Walking on the Edge

5 years ago

She perched on the edge of the chair, hands poised over the keyboard, watching the seconds crawl by until her fingers could fly. After having refreshed the screen six hundred and eighty-three times, the numbers of the clock clicked over and it was GO. With a blur of motion the details were entered and submitted. Moments later the hoped for and unexpected answer appeared – Congratulations. You’re in.

She exclaimed to the room at large, “Yay! I’m doing the CN Tower Edge Walk,” followed instantly by, “Holy sh*t! I’m doing the CN Tower Edge Walk!” And so we find our heroine, conflicted by the prospect, yet unwilling to back out.


Heights turn my knees to jelly. Those among you who are afraid of heights, or have vertigo, know what I mean by that. The ligaments and tendons supporting and knitting our bones together seem to liquefy. Nothing keeps us upright other than our will to stand when everything inside is firing messages to drop in a puddle of fear.

Based on a very scientific survey of half a dozen people I’ve spoken to, it’s worst still once you have children. A fear that was once easily placated by youthful bravado now transforms into Cerberus, and no matter which way we turn the multi-headed monster greets us. Now our children’s lives are at stake and control is no longer in our grasp.

What if they slip? What if we can’t reach them in time? What if? What if?

“Bou, get back from the edge! Maman, I’m fine. Katja, chill, it’s just a gentle slope to a creek.” Thanks D. These are real fragments of oft-repeated conversations. I work hard at not infecting the kids with this fear, which in its extreme form is an irrational one, but it’s a struggle. Even seeing them close to what I perceive to be dangerous places turns me into a boneless mess.

Last summer I hesitated for days about taking a 4×4 trek up a rocky, mountain track to an observatory. The kids had their hearts set on going, so we went, but I knew the climb would be … difficult. My thoughts were one giant WHAT IF?

I need to model behaviour for Bou and PG, and not just talk the talk, so I decided to face my fear of heights and push the boundaries. By walking on the edge of one of the tallest structures in the world. Because, you know, that’s totally rational.

As part of the Blissdom Canada 2012 conference, attendees were offered the option of participating in a Sunday excursion. These were about seeing new places, expanding our knowledge, and experiencing the unknown. What could be more of an experience than the CN Tower Edge Walk? Especially for someone who fears heights.

You’d think that there would be no need to frantically register for such an excursion, and that radio silence would meet any invite for sane people to participate. You’d be wrong. There was room for six on this adventure; that meant five Blissdom attendees plus our group leader, yet just as many would eagerly have taken our places if we had backed out.

The Edge Walk crew takes security seriously and the process of getting ready is meticulous and s l o w. Slow is good because participants are assured that a routine of checks and quadruple checks is followed to the T to ensure every piece of equipment is in prime condition and properly secured. Slow is bad because participants have time for nerves to build resulting in dry mouth, darting looks, and mildly hysterical attempts at laughter. Elevated heart rates and high-pitched voices aside, we were prepped with humour and care by pros. They only laughed at us a few times.

Once dressed in our red jumpsuits and yellow harnesses (which are not as sexy as you might imagine what with the tugging and compressing in awkward places), we were ready to go topside. The absence of a wind machine and lack of space kyboshed our plans to re-enact a scene from a B adventure movie à la Armageddon.We totally would have owned that; also it could have worked as a great delay tactic. Another time. Before we took the final elevator ride up, Dee Brun, who led the expedition, brought us close for a pep talk.

photograph, flight crew, Armageddon, red jumpsuits

Just like that. Except we’re more feminine & have way better hair.
Photo courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel [http://www.orlandosentinel.com/multimedia/os-armageddon-asteroid-pictur…]

Despite Dee’s role as our leader, she faced real fears that day as much as StephanieBrookeKaren, andJenn did; the rest of the Edge Walk Team. I expected humour from Dee, what we got instead was a heartfelt message. Before the excursion she spoke with her friend Sharon, who’d previously been just ascrazy brave and walked the Edge. Sharon’s advice to Dee was to trust the process. Trust the equipment. Trust the guides. Dee reminded us that we were there to experience something extraordinary and face down fear, and if we were to benefit fully from this excursion, we needed to let go. And trust.

Facile, hein?

Christian, our capable and comedic guide, took us up the elevator to an interior platform where we were hooked up with large ropes to rails over our heads. Think roller coaster ride where the chair is attached from above and you’ve got a clear picture. Except in this case we were the chairs. All systems go now.

“Alright ladies, please walk slowly through the door.” Holy crap, this thing just got real. Also…who needs a reminder to walk slowly? Oh…Hi….What am I doing? Just hanging out. 365 meters above the ground!*breathe in, breathe out*

We were briefed on what we’d be doing and for how long; Toes over Toronto, leaning backwards, leaning forwards, edge walking (right ON the edge), and all this in 30 minutes. Just regular Sunday afternoon stuff. If you’re an adrenalin junkie. *breathe in, breathe out*

The first step was difficult, and watching the video of it, it’s where we all showed the most trepidation. Moving towards a 365-meter drop flies against every natural human instinct. We all did it though. Every one of us faced each new challenge presented. Where we hesitated, and we each had moments that were more difficult than others, the rest of the team was there to offer encouragement, mental shoves, and cheers.


Lying back, overhanging Toronto far below, arms behind heads, feigning relaxation creates complicity between people like nothing else. I admire what these women accomplished that day. They are brave, not fearless. Or crazy – either one works – and that goes for me too.

CN Tower, CN Tower Edge Walk, Toronto, Lake Ontario, women, sunny, day, photograph, red jumpsuits, harness

Yup – totally calm and relaxed.

CN Tower, Toronto, CN Tower Edge Walk, Canada, women, red jumpsuits, sunny, Lake Ontario

See those smiles? They’re real.

Will I still freak when my kids push my buttons (don’t think I don’t recognize why they’re doing it) and walk too close to danger? Of course. I’m their mother. It’s my job to freak.

Have I been cured of my fear of heights? I doubt it. I’m sure the jelly will still fill my knees and I’ll still get that strange shivery sensation up my spine when I’m near a ledge. But what I learnt is that I am able to push past boundaries, as solid as they may seem, and that trusting another person or different circumstances is worthwhile.

So, who’s up for an adventure? What’s your craziest experience?

Blissdom Canada, CN Tower Edge Walk, women, team, photograph

Post-walk. Look at us! All alive and everything.
Photo courtesy of the Blissdom Flickr stream. Photography by Anna Epp.

*** The links to the rest of the Edge Walk Team will be posted shortly. Please read their stories. Each woman has a unique and interesting perspective.

Brooke Berry wrote Overcoming Your Fears – TRUST


Kat @ jackstrawlane

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