Going Over The Edge: Rappelling 269 Feet Down a Skyscraper

A few weeks ago my boss called me into his office to ask whether I would be interested in representing our firm at a fundraiser for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Middle Tennessee. I of course was happy to take part, especially once I learned that it happened to be their annual Over The Edge event in which the participants rappel off of the Omni in downtown Nashville.

I have discussed over and over and over and over that I am afraid of heights. However, I have also discussed my quest to overcome that fear by seeking out situations that make me second guess myself. So far, so good. If flying lessons turned my dread of air travel into love, then eventually, one day, I’ll be able to jump and fall off of things without hesitation (hopefully during some sort of planned excursion).

Before I went over the edge, we got a brief training session on how not to fall to our deaths or get stuck on the side of a building. I appreciated the tips.

I’m joking. I felt safe the entire time. There were lots of ropes and harnesses and gears and double and triple layer safety measures.

Before I could start my rappel, I had to crawl over some scaffolding to get to the edge of the building. This was surprisingly nerve-wracking considering what I was about to do.

However, the worst part was the first steps going down the building. It was a little hard to get started because, well, I weigh as much as a wet chihuahua. You control the rate of your descent with your weight and guiding rope through the belay. So, my size made it difficult to get horizontal with the wall.

When I started my descent, I was hanging from the side of the building, but still had my feet at the top of the ledge. This felt very unsettling. However, I felt completely secure once lowered myself down a bit and got my feet flat on the side of the building.

I fed the rope though the belay and I walked myself down the building, taking time to waive at my supporters below and the hotel guests who gathered at the windows to watch.

It only took a few minutes for me to completely lower myself down the 26 stories, but every second was thrilling.

The event was exactly what I hoped it would be. I had a wonderful time and we helped raise money for a wonderful organization in the process.

Over The Edge helps non-profit organizations throughout the world raise money for important causes like Big Brothers and Big Sisters. If you are interested in a chance to rappel down a building without getting arrested, keep an eye out for Over The Edge when it comes to your city.

Snowmobiling to the Continental Divide

I have been a bit delinquent with my posting. The last few weeks have been filled with traveling and spending time back home in Virginia with my family, so I simply have not been able to find the time to write. I still have many adventures and stories to share about my time off from work!

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One of my favorite snowy excursions during my time in Breckenridge was snowmobiling through the Swan River Valley and up to the Georgia Pass, which crosses the Continental Divide. In Colorado, the divide separates the the watersheds that flow into the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

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I booked a tour with Good Times Adventures, the same company that took me dog sledding. The season had just begun so we had brand new, two-week-old 2017 Ski-Doo Grand Touring 600 snowmobiles. They were sleek and sporty and, most importantly, came with heated handlebars and throttle.

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I booked the first tour of the day so I could see the sun rise through the trees as we climbed 2,000 feet to the summit. At first, driving the snowmobile took a little getting used to. Every time I hit a bump or block of ice I was worried that I was going to go careening into the line of trees. However, after just a few minutes on the trail I was able to relax and enjoy the wintery landscape.

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Our guide, Susie, took us though the winding snow-white paths which were dotted with pine trees and hills. Occasionally, we got to see a dog sled out for a morning run or some horses on their way for a visit with a vet.

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As we neared the peak, the trail steepened and the trees cleared.

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I was greeted with an awe-inspiring panoramic view of the Swan River Valley, Summit County and the White River National Forest.

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I was also greeted with the coldest air I have ever felt in my life. While my long underwear and snow suit kept me nice and toasty in the valley and on the trail, the icy wind at the top cut through it like a knife through butter. I was only able to get a few pictures at the top before the battery in my phone froze and died.

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Other than the view, the most striking part of being at 11,585 feet is the absolute silence. All I could hear was the wind and my labored breathing from the thinned air.

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Even though my phone battery died, my video goggles managed to capture the entire journey to and from the Continental Divide. I tried to trim the hour-long trip as much as I could, but the ride was just too beautiful to only make a 3-minute montage. Here are some of the extended highlights:

If you have a chance to visit the Rockies in winter, be sure to add snowmobiling to your itinerary. It is certainly worth the detour.

Snow Skiing in the Rockies

As part of my New Years trip to Breckenridge I decided to try my hand at skiing. It is something that I have wanted to do for a long time, but living in the South does not afford a lot of opportunities to hit the powder.

