Acrophobia (n). An abnormal fear of high places.
The American Heritage Dictionary (2012)
Did you ever sit in the driver’s seat of your car with a lovely woman beside you? You are resting your right arm on the beige vinyl coated foam armrest. You fingers can touch the shifting lever. She is resting her left hand on your forearm. This was just like sitting in the Drive-In movie and you’re watching “Creature of the Black Lagoon”. It’s about 1955. Suddenly, her hand tightens its grip on your flesh. The Creature is swimming perilously close to the pretty leading lady. The hand on your arm is getting tighter now. It’s beginning to hurt. Have you ever sat like this and then glanced down to see her fingernails begin to pierce your skin? Have you ever done this and then realize you’re not at a 1950’s Drive-In, but on a mountain pass in the Sierra Nevada’s? And the Creature is not an amphibious monster…no, the fear is the sheer drop off on the right side of the car. Have you ever done any of this?
Well, I have.
We had just left a strange little ghost town called Chinese Camp, on the western slopes of the Sierras. We began our slow climb up the road that would take us to Yosemite National Park. At first, the views were mostly of small valleys with signs of a recent forest fire. Then, as we climbed, my wife’s vertigo began to set in. It started with the tightened grip on my right forearm. As we climbed toward the Pass, the road edges were giving away to slopes that looked as though you would need a climbing rope if you ventured only a few feet from the nearly nonexistent guard rails. Guard rails? What a joke? These plates of metal would work well in a parking lot. By now our small R-Pod felt like the size of the Queen Mary and the two lane roadway was fast becoming nothing but a grazing path.
My wife begged me to drive slow. But I didn’t know how to go slower…we were already doing about 17 mph. My wife begged me not to tease her. So I didn’t. I didn’t ridicule her fear. What right did I have to do that? I had fears also. But most of my fears involved being incarcerated and having a 425 lb. guy named Blaster follow me into the shower.
My wife was nearly off her seat now. She was looking into my right ear lobe. I was straddling the yellow line in the road. She began making small squeaking sounds followed by very deep moans. I thought she might be having a major cardiac event. I snuck a glance at her expression. Her lovely features were contorted now and she was making faces that looked like she was in a doctor’s office have a colonoscopy performed by a demented doctor using instruments designed for difficult Bison births.
Around this time, her fear started to become my fear. I had this feeling that a huge magnet was pulling our car toward the edge…and then over. The heights made my head swim and I became dizzy. Lack of oxygen, I told myself. But the sides of the slopes beyond those missing guard rails were steep and deep; ever so deep. I had the distinct feeling that if we went over, we would fall all the way to the bottom of Dante’s Hell. I swear, I looked out of the right window and saw mountaineers who were sitting on the summit of Everest, wave up at us. I saw the rafters at the bottom of the Grand Canyon wave up at us…shout a warning that our wheels were hanging over the lip of the South Rim.
After endless hours and miles, we were over the Pass. Then we started down the other side. Funny, but I always thought that the Eastern slopes of mountain ranges were gentler than the Western slopes. Guess not.
We reached the valley bottom and found a camp site near a town called Lee Vining. Who was this Lee Vining?
I checked the condition of my right forearm. I was comfortable knowing that the scars would heal by the time we got home. The beige armrest wasn’t going to be so lucky. My wife’s fingerprints and nail holes were there for good, I’m afraid.
I wonder if Lee Vining’s wife had such sharp fingernails. I’ll have to Google him and find out.