Ari in the Air: World Record or Not
After days of rigging and hours of waiting for my turn, I finally got on the line. I was a bit nervous; partially scared of the enormity of the line and my personal safety, but more nervous about whether or not I would successfully walk across the line and become a world record holder.
I was trying hard to let it go and to just enjoy my walk, but I couldn’t kick the powerful desire that I had to succeed. I thought about my friends who were cheering me on both near and far, I thought about the challenge, and I thought about my entire life that had led me to being in this position. I had an immense desire, but it never drowned out the gratitude that I felt for the opportunity and the people who had provided it to me.
So as I slid out onto the line, I did so with a mixed bag of emotions. I knew I was hypothetically capable of doing it. (I hold the American record of 880m, where I walked it on my first try, so I knew it was possible.) But I also feared what I didn’t know and couldn’t understand; there must be a huge difference between 880m and 2000m. I couldn’t know, but I was about to find out.
I was in Asbestos, Quebec, about 2 hours from Montreal, on the world record highline project. The line would span 2.0km across an abandoned Asbestos mine. Call it 2 kilometers or 1.25 miles or 6,600 feet or five laps around a track or just really freaking far. Unimaginably far. Terrifyingly far. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever helped create. It was a spectacle; an impressive 20-person rigging feat spanning a massive, manmade void. I was here with the intent of walking across it, without falling down, to become the world record holder in a tiny niche sport that I'm lucky enough to be the tip of the spear of.
I stood up confidently, and for the first 1,000 feet I told myself just to warm up. Get in tune with the line, take my time, and don’t fall down. The cliffs and rocks in my periphery give a funny sense of security, convincing my subconscious that I’m not totally alone in the void just yet. From here, I can’t see the end of the line. It’s only an inch wide and more than a mile away. It’s also being backlit by the bright cliffs on the far side. It's strange not being able to see the line that you’re on, it's almost like an act of faith to keep walking when your eyes can’t confirm its existence at every step.
As I get to the edge of the lake, the dynamics of the line get easier. The energy of my movements stop reverberating to me on the line, and I can start walking faster. I’m in a rhythm now, cruising. But as I get out further, the line begins a weird dynamic. The sheer length of the line allows it to stretch back and forth, but lengthwise. Your feet are pushed and pulled forward and back. It's difficult to control, and controlling it means slowing down or stopping, which is a bad option. I’m forced to just keep walking through the movement.
In the true middle of the line, I got this eerie feeling of loneliness. Not like an outcast, but like an astronaut.
As I get toward the middle, it gets more intense, and it's forcing me to walk faster and faster. My feet are moving as quick as they can, and they’re doing a great job. But my brain gets worried that at some point they’ll miss and I’ll fall down, blowing my chance. I couldn’t slow down, so I slammed on the brakes. The energy of suddenly stopping put a huge humping oscillation into the line, and it took me a moment of strenuous fighting to calm it down. It also took a considerable effort to calm myself down after such a struggle. I started walking again, slowly. As I picked up my speed again, the line started getting wavy again, and this time I knew there was no point in fighting it. I was literally walking faster than I ever had. Uncomfortably fast. I was on the edge of control, but I was also making great time, absolutely crushing it.
In the true middle of the line, I got this eerie feeling of loneliness. Not like an outcast, but like an astronaut. Not even Houston could save me now. The line was invisible in front of me and now my periphery was empty of anything. I was a mile from the closest rock. The nearest object to me, other than the line, was the surface of the lake, more than 500 feet below my feet. There were only the sounds of my breath, the occasional bird, and the rhythmic pitter-patter of my steps on the line. I had taken thousands of steps and been walking for over an hour. I was feeling the fatigue. The fatigue and the loneliness created an anxious fear. What if I fall and can’t get back up? What if I get exhausted and can’t continue. I have no water, no shoes, no escape. As I felt it, the fear cracked into a big smile and I let out a huge “YEWWWW!!!” This is what I came for. This is the real feeling of the game. The balance is secondary to this sensation of isolation and self-reliance.
