The glass bridge in the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park in China, I’m sure you have seen it. The video clip went viral on social media some time ago. They have a glass walkway too, the Sky Walk that curves around a cliff draped in mist. The two transparent paths offer stunning but vertiginous views. Look at the drop, it is terrifying. So terrifying that some visitors could be seen crawling on all fours, bawling like children. I know the feeling. I know it.
Heights scare the daylights out of me. My head spins, my palms become clammy. Oddly enough, I enjoy cable car rides. Flights too have never been a problem, although I worry every time I fly. But that has nothing to do with heights.
I have acrophobia, a fear of heights. As a child I was fearless, climbing cashew trees and slithering down tall mango trees with ease. I could scale smaller coconut and areca nut palms without a qualm. I don’t remember exactly when heights started to freak me out. It must have been after my school days; because that is when my tree-climbing came to a halt. When I found out that I was acrophobic, I tried to fight it. The results were disastrous. Not that it stopped me from trying. Well mostly. I’ve always avoided rollercoasters.
Last year, while on a holiday in Vancouver, I had an opportunity to put my fears to test with an obligatory trip to see the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The Sea to Sky Gondola ride went well the previous day, but the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park held untold terrors for me. Not to begin with. Because the Cliff Walk gave me a lot of confidence: I had walked around the ledge, nonchalantly looked over the railing at the canyon and even took pictures. The suspension foot bridge, however, turned out to be a beast.
Built in 1889 with thick ropes tied to Douglas fir trees, it has been a favourite of adrenaline junkies, movie stars, rock stars and royalty. About 450 feet long, it rises 230 feet high above the Capilano River.
The bridge was packed when we got there. Children of all ages ran back and forth on the narrow path. The elderly too crossed it with slow but steady strides. That was enough motivation for me. I mustered enough courage to step on the bridge.
Fifty metres out I looked down at the canyon and the gurgling water below. That was a mistake. It reduced me to a quivering wreck. I stopped for a while, gathered my wits and bravely resumed my slow trek. And then the bridge started swaying. My heart leapt to my throat, sweat ran down my ankles.
The swirling wind made the swaying worse. But I determinedly waved away my daughter who ran back to help and scowled at my wife who offered her arm. I wanted to conquer my fears. And I did not want any help to do it. I was certain the bridge would not collapse. There was no way I would fall off it. Yet I cowered in fear. That’s acrophobia and me.
With one hand firmly fastened on the steel cable on my right, and clutching my camera in my left hand, I stared at the finish and inched forward. I made it to the other side. That’s when my wife casually reminded me, “Now we’ve got to go back.”
Well then. It wasn’t going to be easy. But I would not let it stop me, not that I had a choice. Another challenge lay ahead. Extreme Forest Adventure: rope walkways that linked wooden platforms high up in the trees. If the suspension bridge couldn’t stop me, I was not going to miss this.
The return trip was uneventful; I seemed to have managed, if not overcome, my fears. But the soles of my feet still tingle when I look back at those moments on the bridge. Spine-chilling, yet thrilling, it was a walk to remember.
I’m still toying with the idea of riding a rollercoaster. Bungee-jumping, I certainly won’t do it. But skydiving, that is on my bucket list.
This was first published on gulfnews.com on July 1, 2017,
under the title Withering Heights. http://bit.ly/2vvQUAg
Pictures: Shyam A. Krishna