Heights and I have a relationship, I don’t go near them and they don’t come near me. Yes, one of the phobias that I have is acrophobia, in fact it’s probably the only phobia I have. I have tried on many occasions to conquer this fear, but all attempts have left me shaking like a leaf in the north wind. I’ve been up the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, the domed roof of St. Paul’s Cathedral and even on the roof of Harrods and they all left me trembling like a jelly.
So when I got a call “We would like you to invite you as a guest to our newly opened attraction, a zip line in Dubrovnik,” I was hesitant to agree. “You’ll fly 60 metres above a rocky beach at speeds reaching 50 kpm,” the call continued. Yes, that wasn’t helping. But you only live once.
I had tried a zip line once, a long time ago when I was younger and more stupid. I dragged along my wife for moral support. So this latest thrill-seeking attraction is in Vrbica. It is kind of tucked away and the line, which is a monumental 250 metres long, hangs precariously over a beach that can only be reached by boat. We met our guides for the day, who were cool, calm and collected, of course they had done this ride many times before. I, on the other hand, was slightly less composed.
“OK, before we take you to the wire we need to do some training and safety course,” said the friendly guide. We donned helmets and a harness that squeezed me in places I didn’t want to be squeezed. “One of the most important things you’ll need to learn is how to brake,” smiled the guide. I agreed 100 percent. “When you come to near the end of the ride you’ll see a guide and he will give you two signs. If you see him gently patting his head it means you need to slow down, and if you see him spinning his arm then speed up,” he added. OK, I don’t think I’ll need the speed up sign, I thought to myself. “Now we will take you to the start point,” he said as he wandered off through the woods.
If you ever want to commit suicide, then the cliff that I found myself standing on the edge of would be the perfect location. The beach was way, way down somewhere in the distance. “I guess there is no chance of the wire breaking,” I nervously joked. The comment only brought a smile form the guide. So that is how I found myself strapped onto a tiny wire 60 metres over a rocky beach. To give you an idea of the height, the Dubrovnik Bridge to the Adriatic is 50 metres. Yes, I might as well have been flying.
“When you are ready just let go of the brake and gravity will do the rest,” shouted the guide in my ear. I had no real desire to a) let go of the brake and b) rely on gravity to take me across. I am not sure if I closed my eyes, because I can’t really remember much of the first few seconds after take-off, but then I looked down and saw my feet dangling with lots of nothing between them and the beach. I picked up speed rapidly. The air rushed past and so did a seagull. Now I know how a bird feels and if I am reincarnated as a bird I will immediately crash into a window. The only sound was the zipping wire above my head. I moved my head slightly to catch some of the view and Sipan, or was it Lopud, flashed by. I was going surprisingly fast. And even more surprisingly I was starting to enjoy it. Yes, I was basically hanging from a metal wire and flying through the air with nothing but a seagull to keep me company but it was fun.
I had reached over half way and now let out a scream of joy, or fear, make your own conclusion. I could see the team at the other end of the line now, my landing spot. As one of the guides came into view I noticed that he was not patting his head but he was whacking his head violently. “Oh blimey, what does that mean,” the fear and adrenaline had wiped my memory clean. As I sped ever closer I heard his shouts. “Brake, brake, brake…” echoed around the cliff side as he continued to whack the top of his head. “Ah yes, I remember…brake,” my memory came flooding back. I was flying like a kamikaze into the hillside and hadn’t slowed down at all during my flight. With all my strength I pulled down on the brake and was jolted from top speed to no speed in a few metres.
Quite obviously the ride had been so impressive that I had completely forgotten to slow down. As I was unclipped from the wire I looked back up and in a flash had a horrible feeling of acrophobia. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or as Mahatma Gandi once said “Fear has its use, but cowardice has none.”