I’m close enough to see the rest of the line, to see the anchor, to see and hear the crowd of my friends cheering me on.
From time to time I’d let one arm hang down, trying to rest my shoulder. I’d walk a bit slower, using only one arm to balance, alternating arms as it made sense. The reality was that I was tired. I’d walked a mile of slackline continuously, and I’d been doing it uphill for quite some time now. The line has about 450 feet of sag in it, so as you walk to the middle you go downhill, and to finish you have to climb yourself out. The last 400 meters are steep and challenging. As I get closer to the anchor, my own reverberations are able to come back to me; my mistakes return to try to shake and rip the line out from under my feet. One nearly gets me and I find myself bent way over, swinging my arms crazily to stay on the line. I manage to keep it together and once again establish a nice rhythm of steps, steadily climbing the mountain of webbing in front of me. I’m focusing on staying forward; walking uphill poses the risk of losing your balance over your heels and falling backwards off the line. I’m close enough to see the rest of the line, to see the anchor, to see and hear the crowd of my friends cheering me on.
My mind wanders and wonders. It wanders to random things, chores, conversations, sensations. It wonders whether I’ll make it or not, about what it’ll be like when I’m the world record holder, or how terrible it’ll be to fall after coming this far. I bring my thoughts back to balance and posture, to my breath and my patience. I’m getting closer. My mind wanders to a random thought, a pleasant one. Suddenly my vision is of the line, upside down. I’m turned sideways on the line and completely bent over, my head nearly below my feet. I have a panicked struggle; ‘no no no’ and then I’m in a slow-motion front flip, falling off the line. Every muscle in my body tenses as I scream "&%$!"
I close my eyes. When I open them again, I see where I was. I look at the almost endless line that I just walked across, spanning an incredible man-made void. A brilliantly blue lake surrounded by geometrically stepped cliffs, all in soft, sunset light. I saw the gratitude and beauty in each color and shape. I was relieved. It wasn’t the answer that I wanted, but my question was answered. I said out loud, "Oh well, it wasn’t meant to be." I stood back up and found a nice cadence of uphill steps. I was free of any fear, any anxiety, any doubt. I had gotten my chance to set the world record, and I was now fully enjoying my chance to participate, to walk on the world's longest slackline. I felt great.
When you have big goals, it's okay when you find out you’ve come so far but have more to learn. Who wants to be at the end of the road anyway?
Under the far anchor was the coolest slackline party ever thrown. There was live music, an announcer, thousands of screaming onlookers, and dozens of my closest friends. The line led me right to them, and for a moment we were eye-to-eye. “Bonsoir” or "Good evening" I said to them. They erupted in cheers, both agreeing that the evening was spectacularly beautiful and appreciating that I had undertaken an enormous journey to be with them. I walked over their heads, and to the anchor, where I sat down and enjoyed their gracious applause and enthusiasm. It was an honor to be their entertainment, to show them my sport and passion and to give them my best. I have walked hundreds of highlines, but never over such a palpable energy as theirs. Truly a highlight of my life, record holder or not.
In the weeks after the project I came to terms with my failing amidst such a desire to succeed. The pain was short lived. I was quickly fine with it. When you have big goals, it's okay when you find out you’ve come so far but have more to learn. Who wants to be at the end of the road anyway? It’s the driving that's fun. But even with sound perspective, it hasn’t stopped the recurring dreams. I keep having this dream that I’m scrambling to find my harness, that I’m about to get on the line again, about to get one more chance at succeeding. Although I’m satisfied with my performance, fine with where I’m at, those dreams will never go away.
And thank god they won’t.
A skier, highliner, paraglider, filmmaker, and self-described "fun-haver," KEEN Ambassador Ari Delashmutt puts a strong value on inspiring and helping others. His shoe of choice when he's not on his slackline: KEEN Venture lightweight hikers. What is Ari up to now? Follow his adventures on YouTube and Instagram.