Getting Thrown Off a Cliff Changes Things

Now some of you are probably waiting for a deep meaningful discussion on philosophically getting thrown off a cliff, but this is a real-life cliffhanging story. 

The up side: At least I had a rope.

A while back, we had a post here at More Cowbell on the Top 10 Phobias in the U.S. I promised to tell y’all why I’m afraid of afraid of heights…so here’s that story.

It was back in the late 80’s at the University of Missouri. And for all you young ‘uns, that was before political correctness really took hold. Teachers could still abuse us if they felt it was called for, especially if we were stupid naive enough to take an ROTC course with no intention of entering the military.

It was my dad’s idea, which should have been my first clue. I wasn’t so bright as a college freshman, what can I say?

“Captain U.S. Retired” (aka my dad) was trying to show me my potential future by talking me into this course. He wanted me and my brother (affectionately known here as the Bag Whore) to get in touch with our military heritage.

To be fair, the ROTC course had me doing tons of cool new things like:

  • Disassembling/Reassembling an M16 rifle
  • Target practice with the aforementioned M16
  • Orienteering with a map, compass and a canteen of water
  • Rappelling – both the rigging and the doing

p.s. Y’all didn’t know I had mad bada$$ skillz, did you?
p.p.s. Because I DON’T…that was 20+ years ago. It’s all a blur now, except for the cliff.

The University of Missouri has Rock Bridge State Park nearby with lots of places to practice all this orienteering and rappelling.

The maps were kind of fun, as was learning to use a compass. I really wish I still knew how to do some of this stuff. For instance, I really dug making the rigging and watching other people go off the cliffs. It was an easy 25-30 feet down and they looked like they were having fun.

Believe it or not, I was a climbing child.

Roofs, trees, walls…if there was a thing to climb, I was interested, as long as it wasn’t higher than 10-15 feet. Some part of my little-Jenny brain knew that distance might break a leg, but probably wouldn’t kill me if I fell.

But that day in Rock Bridge park, faced with a 30 foot cliff and armed only with a rope and a pitiful little Swiss Seat harness? I wasn’t feeling so confident.

I had my Swiss Seat on and wanted to watch for a little while. You know, to make sure everyone else lived and all. Our instructor, Sergeant Major Coleman, had his own schedule and signaled me to the edge.

I shouldn’t have looked down. (There’s a reason why they always say that.)

Because when I saw nothing but 30 feet of air between me and the ground, I kind of crab-walked over to sit on a rock to chill for a second, still holding the rope.

Sergeant Major walked over and stood me up by my Swiss seat for this short discussion:

SM: Hansen! It’s your turn. You’re holding up the line.

Me: I’m not quite ready yet. If I could just—

SM: Hansen, you’re going! Face the cliff, hold onto your rope.

And WUNK! He pushed me off the cliff.

Oh. My. God.

My stomach stayed up with the Sergeant Major, while the rest of me kind of froze. Then I started cursing. I cursed so creatively, the military guys were impressed. And the main person I cursed was my father for talking me into this nonsense.

It took me twelve minutes to get down the cliff because I had to cling to a branch for about ten of them and talk myself out of peeing my pants.

When I looked up links for this post, I started laughing when I got to this one on rigging (linked above). From

Rappelling is inherently dangerous. (Shocker!) The author, nor ITS Tactical, assumes any responsibility or liability for injury incurred by the reader. The information presented here is for educational purposes only.

Truly, I was never afraid of heights until I got thrown off that cliff.

Now? I don’t even like to see my husband up on a ladder. I don’t mind airplanes, tall buildings or bridges because they’re enclosed. It’s the potential for free-falling that makes me sweat.

What scares you to pieces? Do you have a “moment it all began” like I do? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!

~ Jenny

About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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34 Responses to Getting Thrown Off a Cliff Changes Things

  1. Laura Drake says:

    I LOVED rappelling! It was Orienteering I sucked at. Yeah, you’ve seen my map reading skills…or lack thereof. I spent the whole semester following other people around in the woods, acting like I could use the map for more than scratchy toilet paper.


