How I chickened out on a challenge course at a five-star spa

At first glance, this might look like a tame enough photo, boring even. But something enormous had just happened in my life: I had majorly chickened out on a challenge course I’d committed to. Of all of my trips in the past few years, of overcoming long-held fears such as riding a horse at Grand Canyon Ranch, embracing nerves, doing things like hypnotherapy that are way out of my comfort zone… I never thought that I would so disastrously wimp out on something.

At a spa.

Yes, I have traveled far and wide, and during a posh weekend at a five-star spa, I met my match on its challenge course.

And you know what? It was fine. The world did not end, and my ego survived not being able to call everyone I know and go, “Guess what I did today!!” I met a friend, Michelle, and she and I had a grand time helping others reach safety. Just look at us: having a ball!

I knew my trip to the luxurious Miraval Spa was going to be a little “different” when I read my itinerary: classes like “primal drumming” and “It’s Not About the Horse” alerted me to a weekend bound for more than just facials and massages. But it was the “Quantum Leap II” challenge course that snuck up on me. I convinced myself that I could handle anything that a “spa” threw at me.

That all changed as we hiked away from the spa and I caught site of the looming challenge course, which reminded me of something out of a Harry Potter movie.


Since I proved myself to be the biggest wuss, I am forced to chronicle the bravery of others.

This is my friend Aaron, and our new friend Larissa. They were a great match, as excited as I’ve ever seen two adults be, jumping around in anticipation of climbing up a pole 35 feet in the air and standing up on a platform the approximate size of a shoebox.


So this is the course: Take a look at the ladder at the bottom of the frame. You climb up the ladder — and then keep climbing. At 35 feet, you have to get yourself on top of the smallest platform I have ever seen, which on our day was swaying in the wind. And then… someone else has to join you up there.

It’s insane.

I was dying to jump off! I love that sort of stuff. If only they could have lowered me onto the platform with a helicopter or something… But getting myself onto a small platform, as I was violently shaking due to a fear of heights that for some reason didn’t stop me from skydiving… No. Not going to happen. Anyway, here’s what it looks like.


In the end, our friends were fearless, taking no time at all to approach the platform. (Jump on, “one, two, three HAPPY HOUR!!”) They put on quite a performance jumping off.


And then… Larissa and Aaron were so elated once they hit the ground. Don’t you love them?


When was the last time YOU chickened out? How did it make you feel?

Click here for more of Miraval’s challenge courses. There are some fun ones!


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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. I’m telling you…..I am the biggest advocate on trying new and exciting things to challenge yourself. However, everyone has a limit. There is no way in hell that I would ever bungee jump…it ain’t happening! I feel no shame or remorse in making that declaration. I have a fear of heights, but only when I feel I’m not well grounded. I can fly because I tell myself there is a floor holding up even though I’m thousands of feet above ground. I think it’s smart to know your own limits, it’s the fool who doesn’t heed to them. ;-D BTW, I think Oprah and her staff did this once.

  2. Yes, Oprah loves it there! Her favorite activity is “swing and a prayer.” I received so much pressure to do the challenge, but I just had to put my foot down — this time.

  3. I see stuff like this on TV and think “I could totally do that!” but I can also imagine totally chickening out when the time came. At least you still had fun!

  4. Oh, you and Rodolfo would have scurried right on up!

  5. I will over intellectualize this because it is Monday morning: I think it’s a matter of sorting out our innate “fight or flight” response, which doesn’t really serve us these days, from good, God given instinct. When faced with challenges I think it’s always a good idea to to sit quietly with it for long enough that you can discern the difference. And yeah, keeping the ego out of the way. Can you tell I’m a parent?? Now that I’m done with that I’ll just say, there is no frakin’ way I would have jumped off that platform 😉

  6. What they should have done was made some of that fantastic food you’ve been posting about dependent on you finishing the challenge. That might have provided a little more motivation. Or somebody could have yelled that the bobcat was back. That would have gotten me scurrying up that pole in a hurry.

    I find that if I pass on something as too challenging, I usually obsess over getting another chance to do it for the next little while. Perhaps a reason for another visit to Mirival?

  7. Miraval’s version of the Hunger Games! I still wouldn’t have done it. I wanted to climb up, and jump off, but that part in the middle about standing up was just not going to happen!

