I slowly lowered myself backward over the edge, trying to stay in the L-shaped position Chris had described, so I could support the upper half of my body with the ropes and “walk” the wall with my feet. I reached that horrible moment where you have to lean back and trust the equipment. I didn’t like the feeling at all, and I did what any panicky guy reaching for a hand-hold to save his own life might do:
I squeezed the red handle, really hard.
My line went slack and I began my fall to certain death. For about a foot. Then the emergency line jerked me to a stop. Chris pulled me up, and we started over.
From then on, you couldn’t really call what I did “rappelling.” It was more like creeping. Maybe creepelling. I decided to baby that red handle like a fragile robin’s egg that had fallen, oh, two stories from its nest. If that meant my progress would be measured in millimeters, so be it.
I finally reached the ground to the cheers of a handful of volunteers, who clearly had done this before. They handed me a bottle of water and whisked me into an elevator before there was time to renegotiate. Before I knew it, I was on the roof, where more calm, smiling people hooked me in and helped me over the edge for the main event.
As I leaned back into the harness, I finally understood their strategy. The only two things worse than going through with this would be backing out or soiling myself. Still, I considered both options before taking the plunge.
About halfway down I began to get a little more comfortable. That’s when I realized the toll this position, and all my tension, were taking on my abdomen, back and leg muscles. I had to stop a few times to stretch them out, hanging like a fly on the side of the Hilton. Around the sixth floor, I passed someone who appeared to be painting the walls in one of the rooms. He could have been looting the safe for all I cared. I just wanted to get down.
Finally on terra firma, drenched in sweat, I drank more water and watched as the next guy completed his training descent in a few smooth bounds. I stood quietly, knowing that I had faced one of my deepest fears and overcome it, in the name of a wonderful organization that raised about $50,000 through this event. It was a personal growth experience, one of those rare moments in later life when I truly learned something about myself:
I will never, ever do that again.
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Also at washingtonpost.com
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