The Fear Condiment

“Richardson – East side, Independent Self Belay, on Rappel!”   The air calms from my shout.  I wait patiently.  There’s an angry breeze whipping at my ear drums, otherwise it’s pretty quiet up here.  Not a bad view either.  Another shout pierces the air, somewhere way below me I hear, “Rappel On!”

It’s go time.

There I was, walking backwards off the edge of a 50ft tower.  As I waddle back, I start to see the edge of the tower appear between my legs.  I lean back, putting my weight on the system I am harnessed into.  I keep shuffling back, working my belay prussik, and running the main line through my ATC device.  The wind still whipping at my ear.  Closer.  Closer.  Now only my toes are touching the edge.  I look down.  Holy crap.  Bad idea.  I look up.  Not so bad.  Looking down was stupid.  I’m definitely not looking down again.  I check my hand positioning, check my stance, take a deep breath, and teeter backwards…

I don’t care who you are, anytime you walk backwards off something, you get a little nervous.  Humans weren’t meant to walk backwards; otherwise we’d learn the moonwalk at an early age.  Humans weren’t designed to fly either.  So walking backwards, very high in the air is naturally going to trigger a DEFCON 5 response in your brain.  It sounds something like this.


Fear setting in..  Ignore it.  I’m doing this.  Besides, there’s more…

I’m walking backwards in the air, over an edge, which basically means I have to go completely under the platform I was walking backwards off of.  Now, there is a ‘smooth’ way to do this where you simply let yourself do a controlled fall under it.  I’m not that smooth.

I invert.

With the aforementioned problems with walking backwards in mid-air, adding in an inversion 50ft off the ground immediately after you go over an edge is about as fun as it sounds.  In one rapid movement, you’re over an edge, falling backwards and before you know it you’re swinging with your feet above your head… checking out your sweet hiking boots.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to fully admire them amidst all the fanatical shouting coming from your brain.  How am I supposed to fully appreciate my boots when 99% of my brain is STILL fearfully yelling ‘What the F*ck are you doing?!!

So what the F*ck am I doing?!!

Minutes before, I had wrapped an 8mm prussik hitch around an 11mm dynamic rope. This would serve as my belay line, my backup.  Immediately following the belay hookup, I grabbed the 11mm main line and worked it through my ATC device and through a 23kn climbing spec Carabiner.  With this setup, I knew the weakest link in my main line hookup was the Carabiner, which can only support about 5,000lbs, closed.  Now if something should happen to my main line, the prussik hitch on my belay will lock, and keep me safe so long as I don’t surpass 1,100lbs, in which case the prussik would start to slip.  Even with all my Holiday binging and Taco Bell habits, I’m way below those load limits.

All these ropes and backups were part of the rappelling process.  A system of measures and methods that would give Dana a safe, albeit direct route to the ground.  As scared as my brain was, there was a defiant section holding up tiny flash cards, reminding me of how safe I actually was.  Moreso, I knew I had to become comfortable with rappelling in order to achieve my goal of making the Search and Rescue team.

So if I knew it was safe, and I needed to get it done to achieve my goal, why wouldn’t I?  Because a part of my brain was afraid and yelling at me?

If I was a scientist, I could probably explain how ‘fear’ is nothing more than some chemical released in your brain.  For the sake of my short blog posts, let’s just agree that fear is something that comes from your body, and generally keeps you safe.  It keeps you from petting hairy spiders, and keeps you from making threatening eye contact with large Mixed Martial Arts people.  Fair?

So why let fear stop you from attempting things that are safer than staring down Rampage Jackson?  If you know it’s a relatively safe outcome, why stop?  Why not start / continue?  Is it really that scary?!  What the F*ck are you doing?!

You can let fear make you feel uncomfortable, but don’t let some uncomfort derail you from achieving your goals.  Press on.  Especially if you’ve done your research, and know ultimately you’ll likely be safe.  There’s a lot of comfort in a proven process.  Soon enough, you’ll find  that what completely scares you now is not really that big a deal, and you can move onto other scary stuff.  You’ll begin to ignore unsubstantiated fear.

Everyone should want to have some adventure with their life, and you’re not going to have epic stories if you’re too afraid to create them.  Don’t season your adventures with fear.  Fear is a nasty condiment your brain tries to add, ruining the recipes you’re creating with your epic adventures.  It’s the ketchup on pancakes, the horseradish on peanut butter, the jelly on your burger.  It’s fine to keep at the table, but keep it off your plate.

So what is something new that scares you to death that you know is safe?  A new language?  Dancing?  Singing?   Approaching someone of the opposite sex?  Rappelling?  What’s really scary about them other than your brain trying to put some ranch dressing in your soup?  Ignore it and savor the flavor the new experience adds to your legacy.

Attempt some epic stories.  Season your life appropriately.  What you’ll find is that as you attempt more, so will you accomplish more.  As you accomplish more, you’ll notice that the little warning noise in your head that is second-guessing what you’re attempting becomes easier to manage.  The warning chemical condiment becomes an after dinner mint.

So go nuts, admire your boots, and don’t be afraid to invert.  :