Here’s a tale about how this 37-year-old mom of three almost stayed at the top of a 10,000 foot mountain, because she was too scared of going back down.
But first, let’s back up.
The year was somewhere around the days of crimping your hair, New Kids on the Block, and using one of those bedazzled shirt clips to “tie” your shirt on the side. In other words, I was probably around seven years old, circa 1991(ish).
My mom, grandma and I were playing tourist for the day in Albuquerque, and decided to go up the Sandia Peak Tramway. I distinctly remember several moments from this trip: I remember being excited to go up and finally see the top of the giant mountain I grew up seeing in my backyard.
I also thought it was cool that it was just us girls and that my brother and dad didn’t go on this excursion with us (sorry, bro).
I don’t remember the trip up the tram, but my next memory is of the three of us at the top of the peak, and I’m stuck there simply paralyzed with fear about going down.
I can vividly see the building where the tram docks, and (like an out of body experience), I can see little Jessica crouched down in a corner begging my mom and grandma to just leave me up there, because I didn’t want to go back down.
It was during that moment that I realized I was scared of heights…or, rather, falling from being up too high…or something like that.
While I don’t remember how they got me to go back down, I know that we did get back down, and I know it took quite awhile before it happened because I was freaking out so much.
Flash forward to today—or last week, rather.
We were in Albuquerque soaking up family time and playing tourist, and the one thing still on my list to check off was a ride up the tram.
I’ve suggested this landmark hundreds of times to friends visiting New Mexico, and my daughter must’ve asked me if we could go up the tram every single day for the entire year that we lived there. My answer was always, “Yes,” but something always came up. (Or in retrospect, maybe I was the one always putting it off.)
When Covid happened and everything shut down she was devastated that we wouldn’t get to go up before we moved.
This was truly the one thing she wanted to do, so I told her that whenever we went back we’d make it a point to go up.
When we arrived in town I got tickets and reservations right away so we wouldn’t put it off any longer. But, low and behold, the original day we were going to do it, my son got sick in the tram parking lot of all places, and we called it off. (Relief washed over me, if I’m being honest.)
But she persisted we make it happen, as did everyone else in the family. So a few days before we left, we set out to make it happen again.
I say “almost,” because, I technically bowed out of going up (it was the day before we were leaving and I had a boatload of things I needed to do), but then, sitting in the Starbucks line waiting for my drink, I had the sick realization of, “What if the entire thing crashed down in a freak accident* and I lose my entire family?”
I literally backed out of the Starbucks line I was sitting in, and made a beeline to the tram so I could join them in line and go up with them.
Things were fine as we stood in line to board the tram, and things were fine even as we stepped inside the large car along with 46 other people.
That’s when things turned out to be not so fine for me.
My heart started racing as we started veering up. My fingers gripped the handle bar tighter and tighter with each second that the ground got further and further away from our feet, and when I finally told myself to “relax,” my hands were visibly shaking.
Our tour guide for the one-way trip up was fantastic, and I made myself focus on him as he threw out information, tidbits of trivia, and fun facts about the mountain, the tram, and the area. Despite feeling slightly lightheaded, I also shifted my attention to focus on my breathing, and I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to see the giant boulders zooming under our feet or notice how small the city was getting.
Then we’d go over one of the two towers, and a rush of panic would wash over me.
Everyone in our tram car were enjoying the ride, and seemed to get ecstatic when we’d sway a little bit. Seriously, my kids and my niece and nephew were waaaaaaaay braver than I was. I could hear them laughing and having such a great time. Meanwhile, I held on for dear life.
Then, finally, we made it to the top—15 minutes later, just like they said. I almost kissed the ground when we “parked,” but my legs were too shaky and I was certain I wouldn’t get back up if I did.
Once we were at the top I was fine. The peak was stable, the mountain wasn’t going anywhere, and I knew I was safe*.
….but then it was time to go back down, and my anxiety started creeping back in.
Everything was fine as we waited for the tram to get back up to the top, and I was okay when we were waiting to board. But then I stepped foot inside and, NOPE. It wasn’t going to happen (again). This time, though, I was three decades older than the last time I had to go back down.
Instead of crouching down and sobbing before getting on the tram, I decided to be proactive and figure out a solution.
On the way up I really didn’t like standing and looking out at my impending death, so I figured it may be better if I sat down inside the tram car. So that’s just what I did. I walked right in and plopped myself on the floor.
Despite looking like a complete fool—especially when the group of boy scouts walked in and stood right next to me, and all of our kids (9 to 4 years old) standing at the front of the big tram glass windows having the ride of their life—I felt 90% better about the whole situation. I felt more grounded; not looking out the windows helped tremendously.
The 15-minute trip went by so much faster than it did when we went up, and I didn’t even have to focus on my breathing as we went down even though I was mentally more worried about going down than up.
Before I knew it, we were back on the ground again, and I could breathe a sigh of relief again.
Everyone had a great time, and even though going up in the tram 100% freaks me out for some reason, I would still 100% recommend it for the views you get at the top. And if you’re the slightest bit scared, you can always sit down.
Even though I still think everyone should add this to their Albuquerque bucket list, I will be totally content not having to go up again…at least for another 30 years.
If you’d like to see a time lapse from inside the tram starting at the top of the peak, and going back down, check this out (it’s the fourth photo/video). Special thanks to my brother for recording it since I was crouched in the back like a scaredy cat.
Have you had a crazy anxiety attack out of nowhere? Are you scared of (falling) from heights? I still find it so bizarre that I can fly in an airplane or go up in a hot air balloons, but going up a perfectly secure tram freaks me out.
*The Sandia Peak Tram is safe. I 100% know it’s safe, and I know that in it’s 50+ years of operation there has never even been an accident from it! While I shared my experience, I truly hope this doesn’t deter you from your own ride on the tram; it’s a remarkable experience, and the views are spectacular.