Some events we embark upon knowing they will be an adrenaline rush. Some undertakings dumbfound us with unexpected “surprises,” propelling them to another level. Then there are encounters that arrive like bombshells, totally unexpected but, hopefully, leave us unscathed.
Like many folks, I’ve had my share of heart-stopping moments, intentional and not. Mine seem to have two things in common: 1. being airborne; 2. entirely of my own doing. These are all ideas that at some crazy point in my thought processes seemed to be great ideas.
Here, in no particular order, is my top ten “un-bucket list”, those things I would not remove from my inventory of Life Adventures, but most I would be quite content if never repeated.
Even considering my fear of heights, hang gliding a few dozen feet off the ground was bearable. Loading that fear into a snowcat and propelling it 3,000 feet up the side of Mt. Hood wasn’t such a good idea. Now Palmer Snowfield is easily accessible via chairlift (below).
Other than riding chairlifts to indulge my passion for skiing, I have considerable trepidation about heights, so what better way to overcome acrophobia than to purchase a hang glider? In the early 1970s I did just that. Charging down small inclines in order to launch a few feet into the air was a tolerable pastime.
Dad put me on skis at age two. I could handle most black diamond runs, but what possessed me to combine skis and hang gliding, I’m not really sure. One summer morning I loaded my gear into a snowcat and headed 3,000 feet up the side of Mt. Hood to the Palmer Snowfield. With nervous anticipation I assembled my kite, clicked into my bindings, harnessed up, grabbed the control bar, and finally looked down the mountain. A considerable distance down the slope, appearing no bigger than a toothpick among the thinning forest line, sat my intended destination - historic Timberline Lodge. Straight ahead I seemed to be eyeball-level with 10,540-foot Mt. Jefferson, 50 miles to the south. I finally acknowledged I was, after all, over 9,000 feet up the side of a dormant volcano and about to ski-launch myself into the air. Perhaps this was not such a good idea.
Solution: Every time my skis rose higher off the snow than I was tall, I dipped back to ground level. I must have been a sight, hop-skip-and-dipping my way down the mountain, but I made it. And put the kite up for sale.
Dad and I at the start of an eventful day at Whistler-Blackcomb, and the view from the start of an alarming run
During a normal ski adventure, I was enjoying lunch with a group of fellow journalists at Whistler-Blackcomb’s on-mountain Rendezvous Lodge. Afterward, a few of us headed to Gandy Dancer where I was making some easy, playful turns down the fall line on skiers’ far right, my Dad right behind me. Near the bottom I set up for a sharp right-hander onto Green Line. Well, it would have been a right turn had not one of my fellow journalists traversed directly across my fall line into the trees just as I was initiating my turn.
Make note: No matter how sharp the edges on your skis, they will not carve a turn on fiberglass.
Out of control, I dropped about ten feet over the side of the cat track and face-planted into some rocks, right in front of my horrified Dad. Fortunately, and despite my scraped-up face, I was fine. Unlike my hang gliding experience, this time I really did not intend to go flailing through the air on skis.
Heading out from Prineville Reservoir for a day-long excursion, I had no idea I would imitate the Flying Wallendas at a tranquil river crossing
Four of us were on a cross-country dirt bike exploration of the Prineville Reservoir area in Central Oregon. Intent on picking my trail through the trees, I spotted a large clearing with a small river winding through it, our two friends halfway across. At the same time I realized I had veered from the easy descent they had taken and was headed instead for a 10-12 foot drop onto the riverbank.
Too late to turn and knowing not to grab the brakes, years of Hubby’s instructions echoed through my head: “When in doubt, wick it!” I knew I needed to land with the tires spinning so I grabbed a handful of throttle, stood on the pegs, and over I went. On the opposite bank our friends were watching, eyes wide as saucers. Behind me, Hubby was horrified to see me disappear, then elated when I quickly reappeared below and blasted across the water.
I don’t mean to scare the men in my life, sometimes it just seems to happen.
Not too many miles from the Prineville area, snowfall and geography combine at Paulina to create cornices perfect for jumping. From the top, the Cascade Mountains line the horizon.
Just as "wicking it" keeps a motorcycle tire turning upon touchdown, throttling it keeps the track spinning on a snowmobile when vaulting over a cornice. Enough said. Other than this time, I am deliberately going over the edge, a momentary heart-stopper but so electrifying I repeat the insanity on every trip.
