I sat perched at the top of Ben Lomond in Queenstown, New Zealand, with my hands clamped around the steering mechanism of my luge, and I took a big breath. Luging is not an indulgence this mild-mannered writer generally enjoys and although I love hiking, the idea of screaming down a mountain on a flimsy wheeled crate has never made it to my bucket list. As a mother, I know what happens to people who climb onto luges. If one of my children had suggested they wanted to go luging, I would have laid myself down in front of them, grabbed their ankles and tethered us both to the nearest telephone pole.
Safety is about prevention, right?
But there I was, just starting my two-week tour of New Zealand with 35 other speakers from around the world and the organizers felt we should get the adrenaline pumping early – that is, before we stood and spoke in front of an expected 3,000 or so people in a nearby rugby stadium. How many major fears can be packed into one trip, I wondered?
We were given a choice of three activities: bungee jumping (not a chance), jet boating (that’s fun?) or luging (you’d have to commit me first). After an intense conversation with myself, which as I recall included the words “what have I gotten myself into?” I opted for the luge. As far as I know, most women in their 50s are about as likely to climb onto a luge and fly down a mountain as they are to willingly submit to a lie detector test about their real age.
And yet there I was, taking a leap of faith.
Accompanied by the other members of the luging group, and with my knees knocking together like a pair of castanets at a flamenco convention, I took the gondola up to the top of the mountain, found a helmet and submitted to a one-minute safety lesson. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said to myself as I peered over the lip of the luge track and followed the line of concrete down, down and around a sharp turn to the left.
With one determined sigh, I leaned forward and into the abyss. The luge crept forward at first and then, as the incline increased, it rolled faster and faster until I was swept up in the dizzying joy of mountain, speed, and wind. Gone was the thought of fear, long gone was the idea of anything at all, and I revelled in the challenge of going as fast as I humanly could while keeping my luge from tipping me onto the concrete track in a massive exfoliation project.
With a jolt of surprise, I realized I was having a wonderful time.
I made it to the bottom of the mountain in one piece and looked up at where I had been and what I had done. I had stared fear in the face and blown through a whole pile of limiting beliefs. Why stop now? I parked my luge, hopped on to the chairlift, rode up to the top of the mountain and did it again. Numerous times. This was going to be hard to explain to my children. But maybe we could do it together sometime.