ZIPPING THROUGH COSTA RICA
The tour guide’s laugh gave away the answer as to whether I could do a tandem zipline.
The idea of knowing an expert would be with me made me feel safer. But only kids under 12 were getting buckled in with instructors.
I was a big girl. Or so I was told.
With an orange bucket on my head as a helmet and a harness snugly wrapped around my waist and in between my legs, my group started on the hike into the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. I was surrounded by trees so I couldn’t see exactly how high or how far I was until I stepped up to the platform.
As I waited for my turn, I practiced putting my hands above and behind my head, ready for the cable to slide through my gloves. My hands are supposed to clamp down on the wire if I want to stop, like a brake. Stop? I just wanted to race from one treetop to the next.
My fear: getting stuck dangling on the wire all by myself. My palms were getting sweaty thinking about if that were to happen. Just in case, I was told to turn around, pull myself backwards using my arms, sliding along the cable to the platform. I knew I wouldn’t get very far without upper body strength. My tiny muscles can’t even do a pull up.
My plan of attack was to curl tightly into a ball with my knees hiked up to my chest. That way speed would be on my side, pushing me to the next platform.
I scooted up to the treetop platform a dozen times. The first cable was short and low. Each time grew farther in height and distance with the final cable almost 2,000 feet long and 260 feet in the air. The end of the line or the treetop was not in sight when I started on the last leg of the tour. And each time I was clipped to a safety harness in a matter of seconds. I wondered how safe it could be. After all, it’s an unregulated industry in Costa Rica.
Even so, my butt sat in an imaginary chair. My left hand tightly gripped the safety strap by my chest. My right hand hovered over the cord. My toes lined the edge of the platform. My eyes refused to look down. Once pushed, I hugged my own body.
And away I zipped. The wind and physics nearly blew my helmet off. The scenery I zoomed through was lush and green. It is literally a bird’s eye view.
When I wasn’t darting to treetops, I carefully crossed over wooden-planked suspension bridges and rappelled down a tree 50 feet so fast as if I was sliding down a firefighter pole. “Oh shit!” I blurted and was just as quickly scolded and told it was a family park.
But that phrase was all I could think when I was introduced to the Tarzan swing. By the time I climbed up the metal ladder, my eyes welled with tears of fear. The swing was really more like a plunge off a platform and a bounce back like a bungee jump.
I hesitated but the guide gave me a shove. I yelped in a not-so-manly Tarzan yodel and squeezed my eyes shut. My stomach got queasy during the free fall, much like the drop of a roller coaster.
My body was swinging back and forth 100 feet in the air on this vine - to which I still have no idea how I was properly secured to - until the guides were able to grab my legs with their hands to stop me.
I’m thankful my fear of heights and falling didn’t stop me from swinging through the jungle like Tarzan.
And after seeing my less than graceful photos, it was me who actually had the last laugh.
Go on without me.
My lips whispered those words to my friend but my eyes and flushed beet-red face begged her to stay. I chugged my own bottled water and my tour guide’s as I sought refuge in the shade from the summer heat.
Lush green vineyards and olive oil plants in the Tuscany countryside enveloped me. I was far enough from Florence but I wasn’t sure how much farther I could make it uphill on this bike. I lagged behind the group. Much to my surprise, I was the slow poke.
I didn’t expect it to be this hard. Especially after I called and asked about the difficulty of the tour.
“Can you pedal?” the voice on the phone said. Of course. I had been on a bike before. It’s not like I have zoomed through the Tour de France but I had rode my bike to the beach and back. One mile roundtrip. That was good enough I decided.
Judging by some of the potbellies bulging from shirts of the people in our tour group, my mind was further at ease. At least I wouldn’t be the one slowing the group down. Or so I thought.
I was dead wrong. I was dead last. But I wasn’t dead…yet.
Once past the fairly light Florence traffic, a winding narrow one lane path laid ahead where cars nearly squished you on the side into roadkill as they drove uphill. Only one car at a time could drive down the road.
A snug blue helmet hugged my head but it couldn’t protect me from the idea of giving up. My mind tried to convince me to keep going - “push, one pedal at a time” - while my burning thighs did the opposite.
