With my toes jutting out beyond a ledge high atop the tallest structure in Toronto, I looked down on planes arriving at the nearby airport and the rooftops of the highest buildings in the city. I was tense, yet exhilarated.
The day before, I’d been sitting in a darkened ballroom contemplating this very moment and feeling woozy. I’d read about the EdgeWalk, an urban adventure that takes you on a hands-free walk above the CN Tower’s revolving restaurant, 116 stories off the ground, and as a travel writer attending a travel conference, I thought that it would make a great story. But all I had to do was think about it, and lightheadedness took over.
I leaned over to the woman next to me and confided that although I’d considered pushing myself to the edge, I’d decided not to. Like magic, the uncomfortable feeling dissipated.
The woman replied that her daughter would have loved to do the walk, but they had to leave for Atlanta right after the conference and wouldn’t have time.
Really? I began to feel conflicted. Should I do it? The wooziness quickly set back in.
Eighteen hours later, I was in a room at the base of the tower, pulling on a fluorescent orange jumpsuit and a neon-yellow harness, having paid a pretty penny not to chicken out of the EdgeWalk. But what was I trying to prove, and to whom?
Before being allowed to wander outdoors 1,168 feet up in the air on a five-foot-wide ledge, I had to pass a breathalyzer test. Apparently, the people who run EdgeWalk don’t think that banging down shots of liquid courage beforehand is a good idea.
Once we’d geared up, the six of us who’d signed up for this madness were patted down for contraband. A bobby pin, an earring, a penny. Anything that could be a hazard to pedestrians below. The EdgeWalk staff pulled at our shoes to make sure that they were secure and had bottoms with grip; they asked two people to change to non-slip shoes that they provided.
So I was really going to do this. The indecision had lasted through the morning, as I walked to the tower from my hotel. Maybe there’d be no spots left? Only six people are allowed up at a time. That would solve my dilemma.
There was an opening at 12:30 p.m.
After a few more moments of hesitation, I booked it. Then I had an hour to kill. I stepped into an elevator that would take me to an observation deck. It whooshed up, and I peered through the glass floor as the bottom of the shaft became teeny-tiny. Whoaaaaaa. . . . The lightheadedness returned with a vengeance.
I had just white-knuckled an elevator ride. And that wasn’t even the challenge.
Up at a mere 1,136 feet, or 114 stories, I wandered around the deck with dozens of other visitors, taking in Toronto from every direction. A bright sun lit up glass high-rises, and the incredible view went on for miles.
One floor down, there are glass floor panels so that semi-brave visitors can look straight down to the street. Many people couldn’t bring themselves to step onto them. Some would inch on slowly, fearfully, as relatives snapped their photos.
If I can’t do that, I may as well hand over my ticket and go home, I thought. I stepped onto a panel and there it was — the familiar swaying sensation.
I kept testing my nerve, ascending to 31 stories above where I’d soon be walking, to the SkyPod on the 147th floor, one of the highest observation decks in the world. But it’s indoors.
Time was up. I returned to the base and my fellow adventurers, where we were checked, quadruple-checked and finally approved. Then, heading off in our jumpsuits like astronauts to the launchpad, we followed Steven, our “walk master,” to the elevator.
We arrived at a small room where we were each hooked by two ropes to a thick metal rail above our heads that runs around the building and partway into the room. Heavy-duty locking carabiners connected to rings on our harnesses were doubly secured by a plastic strap, on the off chance that we might reach for the locking mechanism in a crazed moment.
T minus 10. My body felt taut. Is this what skydivers feel like before they step off into a free fall?
I wondered how I was going to react to walking outside. Would I crumple in a heap? Take a step and be unable to move another inch?
Off we went, out the door and into the sky, onto a steel-grate ledge that juts out around the structure. Peering down, I could see right through to the ground. “Oh, it’s really high up, jeepers,” Steven commented helpfully. “There’s no railings or glass. It’s just you guys and Toronto.”
A few seconds later, he said, “Why don’t you take a sneak peek over the edge to check out how high you are?” So instead of staying safely in the middle of the ledge, I inched toward the outer edge. Amazingly, I was less woozy now than I’d been when I was just thinking about doing this.
Steven instructed us on our first move: toes over Toronto. One at a time we were to walk up to the edge of the ledge and put our toes over it while holding onto the rope in front of us. “Don’t forget to look down at all those ants in toy cars down there,” Steven instructed.
Alan from Mexico went first. “Ay papi. Voy a morir,” he shouted. “I’m going to die.”
Next, Steven told us to inch backward toward the edge until our heels hung over it, then let go of the rope and lean back, arms up and legs apart, as if starting a snow angel.
After that, Steven walked us partway around the building, pointing out city landmarks and, in the far distance, Niagara Falls.
The final move was the “Titanic” pose. This time I went first, leaning forward over the edge with my arms up in the air and the wind in my hair. I stood on my toes for extra drama and felt giddy.
“Awesome. Nice. She’s looking straight down, too,” Steven laughed.
Indeed, although I wasn’t ready to do cartwheels up there, I was markedly less tense than when we’d started.
When we were all finished, Steven told us that we had just repeated a Guinness World Record for “the highest external walk on a building,” set here in 2011.
And I had just taken a challenge that no one had set for me and proved that I could do it. To whom? It doesn’t matter.
EdgeWalk at the CN Tower
301 Front St. West
Daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in season. Must be at least 13 years old. Tickets about $166, including participant photos and video as well as access to the LookOut observation deck, the Glass Floor, the SkyPod, a movie and a Motion Theatre ride.
Perlman is a Washington writer who blogs at boldlygosolo.com.