  2. tomwisk says:

    Jenny, I’m terrified of heights. I come from a family with steeplejack in their blood. My time in the military was marked by frequently being asked, rather colorfully, WTF kind of chickens*** I was. A chickens**** that was afraid of heights and avoided them and saw not reason in impressing girlfriend by riding the Ferris Wheel.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I HATE the Ferris wheel too! People fall out of the Ferris wheel.

      Oddly, most rollercoasters don’t bother me, except for the free-fally, upside down, spinny kind. But a good old fashioned rollercoaster like Space Mountain (with a nice safety bar)? I’m in. 🙂


      • tomwisk says:

        Same here, up and down hills real fast is nice but being turned upside-down and twisted around is just wrong.


        • Jenny Hansen says:

          High five, Tom!! It’s no wonder we’re pals.


          • Julie Glover says:

            I’ve got to pop in here and say that I had no problem with Ferris Wheels…until the hubby ruined it for me. One of those rural carnival kind of places, old-fashioned Ferris Wheels, and he kept spinning our car. I said “stop!” a bunch, but he thought I was kidding…until I told him that if he didn’t stop I’d vomit on him (and there may have been the word “divorce” thrown in there for good measure). He stopped, but ever since I cannot ride a Ferris Wheel. Freaks. Me. Out.


            • Jenny Hansen says:

              OK, that’s just wrong, Hubby…serious Carnival Foul!! I’d have been so freaked out. No, scratch that. I probably wouldn’t have gotten on the Ferris Wheel. 🙂


  3. Sharla Rae says:

    I think I’ve always been a little afraid of heights. I get dizzy if I have to sit in the nose-bleed section of a stadium. So when I got my granny butt up a tree to zip line over the rain forest in Porto Rico, I was more scared than ever before. But a strange thing happened as I left my heart dangling over the mangroves. The damp wind hit me in the face and I started laughing. It just hit me — How many grandmothers zip line over the rainforest? I was so proud of myself, the rest of the way from tree to tree, I had a blast. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it! 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That’s AWESOME, Sharla! And yes, I’ve always wanted to zipline. I don’t think people die doing that. Hardly ever, right?

      I do however draw the line at skydiving. Laura is insane.


  4. Lara McGill says:

    I don’t have height issues, but I sure as HECK have slight (or maybe not so slight) claustrophobic issues. If reincarnation exists, I’m gonna have MAJOR issues being cooped up in such a small space. Not looking forward to that again…

    Still, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane isn’t something I would look forward to. There’d be nothing I could do, after I jumped, to maximize my survival. Nope. Not participating in that. Sorry Laura.

    Regarding the cliff thing, being thrown off a personal fiscal cliff is proving to be instructive as well. It sparks your creativity and makes your focus laser-sharp. Which, ultimately, can be a good idea.


  5. Catherine Johnson says:

    OMG that’s too funny! I can’t think of anything, it’s my sister that parachutes out of planes, goes diving and does Quadrathlons. Being pushed into a crowd of strangers and made to talk would probably have same effect lol.


  6. So you can dismantle an M-16? Now that is cool.

    I used to be afraid of heights, but I love to ski. The only way to get down a ski slope is to go up first. Those ski lifts are frightening. I loved to ski so much I had to ride the dang things repeatedly. Eventually I could ride all the way to the top without hanging on. Now, I’m not so afraid of looking over the edge of cliffs and such. I think I just talked myself out of being afraid because I knew there was something good waiting for me on the other end.

    I can see how your experience would work in the opposite direction, though. Not cool.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oh, I like to ski too, Patricia. I just don’t go on anything too steep. Getting on and off the ski lift bugs me, but riding it doesn’t. I don’t know why…I think it’s because I’m clinging to the sides so I know I won’t fall out. Plus, the views are astonishing.


  7. Jenny, I don’t get you gals … I mean seemingly sane women like you and Laura Drake free falling from rock formations. I get the bikes. I get the fly fishing. I even get those who like to hunt since I suppose that helps in man hunting …but I don’t get camping or climbing stuff that I’d rather look at in photographs or from the safety of a car. To me “roughing” it is being in a hotel with no room service 🙂

    All that being said, my middle brother loved to whisper sweet nothings in my ear just before bedtime with the intent of producing major screaming nightmares. He was so good at it that I still have a phobia for anything with eight legs. I can’t even type the word !!