I eventually powered through to reach the destination: a restaurant down the street from Galileo’s villa in Arcetri. The pasta and vino were exactly what I needed to refuel so my feet had the power to pedal back to downtown Florence.
All the sweat was worth it. It meant I could eat and drink as much as I wanted on the rest of the trip without feeling guilty because that was one hell of a workout - at least for me. But first, I needed a shower and nap.
Life in Chicago…
My family dogs: Cali, Freckles, Suzy, Bandit, and Chance
La Quinta, Calif.
Hermosa Beach, Calif.
My palms are sweating. Hell, every part of my exposed skin is glistening in this hot sun as my backpack rests on my back and my Nikes crunch the stones on the gravel rock trail. The water in my bottle splashes around with every step. Tiny beads of sweat trickle down my forehead. How moms carrying babies and guys in jeans do it is beyond me.
My brain says this three-mile roundtrip hike with a pretty steep incline at Arches National Park in Moab, Utah will be worth it. The view of the Delicate Arch better be spectacular.
No shade, no refuge from the sun for me. Little gophers race from one tiny green shrub to another. The trail marked by stacks of pale pink and orange rocks is slippery at times.
I finally reach a plateau - only to scale the ledge of the rock, clinging to it as I shuffle my feet along a path that is wide enough only for one person. But it is the only way to get to and away from the arch. Please nobody come past me.
Without a guard rail to prevent my fall, I stop and press my body against the mountain as another hiker comes toward me. I’m so scared that I skin my knee on the mountain.
When I make it to the other side, I am in awe. The gigantic, pale orange sandstone arch is simply amazing. Stunning.
I sit to take it all in. Ah, the beauty. That’s when I notice it. Listen. No sirens. No honking. No yelling. Only a gentle breeze. And peace and quiet.
This is Mother Nature at her finest.
Now, if only I didn’t have to climb back now to where I came from, and back down to reality.
MY PLUNGE INTO LAKE MICHIGAN IN JANUARY
It’s the best possible time to do this. No snow. No subzero temps.
So why not run into the lake?
It is January after all. And the Shelter Shiver benefits animal adoption organizations.
I peeled off my coat, unzipped my sweatshirt and slid off my pants. Standing in fuzzy warm Ugg boots, I traded my winter coat and sweat shirt for a soft terrycloth bathrobe.
And now I waited. Waited in the chilly, breezy January weather for the pack of people to run toward the cold waters of Lake Michigan. Thank goodness I wouldn’t have to step on snow to get to the water. There was ice but no snow.
With the sight of the first people running I threw off my robe and boots and booked it toward the lake in my polka dot bikini. The grainy sand never felt colder on the soles of my feet. They’re used to getting third-degree burns from the sand in the summer.
By the time one foot touched a drop of water, I had made up my mind. No going under. Hell I don’t even go under in the summer heat. I wasn’t about to change when it’s only 30 degrees. There was no dipping a toe. Otherwise, I would not go any further. Instead it was full steam ahead.
I pranced and frolicked in the water up to my waist. Yep, that was enough. The water was ccccc-cold as my teeth chattered. With my body in shock, my legs ran back to dry land with red-tinted feet from the freezing cold water.
And true to the event, my body shivered.
I love New York City. My heart goes out to the families who lost a loved one on 9/11.
