Still looking up


On your bucket list: Ride in a hot air balloon.

Standing on a precipice looking down, I get what can only be called “tingly feet.” In addition to my sweaty palms and upset stomach, my toes literally begin to tingle — almost as if they know what it’s like to fall.

It’s a pins-and-needles sensation I know all too well. Like many a reasonable human being, I’m afraid of heights. I remember willing myself to step out onto the glass floor of Toronto’s CN Tower and feeling like I was going to be sick. In Chicago, looking down from atop the Sears Tower (or Willis Tower? When did that name change happen? Oh. 2009) gave me a raging case of tingly feet. It’s vertigo to the extreme.

So why do I then insist on partaking in adventures like hot air balloon rides? Because I don’t want my nerves to run me. Like most of my weird anxieties, I’m locked in an eternal struggle trying to act like a rational person . . . so I can’t let my mind and its always-on panic button keep me from trying things. If my crazy brain had its way, I would be locked up tight in my childhood bedroom clutching my sock monkeys and a list of pros/cons for taking a shower. The point is to open the gates and seize the day, just as the Newsies insist.

So when Spence and I were in California, we signed up to take a hot air balloon ride in Napa Valley. Rising for an awful 4 a.m. wake-up time that morning, I tried to piece together why the balloon escapade seemed like such a brilliant idea — but when we made it outside of Winters, Calif., and stepped into the brilliant sunshine, I remembered why I’d been so excited about the ride in the first place.

We almost didn’t get to go. Stepping out of the shuttle van on site, thick fog was rolling into the valley. Clouds hovered, blocking the colors of sunrise, and our group of six worried we wouldn’t have time to take the balloon ride and get back with our tour group by 9 a.m. Some schedule finagling fixed that, though, and I was back to being giddy when we arrived to see the giant, colorful balloons inflating against the crystal blue sky.

Up in the air, I wasn’t thinking about heights — or falling. I wasn’t thinking about fear. I was looking out at the city in the distance, at the farms and fields below us, at my boyfriend with a wide smile on his face. “I can’t believe how quiet it is,” Spencer said, and he was right — nothing but vast and epic silence as we drifted on a breeze, all of us snapping photos and staring with open mouths. It was the most at peace I’ve felt in months.

The next time you’re updating your bucket list, grab your pen — or your typing fingers — and add “HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE” in fat block letters. Don’t overanalyze it. Even with a bumpy landing that sent me sailing against the rigid basket, I was pumped enough to have gone straight back up into the air.

And I never did get tingly feet. I was only looking out — and up.