For decades, my mom has been comfortably sheltered in her Midwestern home in the flatlands, where she has lived her entire life. She is claustrophobic (fear of confined spaces), agoraphobic (fear of crowded places), acrophobic (fear of heights)—you name it, she has a phobia or complex surrounding it.
Not surprisingly, she is also deathly afraid of flying in airplanes. So I usually traveled to see her…until our newborn son arrived. It became difficult for me to travel with an infant across the country. My mom realized that she had to confront some lifelong fears if she wanted to spend time with her grandson.
Finally—with the help of large doses of anti-anxiety medications—my mom boarded her first airplane. And after years of taking the stairs, my mom even rode an elevator for the first time.
She was ready for the next step. My mom loved nature and the outdoors, but for much of her life, fear had prevented her from fully enjoying it. And I wanted to share with her the bountiful adventures of the Blue Ridge that were so important to me.
So I decided to push her further outside of her comfort zone. First, we hiked up a 6,000-foot mountain. No problem. She hiked without complaint to the summit and savored the wide open views at the top.
Next up: whitewater rafting. A class II-III plunge down the Nantahala River was exhilarating, and despite my best efforts, I failed to knock her out of the raft. Though she swore she would never do it again, she was screaming with delight as we dropped down Nantahala Falls backwards.
The final test was the Navitat zip line course, which included the second-highest zip line in the United States. It was one of ten zip lines on Navitat’s canopy tour, a thrilling tree-to-tree adventure on a steep Southern Appalachian mountainside.
Fall colors spilled down the mountain as my mom boarded the first platform and prepared for the first zip. It was a short practice zip, but she was still visibly shaking as she approached the edge of the platform.
I honestly didn’t think she would go through with it. But there she was, strapped into a harness and pulley, about to launch herself down a mountain attached to a thin cable. Her body was frozen stiff, which actually made for good zipping form as she sailed through the forest like Tarzan’s Jane. But her mind had shut off completely in mid-flight, and she forgot to slow down at the end. The guide signaled for her to brake, but she was still paralyzed by fear. She nearly collided with the guide before he threw the emergency rope brake and stopped her just short of the platform. Afterward, she clung desperately to the tree in the middle of the next platform, afraid to look down.