Left Hanging in Cape Town: Finding Fortitude 100m in the Air

Authored by:
Benjamin M.

Benjamin M.

I’m a controlled adrenaline junkie. I like going fast as long as I’m close to the ground or strapped in about six different ways. Motorcycles, roller coasters, amusement rides, scuba diving, and extreme sports are a large chunk of what I find to be fun. But I’m not a huge fan of heights, especially when I’m suspended on a wire or moving. Knowing this, I’m not entirely certain why I decided the best way to spend my day off from class was zip lining off of Devil’s Peak and Table Mountain, but nonetheless, I did. Unaware that you’re supposed to book these things in advance, I drove to wine country, and nonchalantly walked in and asked to go on the zip lines. I was the only person that showed up that hour, so I got to go up on my own with two lovely guides. 

My first line, I felt only a fleeting uncertainty of the unknown, refused to look down, and pushed off the platform. Zip lines are loud! I zoomed off, hit the next platform, unclipped, and hiked to the next platform. The next half dozen zips went without incident. On the second to last zip, the wind was blowing harshly up to the launch platform. The guide who had gone before me signaled me to stop and I put my hand behind myself on the line, abruptly stopping about 50 feet before the platform. Because of the wind, I hadn’t gathered enough speed. 

Oh no. 

I quickly grabbed the line, but I was stuck, hanging helplessly over 300 feet above a gorge that went around Devil’s Peak and into the vineyards. And then my hands stopped working. The guide was telling me to grab the line ahead of me with my right hand, but after a minute or two of grasping it, my fingers refused to curl, and I began to slip further down the line. The only way to stop myself was to jam my left hand underneath the rolling cartridge that held me onto the line. I contemplated taking my glove off, knowing that the line would cut deep into my hand and I would be able to get some traction, even at the expense of my skin. I was too far to reach the emergency line and my forearms were now so fatigued after seven minutes hanging that I couldn’t hold my right hand up anymore. All I could do was wiggle in my harness and wonder how on earth they would get me out. I looked up and wondered if a helicopter would come to me. Then, wondering if they would catch me from below, I looked down. 

And stared directly at a 100 meter (or about 330 foot) drop. I figured I would rather die on the zip line than willingly let myself fall into any sort of rescue operation they could set up. And very suddenly, I had made peace with my imminent death. One hand was slowly being crushed, the other was completely numb, I couldn’t see another human being any direction I looked, and I relaxed. Just sat in my harness and admired the mountain. 

This turned out to be completely melodramatic and unneeded, as one of the guides slid out to me, wrapped his legs around me, and forced me to crawl up the line with him. My hands were still incredibly weak, and now bruised as well, and the last few pulls to get myself to the platform seemed to take every ounce of muscle I had ever used in five years of powerlifting and hockey all at once. I understood the pain of boot camp, being flung from a moving car, or maybe just battering my entire body in tempura and putting myself in a deep fryer. Fifteen minutes after the wind brought me to a scarily fast stop, I touched solid land again. We hiked up to the next platform, where I had a bottle of water and hopped on the next line. I still couldn’t close my fist or feel my right hand, but that zip went without incident and I arrived safe and sound at the end of the adventure. 

I've been in an earthquake that was over 7.0, I've been a homeless youth, I've been a victim of a hate crime, and none of these were as frightening as dangling from a wire an inch thick, supported by four pieces of webbing and a carabiner. I struggled with not knowing where my help would be coming from, when it would arrive, and whether or not I could hold out that long. Had I removed my right hand to save myself some pain, I would have slid all the way back to the middle and been impossible to rescue. If I hadn’t fought to stay upright and instead completely relaxed, I could have easily fallen backward and out of the harness. Thinking about it now, I realize how easily I could have ended up in a much worse situation: permanently injured or dead. But, I surprised myself. I held on when I thought I couldn’t bear it, I forced myself to move when my body refused to cooperate, and I didn’t let that experience hinder my next opportunity.

They say studying abroad is supposed to make you find self-confidence you've never had, and I felt like a very sore, very dehydrated, very shaky champion.

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