Where’s the bunny hill? I hadn’t skied in at least a decade since I was probably in 8th grade. My nerves were calmed by the assumption my body could simply glide down the bunny hill. I was even willing to swallow my pride and ski among little kids learning to ski. Well, I didn’t plan on Breckenridge ski resort in Colorado being so serious. I should have. My bad. “No bunny hill?” I shrieked after I strapped on rented boots and skis. My feet scooted toward the lift. My stomach hurt knowing full well I had never been on a ski lift and that I’m afraid of heights. My head turned back toward the lodge where my friend hobbled over after being convinced she shouldn’t ski in Colorado for her first time. There was no bunny hill after all. Dismissing the idea that my body would be warm near a cozy fireplace, I slid to the lift. My anxiety worsened with thoughts of falling off the lift and not knowing how to coast off it onto the slopes. My fingers grabbed the bar near my seat as the lift scooped me up off the ground. Without the big gloves, my knuckles would surely be white, cramped and frozen in fear. As soon as I felt snow under my skis, my arms stabbed the poles into the ground and pushed, thrusting my body forward. A little too much power. I nearly knocked a fellow skier over before falling in the hard snow to stop myself. I looked down the slope. A blanket of white snow. Green pine trees. The bottom or end of the slope was not visible. Oh shit. This was no bunny hill, not even close. How the hell am I going to make it down? On the red sled - the slope ambulance - with broken bones from tumbling down the slope or smacking into a tree? The only pointers I remembered as a kid was to use my butt as a brake: fall on it to stop. And to control my speed by pointing the skis inward and bending my knees. Now’s the time I wish I had a ski instructor. My snowboarding friend tried to help but I only held him up. “Go on without me. I’ll be fine. I’ll meet you down there,” I said trying to believe those words. I made it a whole two minutes before the snow cushioned my butt. I put a donut hole pillow to sit on for the plane ride home on my mental checklist. Snowboarders and skiers, young and old, flew by me. After a couple spills, I picked up the pace and the wind slapped my face. Alas, I safely made it down one run without any serious injuries other than some major bruising. I sighed with relief and beamed with pride. I just upgraded my ski bunny status.
Would the rocky kayak flip over, pushing me under the pungent, green-olive colored Chicago River only to emerge seconds later like a soaked sewer rat?
The thought of my first kayak ride being at night freaked me out even more. Loud booming noises, murky water and dark skies sound like a bad horror movie. I prayed I wouldn’t see or paddle-swat a body or anything else floating in the river.
As I signed the waiver promising not to hold the company responsible if my experience left me permanently paralyzed or dead, I wondered if I should be worried about more than just capsizing. I quickly zipped up a red life jacket.
Hopefully this would be smooth-sailing like the gentle Venetian gondola ride I had a few years ago. Or maybe it was the hot, singing Italian who distracted me from becoming seasick.
In any case, I hesitantly carried the heavy tandem kayak with my kayak partner to the dock after getting a quick paddling lesson. My stomach started to ache in uncertainty over whether my fears would be realized.
After paddling for half a mile of the six-mile tour, it hit me. Ouch! My twiggy, little arms hurt.
Turns out I had been anxious about the wrong thing. Instead of agonizing over whether I could end up in the water, I should’ve thought about if I could finish the tour.
Now, I wasn’t so sure. My arms felt like they just carried 10 bags of groceries for 20 miles. They were getting sore and turning into Jell-O.
If only I had built up muscle by lifting weights or working out on the rowing machine at the gym.
As we approached the lake and went underneath a downtown bridge, only one thought popped into my head: please no repeat of the Dave Matthews Band bus dumping their crap into the river and on me. Ew, gross.
Safe and clean, I made it just past the Columbus Street bridge when my body was startled by the booming light show. The cool, unobstructed vantage point for the fireworks show at Navy Pier made the paddling worth it.
Now, if only the kayak had a motor I could switch on to get me back to where I started. No such luck.
The next day my arms hated me and barely helped me wash my hair in the shower.
“Please don’t get sick.”
That was my mantra as I zoomed around the 2-mile, oval-shaped track at California Speedway, hoping this ride would go better than the spinning teacups at Disney World.
I dug my nails into the thin black seat cushion, squeezing it for security.
Sweeping into the corner, gravity pinned my body to the right, up against the side of the car.
The car felt tilted.
Five thick seatbelts clutched my body. Two across my shoulders, two running over my lap, and one crotch belt.
“How fast are we going?” I yelled. No answer.
Maybe Dave, my driver, didn’t want to tell me. Or maybe he couldn’t hear me over the roaring 600 horses under the hood.
It was so loud I could barely think inside the Dodge Charger. I wondered if the drivers could hear the crowd’s cheers from the grandstands during the race.
This week, tens of thousands of race fans will be on the edge of their seats at the Speedway, watching a NASCAR Nextel Cup Series race and seeing a pack of drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, fly around the track at 200 mph.
What’s it like to be in a NASCAR-style stock car approaching that speed?
Dave Erickson, operations manager for the Richard Petty Driving Experience, offered to show me what the thrill is all about.