A sign at the bottom advertizes “Clean Underwear for Sale at Office”. View from the bottom of The Luge.
New Zealand provided a triple threat to my cardiac health, no skis or throttles involved. At Off Road New Zealand, our little Suzukis came equipped with throttles but were not necessary - in fact, they were forbidden - descending “The Luge”. No stranger to off-roading in my 4Runner, most encounters on the 4WD Bush Safari were familiar and uneventful. But a blind 20-foot near freefall over an 80-degree slope that I could not see while driving someone else’s toy is a whole different story.
Hoisted backwards up a 165-foot tower, a high-speed plunge towards earth, followed by a wild pendulum swing that seems to toss you into Lake Rotorua. Welcome to the SkySwing.
I admit it. I signed up for this one. But in my defense the SkySwing at Skyline Rotorua had just opened for the day and my friends thought it would help solve my fear of heights. Yeah, just like hang gliding off the side of a snow-covered mountain. We were the first riders. Had I first witnessed this adventure in action, I would not have found myself hoisted backward up a 165-foot tower, then plummeting 75mph towards the earth. I’m not ashamed to admit I was terrified, then delighted to watch the looks on other's faces when their turn for vertical torture came.
The drop into the Ruakuri Cave river doesn’t appear so scary when fully lit for the benefit of shooting stock photos (top). Above, my headlamp bouncing off the low ceiling is just enough to illuminate a short section of true “cave crawling”. (Images courtesy Black Water Rafting Company)
The best way to experience the glowworm caves near Waitomo is tubing an underground river in Stygian darkness with the little buggers dangling overhead like an endless parade of galaxies. In wetsuit and caving helmet, we maneuvered a short distance through Ruakuri Cave with oversized inner tubes, then discovered one of the biggest surprises about Black Water Rafting Company’s “Black Labyrinth” tour: the manner of entering the underground river.
Somehow I ended up being first in line. I had to turn around, creep slowly backwards until I felt the ground disappear beneath my heels, hold my tube VERY TIGHT to my backside, and jump. Backwards, in total darkness, into water I could not see nor hear but was assured by our guides was waiting below. Thankfully they were right. Whew!
Calm prevailed at Poipu Beach (top left) as I enjoyed the marine activity (top right), when my entire view was unexpectedly blocked by a very large object (above, photo courtesy of Wikipedia).
This watery adventure turned into a moment of unbelievable terror. Snorkeling off Poipu on Kauai, watching Tangs and Sergeant Majors flitting about the rocks and coral, a large oblong shape suddenly obscured my entire field of vision. Quickly running down my mental list of large critters who swim in Hawaiian waters, my conclusion seemed confirmed as I darted to the surface and observed everyone else dashing for the beach.
A small head suddenly popped out of the water less than two feet in front of me and I found myself facing a happy-looking Monk Seal. As these seals are an endangered and protected species, one is not supposed to approach them. But I guess no one told this fellow he shouldn’t approach me! When a large shape suddenly fills your field of vision, a penniped is not your first thought.
Palapa-roofed bungalows are scattered along the banks of Chimino Island (top left). As dusk descends,
generator-powered lights guide you along the pathways. It's an idyllic outing until the generator shuts down for the night.
Mom and I had stayed at Chimino’s Island Lodge in northern Guatemala on two prior occasions. The lodge sits in Lake Petexbatun on a artificial island the Maya created 1,200 years ago by removing some 50,000 cubic yards of bedrock along the neck of a peninsula. The small jungle lodge has five individual bungalows sprinkled along the shoreline, high above the birds, turtles and crocodiles that make the lake their home. Howler monkeys and parrots fill the canopy with a cacophony of jungle sounds while critters you can’t quite see scurry about in the undergrowth.
On prior trips we’d stayed on the south side, but this time we were in the last bungalow to the north, a bit of trek from the dining palapa but an enjoyable excursion along pathways and over small bridges. Luggage deposited, flashlights in hand, we headed back to the lobby area for some pre-dinner socializing. As dusk descends, a small generator powers markers along the pathways for a while, but once the kitchen is wrapped up for the evening, it’s lights out.
