted on the deck telling me where I needed to stand. There were three people in front of me, standing over their appropriate foot prints. I waited and watched and calmed down.
I knew what to expect. The Air Force guys would attach the straps of my harness to the apparatus on the zip line. I would jump, become airborne and then plummet a story or two. I would then reach the end of the tether and bounce finally sailing 20-30 feet above the ground until I landed and got unlatched. My fear of heights all came down to those few seconds of leaving the safety and security of the tower, free falling and then rebounding. Once I got through that I’d be okay. I knew what I needed to do, raise my arms and hold the harness straps above my head, then let gravity do its job.
I really wasn’t afraid, maybe a bit apprehensive. I only allowed myself to think about the bounce and sailing across the field, not about the line breaking or anything going wrong. I didn’t think about losing consciousness or about being shoveled off the ground onto a stretcher. The only clear thought I had was, “What the hell am I doing? I’m too old for this.”
By the time it was my turn to jump most of the kids had left the training grounds, it was snack time, they hadn’t eaten in two hours. A few of my students stayed behind to witness my derring-do (or folly) and cheer me on. I stepped to the edge of the concrete, to the final set of painted foot prints, the ones with the toes missing, and I let the Air Force guys attach my harness to the zip line. I looked up, then I looked down, but only briefly. I looked out across the field toward my landing spot. Then I fell, or was I pushed? No, no, I jumped of my own accord. I fell awkwardly, chest first, and stopped thinking for a few seconds. The bounce happened, I stopped falling and I rebounded and bounced a little more. I heard the wheel on the cable above me as it spun round and round and I advanced along the line high above the ground. The line twisted a bit and I found I was looking back at the tower, so I jerked myself forward and continued on. I unconsciously let out a yell, a deep, throaty Woo Hoo and before I knew it it was over. I scraped my knee a bit when I landed gracelessly in the sand on the hill. But most importantly my shorts were still dry. I still think I was too old for this.