I love to travel, and I love to explore, but my fear of heights is something that has often held me back. Just over a month ago, I visited France and Spain as the first two stops on my epic, worldwide adventure (more on this later), and this trip was no exception: I found myself in situations where there was something I wanted to do, but my body was screaming “dude, don’t you f—–g dare.”
One of those situations was in Chamonix, France, where a small group of us took the train up Aiguille du Midi, intent on a hike. I stepped off onto the platform, turned a corner, and it hit me like a ton of bricks: 2000m is high, and my brain does not like high.
I tried to push past it, taking a moment to calm myself with a warm cappuccino in the mountaintop cafe. The plan was to board a gondola and then take some stairs to see a glacier cave before the hike. I took a deep breath and walked cautiously toward the gondola, thankful that I was with some very patient people.
As I neared the gondola entrance, I noticed a sign: from the end of the gondola ride, it was 500 steps (stairs!) to the cave — about a 30-minute walk. “Oh, hell no,” was my internal dialogue. “Not gonna happen.” I apologized to the group, turned on a dime, and high-tailed it back to catch the next train down the mountain.
Fast-forward a couple of days, and we are all on this gorgeous beach in Begur, a picturesque coastal town in Catalonia, Spain, complete with some old ruins ideal for jumping into the water. I swam out with a fellow traveler, pulled myself out of the water, and noticed a familiar feeling creeping back in: that obnoxious panic that has a way of showing up when it is most unwanted. I dove back into the water, cursing myself, and swam over to watch her climb up, dive off, and enjoy every minute.
I felt pretty terrible about myself. While not a new feeling by any stretch, it’s certainly not one I enjoy, and it often feels like I’m not making the most of these beautiful places I’m so lucky to visit. So when our trip leader, Rebecca, said: “I’m going up there to jump off, does anyone want to come?” I leaped to my feet said “hell yes” without even thinking about it.
Halfway up, I started to panic again. “I can’t do this,” I said and turned around. And then my brain did something unusual: it played out a scenario where I realized I’d be better off just moving forward than turning back.
With Rebecca cheering me on, I made it and felt a wave of relief. Then it hit me: I’m not done. If I don’t climb up on this wall and jump off, well, let’s say I had visions of me as a frail old man, cemented to that same spot.
“Watch out for the sharks,” some locals joked, mistaking my fear of the height for something else. As I laughed, I noticed my fellow travelers watching from below, cheering and yelling that I could do it.
I climbed up, jumped off, landed butt-first in the water, and felt an overwhelming wave of emotion come over me. “Holy shit, I did it.” Followed immediately by: “holy shit, my ass hurts,” and “they didn’t capture this on video, nobody who knows me even a little will ever believe I did this.”
But I did, and it felt great – it almost made up for the mountain – and brought back reminders of other times I’ve been able to do it, like zip-lining and para-sailing in Costa Rica and hiking down a waterfall in Italy.
I promised myself at that moment that I’d work to overcome this, make it something I don’t even give a passing thought. And who knows how long that’ll take me – it may never happen – but this was a hell of a first step, and it almost didn’t happen but for the support of some incredible humans.
Photo credit: Peter Mostbryg on Unsplash.