Finding myself in The Trees of Mystery

I don't like heights. I don't consider this a phobia, but a totally reasonable fear that all intelligent people should have. Of course it's not really the heights themselves that scare me, it's the thought of the plummet downward that really gets my blood rushing. Beyond the usual fears about tall buildings or being on an airplane, just the sight of a steep drop on the television, such as specials on the Grand Canyon, starts my visions of the ground rushing up at me as I plunge toward the earth.

Even though I know I don't like heights, I just never actually learn it. I still do things like buy tickets to go on the Ferris Wheel. I am not an adrenaline junkie, I'm not trying to test myself, I just never seem to remember how miserable I can be once up in the air.

So with this lack of an ability to learn I went to the coast with a friend last week. We walked on the shore, we laughed at the dead fish washed up on the beach, and decided it would be nothing but fun to go to The Trees of Mystery. For those who don't know, the Trees of Mystery is an attraction that features trails through the woods that lead by several different redwood trees, and some wood carvings depicting some of the stories of Paul Bunyan.

The park also features a Sky Trail, a gondola that goes over the tree tops to the top of a hill where there are views of the forests and the ocean. There is also a trail that goes to the top of the hill, but according to staff is "not recommended." With the price of admission you can ride the gondola up and down as many times as you'd like. During the walk, my friend I and discussed the possibility of just riding it up and down for hours. It didn't sound like a bad diversion for a couple girls just looking to relax.

Predictably, about 30 seconds into the nine-minute ride, beads of sweat began dripping down my neck. My friend laughed and snapped pictures while I gripped the sides of the gondola and prayed for my survival. Eight and a half panic-stricken minutes later we finally reached the top, where my jelly legs deposited me at the lookout.

We looked through the binoculars at the beach and the osprey nests and talked about lunch. Finally I had to tell my friend that there was no way I could get back on the gondola. "I'm taking the trail back. I'm sorry." That's right, the trail that no one recommends, that we had to check in with staff before attempting. Nothing could be more miserable than contemplating my own death for close to 10 minutes. Being a good friend, she agreed to take the hike down with me.

After a mile hike down the steep, slippery terrain, we grew to understand why the trail was not recommended: wet clay covered by a deceptive layer of wet pine needles. The trail itself was so steep we could rarely let go of the rope banister to even take a picture of the ridiculous situation I had managed to put us into. But even after the falling and the sliding and the wet bottoms, it was still better than getting back in the gondola. At least for me — my friend probably has a different opinion!

So the next time you want to relax, I highly suggest a trip to the coast. It was quiet and beautiful and, truly, nothing is more relaxing than a good laugh at a dead fish. But the next time you want to cheat death, try the Trees of Mystery. I think I have finally learned my lesson and taught myself once and for all that I don't like heights. At least until the next time I cross paths with a Ferris Wheel.

Zoë Abel is nursing her sore thighs and her pride by studying pictures of small children riding the gondola. Share your perfectly reasonable phobias, as well as anything else, with her at

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