Cliff edge looking over Georgian Bay forests

Body Language

Nikki and I are adventurous souls. Not adrenaline junkies by any stretch, but we like to push ourselves. Both have experienced things others may have not, it’s a long list on both sides. Let’s just say, we like to see what we are each capable of, and challenge our own fears.

Nikki used to be afeared of heights. Once upon a time she would scarcely stand on a chair. I, on the other hand, was not. I used to free-climb cliffs as a boy. Trees, buildings, radio masts, and other high places saw me hanging by my fingertips and laughing with no concern. Until this day.

Cup And Saucer

The Cup And Saucer trail on Manitoulin Island is a hikers dream. A moderate walk along 300ft cliffs that make up part of the Niagara Escarpment. It’s a spectacular sight providing 12km of assorted trails I wanted to see. Nikki, having long since overcome her fear of heights, wanted this too. So off we went. Things went well. We did the ‘Adventure Trail’ section, which saw us climbing down into cavernous caves and ascending log ladders back to daylight. No worries. Yet.

The Bluff

One of the literal highpoints of the Cup and Saucer trail is a series of outlooks with panoramic views of the forests over 200ft (70 metres) below. We walked out together. Nikki further than I. I was suddenly uneasy. She walked right to the edge without hesitation, and sat down with her legs dangling over thin air like a kid at a swimming pool. Just as I had intended to do. Instead…

Sitting on the edge at the Manitoulin Cup And Saucer Trail.

I found myself overcome with terror. That’s the only word I can use. For the first (and, I truly hope the last) time in my life a wave of absolute terror washed over me. I stopped in my tracks and called for her to come back from the edge. She laughed, thinking I was joking. I was not. Once she realised, she reluctantly stood and came back, an understandable quizzical expression on her face. I was shaking. Very literally.

I have never been afraid of heights. Until that moment. I could not force myself closer than five feet from the edge. Neither of us could understand it, I had always been so cavalier in circumstances like this. We made our way onwards. As we walked my mind was troubled. This was new territory for me. I was reevaluating everything, trying to assimilate what had just happened.

The Connection

To this day I do not understand why after all these years I experienced that immediate, all consuming, paralyzing fear of approaching that cliff. It should not have phased me. I chattered animatedly to Nikki for the rest of our hike, trying to make sense of it. I was embarrassed. Confused. I put it down to some temporary irrationality, convinced myself I was worried of Nikki falling (which, actually, I absolutely was). And filed it away to deal with later. But. It shook my world.

Looking through photos today, years later, I remember. I saw we had a great time. Swimming in waterfalls, mining Amethyst. We did a lot. And then I saw the date these photos were taken.

Underneath the Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island
Underneath the Bridal Veil Falls, Manitoulin Island

Not very long after our trip I had my stroke. At the time I was paralyzed down the entire right side. I have spent the time since getting out of the hospital trying to walk it off. Successfully, I might add. But. If this had happened on the cliff edge, that would have been game over. No doubt. Zero.

I suddenly find myself wondering whether my body somehow knew. And told my brain to stop me getting near the edge. I survived the stroke. I would not have survived the fall.

I know that sounds fanciful, if not outright ridiculous. But all kinds of animals have sixth senses about weirder things. And I am all about calculating the odds. Knowing when to act and when not has several times proven the decisive factor, and the only reason I and several others are still here. I’ve been doing it my whole life. And I’ve done some crazy things. Dispassionate risk assessment is instinctive. Simple fact.

Maybe, just maybe, I somehow factored in that imminent stroke. Was aware of the weakness. Perhaps I was already unsteady on my feet but only knew it subconsciously. Calculated for it. It really does sound like me. Fanciful, perhaps. But it is another thought to keep me awake at night.

Body language. Listen to it.

The Takeaway

On the plus side of that thought… several years on and with that stroke now firmly behind me, I stride purposefully into the future. And ponder going back for round two. Getting back on that proverbial 200 ft horse. Because it’s bugging me. I have failed many times in my life. This is the first time I have failed due to irrational fear. And that really does not sit well.

Second guessing oneself is not good when decisive physical action is needed. Whether jumping from a plane or across a chasm, they who hesitate are lost. To succeed, in anything, one must have confidence. And I have always had confidence. Don’t misunderstand me. I have a good knowledge and keen awareness of my surroundings, my physical limits and abilities. That’s how I’m still here. I’ve done far crazier stuff than stand on a cliff. I don’t embark on anything unless I evaluate all the risks and think I have a good chance of success. Survival, at least. So, where there may be reasonable concern there is no fear. Never fear. Until. This. Single. Incident. It threw me.

I have spent some of the time since the event beset by self doubt. In the early hours, I sometimes wonder if I would balk again, on that cliff. It’s a hit to the psyche as well as the ego. Manitoulin Island and the Cup and Saucer trail are at least a six hour drive and two hour walk (each way) from here. With the stroke and work and life in general, it’s logistically not been practical to revisit the scene to find out.

Since this event I have gone on to many things, including jumping out of a moving plane without a care. Which does seem contradictory to this experience. If I accept the admittedly remote possibility that this was a one-of-a-kind subconscious warning of an imminent physical event… well, that event has passed. I should be OK to go back for round two. There is only one way to find out.

Overcome. Face that unwelcome demon and fight it once more on top of that cliff. And win.

Maybe we all can face our demons. And win. I’ve seen far stranger things in this life. We have plans to make, Nikki and I. Onward.

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