Of course, I had to prepare for this wild ride.
My checklist went like this:
All this didn’t slow the swirling butterflies in my stomach at the track.
Yet my 110-pound, 5-foot-4-inch-tall body slid into the fire-retardant blue jumpsuit. My head wiggled into the white helmet and a neck guard rested on my shoulders.
But my feet got heavier with every step toward the car. My fists clenched and my palms were sweating. And a slew of questions spun in my head.
Would I get hurt? The best drivers unfortunately have.
Would I have the nerve to go as fast as race drivers do, zipping around the track and burning rubber? I’m not a big risk taker. I’ve never even had a speeding ticket.
Would I be able to drive the car? Probably not if they knew my score on the Daytona video game.
Still, I swung my left leg over the door and through the passenger window “Dukes of Hazzard” style, and slid gracefully inside the car.
It had two seats compared to NASCAR cars, which have only a driver’s seat.
Getting situated was like getting into a sled. My legs were stretched out with plenty of room. The car was as stripped down as they come.
A gearshift lever. One side mirror. One rear-view mirror. No backseat. No headlights. Colorful decals. No horn. And forget about the luxuries of air conditioning and radio.
The plain dashboard sported six gauges: the all-important tachometer, plus volts, fuel and oil pressure, water and oil temperature.
The steering wheel comes off in case there’s a crash and the driver needs to be pulled out quickly.
“Ready?” Dave asked. It was now or never so I meekly gave the thumbs up.
“Here we go,” I thought.
We passed sponsor signs on the trackside and surprisingly they were not a blur. And no wind blew into the car - a car that didn’t have driver’s and passenger’s windows, only black netting.
Three smooth laps around the track lasted three minutes.
“Whoa, that was cool,” I said as I climbed out the window of the blue and white fiberglass car.
For my first time in a race car, Dave said, “You did an excellent job.”
He’s had passengers so scared that he’s ended their ride early. “I’ve seen all emotions. I’ve seen people be real quiet and I’ve seen them scream the whole way,” Dave said.
Afterward, he encouraged me to get behind the wheel next time. When asked if all race cars are stick shift, Dave said, “It wouldn’t be a race car if it wasn’t.” That’s a problem since I only know how to drive an automatic.
Oh, and Dave did tell me how fast we went - 165 mph.
My Honda Civic’s speedometer doesn’t reach that. The needle in my car has only hit 80 mph and that was on the freeway rushing to work.
My speed on the track was slower than Earnhardt and Gordon, but not by much.
And most important: I didn’t throw up.
Flashbacks of taking college exams unprepared send me into a
perspiring spiral. They give me a headache - although it could also be
because I’m hitting my head with a pen out of frustration.
The first question is in the category of poetry.
What is a place in Ireland and has five lines that rhyme A-A-B-B-A?
This was the first question in a 10-question pre-test for a chance to
be on “Jeopardy.”
Those who passed this test Thursday at the Morongo Casino, Resort and
Spa went on to take another, 50-question test the next day. If they
passed that one, then they got an interview to be a contestant.
And if you’re lucky like some of the gamblers playing the slot
machines, then you went into a pool of contestants for one year and you may or
may not be asked to go on the show.
Whew, a lot of work. Just like this test.
You get five minutes to answer all the questions. Time’s ticking and no
clue on the answer.
The next question is in history. Great. (Here’s where you can start
humming Sam Cooke’s song, “Wonderful World,” and belt out the line, “Don’t
know much about history. …”)
Which nonpresident is on a bill under $100.
Hmmm. Don’t know. Maybe because I don’t carry cash - mainly because I
hardly have any.
Nice excuse, right?
Should’ve crammed for this quiz, like Douglas A. Scott, who was among
the first 25 people in line to test their knowledge.
He was reading “The Handy History Answer Book.”
The personal injury and civil case lawyer based in Rancho Cucamonga
sporadically watches the show and was speed-reading to refresh his memory.
“It’ll help, but I don’t know if I can remember what I learned 30 years
ago,” said Scott, 58, of Claremont.
A little nervous now, once I realized I can’t remember what I had for
But that’s not the case with Elizabeth Pollock, who drove two hours
from Northridge for this.
