I was young, independent, and determined to overcome my fear of traveling alone in foreign countries. But jumping nearly 875 yards out of a cable car in Interlaken, Switzerland, with a rubber band attached to my ankles, was not part of my plan for accomplishing this. It's funny how intentions can change.
Staring over the edge of the cable car, my heart was in my throat. I barely heard the others behind me counting down. How could I have let myself be talked into this? It was crazy! I looked out at the panoramic view below me for motivation, reminding myself why I was here. Yet I remained frozen.
Before this trip, my life took place in a pretty safe environment. As a recent college graduate, I was venturing off on my own for the first time, with the intention of finding myself in Europe.
Traveling solo by train for two months proved to be exciting, fun, and a little scary at times. Now I was taking scary to another level.
Prior to this trip, I had not been afraid of much, but the thought of being on my own in foreign countries seemed terrifying. At the same time, not knowing what awaited me on the other side of the ocean filled me with excitement. I knew this journey would change my life. As I buckled my seat belt on the airplane leaving New York, I vowed to conquer as many fears as possible in Europe.
Just getting on the plane was a huge step. It was hard to imagine being alone with no one to rely on but myself. Where would I sleep? Would I make any friends? How would I find my way around?
I've always been a daughter my parents could brag about. I worked hard in school, participated in extracurricular activities, received wonderful grades, and graduated with honors. Yet I had no desire to lead the conventional life that was expected of me. Growing up on Long Island in New York was less than exciting and created a longing to see what else was out there.
I went to Interlaken at the suggestion of a fellow backpacker in a youth hostel in Zurich, Switzerland. It was the Fourth of July weekend and other Americans who celebrated our country's birthday while in a foreign country surrounded me.
To my surprise, Interlaken was heaven to a person with an adventurous spirit. Possible activities included bungee jumping, parachuting, canyoneering, white-water rafting, and ice climbing. I signed up for the big jump my first day there to prevent myself from chickening out.
Standing on that ledge, I gripped the bars holding me inside the tiny cable car. Looking down at the raging river below, it felt as if my whole life was based on this one moment.
"This is silly!" I thought to myself. Bungee jumping should have been easy. I had already climbed mountains, conquered strange cities and new languages, and dealt with spooky strangers in dark alleyways. And yet I was more scared than I had ever been.
Among the thoughts that raced through my head was one that had stopped me so many times in the past – "My parents would not approve!" Had I not been paralyzed with fear, I would have laughed.
My palms were sweaty, and my heart was pounding. I turned around to see if the people behind me were sticking their fingers in their ears to drown out the sound.
"Five." They started the countdown for the second time, ignoring my futile protests.
"Four." I couldn't believe I was actually going through with this!
"Two." In that instant I changed my mind a million times and came to the final decision that there was no way I could allow myself to leap out of the cable car, suspended so high off the ground. Unhook my ankles please! Then...
"One." "I can do it!" I thought, and I knew it was true.
I let go and leaped out as far as I could. If there had been time to think about it for another second, I would have stopped myself as I had so many times before. But instead, I jumped.
It felt as if all my fears, insecurities, and doubts were being let go. An enormous sense of freedom rose up in me. As I fell toward the earth head first, I saw my new friends waiting for me on the ground and could hear them applauding my victory over fear.
Jumping out of the cable car put me on top of the world, and that's where I am determined to remain for the rest of my life. I tried some of Interlaken's other adventure activities and continued traveling through Europe. But that final countdown stays with me as memories of other experiences fade. I didn't just have a Swiss adventure. I proved my ability to conquer fear.
Since then, I've traveled to many places, taken risks I never dreamed of, and continue to follow my dreams. If I get scared, I remember the vow I made after reaching the ground again – never to be stopped by fear and to remain the confident, independent woman I had become in that moment.