FORT WORTH - I had visions of doing a giant "Die Hard" off the side of the XTO Building this morning on my first rappelling adventure. But when I watched Fort Worth mayor Mike Moncrief move about as fast as a turtle in sand towards the edge of said building to descend on his turn, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to be Bruce Willis-ing it any time soon.
A few mistakes: Not using the facilities before, not wearing a diaper, and not paying enough attention to the SWAT team dudes right before I went down. I figured had I listened just a bit more carefully I would have avoided the three to five-minute mid-air stop en route down to the ground.
But after my successful (i.e. no death) turn at rappelling (video) I am happy to say this is a very worth while thrill-seeking adventure. Especially - cough, cough - when someone else is paying for it.
I arrived around 7:30 a.m. on top of the XTO Building. I signed away my life, and the ability to ever sue any one ever again.
I was then "geared" up. Candidly, I looked pretty bad ass. Especially with the shades.
Mayor Moncrief (pictured below, right) was already back from his trip down, and gave me a few tips. Basically, getting used to the idea of "walking" down over the side is the hardest part. And don't dangle.
Some dude gave me a very brief crash course on a set of steps on the roof, and basically this sounds as easy as walking and chewing gum at the same time. With 30 minutes before my scheduled departure, the very wonderful Deborah Ferguson interviewed me on NBC 5 to ask why I would do this.
A pair of SWAT team members walk me over, and begin the process of hooking me up to a pair of very strong, and I hope-to-God sturdy ropes. These guys, in their gear, are really bad ass. Not fake, Mark Walhlberg in a costume bad ass but really bad ass.
Every harness, rope and buckle on me is tight. Snug. Fit. Safe. All I have to do is listen to what they're saying. Then one of the guys tells me to stand on the edge of the building.
This must have been how George felt in "It's a Wonderful Life".
I stand on the edge, with my back facing the street and in the "proper" position. All I have to do is "walk" to the edge, lean over, and I'm ready. Having watched the other participants I realize this is the hardest part. And because I'm a man - the same man who built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn - I convince myself that not only can I look down, but I will move my feet quickly. Or quicker.
I had total faith in the harness, ropes, and all of the safety measures so once I allowed myself over the edge it's all good.
I had no idea that rappelling required as much strength as it does. My right hand controlled "the gas" and once I got comfortable I wanted to go fast. So I did. But my inner Bruce Willis wants to go faster, and to kick off the side of the building so I keep pushing it. And I have this burning desire to hold a shotgun in one hand and shoot something, too. Since I can't do that, I just want to go faster.
I do. Too fast.
So fast the "governor" on the harness stops me. In mid air. I just hang there high above the city like Spiderman, minus the unsold Broadway tickets. I can't move up or down. This allowed me to dangle, kick my feet around, and enjoy the view ... right up to the point where I get nervous. I am stuck. I had visions of this scene from the Stallone classic "Cliffhanger" dancing in my head ...
The little walkie-talkie on my right shoulder that I was never going to have to use? I had to use to it to get instructions on how to clear the brake. These were the same instructions the nice people gave to me at least twice before my descent. I tried it a few times, but I am unable clear it. So I just sit there some more, and eventually have to use the hand signals that I was never going to have to use. I have to wave my hands to the SWAT team members above. How it looked from above or below I'm not sure, but I'm sure it could have looked less than planned. At this point the harness is so tight that I no longer have to use the bathroom.
Eventually, I am able to use all of my manly-man muscles and grad-school education to clear the brake and continue my journey downward. Some nice people sitting in their offices say hello as I slide down, I kick my legs out a little more and try to keep the pace. Even though I am wearing thick gloves, I get burns on my right hand. Clearly, I am doing something not right. But I'm riding down, and it's so much fun and ...
... and then it's over. No splat. No insurance payoff. I am on the ground, and when I look up to the top my reaction is, "That's much taller than I thought." It's fun, and a much harder workout than I ever thought possible.
All in all, a great ride. Something else off the list.
Can we go again mom?
Facebook Mac Engel
PS - Many, many thanks to the promoters of this wonderful Over the Edge Fort Worth event. Many thanks to the Star-Telegram people who provided me the chance to have this much fun. And endless thanks to the Fort Worth SWAT team members and other people who set up my gear, the rig, and kept me feeling safe when I was so obviously dumb.