April 17, 1964: Jerri Mock becomes the first woman to complete a solo flight around the world – from Columbus to Columbus.
July 13, 1978: Walter Poenisch becomes the first person to swim from Florida to Cuba.
May 8, 2014: Travis Hoewischer redefines Midwestern adventure for a new generation by making it to the end of a leisurely zipline tour without pooping himself.
I f*cking hate heights.
This anxiety has been bequeathed to me by my father, who once accidentally took the elevator to the top floor of the replica Eiffel Tower at Kings Island and then suctioned himself to the inner edge like Luke Skywalker clinging to that Cloud City bridge.
I don’t find it necessary to audibilize this to my cohorts on this Thursday afternoon at ZipZone, within historic Camp Mary Orton. They made reservations with their credit cards, got off work early, and drove through U.S. 23 traffic to unknowingly skip around in my living nightmare, so I feel it’s best to leave them be.
If any of them knew what was really going through my head as we all shared what felt like a picnic tabletop stapled to a 40-foot-high wobbly spruce, they would have had a dozen roses, a bucket of champagne, and a burlap sack full of Percosets waiting when I finally touched down.
Why did I do it?
That’s in italics to indicate the dramatic press conference I was holding in my brain, already commemorating my harrowing journey through an activity popular at youth church camps.
The real answer to that fictional inquiry is two-fold.
For one, I was guided/goaded on this day by (614) Executive Editor David S. Lewis, a man who fondly recalls serenely firing a pistol into the eye of Hurricane Katrina, now the gleeful escort for a fat bald Ewok in cargo shorts trying to conquer his fear.
Or, at the very least, trying to re-prioritize his fear. Apparently Crippling Anxiety and Control Phobia is trumped by Being Called Out by a Colleague; Lewis readily committed me to my fate with a rather simple, strategic e-mail to the great people at ZipZone:
“…copied on this e-mail is our editor-in-chief Travis Hoewischer, who is afraid…”
Not only was it effective, but on-point. Those words could easily be copied and pasted onto my tombstone. Perhaps a touch underdeveloped as an epitaph, but “Travis Hoewischer, 1979-2014; Editor, Afraid” would be stingingly accurate.
It worked. I had to spend most of the day just gearing up for what I mistakenly thought would be a quick huzzah through the trees and then back down to my beloved ground. Nope. What it really was: an hour-and-a-half “canopy tour” (page 106) that shows you a sprawling treetop view of one of the most breathtaking parcels of land in Central Ohio, as well as a glimpse into the soul of a man in full-blown panic. I essentially committed to something that involved several things I loathe (going fast, being off the ground, guided tours, doing anything for more than an hour), and my reward was a mother and her college-age son getting to witness me sink my adorable Ewok claws into the bark of several majestic trees.
There was a quiet victory in not flaking. Well, quiet and sweaty, but still. By the time we made it to the fifth platform, I reached a fairly surprising moment of peace, where for the first time in a long time, I had almost nothing going through my mind. No anxiety, no thoughts about the magazine. Not even what I would write in this space. I zipped down to the ground with a triumphant 18-second-long “MOTHAFUHKA!!!!!!” and that was that.
A week later, it occurred to me why it was so personally satisfying, and why I didn’t chicken out: there are so many ballsy people in my life – and in this magazine – and I wanted to think like they did for a second. Christ, my girlfriend packed up her whole life and moved to Ecuador for three years with cero to her name, where she even bungee jumped with only a bike helmet for safety. I looked at Coyote Peterson (page 108), who snagged a dream gig as an animal adventurer by hopping into a bunch of murky water and yanking out little dinosaurs. Or how about Twink Starr? That dude wasn’t scared of Nazis or homophobes. If I can even charge though a little bit of discomfort, give a little bit of the finger to the stuff that slows me down, then hell yes.
And look at me now! Why, I bet I could cling to the back of a large strong man riding a motorcycle for up to six city blocks with confidence. Thanks, ZipZone!
Would I do it again?
(Maybe…how long is it again?)