  8. I definitely would have done this! It looks like so much fun! The only things that I wouldn’t be thrilled to do are go bungee jumping and eat some really weird food ala The Amazing Race.

  9. I’m torn on bungee jumping… You and Cory would have climbed right up that pole!

  10. In theory, it doesn’t sound so bad. Climb a ladder, climb some rungs, all rigged and ready to go. But, yeah … I’m pretty sure I would have done the same. Actually, I wouldn’t have even gotten suited up for it.

  11. This looks like SO MUCH FUN. I don’t chicken out on adventure, but I DO chicken out on taking elevators (and often) as I’m terrified of getting stuck in one. I’d much rather climb 20 floors than take that risk!

  12. It’s so funny! I would have climbed up, and I wanted to jump off, but standing on that platform that was swaying — not gonna happen.

    Diana, I felt ridiculous all suited up!

  13. Aw it’s ok Abby! You have been pushing yourself quite a bit lately, so I think it’s no big deal that you decided not to do it. I don’t think I have ever chickened out while travelling, but I haven’t been faced with anything too terribly treacherous either.

  14. Aw thanks, Rease! I do feel like I had a challenging 2011.

  15. The only thing that could have made this more fun was if we had happy hour BEFORE the jump, rather than after.

  16. I would not have let you drink and jump lol!

  17. I don’t think you’re a chicken!

    BTW – That sky looks BLUE blue. You must have had perfect weather.

  18. We did have perfect weather. It ended up being the last weekend that some of the outdoor activities were offered before the winter. It was crisp and sunny!

  19. Holy crap! I don’t know if I could do that. I think choosing the role of journalist/ photographer was a good idea 🙂

  20. That means a lot coming from you! I definitely think the latter utilized my talents better!!

  21. See that’s why you should go sailing. If you fall, there’s always water to land in! 😉

  22. I love sailing!!

  23. Oh gosh, I would’ve chickened out at this too! My stomach is lurching just thinking about clambering on top of that platform. YIPES!!

  24. I think it’s awesome that you listened to your gut and that you didn’t feel the pressure to do something you didn’t want to do. I can’t remember the last time I chickened out, but I’m sure there have been plenty of times.

  25. Thank you! Someone said it took guts to stand firm and not do it. Never thought of that!

  26. You know, facing the fear of heights is probably the most difficult thing I’ve done on this trip and it has majorly kicked my butt. While I can’t remember chickening out, I think I’ve nearly peed myself multiple times.

  27. Ha! That looks like massive fun! Kind of gutted we don’t have the action shots of your fine self. Aussie On The Road wouldn’t know how to handle it though – so perhaps chickening out was a good thing…

  28. Hmm it seems my idea of a relaxing spa break is the exact opposite of this!! I wouldn’t say you were a chicken – I’d describe your actions as sensible.

  29. I don’t think I would have looked graceful on that thing — I was so scared!! Yes, I was definitely not expecting this “challenge” course when I was signing up for my massages and yoga!

  30. I don’t know if I’d be able to do that either!!
    I have definitely gotten braver over the years, but heights are still one thing that gets to me.

  31. That does look like fun! Though I had an iffy abseiling experience recently, which did put me off a little…

  32. Miraval is amazing isn’t it? On my second trip there last September, I did do a repeat performance of Quantum Leap (which I had done 13 years earlier) but then I had a similar experience on Desert Tightrope. I had quite a 2011 and Desert Tightrope was supposed to signify my “letting go” and moving forward…it hadn’t even occurred to me that I wouldn’t/couldn’t complete the challenge! I DID climb the pole and stand on the rope, and that’s about where I said “this is not for me, let me down!”. It was a big lesson in humility and also in accepting that there are lessons to be learned from NOT doing something too! Here’s some of what I wrote from that day, hope you enjoy reading it!

  33. I went to Miraval for the first time in Sept. As someone who has always had a fear of heights, I signed up for the Zipline to help me conquer that. When I saw the 40′ pole that we had to climb up first, I was nervous. There were only 2 other people doing it that day (except for two instructors) and the first guy practically ran up the pole! I was second and all I could think of was that I didn’t want to fall (despite the harness, etc.) and look like an idiot so that was my determination. I got a little tired near the end but made it to the top! Even being on the platform that high up didn’t scare me anymore. So I think my fear of heights has definitely diminshed. And jumping off the zipline was awesome! It was probably the “easiest” of all those challenges in some ways. I hope to go back again and do some of the other ones. Or at least try.