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I had never taken part in any winter sports prior to this trip (if you don’t count sledding down my front yard after snowstorms). I knew that if I was going to hit the slopes I would have to take a lesson. Me, on skis, without any training, would be a menace to everyone on the mountain.

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My friend Jill and I took a lesson for first timers in order to learn the basics. The first half of the day was designed to get us acquainted with the fundamentals.  We started by skiing in a circle on one ski, sidestepping up and down a hill, and then wedging down a hill. All of this, fortunately, was in a designated ski lesson area. This was wise, because while I was doing well with skiing, I was not doing so hot with stopping.

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Somehow after lunch, and with a few extra tips from my instructor, I managed to get a better hold on slowing myself and eventually stopping. When we returned from our break, five of the eight members in our class decided not to return. Apparently, they determined skiing was not for them. That was sad for them, but awesome for the three of us who remained. We basically got a semi-private lesson for the rest of the day. In the afternoon our awesome instructor took us up the QuickSilver SuperChair life to Ten Mile Station.

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I felt like I had a better handle on the skis in the afternoon than in the morning. We practiced our turns going down the slope so I was able to build up a little speed and confidence. I really liked being able to break away from the group and have a little space to practice. I managed to finish my day with no major incidents or broken bones.

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The next day I met up with my friends Lilas and Chris, who just happened to be in Breckenridge at the same time. Luckily, I mentioned my visit in a previous post which Lilas read while sitting in the Denver airport.

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I was excited to ski with them, not only because they are amazing people, but because they are substantially more accomplished skiers than I.

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We started on the same runs I tried the day before, but took a few different routes down—a few of which were much more complicated than what I did the day before and included icy wooded paths and sharp hills. We also took the A-Chair higher up Peak 9 where I learned that all green trails were not created equal. I actually spent a good part of my day on my back with a lovely view of the sky.

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But overall I had an absolute blast, falls and all. At the end of the day I decided to take one more pass down the mountain. Mainly because the easiest way to get to the ski shop was to ride the lift back up and ski down. Somehow I managed to make it the entire way without incident and I actually had my GoPro recording.

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Here is my video of my first time skiing all the way down alone without falling. Yes, I am going slower than almost everybody, but I am pretty sure everyone else had been skiing a lot longer than one day.

I can’t wait to go skiing again. I will definitely take another lesson (or two) next time to give me a refresher and help me develop my skills. Unfortunately, unless the resorts get a lot closer to home, it may have to wait until next season.

Dog Sledding Through The Rocky Mountains

When I was first planning my winter vacation I wanted something to complement my escape to the Dominican rainforest. When I could not find another tropical retreat that fit my days off, I decided to go the complete opposite direction and head to a winter wonderland. As part of the trip, I wanted to cross off a few things from my winter To-Do List. Item #1 on that list was dog sledding!

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I went to Good Times Adventures in Breckenridge, Colorado. Good Times has 160 purebred Siberian huskies, and is the largest Siberian husky kennel in the United States. The dogs consume 2000 pounds of dog food a week and have a protein snack after every run. Sounds like me on vacation.

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The dogs are well cared for and do 2-3 runs (10-15 miles) a day. But the dogs love to run! This is actually a light workout for a Siberian husky, as they are capable of running for over 100 miles a day or 20 hours straight! In fact, while waiting for the next run, the teams have to be tied to a tree so they don’t take off. They want to run all day!

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Good Times Adventures uses all female and all males teams “to keep trouble in the same place,” but racers often mix males and females. Our guide said that the females are much faster and goof off less.

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The dogs start training at 6 months and are a part of a team until they are about 7-8 years old. After retirement, the pups become part of their adoption program.

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We had an all male team with Fez and Django (the lead dogs), Olaf and Drake (the swing dogs), Chief and Trix (the team dogs), and Cyprus and Ninja (the wheel dogs).

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The dogs in the front are the super smart lead dogs who guide the pack. However, if they make a mistake or get into a fight they will get “demoted” and moved further back in the lineup. Our guide said that the dogs can tell when they get demoted and promoted.

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The dogs in the back wheel position, according to our guide, are the “meatheads” and workers of the bunch. They are not the brightest lightbulbs. (But who needs to be smart when they are that handsome?)

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Each tour accommodated six people. The dog sled was led by our guide pulling a sleigh via snowmobile. Four people rode in the sleigh and the other two rode the dogsled, one as the rider and the other as the musher. We all got to take turns in each position.

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The actual ride was spectacular! It was a blast to zoom though the snowy woods behind a team of dogs.

