The Wall of Terror

16 06 2008






















“We do have elevators, you know?!” (Tourism Victoria)



Adrenaline has a wonderful way of conning you into believing that things that are quite obviously dangerous and unquestionably stupid are in fact a great idea and jolly good fun. Like face-first free-fall rappelling down the side of a 7-story building. I mean, unless you’re dressed in black and rescuing hostages or unimaginably fearful of elevators, what could possibly prompt you to run down a wall towards the ground tethered by only a rope clipped to your belt?


I had always fancied myself as some sort of Special Forces commando, parachuting in pitch-darkness with a dagger between my teeth, popping the canopy just inches before the ground and then casually overthrowing an evil potentate. When I found myself in Melbourne presented with the opportunity to forward-abseil instructed by the ex-Special Forces trooper who had invented the manoeuvre, well, commonsense simply went out the window!


After reaching the roof, I found myself unnecessarily staring at the car park 70-feet below. I attempted to say “Oh, terribly sorry, I seem to have forgotten my wallet”, and make a rush for the stairwell, but unfortunately the sudden dryness in my mouth had sealed my lips shut and someone had evidently cemented my feet to the roof when I wasn’t looking. Instead, while I stood utterly transfixed like a deer in the headlights of the truck that’s about to render it an elaborate hood-ornament, I obediently stepped into a harness while someone plonked a big helmet onto my head and handed me a pair of heavy-duty gloves.


A wicked wind whipped across the roof-top while dark wispy clouds raced in from the coast, raising hopes that inclement weather would not only save face but also my life.


Alas, it wasn’t to be.


“You’ll be sheltered once you go over the edge.” My instructor said, noticing that I’d started to perform an optimistic rain dance.


I have helped little old ladies cross the road, voluntarily surrendered my seat on the bus and bought cookies from Girl Guides. Death doesn’t scare me. But dying does. Especially when it involves falling face-first into a car park.


It’s funny the things that bother some people.


My rap-jumping lesson continued as a rope was looped through the figure-8 belay and clipped onto the harness that would, in theory, prevent me from leaving a perfect imprint of my face in Melbourne’s new “Adrenaline Walk of Fame” below.


I walked to the edge and against every better instinct, swung my left leg over the low wall. Rush-hour traffic streamed past and I could read the lips of parents gazing skyward exhorting their children to “Wave good-bye to the nice man!”


“Look straight ahead at the horizon” I was instructed, as if concentrating on the black and white building ahead would cause me to forget the literal and figurative gravity of the situation. My right leg involuntarily joined the other followed by a torrent of some of the most foul obscenities I had ever heard. I initially thought it was my ex-military instructor and hoped that something was wrong and the jump was to be aborted…until I realised that the expletives were my own and apologised sheepishly.


There have been many moments in my life when I have done things against my will. Getting vaccinations as a child, eating liver, attending a Celine Dion concert…but going over that wall was, well, special.


The instructor was admirably patient and encouraging, although I had no idea what he was saying as I was too busy watching my life flash before my eyes. After several hours perched on the edge, I finally took the plunge. As my body dropped into thin air, so my eyes dropped from the horizon to the ground and I emitted a silent scream that killed all dogs within a 20-mile radius.


Remarkably, the instructor hadn’t lied and the rope and harness held just as he had promised. Sadly though, the death-grip of my right-hand on the rope prevented me from moving and I simply stood there perpendicular to the building…staring straight down like a gargoyle.


After much coercing by the instructors – and then pleading and eventual threatening – I released the rope and began to move. Confidence growing, I started to run and bounce down the wall, feeling the rope slide comfortably through my gloved hand and watching the face of the safety-man at the bottom drawing closer. I landed gently and beaming an adrenalin-fired smile, started to strut arrogantly…until pulled almost off my feet by the rope still attached to my belt.


My instructor patted me on the back, nodded towards the roof and asked if I was ready to go again. Hoping he wasn’t looking below my waist, I surreptitiously renewed my gyrating rain-dance.


Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




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