Saturday, May 06, 2006

Fear Itself

Would you mind terribly if I contradict myself? In one of the posts below (May 2) I wrote a bit about how skydivers are as various as skiers and that their unique relation to fear was mostly in my imagination. I then went on to tell a story about Pamplona to make an entirely different point. But as it happens, the tale of my moment with he bulls in that town actually allowed me to make a possibly useful generalization, if not about skydivers, at least about wingsuiters.

After my first tandem jump, several seasoned wingsuit flyers and I sat at a picnic table swapping tales (and drinking beer, which—it's true what they say—never tastes as good as it does after a jump). The only experience I'd ever had that was comparable to jumping out of plane was running with the bulls. I'll spare you all the details of that saga, but I explained to them how every experienced runner I'd met suggested watching the run the first day so you could get an idea of what would happen, then running the second day. I, however, was so terrified that I decided I'd run the first day just to get it out of the way. That night I dreamt of nothing but bull horns entering flesh. I woke from what little sleep I'd had certain that I'd be dead before the morning was over. And as I wandered in my white clothes and red sash, over to the actual street on which I was surely soon to spill blood, I noticed that I was so weak with fear that my legs were numb. Walking any faster, to say nothing of running, turned out to be physically impossible. So I didn't do any running from any bulls till the second day.

Now when I told this story around the picnic table the response was not "that sucks" or even "what a wimp." Instead, the unanimous reaction was "Cool, I wish I could feel that." It had never crossed my mind that anyone would want to experience fear on that level. A picnic table of skydivers is a small sample group, I realize, but I'm inclined to think that the risk takers of the world just might enjoy taking risks more than the rest of us.

6 comments:

Magnus said...

Interesting blog you have, thanks for stopping by mine.
I have often pondered whether I would have the balls to run with the bulls, glad you had the chance to put that to the test.

Anonymous said...

Do you mean to say that risk takers do not feel fear? But they might like to experience it so they take bigger and bigger risks in order to feel that rush of terror?
I am Mai

Michael Abrams said...

Oh, I think risk-takers feel fear, it just doesn't incapacitate them. The larger point I was trying to make is that when they do feel it, they like it. Kinda like coffee, which surely tastes the "same" to adults and children, but we've learned to enjoy that horrible bitterness (some of us, anyway). On the other hand, I don't think what the typical couch potato would call "risk taking" is done to feel fear, and skydivers and base jumpers certainly don't try to make each jump riskier than the last.

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