Thursday 24 March 2016

Task 9: Abseil down a vertical face

I'm delighted - at last! - to be able to give you an update on my abseil challenge. Did I face my fears?  Were friend Jenny and husband Andrew awesome abseil allies?   Read on.....

Four days ago, Abseil Sunday dawned. I woke up to find large butterflies partying madly in my stomach. Jenny and I exchanged supportive texts. She sounded much calmer than me. 

I opened my inbox to discover an email from the Action for Happiness Group. 'Today's the 4th United Nations International Day of Happiness' it announced. Surely that had to be a good omen? Then I decided to prepare myself by looking at the Hatt Adventures website, where there was a collection of photos of previous abseilees.  Bad idea Vivien. The abseil tower looked much higher and less forgiving than the image of it that I'd created in my mind.  I sent a group text to the family - 'It's been very nice knowing you all' I said rather bleakly.

At 2pm Andrew and I made our way to Blackland Farm near East Grinstead, where the abseil experience was taking place. The tower loomed above us, the height of a 4-storey building.  We met up with Jenny (still a good deal less fear-pumped than me) and her sister Fiona, who had very kindly agreed to be our official photographer.  Kyle our instructor arrived, together with a group of three men who were to join us for the abseiling experience. They had all been rock-climbing with Kyle in the morning and looked like old hands at dangling off ropes. Kyle exuded the perfect mix of confidence and authority. He went through safety procedures and showed us how to put on our helmets and harnesses (if you're especially sharp-eyed, you'll have spotted in the photo below that I'm wearing the running shoes that got me through the 10k - I thought they might bring me some luck).

In our little trio, Jenny volunteered to take on the tower first. Next thing, there she was heading downwards in full abseil mode, beaming from ear to ear and looking like a pro. Wow!!  She received a very well deserved round of applause from the group. What a gal......

Andrew went next. Another impeccable performance - more applause. Us sixty somethings were definitely holding our own with the younger guys. Oh but wait a minute, I hadn't done the descent yet. Was I about to let the side down? 

I stood at the top of the tower. Kyle deftly clipped me onto the abseiling rope. He started talking to me about the sixtyat60 challenge. 'What's your next task?' he asked me chattily. 'Can't remember a thing' I replied, mouth dry as a bone, heart pounding like crazy. I stood with my back to the drop. 'I can't do this' I said in a small voice.  Kyle was clearly used to dealing with understated histrionics and continued to talk me through the procedure in very reassuring tones. Next thing I found myself sitting back in my harness with nothing else but air beneath me and those running shoes of mine making the lightest of contact with the tower edge. I was on my way. I walked down the first section and then bounced off the abseil wall, as instructed, to the bottom. Wheee!

And then I'm proud to say that Jenny, Andrew and I all had a second turn at abseiling down the tower.  As I was collecting myself for Drop 2, Kyle said 'So you're going down blindfolded and one-handed this time Vivien?' 'Yeah right Kyle' I replied chirpily, thinking he was joking. Only he wasn't.

Here's a photo of us all at the end of the abseiling experience - it's interesting to see how quickly a group bonds when there's a shared sense of risk swirling around.   

Jenny, Andrew and I left Blackfield Farm feeling a million dollars. Fears were confronted, an adrenaline rush was savoured, we laughed loads and we hadn't a single broken fingernail between us (that probably matters more to Jenny and me than Andrew). I feel sure we fulfilled the UN International Day of Happiness criteria.

Our sincere thanks to Kyle at Hatt Adventures for a brilliant abseiling experience - it was far more enjoyable than I ever would have thought possible.   A huge thank you to Fiona for some much needed support and fine photography services.  Well done Lucy for booking up the experience for me as a Christmas present, thus ensuring that I couldn't avoid facing my fears. Congratulations to Andrew for confronting his own fear of heights so successfully. And 10 gold stars and a big hug to Jenny for being a wonderful and highly impressive abseiling companion (go Jenny - so proud of you!) Do you know something? I think us wrinklies rocked a little that afternoon.

Jenny, Andrew and I went over the edge in memory of a very special little girl, Thea Redford, to raise funds for Shooting Star Chase Children's Hospice Care, which provided Thea's parents Annabel and Rob with invaluable support, advice and specialist help during Thea's small but amazing life. If you'd like to read more about Shooting Star Chase and/or would like to make a donation, do please visit my JustGiving page at   


No comments:

Post a Comment