I asked this a few miles outside of Ashland, Oregon as we were traversing a back road towards Klamath Falls. We began in a pleasant valley, and then the road started to rise. And then it rose more and more and more and suddenly we were wheeling around curves the far side of which was a drop-off that seemed to plummet forever to the valley far below. There was no guardrail. My little heart went pitter-pat and I prayed we did not meet an overloaded logging truck cruising down the opposite lane on one of those blind curves.
I wanted to die rather than be going through this. But, I didn’t want to die by plummeting to my doom.
You see, I am acrophobic. I’m not only unnerved by heights; I am petrified of them. Ironically, that very evening, staying at a lovely little country retreat in Fort Klamath (we’d stayed there once before and had loved it, so we decided to revisit) we happened upon the Hitchcock classic Vertigo in the hostelry office. We picked it up to take to our cabin, since there was no broadcast TV in that rural spot.
It was an ideal choice since it explored acrophobia as a key element in the mystery in that fine film, which I happen to think is arguably Hitchcock’s most nuanced (read ‘confusing’, but since I’m often confused about life in general, it works well for me).
A couple of days later I was to be challenged again. We went to Smith Rock. Smith Rock is a combination of the bees’ knees and the cats’ pajamas. It’s just a stunning rocky spectacle that virtually surrounds the visitor to the state park there. I was in awe and I don’t do ‘awe’ readily, but the moment I saw the splendors of the place enchantment overtook.
But it too had precipices. Many of them, and my acrophobia/vertigo combo manifested rapidly. But, it was OK. I could stand back from the edge and feel a bit like I wasn’t going to plummet to my death the moment I made a wrong step, and the possibility of that old wrong step prevails when I am in full-bore acrophobic panic. I get sweaty, my knees grow weak, and my heart pounds. But, as I said, at Smith Rock I could stand back and still appreciate the view, take photos, and hold Max on a leash so that he didn’t bound over the edge in pursuit of a squirrel.
So, it was generally good. And then I looked through the viewfinders of those dandy little binoculars I got for Christmas. Great, I could watch the vultures soaring lazily against the gold rock face. And then a patch of white caught my eye way up near the top of the rock face I was regarding. A guy was climbing up there a billion feet above the river rocks down at the bottom! Some asshole was actually climbing this face and there was another asshole following him! And they were doing it willingly. Are climbers nuts? They are indulging in a recreation that is just ahead of scuba diving in terms of annual death toll. Adrenalin junkies engaging in something that is more dangerous than having a sexual tryst with the wife of the homicidal psycho methhead who lives next door. Sorry, but I’ll take the tryst for you will never find me rock climbing.
If somebody were to tell me that I must climb that rock face – like, say, Wendy if she were really pissed at me over something – I would simply say, “Hand me a gun.” I would say that because I’d shoot myself before I’d make such a climb.
I wasn’t always acrophobic. It seems to be something that has come with age and grown more pronounced over the years. The first time I went up Waimea Canyon on Kauai in about 1989 it didn’t bother me at all. The last time I went, about 2004, I found it horrific and it left me never wanting to go again.
I hate phobias because they are illogical and tend to cripple one’s movements, or at least the full enjoyment of one’s movements.
Oh, and it has left me absolutely not wanting to do that Plexiglas Grand Canyon walk, in case you were wondering. In fact, the Grand Canyon in general, you can keep it. It’s only a big ditch, after all.
How about you? Any phobias you want to expose to the world?