Episode 144 - Close to The Edge
The Thursday Thesis – 28/3/2019
The buzzard’s wing flashed white at around 900 feet, just off to starboard, turning easy circles in lift and I eased the stick into a gentle banked turn, feathering the rudder until the variometer wolf-whistled me into the twisting, rising air where I settled in below the great bird.
“Nice...good” said Dave the instructor, his voice calm and steady.
The vario whistled contentedly as we gained height, 1300... 1400...1500 feet.
“What are you thinking?” Dave asked
“I’d rather be in my studio, playing guitar” I answered. “I think I’m done, Dave.”
“Ermmm... what do you mean?” he said.
After a few words I exited the thermal and began to circle down and back toward the airfield, enjoying the scenery and the feeling of release. This was my thirteenth flight and I was well on my way to earning my glider pilot’s licence – and I couldn’t have cared less.
For most of my life flying had been the ultimate confrontation with fear.
I think it all started when I scared my mum by climbing onto the flat roof of the shed – I’d be about six years old at the time: six years old and fearless. Before then I can’t remember being afraid of heights, but since then – like a fissure in my character – it’s always been there.
“Feel the fear and do it anyway” is one approach that’s become a mantra in the self-help world, and it’s helpful – up to a point. But the fear never goes away, it’s always there, ready to defend its residence in my mind.
Old beliefs, childhood indoctrinations and phobias have deep roots; the older the belief, the harder it is to shift, and whatever gets into our minds first always resists most strongly.
But in our moments of greatest fear and closeness to death we feel the strongest love of life and the greatest clarity.
Looking our own fear of death in the eye and staring it down puts things nicely into perspective, so they say, and I can personally verify that a Glock 9mm shoved in your face is a tremendous focus-puller.
No wonder we get hooked on the adrenaline released by massive risk or danger, chased up with a jolt of dopamine when we escape from whatever bloody stupid position we’ve gotten ourself into.
It’s a lethal combination...
The guidebook says that deaths are a regular occurrence here.
And the Mountain Rescue people told me it was “extremely dangerous”.
I walked past the battered sign that read "Danger - Crib Goch" and scrambled toward, then up over The Pinnacle stones standing sentry to the west .
Edging along until I reached the sharpest of the knife-edge where the drop-offs to either side were 300 feet or more. If I stopped I’d be crag-fast, afraid to go either forward or back; certain that if I slipped it would be sudden, a handful of seconds – whirling and spinning downward over sharp remorseless granite... earthward gliding.
Inch by careful inch until the edge became blunted and the exposure was less fierce, finally rejoining a well-worn path down to the valley road where my boots thundered down as I starined my eyes to catch a glimpse of my girl's car, slogging up the snake-road throught her boulder field to the pass.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more glad to be alive or more grateful to see anyone than at that moment.
And that’s what I mean about fear and immediate danger of death being great clarifiers: they point out who and what it is you want to stay alive for.
© Neil Cowmeadow 2019
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