Thursday, November 3, 2016

Zip It

TigerBlog was oozing confidence throughout the crisp Portugese morning.

He had this. No problem. No problem at all.

Francisco, the Princeton men's lacrosse team's guide, explained that by getting on the ferry and crossing the Rio Guadiana from Portugal to Spain, you were committing yourself to doing the zipline. There would be no turning back. When the ferry came, TigerBlog was the first one on.

No problem.

Francisco said that the top speed on the zipline was 45-50 miles per hour. So what, TigerBlog thought. That's nothing. 

Then it was time to put on the harness. He was still good to go.

Next up? The Jeep ride to the top of the hill, overlooking the river. Again, TB wasn't nervous at all, except for maybe when the Jeep got a little close to the edge of the road and threatened to tumble over. Nah, even that didn't bother him.

He was focused. There it was. The launching point. He'd seen videos of it from the safety of his desk in Jadwin Gym and thought "no chance," but here he was, in person, walking down to the wood structure, ready, courageous.

Then he was on the deck. He saw Jesse Bernhardt, Princeton's defensive coordinator, sail off, and now it was going to be his turn, second off the zipline.

And still he was fine.

First, a little context.

TigerBlog is not a fan of open heights. They actually scare the bejeezus out of him. It doesn't have to be that high either. Looking down, even off a balcony, makes him uneasy. Dizzy. Unbalanced.

He couldn't even consider doing the zipline when he was in Costa Rica four years ago with the men's lacrosse team. It wasn't something he even remotely considered when he was in the Poconos earlier this summer, when every member of Miss TigerBlog's high school field hockey team had no problems zipping.

And here he was, hooked up and ready to zipline.

And this wasn't just any zipline. This was a zipline in Spain that would take him 720 meters - nearly 2,300 feet - back into Portugal. And beyond that, it was going to take him from one time zone back to another, an hour earlier.

When TB was still on the Portugese side of the river, it became 10 in the morning. In the distance, a bell in a tower on the other side of the river chimed 11 times.

The man who was running the operation wasn't Portugese or Spanish. He was British, clearly, but he'd been doing this for years. He was the one who drove the Jeep almost off the road.

He's also the one who tried to reassure everyone that it was completely safe, saying that he'd never lost a client. How long had he been doing this, he was asked? Two days, he said, drawing laughs.

When TB got to the shack from which he'd be hurled out into the open air hundreds of feet in the air, he looked out across the scene in front of him. It was gorgeous, no doubt. The towns were like mirror images, with mostly white structures set off from the surrounding greens, all while separated by a river, a time zone and an international boundary.

TigerBlog turned back and watched as Jesse was readied for his run. And it was at that moment that all of the courage vanished from TigerBlog.

Now he was nervous. And scared. His palms were sweaty. He envisioned how they'd slip off the metal pully, sending him plunging hundreds of feet down.

He couldn't look. He couldn't breathe.

Now he was up next. He couldn't back out at this point. He'd never be able to face anyone who was there again. He pictured himself as he walked away, back to the Jeep, back down the hill, back to the ferry.

He'd have to go straight to the nearest airport and head home, tail between his cowardly legs.

Well, maybe he could keep his eyes closed. Yeah, just don't look up. Or down. Or to the side.

Now he was being shown what to do. Lean back. Pull your legs up, until you're out the door. Was that it? Or was it keep your legs up the whole time? What did he say? TigerBlog couldn't focus.

TB was wearing a white Princeton Athletics pullover. He figures he looked way whiter than that.

They couldn't let him go until after they got the all clear over the radio from below. It seemed like it was taking hours, days - just hanging there, ready, but quivering. 

Now they were opening the little hatch to send him out. Noooooooooooo. Stoppppppppp. Ahhhhhhhhhh.

There is no way, he thought to himself, that he was going out that door.

And then? He was off.

And in the first instance, all of the fear vanished. He looked down. He looked around.

It was majestic. It was magical. It was awesome.

The height didn't bother him. The speed wasn't a problem.

He looked straight down and saw Spain as it flew past him. Then he was over the river. How deep was it, he thought? Could you drop off and splash into it without a problem? Has anyone ever done that?

Then he was back into Portugal. The only rough part was stopping. He was going pretty fast, and he slammed into the piece that slowed him down harder than he might have wanted.

Not to sound like an episode of "The Wonder Years" or anything, but TigerBlog learned something important on the zipline.

He learned that there's a reason that people cling to what makes them feel safe, and that's okay. But there's also a time to step out of that comfort zone, to feel uncomfortable, and push yourself in a direction that you otherwise would have never allowed yourself to go and see what the world looks like from that vantage point. It may be scary, but it's also liberating.

TigerBlog did that yesterday morning.

When it was over, the only emotion he had was disappointment.

He wanted to do it again. And again.

He wanted to feel himself fly through the Iberian morning, no fears, no cares, nothing except pure exhilaration.

Feeling uncomfortable felt great.

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