Testing Personal Limits (or, The Great Snorkel Epiphany)
About a dozen years ago, I found myself on vacation in Mexico. I was traveling with my then-fiance, my parents, and my very active, outdoors-y brother and sister-in-law. Toward the end of our trip, we went to Cozumel, and I had the option of going snorkeling for the first time.
Now, I love swimming, and I’m fairly confident of myself in water. At least, that is, in a swimming pool. I have almost no experience with ocean swimming. Plus, I wear contact lenses (with which I see 20/20, without which I’m legally blind.) And I’d never used a snorkel before. And I was pretty much certain that I wouldn’t be able to do a back-flip into the water; I wasn’t even sure I could climb a ladder on the side of the boat to get back in.
Some of our party knew from the get-go that they weren’t snorkeling. I debated right up to the minute that I hopped over the side (no back-flip necessary.) And, reader, I loved snorkeling. I loved seeing the fish, I loved being in the open water, I loved conquering my fear. I loved everything about it.
Skip forward twelve years. Same vacation group, this time with my nephews added in. (Oh, and the fiance is now my husband.) We traveled to Costa Rica, and I had the opportunity to go zip-lining.
Well before the actual trip, I decided I wasn’t going to go. Zip-lining seemed to require too much athletic ability. Plus, there was the freak accident (one in many hundreds of thousands if not millions) where a woman cut herself zip-lining and ended up with flesh-eating bacteria. (Okay, I actually convinced myself I didn’t have to worry about that.)
Nevertheless, as the trip approached, I thought about the Great Snorkel Epiphany. I began to think that maybe I *would* zip-line. In fact, I reasoned, I wasn’t likely to be anywhere near a zip-line for the rest of my life, so I *should* zip-line.
The day of the zip-lining, I headed up the mountain with the rest of my party. Some knew from the get-go that they weren’t zip-lining. (Sound familiar?) Not me, though. I waited in line, and I got suited up in a harness and helmet. I let very courteous men tug at straps in places no woman likes to be tugged (and I noted the prominent signs stating that the facility complied with Costa Rica’s anti-sexual harassment laws.) I watched three iterations of the safety training, nodding to indicate that I understood how I needed to spread my legs into a V at the end to slow down, how I needed to “box” with the handlebars to brake. I sat in the gondola as we traveled through the canopy, feeling my heart beat faster.
At the top, the watchers made themselves comfortable on benches. I walked over to the practice run, cheering on my still-outdoors-y brother and sister-in-law. I watched my much more leery nephew take his practice run.
And then I was the only person left on the launch platform.
I decided not to go. The stairs were frighteningly high, and I needed to climb them to attach my harness to the line. There were too many things to remember — sit cross-legged for the run, maintaining a perfect “crunch”, keep my arms straight, wait for the tug on the line telling me to brake, spread my legs to a V, box the handlebars.
I told the worker I wasn’t going, and he kindly asked me why not. I told him I wasn’t strong enough, that I was too heavy. He promised me it was safe. I told him there was too much to remember, and he ran me through the instructions. I told him I was scared, and he said he knew I could do it. As he reassured me, he helped me up the stairs, and he clipped my harness to the line.
I took the practice run. I remembered what to do, and I didn’t overshoot the landing pad (Major Fear #1) or slam my shins into the landing pad (Major Fear #2.) But I found it almost impossible to stand up, to straighten up from the horizontal line position — it was just one thing too many for my brain-on-overdrive to process.
They unclipped me from the line and told me to get in line for the real zip-line (two miles, in eight stages.) I got in line, just like I was supposed to do.
And then I realized that I didn’t want to go.
I wasn’t afraid that I was going to die. I didn’t worry that I’d fall from the zip-line into the rain forest below. I wasn’t even really worried that I’d forget to V, forget to box.
I just didn’t feel like it would be fun — not going that fast, not being that high, not remembering those things, thinking, worrying, all the way down. I wasn’t going to have a Great Snorkel Epiphany, even if I completed the rest of the course. I could do it, but I wasn’t going to enjoy it.
At first, I was very disappointed in myself. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t risen to the occasion, that I hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity. I was confident I’d made the right choice for myself, but I was sad that I needed to make that choice. (It turns out, my nephew also decided not to go.)
This morning, I had coffee with a friend — a fit, strong friend who spends her vacations hiking in national parks, kayaking on local lakes and rivers, rock climbing in Middle Eastern ruins. Somewhat shamefacedly, I told her my zip-lining story. And she said, “I didn’t go either. Just the steps up to the launch platform were too much for me.”
And that brought about the Great Zip-Line Epiphany. Different challenges are too much for different people. Even though my friend is much more fit than I, the ten feet or so of the launch steps defeated her. Other people had no trouble with the entire zip-line path, but they might have been defeated by putting their face in Caribbean water.
I put too much weight on the zip-lining (and I don’t mean physical weight!) It became a referendum, and it didn’t need to be. I don’t see a future where I’ll zip-line, and that’s all right. But I might go snorkeling again…