Sunday, June 13, 2010


(In the interest of saving time, I’d like to offer you some options as you consider the following entry into The Blog. You can choose to read the short version or the long one. Here’s the short version:

“Brack-brack-brack-braaaack! Bock bock bock bock bock. Braaaack!”

For the longer choice, see below.)

There are a lot of reasons The Bride and I think we’d do well on The Amazing Race. We have lots of complementary skills. I’m good at word games, while she’s good at math. I’ll eat just about anything, touch icky stuff, navigate, and dive. She’ll jump off high places, ride scary things, and drive fast.

These attributes become most apparent when we’re on vacation. Last summer we spent a week in the Florida Keys. We rented a jet ski for an hour, and she really wanted to drive. Which she did…fast…laughing the whole time, while I hung on to her waist like a Harley bitch and screamed my freakin’ head off. She would be heading out into the open sea, and I would be constantly looking backwards to find the marker buoy that indicated the way back. When she would turn about to make another run, I would say something like, “Why don’t we get off and have a swim? (The water was warm, and a quick paddle would delay the next screaming episode for just a few more minutes.) So I would jump off the back of the jet ski and splash about, while she would continually be on the lookout for sharks and rays and barracudas and pirhanas and other things that might skeletonize your feet if you so much as dipped a toe into the briny gulf.

Which leads us back to Santa Catalina, and to one of the many activities that were planned for our stay. Specifically, we are at the base camp for the Zip Line Eco Tour. For those who aren’t familiar with a zip line, it is essentially a set of wires strung between platforms along a mountain. You ride in a harness which is clipped to a pulley, while gravity and momentum take you down the hillside, one platform at a time.

(Before we go on, it’s important to the story that you understand there are things I won’t do. Sitting calmly and adjusting the straps over my nose and mouth when the oxygen masks fall from the ceiling of an aircraft is one of them. Another is a roller coaster. I cannot stand the feeling of falling, and even the thought of a fall causes me problems. And except for seven million years of hominid evolution, there is no good reason why I think a fall from a height is a bad idea. Flying doesn’t faze me, and I’ve got a private pilot’s license of my own. I’ve flown in ultralight aircraft, I want to go parasailing, and to fly a hang glider with a fan-like engine strapped to my back. Skydiving’s also on the list. On the other hand, jumping off the ten-foot board at the local pool drives me nuts. Maybe it’s the feeling of being out of control that gets to me about a fall.

Nonetheless, it’s often all I can do to ride kiddie coasters with my son. Here’s an actual dialogue we had at Legoland, just before riding the Coastersaurus, designed for the youngest visitors to the park. He was six, almost seven, at the time.

Child: “Are you scared?”

Me: “No.”

Child: “Then why are you telling me it’s okay to scream on a roller coaster?”

Me: “Because it shows you’re having fun.”

Child: “So if you scream like a girl, you’re not scared, but you’re having fun.”

Me: “Exactly.”

Child (after ride): “Gee, Daddy, you had a lot more fun on that ride than I did.”

Me: “Yes. I don’t think I can ever have that much fun again in my life.”

Fortunately, it appears that he has inherited my abject fear of coasters, so I don’t have to worry about being around the next time he is forced to ride a coaster, which will most certainly be at the request of a girl. Which is also the last time I rode one. That girl is now The Bride.)

All the above being said, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s how to put up a brave face. (At least until the moment of truth, when the sniveling coward inside emerges from his shell like Botticelli’s Venus arising from the waves.) So I sat there with the rest of the group, chatting amiably about my aversion to roller coaster aversions. Apparently I did quite a job, because The Bride leaned over and said, “Okay, how much of this talk is actual fear and how much of it is you being charming?”

“About 80/20, with fear in the lead,” I replied. This was also an attempt to be charming. The truth is that it was more like 95% charming. I wasn’t really scared at the time, because I thought I had it all figured out.

In retrospect, I thought that zip lining would be kind of like skiing. First there’s a bunny hill where you can’t go very fast or fall very far, and you to use a rope pull to get to the top of the sloe. Then there’s a series of slightly higher inclines and more complex lifts to master until you finally get to the top of the mountain on the longest chair.

So I kind of thought the zip line course would follow the same model. You know, there would be a small line, maybe 100 yards long, where you might be ten feet off the ground. Once you were convinced you probably weren’t going to die (at least not yet), there would be another one just a bit higher and slightly longer. At some point, you might go over a crevasse, but this would be very quick, without any real time to think about what lives in the abyss and how fast it will eat you when you hit the ground.

Needless to say, that’s not how zip lines work. It’s a function of physics, really…since there’s no way to go back up, it starts up high where the ground is steeper and the spaces between platforms are deep and wide. So the first line goes several hundred feet with trees fifty feet below, while the second is a little over 1000 feet long and soars 300 feet above a canyon floor.

It’s a five line series, but all I saw were the first two. This is because the minute I came over the top of the mountain and saw the first station, the edge of the platform and the wire over space, I felt the Angel of Death smiling over my shoulder and froze. Deferred. Made a risk-benefit decision. Or, perhaps more accurately, chickened out.

I’m standing there at the top of the platform, looking out into space. I am not crying. Guys do not cry. We tremble, perhaps, and may on rare occasion weep, but we do not cry. The Bride, however, is in tears, but only for the most wonderful of reasons.

“I can’t go.”

“Oh, if you don’t go, I won’t go either. I don’t want us to be apart on our anniverserry.”

“No, you have to go. You’ll love this.”

(The bus driver who took us to the top of the mountain said the whole thing was very romantic. I’m trying not to cry because I’m terrified. She’s crying because she doesn’t want us to be apart. I’m insisting that she leave me in the throes of a panic attack because I want her to have fun. Could be a Hallmark card.

“To My Wife:

I love you so much, there’s no error.
You go on, I’ll flee in terror."

I’ll take royalties, please.)

While this is going on, any number of passer-bys in golf carts (the preferred way to get about the island) are pausing to watch this romantic interlude. Meanwhile, every time I screw up some courage and take a step towards the platform, I become aware of an impending autonomic parasympathetic discharge. I believe lay people call it a need to barf.

Eventually we got it worked out. I would take a video of her between the first two platforms, and then when she was out of sight I would head on down the mountain and meet her back at the base. It was a great walk with some beautiful views, and I had a great time. Plus, there was no sweating, salivating, or barfing, and all of my bodily fluids stayed within the cavities where the Good Lord intended them to be.

I actually got to the base camp before the group was done with the zip line tour. This was actually the most awkward part of the whole thing. The staff know you were the one who chickened out. You know they know. They know that you know that they know. And so you purchase a large number of zip line tour baseball caps and sweatshirts as an act of atonement.

Please do not let my experience dissuade you from doing a zip line. The folks at Catalina Zip Line Eco Tours were nothing but professional, and I have no doubt that the operation is as safe as it comes. The Bride had an absolute blast. But if they would like some unsolicited advice, how about a bunny line?

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