I'm so hungry. That's what I'm thinking as I pause midair somewhere between the 52nd and 22nd floors of the Rio Hotel and Casino. I'm hanging from a rope, attached to an industrial-strength harness, which is wrapping around my legs, chest and torso. I'm dangling — somewhat like a spider on a string — from the VooDoo Lounge's open-air rooftop patio. It's 3:05 p.m., but I haven't eaten lunch yet because my short to-do list for the day included three things: 1. Rappel 400-plus feet down the side of the Rio in support of Special Olympics. 2. Don't cry. 3. Don't throw up, at least not while the camera's rolling. Now, I've added a fourth thing to my list: 4. Reach the ground and buy something to eat. Pronto.
I don't usually spend my Thursdays laughing in the face of gravity while floating above Las Vegas, but October 7 was special. It was the media/VIP preview of Special Olympics of Nevada's inaugural Over the Edge fundraiser — an event which invited Las Vegans to raise money and then strap on a few pounds worth of safety gear, silence the voices in their heads that are screaming, "Are you trying to kill us?!" and descend more than 400 feet in a controlled rappel. Around 50 people would make the trip over two days, raising at least $40,000 to help Special Olympics provide free athletic training for developmentally disabled adults and children. The event already has contracted with the Rio for two more years.
The atmosphere inside VooDoo Lounge when I arrived was buzzing, the nervous excitement of rappellers infecting everyone around them. And we jingled. It's amazing the amount of noise a full harness loaded with carabiners, a Walkie Talkie and lots of buckles and straps will make as you saunter about staring out the window at two pairs of ropes.
Surprisingly, the name of the game at Over the Edge was calm. Staying calm. Keeping calm. Making calm. Even as I signed and initialed a three-page waiver that essentially said I knew I might die and was fine with it, I stayed calm. Even as an Over the Edge staffer strapped me into the rigging and showed me how to press on a small lever that would allow rope to pass through a metal rappel device and me to move towards the ground, I mostly maintained my calm. Even as he demonstrated the breaking mechanism, complete with big, scary-looking metal teeth, I was pretty calm. Everything was going really, really well, until he looked me straight in the face and told me to swing my legs over the roof wall specifically meant to keep people from falling to their dramatic and widely splattered deaths. And then calm went pretty much out the window. It was that first part. That off-balance, heels-hanging-off-the-ledge, you-seriously-want-me-to-let-go? part that got me rattled. "Take a few deep breaths," he suggested. Ha! Breathing at a time like this?!
Then, ever so slowly, I did the only thing I could do: I sat backward into the harness and gave in to the moment, trusting in a group of people I'd just met, the Special Olympics of Nevada and Harrah's own self-interest to keep me from plummeting toward the ground. The harness held me, the ropes strained and suddenly I was sitting in the swing with the best view in the world. I said goodbye to my friends on the roof, pressed the small red lever, took a good look down and headed for the ground. When I got there about 10 minutes after first leaning over the edge, a Special Olympics athlete draped a small medal over my neck and gave me a hug and an enthusiastic thumbs-up. It did, indeed, feel like a victory. No puking. No crying. Just an incredible view of Vegas, an empty stomach and the best adrenalin rush in town.