    I don’t even know if they had ROTC in Brooklyn 🙂


  8. Oh boy! Glad you survived that – though are now traumatized. 🙂 I have developed a phobia of crossing railroad tracks in my car. I freeze up, heart starts racing, I speed and begin cursing. I’m tense thinking about it. 🙂


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love the cursing part! I don’t love crossing railroad tracks either. I don’t get all the freezing up, but I’m particularly cautious about them since there’s been so many accidents.


  9. K.B. Owen says:

    Hi, Jenny! What a fab post. I learn more about you every day! Can I be YOU when I grow up? 😉

    I’ve always been a little leery of heights, and it’s gotten worse with age. Even driving on certain bridges is a problem. There’s this one bridge in Maryland (Tydings Bridge) with low, open sides that scares me to death. It takes a sheer effort of will (and driving in the left lane) for me to get across. This pic is a little fuzzy, but it gives you the idea:×259/ And a lot of folks in our area are frightened of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. There’s even a few driving services to get folks across: It’s called gephyrophobia (wouldn’t Julie Glover LOVE that word?).

    But for me, mountains and natural terrain are the worst. When the kids were little, we’d go to Shenandoah National Park and climb the trails. Great views, but with my fear of heights and the kids clambering along rocky overlooks, I was doing a lot of crawling around after them and grabbing the backs of shirts or overalls. I’ve also been tandem skydiving (never again) and two years ago I went zip-lining in West Virginia. I was really worried that my fear of heights would totally take over and ruin things, but I had a similar experience to what Sharla Rae describes, and it was actually exhilarating! I absolutely loved it. From one acrophobe to another, I highly recommend it!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      And here I was hoping to be YOU. 🙂

      That’s a big-ass bridge! I don’t know why those don’t really bug me that much – I guess it’s because I’m in my car. (I always feel kind of invincible in my car.) It’s those narrow mountain roads that kill me. I HATE them. Add switchbacks, and I’m a white-knuckled mess until I get to the top.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      p.s. If Julie comes back, she’s going to be genuflecting that you know that word. 🙂 I know I am.


  10. Jane Sadek says:

    On my recent vacation I thought I was going zip-lining. Paid the fee, put on the rig and climbed up the stairs. Changed my mind, climbed down the stairs, took off the rig and got my refund. Looked fun on TV!


  11. Sherry Isaac says:

    Yikes, Jenny. Talk about Fall or Fly! I’m not crazy about heights. I can board a plane, no problem, but getting on the roof of the garage I’m not too crazy about. It’s not the ladder, or the climb up, or even the walking around once up there that gets me. I’ll even admit to a rush from the different perspective.

    It’s the climb down that ladder backwards that freaks me out.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      The climb down is DREADFUL, Sherry! I’m with ya there.

      I went to the Chichen Itza in Mexico several years back and wanted to go up the pyramids so bad. I got up there, but getting down was some sweaty work. I learned how to just not look by going across, then turning inward. I did that down all 90 or so steps.


  12. Emma says:

    You’re one brave lady.


  13. I’m 99% sure my fear of heights came from one of two childhood experiences that scared the snot out of me. One might have been the trip to Niagara Falls I barely remember – but that caused me to have nightmares for years. In the dream, my father was tossing my baby brother up in the air and catching him…OVER THE RAIL. Totally didn’t happen, but I dreamed about it more times than I can count. The other, at about the same age, was something that totally DID happen…getting stuck at the very top of a double Ferris Wheel while the carnival employee emptied and refilled the lower seats with other suckers. I’ve never been on one since – single or double. Now I don’t like being on anything higher than the second story of a house or building. I can’t even watch a movie like Cliffhanger without getting dizzy.

    I also am afraid of rodents and snakes. 🙂


  14. The Regular Guy NYC says:

    I think you should try sky diving. That will get you over the fear. Or give you a heart attack!

    Not scared of heights too much, but the Warrior Dash I ran in and upcoming Tough Mudder might make me rethink that with some of those obstacles!


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