So Shane asked me to write about an adventure. Quite a broad topic for sure. It made me think, and as living and working in the “adventure” industry, surely I must have an opinion as to what constitutes one. It made me also think about how different scenarios have completely different interpretation by different individuals. Here's one of my adventure stories.
March 7, 2013
I have a secret. I am scared of heights. No not possible you protest when I say what my job is, when I say I taught climbing for 5 years, you could not really mean it. Well yes I do.
I am not entirely sure how I got through my instructing years. I think it helped me to teach as I understood the fear but of course I also had to climb. Perhaps as it was a daily occurrence I built up tolerance to it. However having not climbed in close to 15 years I had lost it all.
Last year I was extremely privileged to get asked on a press trip to Austria. My fellow travellers were a strange mix of journalists, business owners, and even two ladies for the ICA.
So when we were all brought to Austria's truly spectacular adventure playground-Area 47 and asked to sample their ridiculously large, High Ropes course all eyes turned to me. “But I'm afraid of heights” I squeaked but no one choose to hear. At this point we had only known each other for a couple of hours so my shyness kept me mute. Miss Adventure (me) was harnessed up and pushed off the edge before she could work out how to run back to the bus.I cannot describe the fear. It was unbearable. It was a cow tail system which basically means although you are clearly attached, there is no pressure on your harness so it feels like you are not.
It was approx 20meters up from bare cement. I could not help but look down, only pure mortification kept my lunch in my stomach. I am not religious but I tried to send my goodbye messages to my daughter through telepathy.
Unfortunately although I managed to keep my food internal, I could not say the same about my thoughts. In normal life, although I really try not to, I am very ashamed to say I curse like a trooper. So this rose to about level 10 out on the ropes. The ICA ladies were visibly shaken by the foul stream of vocabulary that came out of my mouth. As I moved along the ropes it only got louder and fouler. Maybe I thought if I am still making noise I am still alive.
The 20 mins seemed like 20 years. My life flashed by me and I craved other side like water in the desert. My legs and arms were shaking so badly the group presumed I was joking but then matching it to my ghostly pallor they realised I might have been telling the truth.
So clearly I survived. And of course there was never any real danger. I kindly had provided the entertainment for the next 5 evening as we all bonded over Mona's (Miss adventure) foray into Austrian climbing.
So at least I now knew how bad my fear was and I could give into it. I never had to climb again I no longer felt the need to prove myself, the only blessing of growing older.
I was also incredibly lucky to get to go to Switzerland this year to a global adventure summit.
We were brought by Failte Ireland to represent Ireland's adventure industry. It was absolutely fascinating and I learnt so much on how adventure is taking over the global travel industry.
It was 4 days of meetings and networking but the first day was for sampling the best of the Swiss adventure activities.
So luckily I had learnt my lesson. No climbing activities for me. There was up to 25 to choose from, from Bungee jumping to abseiling and of course my pal the High ropes. Although I had a mad urge to push myself again common sense took hold so I ticked a nice walk to an alpine summit but with 3,000 feet by cable car and so not even too taxing, just a short trot to the top.
We came off the cable car with the absailers and the bungee jumpers and we all gathered in our little groups. The vistas were unreal, a crisp cold Autumns' days we could see as far as Italy and France, the majestic snow peaked Alps reminding us how insignificant we actually are. My Irish friend tried to persuade me to join her gang as they put on their harnesses on and got ready to head off to abseil, again for a second I was tempted but the Austrian memory was too fresh in my thoughts,
Our instructor spoke very little English and seemed to have missed charm school. He muttered a few things to us and then threw down a bag full of equipment. I peered inside and was completely flummoxed. Why was there crampons and ice picks in his bag. There was a lot of confusion as the absailers thought it was for them and as it was clearly not for us so we all ignored it and milled around for the next 20 mins chatting idly. Whilst talking to a English girl called Alex I felt someone pulling at my foot. I looked down and saw one of the guides was trying to fit a crampon on my foot.
No, I tried to explain I am on the summit walk and pointed to a well made path heading off towards the summit. He put them on anyway so I smiled as I was happy to play along, they were obviously trying to add a bit of drama to our simple walk. Then he handed me an ice pick. I held it in my hand and turned now with slight panic to my suddenly new best friend Alex as she was a climber, and asked her why would on earth we would be given ice picks.
She shrugged and thought it was most likely a mistake. I held it awkwardly in my hand and took a few steps gingerly across the snow not having a clue how to walk in my spiky accessories.
Our instructor told us it was time to go and so off we went along the path. To my complete dismay he suddenly took a sharp right turn straight off the path and on to the mountain.
It is strange what you choose in times like that, one of the girls in the group of 7 straight away said “no way” and turned back to the station. I looked at her, I looked at the group and have absolutely no idea why I choose to keep going.
Without trying to exaggerate the situation, we were basically on a ridge walk often about 12 inches wide with a sheer 3000 metre drop on one side with a softer drop on the other side which turned into a sheer drop after 20meters.
Without the crampons and the ice pick you were gone, history, over the edge. As he roped us up I asked him if one person fell what was to stop us all being pulled down with them. He answered in his heavy German monotone, “you must watch and jump to the other side that they fall off”
30 metres from the summit I stopped. I could not go on. I was paralysed with fear, tears were welling up and I felt panic building. The worst part was I knew I had to keep going, and even worse than Austria I could see real risk in the scenario.
I have spend my adult life searching for adventure. I have tried to live my dream and challenge myself on a daily basis. I adore the thrill of being scared, pushing through it and the high you get from coming out intact.
However, this works for me in water and on horseback. On that mountain, that cold dread of fear had no joy no excitement just pure panic.
It is a very humbling experience. The instructor realised there was trouble and pulled the rope between us as short as possible and basically physically dragged me along. I found a zone in my mind to hide in and tried to let it all happen without my mental involvement.
I felt no achievement at the summit just more dread at having to come back down.
However what goes up and all that... and so after the most frightening 90 mins of my life we managed to get down intact of body but perhaps for me a little eroded of mind.
At the bottom when we finally took life confirming alpine breath we noticed a commotion. Some one, not in our group and without crampons had slid down the softer slope. Luckily he had fallen down a crevasse and although had managed to break every limb whilst falling he was alive. The crevasse had saved his life as it had prevented him continuing on to the sheer drop.
I do have to question the risk involved in the activities there but not their efficiency in retrieving the casualty. It was breathtaking to see. Within 3 minutes a ice plough had driven down to the crevasse, whilst perched precariously on the edge flattened out a landing pad where a helicopter arrived approx 5 min later, they had him winched up in 20 mins.
(Moral of story if you are going to have an accident in the Alps have it in Swiss territory)
So twice in one year I had unintentionally pushed myself way out of my comfort zone. It was unforgettable but I cannot say in any manner, enjoyable, it was without doubt an adventure.
However in reflection I see adventure as many things.
What is it that makes my heart beat the fastest?
Was it when I asked someone on a date after months of trying to pluck up the courage?
Was it when I got caught in a storm on my horse and had to jump a flooded river with my dog on my saddle?
or was it seeing my daughter for the first time?
We all have our own adventures to live. Mine have been amazing but from now on my feet stay firmly on the ground.