Acrophobia

The Great American Road Trip #5

We’ve now wrapped up our two family stays and will be on the road for the remainder of the trip. The family visits went great. My brother was very surprised by our visit, which was very satisfying since surprising him was the goal of this trip.

The boys have continued to exceed expectations with their behavior. This has been a very pleasant surprise on this trip. Having kids that travel well makes it much easier to think about planning more adventurous trips.

We got in a couple rounds of the Skittles game. I think I’ve found my hidden talent. Thanks Tom (HighIncomeParents.com)

Acrophobia

Adventurous might be the wrong word as it turns out I have a bad case of acrophobia. This puts me in rare company according to wikipedia, who claims between 2-5% of the population suffers from a fear of heights. This sounds low to me, but who am I to argue with wikipedia.

I have 2 theories about the origins of this fear. The first is simple genetics. My mother has acrophobia and I suppose it is possible that genetics are to blame. The second and far more likely culprit is my older brother.

I remember on numerous occasions throughout my childhood, I’d be peering off a tall structure and my brother would come up behind me, quickly grab my shoulders and push me forward for a fraction of a second before pulling me back. It was a classic older brother move and after the split second of panic wore off, I’m sure I found it humorous.

However, I now wonder if those experiences birthed my current fears. I first remember experiencing this fear during my adolescence. It was more of a nuisance than a problem at that time. It didn’t alter my life in any way, and only came up when I traveled, since every new destination I visited had some tall structure to ascend.

In the past I’d never let these fears stop me. Every structure we visited I’d climb with everyone else. St. Louis Arch…check. Sears Tower…check. Empire State Building…check. Space Needle…check. Sure I’d stand about 10 feet back from the edge, but I went up none the less.

This trip has been different. My acrophobia has been far more debilitating. Standing at the bottom of the St. Louis Arch and looking up created dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea. Symptoms I’d never experienced before. I was accustomed to the sweaty palms, racing heart, an overwhelming fear. But all of these could be overcome with will power.

Casualties

Will power has not been enough this trip. The white knuckled driving through the Louisiana bridges and the mountains of Arizona, Nevada, California, and Utah has been torture. I’ve finished each day with my last nerve frayed, unsure of how I’ll do it all again the next day.

New Mexico was nice and flat. That’s my kind of driving!

Not anticipating this aspect of the trip, we made the decision not to add my wife as a driver to the car rental. At the time it was a no brainer as doing so would have doubled the cost of the rental. Even if we had added her, I’m not sure being a passenger would be any better.

So far my acrophobia has claimed two victims on this trip. The first was the St. Louis Arch. I’m not convinced we would have ascended the arch either way given how expensive it was. But after my acrophobia took over, I knew I certainly wouldn’t be taking on the arch. My wife elected not to take the boys up without me.

The second casualty was the Hoover Dam. I spent a portion of our visit to the Grand Canyon sitting in the car to steady my dizzy head, calm my nerves, and allow the wave of nausea to dissipate. Then took a harrowing drive through a particularly mountainous region of Arizona and Nevada, which culminated in the most intimidating bridge I’ve encountered to date.

By the time we got to the exit for the Hoover Dam, I just didn’t have it in me. I needed to get off the mountain as soon as possible.

I hate being limited by my fears and view it as a personal failure when something like this happens. This disappointment in myself is compounded when it has a negative impact on others, like it has on my family during this trip.

Since I’m writing this on the road, I haven’t had much time to reflect on the whole experience, so my course of action is still uncertain. My goal for these travel logs  has been to be as transparent as possible. While this isn’t a typical travel log, I hope it has captured this aspect of our trip.

House Keeping

This will be my last update from the road. I’ll write one final road trip wrap up post after we return home.

I’m very excited for my next post, which is the next installment in my Random Questions series. I hope you enjoying reading it as much as I did.

9 Comments

  1. My Son’s Father,

    I too have acrophobia and it comes to light mainly while traveling. Particularly high bridges. White knuckles, sweaty brow, quickening pulse, and stomach in knots. My wife is the more adventurous one, so typically she does the driving through high areas. Glenn Canyon Dam being one that really got me (Arizona-Utah) Beautiful place. I know what you are going through. We are planning hitting the road in a year or two (soon to be empty nesters) so hopefully this won’t be too much of an issue; time will tell. I have enjoyed your post, best wishes. As far as dealing with acrophobia, you can always take meds (short term as needed) for severe cases, but meditation and breathing exercises should suffice for quick jaunts over high bridges. I typically reflect on how many people get hurt driving over high overpasses. (I never hear of it) Thinking about my odds helps. 😳

    1. Thanks Larry! I picked up some Beta blockers off of Amazon upon my brother recommendation and it took the edge of slightly, but not much. There has been plenty of deep breathing as well. My wife is also the adventurer in our relationship, mountain climbing, sky diving, she’s reckless, I mean brave. This trip has certainly taught me my lesson about putting her on the car rental. I appreciate your encouragement!

  2. In your defense, we’ve been up to the top of the arch. The ‘elevator’ is literally the tiniest enclosure on the planet, and if your acrophobia didn’t get you before, your previously unknown claustrophobia would have.
    I don’t have claustrophobia, but I sure sweated in that trip up.

    1. Thanks Mrs. 1500! I actually went up the arch before on what may have turned out to be the most bizarre first date ever and remember those rickety egg elevators. If memory serves, the viewing area only had narrow slivers they called windows. Which was perfectly fine for me, but a disappointment for those non-acrophobes I was with. I appreciate the encouragement, driving up to Salt Lake City today, so I need all the support I can get!

  3. It’s a rare person who loves heights. Have you seen those videos of the Russian guys who climb to the top of skyscrapers? The one where they scaled a construction crane at the top of Shanghai tower was insane!

    I’m not severely claustrophobic, meaning I’m fine in elevators etc., but watching spelunkers barely squeeze through narrow tunnels and almost get stuck makes me hyperventilate just thinking about it.

    Have a great time for the rest of your trip!
    Dr. C

    1. Thanks Dr. C! Those Russian guys are insane. The videos make me dizzy, particularly the construction crane. I don’t know how they do it. The other videos that freak me is the guy who hangs off building holding himself up with just his finger tips…crazy.

  4. I’m really sorry to hear about this cropping up but I really respect your transparency! Don’t look at this as a personal failure – we all have things that we struggle with and sharing them is the best way to connect with others and recognize that you’re not alone.

    This may mean you have to consider different ways to travel in the future, but hopefully you’ll find ways to make it work!

    1. I appreciate the support. These certainly weren’t my proudest moments, but I did have a few small victories on the acrophobia front. I’ll definitely do some research for any future travel to mountainous regions and come up with a better solution the white knuckling it.

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