The bright red of the overalls is quickly becoming faded and brown, as dirt and mud coat the water resistant material. I swing my legs slightly from where I sit on a thin ledge, and shining my light downwards reveals damp limestone walls, but no ground. My stomach turns and I grip the rope, eyeing the carabiner nervously as I make sure I’m still attached to the safety line. The girl next to me, Becky, shifts to the left as the person ahead begins their descent.
Ba-bum. Ba-bum. My heart beats loudly against my chest. I move my hand up, still gripping the rope, to clutch at the material over my torso. A drop of sweat slips down my brow, falling much like the water dripping from the ceiling, into the endless, dark abyss below.
Becky shifts as the guide instructs her to move into the repelling zone. I watch her descend, gulping down my anxiety in quick, greedy breathes. The next turn is mine.
I watch until I cannot see her anymore, until the darkness envelopes her like it did the rest. I can hear them down below, but my frightened mind tunes the voices out until all I can hear is the sound of my own blood rushing, tunneling through my ears.
“Your turn,” the guide announces, motioning me over.
I can feel my eyes widen as I shift closer, until I’m next to the guide, looking down at the repelling line that ends in only inky darkness.
My hands shake.
My breath comes out in panicked huffs.
How far would I have to fall in order to hit the bottom, this morbid thought crosses my mind.
A hand steadies itself against my shoulder, snapping me from my panicked thoughts.
“Hey,” the tour guide, who’s name has escaped me in my panic, comforts me with the ease that comes from years of practice. No doubt the man has seen countless freak outs during his time. “You’ll be alright. Me and my partner will be supporting and spotting you the whole time, you’ll be fine. Move your clips carefully and put your hands on the line. You’re completely safe.”
If I'm being honest, this did little to quell my bubbling anxiety and fear, but it gave me a burst of adrenaline that led me to reclip my carabiners and reach out for the repelling line.
I take a deep breath.
I’m not calm, of course I’m not, but I’m not panicked either.
I can do this.
I move off the ledge and let out a nervous gasp as my weight becomes fully dependent on the cable running through the air. I can feel my body freeze as I dangle.
“Hey!” The guide speaks up. “You’re fine, see? You aren't going to fall, now just lower yourself down slowly.”
I close my eyes, trying to free my body from it’s state of paralysis. I’m fine. I can do this.
I begin to slowly lower myself, gripping the ropes as a slide down. It’s a slow process and everytime I slide a little too fast, I force myself to bite back panicked sounds and pause momentarily before collecting myself and beginning again.
It feels like decades before my feet touch the ground, the firm feel of the limestone beneath my feet comforting beyond explanation. I let out a slow, uneven breathe before unclipping myself.
I turn and grin at my group, as the adrenaline of success rushes through me. An array of congratulations comes from those around me, but the words fail to reach.
Caked in dirt and mud, purple bangs sticking messily against the side of my face, along with all sorts of grime, I can smile. I can smile because despite being physically weak, despite being scared and terrified beyond all belief, I have done something I didn't think I ever would. I didn’t need to be string or fit, have the muscular structure of a man. All I needed was adrenaline, courage and a little bit of willingness to keep on trucking. And in the end, that’s all that really matters. Today I performed an act I hadn't thought possible before now. And that was enough.