By Amy Becker Williams
“What on earth am I doing?”
I stared down into the expanse of the canyon before me. It could be described as jaw-droppingly gorgeous, which was beautifully ironic considering that’s what I was fearing: open air.
I stepped forward hesitantly. The zip line operator smiled at me. This calmed my nerves somewhat, but I was still nervous.
It started out as a dare. My friends had told me it wasn’t scary at all (once you left the platform). That there’s no stomach-dropping feel like on a roller coaster’s steep descent (only butterflies as you prepare to step off). The structure holding the zip line wasn’t attached to a tree, but made of engineered steel. It was completely safe.
I knew it would be fun; the videos online were proof of that. But still, I was uneasy.
“Just try it!” my friend Aubrey said. “I guarantee you won’t regret doing it.”
A bit apprehensively, I had agreed to take on the challenge. My sister-in-law, Debbie, was a newbie too, and she would be undertaking the adventure with me.
Aubrey had suggested we head to Palo Duro Canyon, where Debbie and I would test our nerve on the high-flying ride.
We drove the 30 miles from Amarillo, and pulled in to Palo Duro Canyon Adventure Park, a short drive from the Canyon’s official entrance. The Adventure manager happily greeted us as soon as we stepped out of the car. We followed her into the office and quickly suited up in helmets and harnesses—thankfully everything was heavily engineered and safety-tested. Debbie gave me a quick wink, and told the employee we’d go for the full adventure trip that consisted of three zip line rides, all from different perches and canyon perspectives. Debbie and I exchanged goofy expressions of nervous smiles and wide eyes, which served as our nonverbal consensus to go big or go home. I took deep breaths as my anticipation rose with every instruction and bit of information from the park’s knowledgeable employee. I knew this would be an experience I wouldn’t soon forget.
Next thing I knew, Debbie and I were on an open sided trailer with several rows of seats riding to the first of the aerial runways, passing native prickly pear cactus, yucca and mesquite trees with six other passengers.
After arriving at the first jump, somehow, I found myself first in line. Ahead of me was a two-layer suspension bridge to the tower. All I could hear was the sound of the wind around me as I stood staring at the gently swaying bridge. A young worker hooked me to a guideline and instructed me forward. Debbie and the rest of the group waited behind as I slowly made my way to the platform, so I could purposely dangle above a part of the canyon with a 400 plus foot drop.
Standing at the edge, I had a brief moment of doubt as butterflies flitted about my stomach. Maybe I should turn back? Nope—I’d made my decision. I wondered how I had gotten myself in this situation and couldn’t believe I was standing here, and going first for that matter.
I took deep, calming yoga-like breaths, and shakily sat on the solid, wooden dismount point as I gazed from side to side at the postcard painted views of the layered canyon walls. The platform operator was quiet and looked at me, smiling.
“What on earth am I doing?” I asked mostly to myself.
“Hop off when you’re ready,” he said helpfully.
I nodded and slowly scooted to the edge of the wooden, ladder structure. The wind picked up, and my heart beat faster and faster.
“It’s now or never,” I said convincingly.
I clenched the yellow strap connecting me to the cable, took another calming breath, and pushed off with my feet into thin air.
It was a bit unbelievable, and I couldn’t help but gawk at the canyon below me. There was no longer any fear, my body fueled with adrenaline. I noticed the green scrub brush in the canyon below, the red, orange colors of the walls, and the sharp contrast of the blue sky was mesmerizing. No wonder famous southwest artist, Georgia O’Keeffe painted so many canyon-inspired pieces while living here in the early 20th century.
I felt so alive; I began to wonder why I had been so afraid in the first place. Without even thinking about it, I spread out my arms, shouting happily in the open air. This was living.
My speed tapered off and I heard directions for sticking my landing. I stood smiling, looking back across and saw Debbie come forward. She was next.
“You looked like you had fun!” she exclaimed when she landed. “How do you feel?”
“Ready for the next ride,” I said happily.
After the others had gone, our group climbed back into our ride, chattier than on the trip up and ready to venture on to the next platform.
I was already eager to start the next ride! The fear I felt just moments before was now a distant memory and I wasn’t looking back.
We trudged up several flights of stairs to the top of our second tall tower for the next ride. I kept my composure, still accompanied by a butterfly or two, as the next platform worker expertly checked and rechecked my harness and clips, and said, “You got this!”
Before taking my next vault, I took a moment to stare intently from this high vantage point at the layers of gypsum, shale and sandstone giving the canyon its unique color palette.
I realized I was taking a little too long soaking in the colorful scenery and quickly took a leap off the pedestal, bravely letting my hands go as I zoomed spread eagle throughout this faster sailing ride. The wind whistled beautifully around me, and I breathed in deeply as I flew across this historic canyon. There was nothing to worry about in this moment, and all I felt was pure bliss.
When I approached the last of the three zips, just a few steps from my landing spot, the platform operator at the edge smiled at me. “Are you ready?”
“More than ever,” I say. I leapt off without a care in the world as I soared above the canyon, feeling like Peter Pan.
Aubrey was right. I don’t regret a thing.