Do you have a pathological fear of heights? Me neither. But I do have a healthy respect for dangerous heights. I would rather approach the edge of a vertical cliff doing the leopard crawl than a brisk jog – especially when there’s a strong wind blowing.
I started off life as a skinny, nervous kid who respected authority. But soon realised that facing up to my fears and challenging authority made for a more interesting, happier life. I went through a period of deliberately doing the thing I feared to do; and by the age of 10 was game for almost anything. By the age of 65 I’d had at least 10 near-death experiences (falling down or getting stuck on cliff faces, several spectacular mining accidents, nearly drowning while diving for crayfish in front of Camps Bay police station, and dealing with muggers and then some armed robbers who did not like me throwing my car and house keys into the neighbouring property).
Recently, though, things have been rather tranquil. The most exciting thing to happen was wrecking the back wheel of my bicycle while screaming down Canterbury Drive and hitting a pothole two weeks ago. So, for my 72nd birthday I decided to go tandem paragliding off Signal Hill.
Last Monday I found myself trudging up a steep path behind fit young men carrying paragliders in large back packs. After about 15 minutes we got to the launch site half way up Lions Head (Signal Hill, lower down, was getting wind from the wrong direction).
Mias, my pilot, was soon strapped into a harness behind me and told me what to do. Within seconds we were gliding alongside Lions Head – and then soaring above it looking down on the people who had climbed to the top. The view of Cape Town and the coastline was magnificent. This was easy! And fun.
Maybe Mias shouldn’t have asked me if I suffered from motion sickness. I instantly remembered that this was the one thing that I excelled at. As a child I couldn’t travel more than a mile in a car without vomiting. Luckily we didn’t own a car; and others soon learned to put me in the front seat with the window open. I’m the only person I know who managed to get violently ill while shark cage diving, and even got queasy sitting on a surfboard beyond the breakers after a night of heavy drinking.
Straight after he raised the matter I started to feel a little strange. Then, while floating above Clifton, he offered to do some acrobatics. I said I would prefer it if he headed straight for the landing strip. We landed softly on the fields next to Maidens Cove. But I felt so dizzy afterwards that I couldn’t face the planned ride up Table Mountain in a revolving cable car to go abseiling off the edge of the mountain.
I’ll do that next year.