  34. I should have done zip-lining or even Quantum Leap I. The II was too much! I would have liked to climb the pole, but after everyone else did it so easily, I didn’t want to do a kids’ version. I’ve been zip-lining, and like you, I LOVED the thrill of the actual zip-line, but was terrified of the height! But I didn’t have to climb up a pole first — maybe I’ll have to try it at Miraval, where it would offer me that extra challenge.

  35. I swear I just felt a knot form in my stomach looking at those photos! I am afraid of heights as well and I know that I would not have been able to do that climb. I went ziplining for the first time in October and I was terrified, but the fact that it was so FAST made it completely bearable and I actually really enjoyed it. But to climb all the way up there? I would have fainted halfway to the top!

  36. I’d only climb up if I could climb back down, rather than jump off.

  37. Usually, I won’t put myself in a situation which I might chicken out of, Bungy jumping is one of them. The last time I did put myself in a potential “chicken out situation” was the “Flight of The Gibbon” zip line adventure in Thailand.
    The first ride was easy, from a nice gentle sloping hillside to a tree, but when you land at the tree you’re already about 15 meters off the ground, then the guide points to a spiral ladder going up the tree trunk, at that point I really thought I was going to freeze, had to carry on though as there was no way of going back. turned out to be one of the best things I did though, it was a fantastic day. take a look !!.

  38. Scott and I were just talking about the fear of heights this weekend when we got a tour of the place we were staying in Santa Barbara and the tour included a ropes course like this. I’ve never seen one of these in action and I would love to think that I could pull it off, but I swear Scott’s fear of heights has rubbed off on me at times. I’m the same as Renee. I have my limits and you shouldn’t feel bad about not doing something you don’t feel comfortable with. I don’t think you have a problem with facing fears in your life, so I wouldn’t worry about one time. 🙂

  39. My New Year’s Resolution was “Let it be,” meaning I am not forcing myself to do anything I don’t want to do, I don’t beat myself up for it…so I think that resolution should extend to you and your fear of heights. Let it be, don’t worry about the fact that you didn’t do it, just focus on the fact that you had fun watching your friends 🙂

  40. Thanks, guys! I felt strangely ok with my decision, but everyone else really felt like I was missing out! I do so many things, that I just thought that if doing it would make me miserable, why should I? I had a lovely day helping others make the climb!

  41. That platform is a right scare. I’m not even sure I’d have the guts to look while others jumped.

  42. Wow – that really is a challenge – I’m afraid of heights so I’d be super shaky up there!

  43. It look like that u had a lot of fun there 🙂

  44. The people who made it to the top said it was amazing! They make you stay up there awhile and get comfortable. From the ground it looked so scary, thanks to the sway of the pole!

  45. Wow! I don’t blame you. I have a natural fear of heights. I wouldn’t do that even if I was paid quite well 😛

  46. hahaha I chickened out on the adventure course on the gold coast of australia!!!!

  47. That looks like sooo much fun, but so high! I chickened out to stay in an igloo of all things – way too cold for me!

  48. These last three comments made my day!!!

  49. Well, I’ve read it. It sounded great but at least you had the balls to admit you chickened out! 🙂

  50. Don’t worry, I chickened out of the gorge swing in Zambia. I had just finished doing a superman over the gorge and rappelling down the gorge but I couldn’t bring myself to jump off for the final swing. The Good News, Dave got to go twice since I didn’t go at all:)
    I always beat myself up when I am too afraid to do something because I run an adventure blog so I am “supposed to be brave” but I have fears all the time. You’ve done amazing things like skydiving, now that’s awesome. That’s something you can talk about for years, I don’t think you’ll be saying 20 years from now “remember that time when I climbed up a pole? But you will be saying “remember when I jumped out of a plane?”
    You weren’t missing out. You always push yourself out of your comfort zone and if this is something that didn’t appeal to you, that is perfectly fine. We don’t have to do everything and hey, it makes for a far more interesting story. Thanks for sharing your fears.

  51. sister, i’m with you. NFW am I jumping off that post. NFW, i say.

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