Dinner done, Mom wanted to shower while the lights were still on and I wanted to linger a bit, so we parted for the time being and she headed up the stairs. By the time the rest of us called it an evening, it was navigation by flashlight. And when I arrived at our bungalow, no Mother. Door locked (she had the only key), no lights, no Mom. All I could think of was her continuing past our lodgings on around the island, or stumbling and falling somewhere along the way.
Shouting her name, I ran beyond until the pathway ended, then turned back towards the lobby area, still calling out for her and scanning alongside the pathway and around the small bridges as I ran. Fearing she had tumbled over the bank into the critter-filled lake or veered off the path into deep jungle, I roused our guide. He gathered the handful of workers who stay on the island and they scattered in all directions to search.
It took about 15 minutes but they found her safe and totally unflustered from her little jaunt through a dark tropical forest lit only by her little flashlight. She had a simple explanation: when she left the dining palapa she turned left towards the south where we had stayed in the past, rather than turning right towards the northern bungalows. After walking and walking and realizing she’d not passed any structures for quite some time, she finally turned around just before she was found.
When we returned to Chiminos on another trip, our long-time Guatemalan guide, Alfonso Muralles, had us lodged in the closest and only bungalow that can almost be seen from the lobby area. The next day we headed off to explore Dos Pilas and Mom opted to lounge on our porch and read. We were all amused to find that Alfonso had arranged for one of the Lodge workers to periodically check on her, and give her a personal escort to and from the dining palapa for lunch.
I don’t think Mom was trying to get even with me for scaring Dad when I skied “over the edge” at Blackcomb, but I sure had visions of her going “over the edge” on Chiminos!
From the air (top left) La Danta pyramid appears as a massive limestone hump peering above the rainforest. The final push to the top quickly ran out of footholds (top right), but the view from the top (above) was worth the perilous climb.
It was no easy feat reaching La Danta. Built atop a natural rise in the Petén region of Guatemala, its 230-foot height made it easy to spot as we flew into El Mirador. Located 40 miles northwest of Tikal, only a helicopter ride or a multi-day hike will get you there, but for me it was a must-do. Rising to power around 600 BCE and considered the cradle of Maya civilization, El Mirador is believed to contain the greatest number of structures of all ancient Maya cities, although it will be many years before much of it is revealed.
As we headed out from the archaeologists’ base camp towards La Danta, it was hidden from view by thick foliage. We walked past buried temples and partially excavated structures, past an amazing variety of flora and fauna, walking and walking and slowly gaining elevation. I finally asked if we were getting close and our guide laughed, said “yes”, and explained that we had been climbing the pyramid for the last 20 minutes! Comprised of multiple levels, discovered by digging exploratory trenches, the bottom platform covers over 34 football fields. Buried under two millennia of jungle debris, we had been slowing ascending what is considered to be the largest pyramid in the world, with a volume of nearly 99,000,000 cubic feet.
The ascent became more of an uphill scramble than a climb. Finally we reached the level at which work was being done, about 50 feet below the summit. The only way to the top was a very interesting crawl, aided by a rope, up the nearly vertical side of the consolidated but unrestored final structure. I had come this far and was determined, despite my acrophobia, to stand atop La Danta. The climb was hairy but tolerable since I was looking UP, and the view from the top truly phenomenal. I stretched my stay as long as I could before facing the descent.
After trying a couple of different approaches I finally grabbed the rope like my life depended on it (!), plopped my rear end down on the stone face, dug my heels in below me as best I could, and butt-crawled my way down. Heart-racing, knees trembling, I had to fight to keep going, yet was totally exhilarated to have been on top.
My pants still bear the vegetation stains and rock scars from my descent, and are one of my most prized pieces of clothing.
I understand there’s now a wooden stairway, with railing, to the top.
POSTSCRIPT FROM TRUFFLES: Mama said I could share my adventure that made my ears tremble with excitement! I wanted soooo much to try my new boogie board in the surf along Hawaii’s Kona coast, but she said I could be drenched with waves, swept out to sea, snatched by a turtle, or all these things. I stopped pouting when we headed to the swimming pool although Mama warned me not to get my stuffing wet. I did, though, and ended my exciting day head-down and tushie-up in front of the fan. But I’d do it again!