A month ago it seemed like a really fun idea:
Rappel down the 30 floors of the Woodmen Tower.
Journalism gets interesting sometimes. You have to do these bizarro events every so often to break up the rhythm, add a little excitement.
We'll get this out of the way here: The event was called “Over the Edge.” It's a fundraiser for the Boy Scouts of America.
From what organizers said Friday, the event was a great success. They have a full slate of people today who have paid $1,000 for the chance to rappel down the 478-foot-tall Woodmen Tower, the second-tallest building in Omaha.
I didn't think much about the event until about 10 a.m. Thursday.
It was at that time that I felt the first slight rush of fear. On Friday, I thought, something very strange and unknown is going to happen.
What if I freak out? What if I can't take it? What if I give up? What if I wet my pants?
By about 2 p.m. Friday, I was watching the skies over downtown Omaha. I had heard there was a 40 percent chance of showers in the afternoon. The sky was hazy and moist. Soon, some puffy, deep blue clouds began to form.
I called my editor to find out if there were any weather watches or warnings that might make people cancel some sort of event that might affect the top of a large building.
No. It wasn't supposed to rain until 11 p.m.
I called a friend, Jack Savage, who was the architect of the Woodmen Tower. I wanted to ask him if there were any chunks of the building sticking out that I might crash into.
More than that, I wanted to hear stories from when the tower was built, when those amazingly brave men walked the steel I-beams hundreds of feet above the street. I figured it might calm me.
He was gone, though.
I reached the apex of my fear about 4:30 p.m., half an hour before I was to be at the tower to begin training for my 6:15 p.m. descent.
I walked into the office at the World-Herald. I talked to my editor. A few reporters and editors gathered around, making jokes about my impending death.
After I left, they apparently were swapping stories of how afraid I looked.
It was then that a thought came to me: According to Newtonian physics, a human body and a batch of vomit dropping from the Woodmen Tower should hit the ground at the same time.
At 5 p.m., I met up with several of the event's rappelling experts, who strapped me into a full body harness, slapped a helmet on my head and some gloves on my hands and led me to the test drop, a five-story rappel that helps you get used to the apparatus and the idea of leaning back off of a large building.
And here's where things got weird.
The more time I spent with the experts, the calmer I became. The more equipment I put on, the less fear I felt.
I climbed up the edge of the smaller building, strapped in and immediately leaned back and rappelled down the five floors.
Across the street, KFAB's Tom Becka was descending the tower in a Spider-Man suit.
Tom later told me that he almost couldn't take that first step off the tower. He had to be talked into it by the pros. He finally took the step, and by the time I talked to him at the bottom, he was happy he had.
“It's something you can brag about for a long, long time,” he told me.
In the tower, we took a freight elevator to a story below the top, then walked up a thin stairwell to the top floor.
It had the feeling of a walk to the death chamber.
But up top, with the beautiful view in all directions, with long, heavy cords and long, backup safety cords and big aluminum buckles and backup safety systems, a sense of calm overcame me.
When it was my time, I stepped up to the edge of the top of the tower, smiled at our photographer, made some bad joke and leaned back to begin my walk down the side of a skyscraper.
A few floors down, I stopped to look at the falcon nest that had been built outside a window.
I started rappelling too quickly, which activated the backup safety system.
I rappelled so fast that I blistered my hands through the pair of gloves.
Not once did I feel my heart rate rise one bit.
I landed at the bottom, calmly unstrapped, said thank you to the man releasing me from the ropes and began walking away to go write this column.
As I passed people, I became embarrassed by my answer: No. Wasn't really scary. Just burned my hands a bit. It was kind of fun. Great view.
I wondered if I was calmed by the professionalism of the rappelling crew that prepares you for the drop.
Or if I was just weird. Increasingly odd, in fact. My fear of fearful things seems to be fading as I age.
I will assume that is a good thing.
But because of the odd calm, I missed something I felt I needed after a few months of calm:
A good, scary adrenaline-pumping rush.
Which is what most folks said they felt as they finished their long drop.
And those who had paid said the rush was well worth the price.
So don't listen to me, fellow rappellers. Be glad you've helped out the Boy Scouts. And know that someday, when your grandkids are Scouts, you'll have one heck of a story to tell them.
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