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We took some of the hills pretty slowly, but once we got going we had to hold on tight!

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I really don’t know what I loved more, the scenery or the ride itself.

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While the dogs do almost all of the work, the sled does come with a safety brake. We also help control the sled by leaning into the turns.

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However, some of the turns were a little too rambunctious and we almost took a little spill (pictured above). But fortunately we were able to stay on the sled.

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Both before and after the run I got to pet the dogs. They were sweet and soft, but definitely just waiting to have a chance to do some more running!

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Below is a compilation point of view video of our runs. I did not have a helmet to attach my GoPro to, so I rented some awesome goggles that recorded it for me. As a disclaimer, my friend forgot I was recording so there is some language that is not suitable for children.

Here is a compilation video from the guide sled. You can’t hear her swearing in this one.

If you want to add a little adventure to your winter travels and cuddling on some adorable doggage is a priority, then go check out Good Times Adventures. However, book early. I called weeks in advance and they were already almost fully booked during my visit.

Attending a Polo Match

There are many wonderful ways to spend your Sunday afternoon in the South. Personally, I enjoy using my Sundays to watch sports, any sports. The weather is finally starting to cool down, so I decided to take advantage of the two weeks of fall we get here and do my sports watching outside. Apparently, October is the beginning of polo season so this week’s activity basically picked itself.

Polo

Before writing this post I asked a friend if there was anything she wanted to know about polo that I should put in the blog. She asked, “Was Prince William there? I assume it’s a rule that polo can only be played in the presence of royalty.” I responded, “That’s why I was there.”

Polo Match

So, a little bit about polo: There are two types of polo matches, field and arena. Field polo is played on grass and arena polo is played on dirt. Arena polo is played with a small air-filled ball, similar to a small soccer ball. You can see the orange polo ball in bottom left of the next photo. Also, polo is coed, which is pretty darn cool.

Polo Arena

Arena polo is divided into four 7 1/2 periods called chukkers, which give both the players and the horses a break. In fact, the players change horses during each break (hence why there are different horses in each picture).

Polo Riders

There is no net in polo. Instead, the players attempt to hit the ball into painted doors on either side of the field. You can see them below over Gnash’s shoulder. (For some reason the Predators’—Nashville’s hockey team—mascot was there for the game and was hanging out in the crowd.)

Polo Nashville

There are some interesting rules to polo that aren’t really analogous to other sports. Each time a player hits a ball down the field it creates an imaginary line called the “line of the ball” which continues past the ball. The player who hit the ball has the right of way, and the other players cannot cross the line of the ball in front of that player unless it is at a safe speed and distance. The other players run along side of the line.

Polo Horses

The defending player can push the opponent off the line or steal the ball from the opponent. Alternatively, a player can block another player’s swing by using his or her mallet to hook the mallet of the player swinging at the ball. A player can also give an equine hip check as long as it does not endanger the horses or push the horse into the wall.

Horse Polo

It was a great day to watch a polo match. The sun was out and the air was nice and cool. The atmosphere at a match is surprisingly relaxed. Lots of people brought chairs and blankets to sit on to watch the game. There is also beer and wine available to start your Sunday right.

Polo Team

The game itself was really exciting. Nashville played Louisville so there was a hometown team to cheer for. The commentators did a great job of calling the match and explaining the rules of the game. It made it pretty easy for a newbie like me to follow along.

Polo Goal

The seating was really close to the action, just a few feet from the field. In fact, an errant ball or two went flying into the crowd. The match ended up in a tie: 11-11. I was hoping for a Nashville win, but perhaps I’ll have to wait until the next match.

Polo Teams

It is just the start of the polo season so you have plenty of time to get out and enjoy a match before it gets cold. If you live in the Nashville area, the Franklin Polo Academy has matches every weekend this month. It is a lovely way to spend an afternoon!

Paragliding Over the Sequatchie Valley

I like to add some variety to my adventures. Some weeks my New Thing can be done during a quiet evening at home. Other weeks it involves running and jumping off of a cliff. This week was the latter. I have had my eye on paragliding since I first tried hang gliding a few years ago. I significantly preferred that peaceful experience to the adrenaline (and terror) filled falls involved with my adventures in skydiving and bungee jumping.

Paragliding Launch

After an amazing weekend of watching Tennessee beat the Florida Gators (Go Vols), I decided to take a detour down to Dunlap, Tennessee on the way home. Dunlap boasts that it is the “Hang Gliding Capital of the East” and has served as the home to the East Coast Hang Gliding Championships. Well, I think it is a pretty good spot for paragliding too.

