The height of insanity: David Whitley

Skydiving, bungee jumping and standing on the edge of the CN Tower are, it turns out, no cure for vertigo

By David Whitley
Published 14 Sept 2014, 12:00 BST

The first tentative step onto the metal grille is accompanied by an intense desire to break down weeping — and the realisation the whole thing has been a terrible mistake. I'm sure the restaurant in Toronto's CN Tower is lovely, but the roof of said restaurant has less appeal. Especially when there's no barrier stopping you plunging 1,168ft and landing in a grizzly splatter of extravagantly dispersed organs.

The EdgeWalk at the CN Tower is either an experience of once-in-a-lifetime thrills or staggering cruelty, depending on your perspective. It's not enough that they harness you up and make you circle the tower at a dizzying height — they make you do stunts as well. Such as making you stand with the toes of both feet over the edge.

Having taken the coward's option of being the last to step outside, I'm somewhat infuriated to learn the guides are on to this trick. The callous witch in charge says it's my turn to go first. I pause in fright, and the rest of the group starts a rhythmic, thigh-slapping clap in a totally counter-productive attempt at encouragement.

I manage to get the toes of one foot over, but the other leg won't move. I scuttle back, as far away from the edge as possible, adding a few top-grade swear words to the video that will be distributed to all other patrons' mothers.

This snivelling act of cowardice is the latest in a long line of attempts to cure vertigo. And, in the past, I've gone to quite extreme measures in the name of conquest.

Doing a bungee jump, however, didn't make me feel any happier about tumbling from vertiginous platforms. In fact, the sole thing I gained from the experience was the sure knowledge that bungee jumping is quite the most unpleasant activity you can ever inflict upon yourself. Each lurch up and down is somehow more grimly terrifying than the last, and you're left bobbing around like a vigorously twanged cat flap.

After discovering skydiving is also not a miracle cure, I decided to stick to an eminently reasonable policy of just avoiding something I don't like. It works perfectly well with avocado and musical theatre, so there's no reason it shouldn't work with heights too.

Alas, romance has a tendency of getting in the way of such supremely brilliant plans. And the delightful sadist who is now my wife made darned sure I was fully reeled in before revealing her disturbingly passionate love of novelty transport. Show her a picture of a funicular, a box tram, a monorail or a boat cynically made to look like a pirate ship, and she'll insist we're going on it with supernaturally vociferous determination.

Sadly, this all-consuming obsession seems particularly to apply to cable-cars. Of all the things that go scarily high, these are my least favourite. I think this stems from being turned into a gibbering wreck as a seven-year-old by the cable car at Alton Towers. They're evil contraptions, with gruesome disaster only a pair of really big, cartoon scissors away.

So, after repeated green-faced, quivering incidents on cable-cars at the behest of my darling wife, I'm back to the point where I'm taking on ludicrous adrenalin activities to quell my rampant acrophobia.

After a seemingly endless period of time atop the CN Tower restaurant, being asked to lean backwards over the edge and pull off Superman poses, it's mercifully time to go back inside.

But before doing that, I've a mission to complete. As the guide talks, I step towards the edge. The toes of the right foot go over, and slowly, so do those of the left. I'm elated, and I turn round to discover that none of the others are looking. Callous, unsupportive fiends.

My pride lasts right up until we see the photos. In the group shots, the two Costa Ricans are beaming with joy and the three out-of-towners look consumed by a genuine sensation of thrill. I, however, manage to ruin every single shot. Alternately, I look like I've just run over a dog, been ordered to clean the chemical toilets after Glastonbury, discovered a mass grave and been told Santa is a war criminal. The others try not to show their disgust towards the craven who has desecrated the evidence of their big adventure. Not for the first time, lying low seems a good idea.

Published in the October 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)


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