In Our Own Backyard....I double-dog dare ya!
I can remember it as though it was only yesterday -- the adrenalin rush, the sense of pending doom, the taste of fear in my mouth. I was about 9 or 10 years old, and I stood at the top of the diving raft at Blandin Beach in Grand Rapids, gazing down over the edge at the water far below.
It was the final day of summer swimming lessons, and in order to pass on to Advanced Swimmers, I had to dive head first off the seven-foot raft into the waters of Forest Lake. It was one of most daredevil things I'd ever attempted in my anything-but-daredevil life, and I was terrified.
Long story short -- I recall just kind of tumbling forward off the raft and not really going in head first, but somehow I passed the course and lived to tell about it.
The only other "daredevil feat" I can recall in my sheltered lifetime was riding the old wooden roller coaster at the Excelsior Amusement Park (which has since been relocated to Valleyfair). My grandmother worked as a cashier at the park and got free passes for my sister and I each summer. Up until I was about 10 years old, I was prohibited from riding the roller coaster because I didn't meet the minimum size requirements. Year after year I waited with great anticipation for the day I'd be able to ride the roller coaster. The summer I finally grew tall enough, the fear started to set in. I had talked about it so much that I knew I couldn't back down, however. I remember thinking the day before our visit to the park that 24 hours from then, it would be all over and things would be fine.
I'll never forget the moment I settled into the seat of the roller coaster and the attendant clicked shut the restraining bar across my lap. I knew there was no going back. That was nothing compared to the feeling as the coaster climbed the first big hill. Those old wooden roller coasters made so much clatter that you really felt every inch of the ride. As the peak of the first big hill crept closer and closer, I experienced that same feeling of dread that I did from the top of the diving raft. And then, we plummeted downward....
Long story short -- the rest was a blur of clattering rails and terrifying free falls, but somehow I managed to get to the end of the ride with my lunch still intact and lived to tell about it.
I don't know why, but those scenes came to mind as my husband and I were watching circus celebrity Nik Wallenda of The Flying Wallendas walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon -- without benefit of a net -- on live TV Sunday night. The television hosts spent nearly an hour and a half building up to the big event, reshowing numerous times the fall Wallenda's grandfather took during a similar feat that led to his death. It was one of those horrifying things that I found hard to watch, but one I couldn't bear to look away from.
As the younger Wallenda made his terrifying walk Sunday night, I clenched my teeth, held my breath and my heart pounded. As for him, he did a good bit of praying as he inched his way across, despite swirling winds, dust on the wire and a horrifying moment when the wire began to sway back and forth.
Long story short -- he made it and lived to tell about it.
I recall when motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel wanted to jump across the Grand Canyon on a rocket bike back at the time I was still in college. Though he was unable to get permission to do so, he went on to attempt a jump across the Snake River Canyon instead. His parachute deployed as he fell short of the other side and the jump was a failure. He, like Wallenda, seemed to always be looking for something more extreme -- and more dangerous -- than the one before.
That's the nature of daredevils, and in my own little world, I guess I consider myself one of them (just don't make me dive or ride the roller coaster!)