Taking the Leap: Cliff Jumping

© 2013 Jessica McGale

© 2013 Jessica McGale

I am a very anxious person. Lucky for me, it tends to tag along with my depression. As a result, I spend a lot of time fretting over scenarios that will never come to pass. Fortunately, my anxiety isn’t such that it holds me back much, but there are times when I really feel the need to look fear in the face and say, “You can’t have me today.”

Our recent white water rafting trip to Banff was one of those occasions.

It was my third time rafting. It was calm waters, for the most part, being late in the season, but there was one opportunity for me to really grapple with my fear. About twenty minutes into our journey, we floated over into a small inlet and our guides said, “Okay, who wants to jump off some cliffs?”

There were two jumps, a little one and a big one. Pretty much everyone jumped off the little one. But even that was a bit of an ordeal for me. I remember times, as late as junior high, where it took me three or four attempts before I could get myself to jump off the 5 meter diving board at the swimming pool. I haven’t been to a pool in a long time, but I am fairly certain that I would have still had that problem not too long ago. According to Bryan, though, he’s pretty sure that this little jump was about 5 meters. Into a rushing mountain river. And I managed that with barely a thought.

Then, we scrambled over a few jutting rocks and down a little crevice to where our guide was standing at a much higher spot. Looking over that rock, the cold started clutching at my chest, the same sort of sensation that I get just before a panic attack sets in. Looking around, I realized that there were only five of us: Bryan, me, a big French guy, and a young German couple. Our guide demonstrated how we were going to jump off the rock – “with a leap, so you can push yourself out as far as possible, so you don’t hit yourself on the rocks” – and then asked, with a smile, who was going to go first. No one volunteered. Then Bryan stepped forward, and my heart clenched a little tighter. Did it really have to be him? Brief images of his body smashed against hidden rocks swirled through my head. Despite my fear, he seemed calm, and I watched, barely able to breathe, as he stepped back from the edge, looked over at the guide, who yelled, “1…2…3!” and then he was gone, plummeting into the river below with a huge splash.

Well, he didn’t get smashed up, but the fear still wouldn’t relinquish its grip on me, even a little. The German guy leapt, and also swam away intact. As he jumped, his girlfriend turned to me and said, “You go, I’m not jumping,” and pushed her way past. I looked at the French guy, and said, shakily, “Well, I guess if those big tall guys can go, I can probably do it.” So I took a step forward and stared out at the river flowing indifferently below, jewel green underneath the blazing mountain sky. It looked even higher from there.* I didn’t know if I could do it. Then the guide was yelling, “1…2…3!” and without thinking, without a single second of hesitation, I launched myself from that rock and plunged through the air, slicing through the water and bobbing back up like a cork. Gasping, I fumbled for shore, my body rebelling against the chill of the water, unable to breathe until I forced myself to relax.

I reached the rocky outcropping and the guide waiting there reached out a hand, saying, “How’s the water?”

“Balmy,” I replied, through the tightness in my chest, and pulled myself up onto the ledge. A heady feeling swept through me, a giddy sensation that made my knees weak. Bryan found me, touched my hand, and I smiled at him, beamed really, high on the thrill of looking fear in the face and saying, “Not this time.”

Even just that once.

How do you face your fears?

*Bryan and his brother, who did the same jump on a different trip, estimate the height to be about 30 feet. Seems high to me, but I’m taking their word for it!

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