Standing precariously on top of a pile of rocks, sucking in my core for every ounce of rigidity, I froze with a smile as my Dad slowly pressed the shutter down below. “JUST TAKE THE PICTURE” I screamed through my grin, arms stretched out with the wind hammering against me.
Despite my collection of photographs where I’m casually dangling off cliffs and standing on great heights, my fear of edges is always one that has tested me.
Just recently I was ticking off the must-see sights in Hamburg when I came across the Old Elbe Tunnel, a half a mile stretch under the river that was built over a hundred years ago. Finally coming across the entrance after investigating the harbour for a good 15 minutes, I hastily pushed through a swinging door. On the other side, my confidence diminished, immediately stopping in my tracks, as little more than a thin gaping metal barrier stood between me and 24 metres of dark, dingy space. To get to the bottom I could join a long line for the lift, or take the winding set of stairs that floated out into the open. Impatiently, I chose to deep breathe my way down, clutching to the edge whilst cautiously stepping onto the metal grates one at a time.
I’m not sure where this fear originates from. I’ve never nearly fallen, I’ve never seen anyone tumble from an edge… it just gives me the heeby jeebys.
When I was about 7 years old on a family trip to the Isle of Wight we were visiting some sort of castle, following a tour group around the site before we gathered around a brick well. This memory is as clear as day, little me standing by its edge where an inquisitive tourist asked “why is it covered with a wire grate?” Only then when the guide began to tell a story of how a small boy had once fell down, stuck at the bottom until they could rescue him, did I start to edge away.
Maybe that kicked it off, or maybe it’s just one of those scary childhood memories that’s stayed with me, but you won’t find me peering down a well.
And before you ask, no it’s not a fear of heights. One place it regularly creeps in is at British seaside piers. You know the kind, where the concrete walkway just drops straight into the ocean with kids sitting on the edge, dipping in their crab lines to catch a shelled beast. When my brother and sister were little, this used to terrify me. I’d be there, having a mini heart attack whilst their tiny toddler legs unsteadily ran past the sheer drop to the sea.
So no, it’s not a heights thing. Airplanes, rooftops, skyscraper views, I’ll lean over the edge with my camera without a care in the world. As long as there’s a wall that goes past my waist I feel safe knowing that I won’t spill over.
But as soon as I’m high up out in the open, without anything keeping me upright, my stomach starts to jump around. It’s a fear that I’ve challenged on quite a few occasions, most of them involving precariously balanced rocks that stick out over sharp cliffs and forests down below.
But there’s no way that I’m not getting that photograph. Yosemite, Exmoor, Thailand, the Grand Canyon… as long as I stay seated I can just about bum shuffle my way to the edge without having a panic attack, just long enough to grin and throw my hands in the air whilst my brain is screaming “FUCK! SHIT ME! GET ME OFF THIS THING”.
Weirdly I’m not scared of rides. I get the last minute adrenaline rush when I’m strapped into my seat, but primarily my screams are full of excitement and laughter rather than sheer fear. My favourite ride in the world is Disney’s Tower of Terror. Every time it has me in hysterics as I’m thrown up and down with little more than a seat belt. I also managed to get through Universal’s Rip Ride Rockit without so much as a few curse words. The upward vertical climb had me swearing to baby Jesus and even meditating for about 5 seconds before I opened my eyes and screamed my way around.
With that being said, there has been an incident where I have completely had a panic melt down on a ride.
Meet the Big Shot, the 160 foot ride ON TOP of an 1149 foot tower. The Stratosphere in Las Vegas is known to be crowned with what most people call, the “hell fucking no am I going on that” scariest rides in the world. Now when I’m on my travels I’m never normally one to turn down an experience, I don’t want to miss out on anything no matter how ridiculous. But I happily turned down two of these rides; a dangling spinning wheel, with nothing but air between you and a life-threatening drop, and a catapulting carriage that projects you out over the edge. Nah thanks.
Instead I went for what I considered to be the least terrifying of the three, Big Shot. I was wrong. I literally almost shat myself.
Just getting up onto the observation deck had me turning back. This shit was high. And outdoors. There weren’t many barriers. As I joined a non-existent queue I started to tremble, my hands began to get pins and needles, and as I got myself into the seat I really begun freaking out. I was sweating, crying, and as I became encased in the bit of equipment that was stopping me from flinging to my death… I lost all feeling in my arms. I genuinely think I had a panic attack.
The ride shot us up in the air as I went rigid, eyes shut, not evening bringing myself to open my mouth to scream. I think I peeked for about 0.4 seconds at the view before I closed my eyes again, being thrown down to the bottom at 43 miles an hour.
It was adrenaline at its worst but it tested a fear that I realised I can conquer.
That’s the thing about travelling. You constantly find yourself in places that you know you might not come to again, and that if you do it will be different, the situation will never be the same. So when you’re faced with an opportunity that requires facing a fear, your only choice is to take a deep breath, wipe away a tear and do it.
I might have been the girl that cried, hyperventilated and probably peed a little on the Big Shot. But I’d rather be her than the one that didn’t do it.