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I met Dave Hanning and Brain Petersen of Flying Camp at the top of Henson Gap, 2,300 feet above the Sequatchie Valley. It was a typical fall day in Tennessee, and by that I mean it was almost 100 degrees outside. However, it felt nice and cool in the shade at the top of the mountain. This was a relief as it took a few hours of waiting for the right wind conditions to be able to launch.

Paragliding Over Sequatchie Valley

I did a tandem flight, which means I was tethered to Brian (thank goodness) while he controlled the glider (again, phew). The launching process is done into the wind. When it was finally time to go, we stood at the edge of the cliff, glider laid out on the ground behind us, waiting for the right wind to hit. When the right gust came along, Brian pulled the glider and it caught the air and inflated behind us as we started to run forward.

Paragliding Launch

Within just a few steps the ground was no longer beneath our feet. It was what every kid who used a blanket as a “parachute” when jumping out of a tree house dreamed of. What? Was that just me?

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The flight lasted around 40 amazing minutes. We soared back and forth near the launch site in search of a thermal. A thermal is a rising column of air that can increase your altitude as high as the cloud base (science!). Once you hit a thermal you fly in a circle, trying to find the strongest part where the air is rising the fastest.

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When we hit the thermal and started to rise the vario-altimeter started to beep signaling an altitude change. It sounded like the world was ending. Imagine the beeping sound a bomb makes in movies right before the hero defuses it.

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However, it actually was a sign that we were rising approximately 2,000 feet above the original launch location. In the picture below, you can see Henson Gap far beneath us on the left. The day was clear and beautiful and we could easily see 50 miles away to the nuclear plant in Watts Bar. Before we landed, Brian fit in a few aerobatics which added some extra excitement to an already thrilling ride.

Paragliding in Dunlap Tennessee

Below is a video of our launch from the edge of the cliff:

And here is a video from the air as well as the landing:

Paragliding was a magical experience and one I certainly want to repeat. Although it took me a little while to settle my nerves, I felt completely safe and loved every minute of the ride. If you are looking for some adventure but sky diving or bungee jumping are a little too much for you to handle, then paragliding (or hang gliding) might be the right excursion for you.

Whitewater Rafting in the Rocky Mountains

Adventure makes life more interesting. It also makes road trips more interesting. I wanted to make the most of my time in the Denver area so I jumped at the chance to add some whitewater rafting to the itinerary.

Whitewater Rafting Class IV

We went to Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting in Idaho Springs, Colorado for an afternoon of rafting on the beautiful Clear Creek. The weather started out a bit dicey and thunderstorms were predicted all afternoon. In fact, we received a flash flood alert en route to Idaho Springs.

Me: Should we be in a river when there is a flash flood warning?

Jill: It’s ok, we’ll be in a raft.

Whitewater Rafting Guide

Magically, our weather luck continued and the rain cleared just as we prepared to depart.

Whitewater Splash Point of VIew

We started with a series of Class II and Class III rapids before hitting the more dramatic Class IV rapids. I was a little nervous about my prospects of staying inside the raft after my disastrous kayaking experience, so I dug my feet into the raft as deep as possible to secure myself. I even used one foot to kick the other one to wedge it in as far as it could go. I was determined to stay put.

Whitewater Rafting Clear Creek

We rafted down the river for approximately 8 miles and ran rapids called the Hemorrhoids, Deliverance, and Outer Limits, among others. We got thrown around a fair bit, but we all managed to stay in the raft.

Whitewater Clear Creek

Just in case things got a bit too wild, there was a safety guy in a kayak who stayed ahead of us in case we needed fishing out. On the more intense rapids, a guy with a rope (who you can see in the video below) stood on the shore to drag us in.

Rafting Clear Creek

It was a chilly day in the 50s but our wetsuits kept us pretty warm and dry. That was a pleasant surprise. A few times icy water managed to make it inside of the top of my wetsuit . . . which definitely woke me up.

Clear Creek Water Wheel

When we weren’t paddling or navigating the rapids we got to enjoy the scenery of Idaho Springs.

Paddle High Five

We passed beautiful hills, dramatic cliffs, gold mills, water wheels, and waterfalls.

Whitewater Guide

If you are visiting the area, I definitely suggest enhancing your stay by experiencing a little white water. If you choose Rocky Mountain Whitewater Rafting, ask for Steve.

You can watch a video of one set of rapids here:

 

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