You need to know that I have a healthy fear of things beginning with the letter H.
I'm not really sure what they'd call such a fear -- aitchophobia, I suppose -- but it includes a fairly long list of things I hate. Horses. Hospitals. Hairpieces. Hyphens (just you try and figure out when to use one). Haunted houses. Hoodies. Hypnotists (Cree-py!). Hygienists. Haggis. Hypodermic needles. The list goes on.
But tops on the menu of dreaded H-words? Mostly, I'm afraid of heights.
So when Shane Holst, my friend and Farmington neighbor, invited me to dangle from a relatively thin rope over the side of a very high cliff -- a sort of suicide-by-sport thing they call "rappelling" -- I was pretty sure there was no way in another H-word that I was going to do it.
OK, it wasn't so much Shane invited me, as he tricked me into it.
Shane, you see, is the very antithesis of the social butterfly. Doesn't like crowds. Not big on parties, celebrations, gatherings, galas or any other festive event that involves combing one's hair and/or putting on deodorant. Likes people on a case-by-case basis, but not as a general rule.
Oh, he's a sweetheart of a guy, and when you get to know him, he definitely passes the Backyard Barbecue Test. But he's just not what you would call a par-tay animal.
He is, however, a desert rat. He loves canyoneering among the red rocks of Southern Utah, rappelling into one canyon after another.
So last fall, when Shane again invited me on one of his Sojourns o' Fear and Death, I made what I thought was a sucker bet: "I'll go rappelling with you if you'll start coming to ward parties with me."
Ha! That'll NEVER happen. Although an active Mormon, Shane Holst hasn't been to a ward party since the Reagan administration. I felt fairly confident that, faced with the prospect of an evening of making small talk in a gymnasium full of white people hepped up on a concoction of fruit juice and Sprite, Shane would quickly drop the subject.
And then he showed up at the ward ice-cream social. And thus was I tricked into rappelling in Southern Utah.
We've got a trip planned over Memorial Day weekend to do a series of canyons in the Moab area. And one of them involves a 200-foot rappel. That's, like, a 20-story building.
Shane, who frequently teaches canyoneering and rappelling courses, knows his stuff. He makes me wear all sorts of safety equipment, including a plastic helmet -- which, I gotta admit, when you're faced with the prospect of a 200-foot fall onto the breathtakingly scenic red sandstone below, seems like little more than lipstick on a pig.
Yeah, sure. I know they say the helmet is to protect you in the event of a rock falling from above and clonking you unconscious. But honestly? Unconscious sounds like a particularly good way to do a rappel.
Not wanting me freezing up on the big one, Shane has been working with me the past few weeks to overcome my fear. We started with a rappel off the 3-foot retaining wall in his backyard. (Much harder than it sounds.) I then graduated to climbing up an 8-foot ladder and rappelling off an iron beam in Shane's garage.
Last Thursday was the real test. We went up in the foothills above Ninth Street in Ogden to rappel off some actual rocks -- little ones at first, then gradually bigger.
The hardest part? Getting your body to actually lean back over the edge of a cliff.
Have you ever tried to make your body do something fairly simple, and it flat-out refused you? Suddenly, standing with my back to a moderately sized drop, my brain and my body are having this protracted argument over just exactly who's in charge:
BRAIN: OK, just lean back over this cliff and --
BODY: Forget that.
BRAIN: Look, I'm the brain, you're the body. I give the commands, you carry them out. You gotta do what I say.
BODY: (Poking fingers in ears) Na-na-na-I-am-not-lis-ten-ing.
BRAIN: Oh, that's very adult. C'mon, it's perfectly safe.
BODY: Yeah? Well, if it's so all-fired safe, why do YOU get to wear a helmet?
BRAIN: Fine. Don't do it. In fact, I don't want you to. Whatever you do, do NOT lean out over this cliff.
BODY: Seriously, dude? Reverse psychology? That hasn't worked on us since, like, kindergarten.
Thursday's final "rap" (as we experienced canyoneers call it) was off the side of a 50-foot rock wall, including a "free hang" the final 20 feet or so.
Next weekend comes the big test. If all goes as planned, I'll be bucking the self-preservation instincts formed over eons of human evolutionary history, leaning out butt-first over the edge of a 20-story cliff, with nothing but a rope the diameter of my index finger standing between me and the evening news. All courtesy of one Shane Holst.
Hey, "Holst." One more H-word to add to the list.
Contact the repellent Mark Saal at 801- 625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.