Over the Edge

Over the years I’ve had countless opportunities to go cliff jumping with my friends. Each time, I would watch as they leapt off of a ledge with a feeling of dread growing in the pit of my stomach that was only punctuated by the giant splash when they hit the water far below me. If anyone ever tried to encourage me to give it a try, my heart would start racing and I would flatly refuse. I didn’t think it would ever be possible for me to join in, and then two years ago I experienced a life changing event that further cemented the idea that jumping off of high things was not something I could do.

In early 2020, I took a fifteen foot fall from the top of a bouldering wall and badly fractured my tibial plateau when I landed. This led to a major surgery to repair the damage, and subsequent months of physical therapy and recovery time. In fact it took about 16 months in total before my leg started to really feel normal again, and while I focused a mountain of effort into the physical aspect of my recovery, I found myself with lingering psychological effects and no clear blueprint for healing. I had to take a massive step back in my climbing because being high on a wall would often trigger an intense feeling of falling in my brain, which sometimes spiraled into mid-climb anxiety attacks. I had never been the biggest thrill seeker amongst my social circles to begin with, but now I had visceral fear reactions to things that had never bothered me in the past, and I started to believe that I would just have to adjust to life with a heightened level of fear. I hate to admit it, but it took a domino effect of other life events before I finally agreed to get the help I needed through therapy and medication.

After everything that had happened in the last two years, I felt a bit surreal as I booked a canyoning tour with Extreme Dominica for Vince, Rachel, Bonnie, and myself. I knew that this tour would involve cliff jumping. In early 2021, the mere thought of cliff jumping would have given me a physical stress reaction, but as I confirmed our booking, I mostly just felt excited for the upcoming vacation (I also had a sense of pleased bewilderment at the realization that I wasn’t experiencing fear).

It was a different story once it was time to actually go on our canyoning tour. I was still excited, but I was also starting to get a case of nerves by the time we had put on our wet suits, life jackets, and harnesses.

A handful of other people trickled in to join us for the tour, and once everyone’s gear was sorted out, our guides gathered us all together for a basic rappelling lesson. This was not the portion of the tour I was worried about. Vince, Bonnie, and I have plenty of rappelling experience, and Rachel ended up being a natural. Everyone had a turn to do a practice rappel on a wooden wall, and then we all got into a couple of vans to drive uphill to the canyon’s entry point.

A short walk through some unassuming leafy landscape brought us to a fixed anchor for our first rappel into a beautiful section of the lower Titou Gorge. Vince and Rachel descended before me, and then it was my turn to clip onto the rope and lower myself into the canyon. The canyon walls were mossy and damp, and there was a picturesque waterfall that made for a nice view on the way down. Dropping into the water at the end of the rope made the rappel feel extra adventury.

After the first rappel, it was immediately time for our first jump, but I was already having so much fun and the guides were making me feel so comfortable that I didn’t even hesitate to take the easy, ten foot leap. I felt a rush of excitement as my feet left the ledge, and had plunged into the water before I could even think to be scared.

Afterwards I was more proud of myself than a ten foot cliff jump actually warrants, but the excitement kept coming as we hiked through knee deep water over and around boulders. We stopped for a couple more slightly taller jumps, one of which made me hesitate for a moment, but the guides, and all the other guests on the tour were very encouraging and I eventually took the leap. Then we went over another rappel which had a beautiful canyon view on one side, and a waterfall on the other. At the bottom of this one, our guide surprised me by pulling the rope until I was under the stream of water before my feet hit the ground.

Next we navigated a couple of fun obstacles with fixed ropes. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the tour because it felt more novel to me than rappelling does.

Little did I know that what came next would make a flying departure out of my comfort zone. We had arrived at our next obstacle, and I felt my stomach lurch into my throat as the guides said it was a twenty-one foot jump. To make the stakes even higher, we couldn’t actually see the drop from where we were standing. We would have to clip into a fixed line and walk across a narrow ledge before we’d even get a glimpse of what we were in for. They did reassure us that they would set up a rope for anyone who didn’t want to jump, but I really wanted to give it a try so I decided I would at least get a look at the cliff before I decided whether or not I’d jump.

Vince went first with no hesitation at all. From my vantage point, I couldn’t see what was happening, but I heard the splash when he hit the water, and then a gleeful yell when he resurfaced. Bonnie was next in line, and I was right behind her. We both clipped into the fixed rope and exchanged nervous looks. Like me, Bonnie is not a huge fan of cliff jumping and this was a tall order for her too. We inched along the ledge until we could see the jump point and Bonnie stepped down and unclipped from the rope. After getting the ok from the guide she took the plunge.

She quickly disappeared from my view, but I could see her splash reaching back upwards toward the top of the cliff. My heart crashed in my chest. It was my turn.

I was almost in a daze as I robotically stepped down onto the jump ledge. I peered over the edge, taking in the dizzying height and looked back at the guide for reassurance. He said I was good to go, and pointed out the trajectory I should aim for. Before I could contemplate the leap any further, I sucked in a huge breath and sprung from the edge.

The free fall felt infinitesimal and never-ending at the same time. In reality it was just a second or two of plummeting through thin air before I hit the water. The force of impact wanted to drag me deep underwater, but my life jacket rocketed me back to the surface where Vince, Bonnie, and the guide were cheering. I let out a holler that I thought sounded happy, but fell somewhere a little closer to frantic when I reviewed my GoPro footage.

As I swam over to the the others, I felt the giddy high of an intense adrenaline release wash over me. I had just faced a major fear and come out the other side. This moment for me was much more significant than just jumping off a cliff. It was the culmination of all of the work I’ve been putting into healing over the past two years, and I was simply bursting with relief/happiness/pride.

The rest of the tour breezed by now that we’d conquered the most intimidating part. We had one more jump, one more rappel, and then a steep hike out of the canyon and back to the vans. The warm glow of accomplishment that I felt stayed with me all the way back to Extreme Dominica’s headquarters where we drank cocoa tea and ate watermelon before making our way back to the Ramelton Estate to start preparing for our departure the next day.

Canyoning was the best way we could have possibly ended our trip, and the four of us agreed that it had been one of the week’s major highlights. None of us were too eager to fly back home the next day, but we did make the most of the rest of our time on the island. Dominica is a truly special place, and I sincerely hope that I will be there again someday.

Check out our canyoning adventure and other highlights from the trip in my vlog!

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