In 1912, inventor Franz Reichelt lost his life while testing a hand-made parachute off the first floor of the Eiffel Tower. It wasn't the impact that killed him — by many accounts, he died of fright before actually hitting the ground.
With my feet curled over the ledge of the Eiffel Tower, looking down on all the ant-sized people gathered below, I was pretty sure the same thing was going to happen to me.
How did I get here? As part of a marketing campaign for the French Open, Perrier invited me and 699 others to zip-line off the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. "There was an athlete who did something from the first floor, but this is the first time there is a zip-line from the second floor," Sarah Soltane, events manager for Nestlé Waters, told me. "I don't think it will happen again."
The idea behind the Smash Perrier installation is that when you plummet 375 feet, you accelerate to 55 mph, which is the speed at which a tennis ball crosses the net. That all sounds really cool — until you're about to do it yourself and your hands are sweating so much you can barely grip the bars.
"Assurez-vous de déplacer votre tête sur le côté à la fin de la course," the instructor shouted, three minutes before I was about to hurl my body off the tower. "Sinon, vous frapperez votre visage."
I frantically looked around at the rest of the people in my group, who were all nodding their heads in understanding. This is a good time to mention that I don't speak any French — I can barely ask "Est-ce que vous pouvez m'aider?" (Which means, Can you help me? a phrase I was desperately trying to recall from Duo-Lingo as I stood there shaking.)
"Wait, does anyone here not speak French?" a Perrier employee, aka my angel without wings, asked the people around him. And thank God he did, because, as he quickly explained to me, we had all just been instructed to hold our head out to the side at the end of the course — or else the handlebars would knock us out when we hit the breaks. (Um, good to know).
Wearing a full-body black, protective suit, a helmet, and goggles, I tiptoed up the metal stairs of the platform and greeted another instructor at the top. Thankfully, he spoke English.
"Look at me, don't look down," he urged me in his French accent. "What do you do?" he asked.
"Like, for work? I'm an, I'm an, um, I'm an editor," I stammered as I stared down the wire across the Champ de Mars.
"What's an editor? Keep your eyes on me. It helps to keep talking," he urged, fully aware that I was completely losing it.
I looked around and could see the glittery Seine winding through the city and Sacre Coeur perched atop a hill in the distance. Notre Dame, The Louvre, The Arc de Triomphe punctuated the expanse of city around me.
"I, uh, write and help other people write. I'm writing about this today," I said, breathing heavily and trying to keep my eyes on him.
"Oh cool, cool," he said, clipping me into three security harnesses and running through all the tests. He took a step back and said, "Okay, whenever you're ready."
I looked down, looked at him, and looked down again. Taking a deep breath, I leaned back in my seat and felt the weight of my body on the line as I eased myself off the platform.
"Oooooh, oh my go..." I screamed as I flew down the line, the sound of metal against metal whizzing at a high-pitched "Vzzzzzzzzzz" in my ear. But after a couple seconds, all the fear left my body. I had imagined the steep incline would feel like a huge rollercoaster drop, but it really was more like flying. My face lit up with glee, and I couldn't stop saying over and over again "This is so cool. This is so cool. This is so cool."
I looked around and could see the glittery Seine winding through the city and Sacre Couer perched atop a hill in the distance. The Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Arc De Triumphe punctuated the expanse of city around me. It was 6:30 p.m., and the sun was just reaching that perfect golden hour in Paris. Quelle belle vue, I probably would have thought — if I could speak French. It was in complete bliss. I even turned my head around and looked behind me at the very end, until I remembered the instructor's warning.
I quickly whipped my head to the side, which was a good thing, as my body swung with force when I hit the brakes at the end of the minute-long ride. Some kind stranger, whose face I can't remember now, reeled me in and unhooked me on the other side, instructing me to carefully hold the rail and walk down the stairs behind him. I was too busy staring at the Eiffel Tower in the distance, with the sun gleaming on the other side, overwhelmed by what I had just experienced. The only part I honestly don't remember from the whole experience is the end.
In an interview last year, Will Smith talked about sky diving for the first time: "Everything up to the stepping out — there's actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day... On the other side of your maximum fear, are all the best things in life." It always stuck with me, but I didn't really get it, until today. And it's probably going to take a long time for me to find anything that scares me more.
Smash Perrier was a free, private event from June 5 to June 11 in Paris. Participants were selected through social media, while I was given the opportunity to ride as a journalist. Zip-line rides are unfortunately no longer available from the Eiffel Tower.
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