“It’s kind of been a running joke in my family that I retain a lot of
trivial information,” said the 38-year-old mother of three.
On the ride to the casino, she practiced using Trivial Pursuit game
Not a bad idea. Should’ve tried that or maybe read more books instead
of gossip rags and watched less mindless reality TV in my spare time.
Then came the question whose answer I knew I knew. Thank God I watch
the Academy Awards.
For what movie did Russell Crowe win an Oscar?
So here’s a question for “Jeopardy:” Why couldn’t there be more
I might have done better, although I didn’t have high hopes of getting
far in the competition. Neither did my mom.
“You’re trying out for ‘Jeopardy?”’ she said over the phone the night
before in a tone that made me second-guess my decision.
“Why? Is that so hard to believe?” I said.
I do have a degree from the University of Illinois.
“It’s hard,” mom said.
That I do know.
Her advice: “You better start reading the encyclopedia.”
But this is a test you can’t prepare for, just like the SATs. Either
you know the answers or you don’t.
And I didn’t.
The last question stumped me.
What’s a nine-letter word that starts with G and means thankfulness?
Grateful? Nope, that’s eight letters.
Maybe my mom was right about the encyclopedia. Then I would have known
the answers - Limerick and Alexander Hamilton - and passed the test.
If I had cracked open a dictionary the night before, I’d have also
known the answer to the last question was “gratitude.”
I was just grateful the test was over.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
With my head turned back to my instructor, I whispered that as my feet scooted closer to the gaping door of a small twin-engine plane 13,000 feet above ground.
It was my moment of hesitation on a ride - tandem skydiving - that I had decided would conquer my fear of flying and heights a few weeks before my 30th birthday.
On the verge of a panic attack and losing bladder control, I had just seen my two friends hop out and disappear. They fell like rocks in water.
The plane’s engine roared as the wind swirled up in my face. It tangled my wispy bangs.
Barry was my tandem partner, my instructor, my guardian angel who would try to keep gravity from, oh, killing me. I fired one crucial question to him: How long have you been doing this? Didn’t want a rookie. “Twelve years,” he said. That was enough for me to completely trust him.
For one moment, I walked to the plane with authority like Maverick in “Top Gun” going on a mission - and I was.
Barry and I were the first to climb aboard and sat at the front of the plane, closest to the cockpit. No seats, just two long planks to sit on - one on each side of the plane.
My wristband - an altimeter - showed how high the plane climbed. Approaching 7,000 feet, we were halfway to our altitude to jump. I peeked out the window and saw the ground dropping farther away and swimming pools shrinking. It was like Google Earth, except this wasn’t any computer screen.
Silently I sat. My smile disappeared. My foot tapped feverishly.
Barry linked us together by steel buckles with me on his lap. I pulled my goggles on my face. “Do you want to pull the parachute?” Barry asked. I shook my head. Hell no. I didn’t even want to go out of the plane. Plus, I wasn’t sure I would remember given the shock I’d be in.
My moment to jump had arrived. Barry coaxed me to bend my knees, put my head up and hold on to my shoulder straps like suspenders. Staring death in the face, this was my last chance to back out. It was now or never.
“Relax and have fun,” Barry said in a soothing voice behind me. “Happy Birthday,” he said as we threw our bodies out the plane.
Aahhhhhh! I yelped on my way out. My body felt out of control. Didn’t even feel Barry on my back. My legs flailed as we plummeted at 120 mph.
Air blasting into my mouth had my cheeks flapping. It was hard to breathe. My ears popped. But soon enough I was stretched out properly, like Superman doing a 13,000-foot belly-flop.
I even waved below, giving the thumbs up. Another skydiver grabbed my hand and we spun around like airborne ice skaters. Didn’t feel nauseous like an amusement park roller coaster. Good thing. Didn’t want to throw up in Barry’s face.
Pull the parachute, my mind begged. Then I’ll know I’m all right. Barry put three fingers in front of my face. The second countdown ‘till he pulled the cherry red chute.
The chute popped, yanking me hard by my collar straight up.
Circling above, we were like a glider that dips its wings down for curving turns as we floated down slowly for minutes and admired the Inland Empire view. Blue skies. Light brown mountains.
I felt alive.