Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 17, 2017

© Courtesy of author

Dr Bowins seems perfectly comfortable trusting a pair of steel cables and a jumpsuit 356 metres above Toronto.

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I prescribe a trip above Toronto

A psychiatrist looks for an urban adventure — and finds it at the top of the CN Tower

Being accustomed to adventure outside of cities, such as scuba diving and backcountry skiing, I was intrigued at the prospect of realizing it right at home in Toronto. One sunny day in May of 2012 I decided to take the CN Tower EdgeWalk (tel: 416-601-3833; edgewalkcntower.ca; $175).

Arriving shortly before the scheduled time I joined two other men visiting on their own, one a businessman needing a break from the conference he was attending, and the other a young man who had just moved to Toronto. Let the fun begin.

After signing the inevitable legal waiver, we were brought into a room where we dressed up in red prison-like jumpsuits. I asked whether they were recruiting for one of those corporate mega-jails supposedly favoured by Stephen Harper’s government. Staff reassured us that this is not the case, though to complete the feeling they put restraining straps on us., which were checked three or four times.

The futuristic staging area for Edge Walk has metallic walls ending and sliding glass doors that exit to you-know-where. A very solid-looking safety bar is fixed to the roof, one side leading out and the other in. Staff hooked us onto the bar with 2 cables, one positioned in front and the other behind. They went over the safety rules again. All these safety precautions were reassuring — it may have felt a little like jail, but at least it wouldn’t be a form of capital punishment.

Our guide was a young and very spunky woman who clearly lived for adventure activities. As well she might — being a guide for the CN Tower Edge Walk is not your average job. When most Torontonians say they work “right outside the CN Tower,” they’re usually not referring to the top of it. She went out first and called me out next. It was time.

The feeling of stepping outside the CN Tower is exhilarating. I had a sense of being very connected to the surroundings in a way never experienced from inside the Tower. It was a clear day, and it felt like I could reach out and touch the Toronto Islands and airport. Looking up at the top of the Tower gives an equally unique perspective. After many years of wondering what it must have been like for the workers who built this world-renowned structure, I finally found out; our once-in-a-lifetime was their everyday.

With our feet firmly planted on the metal walkway the size of a city sidewalk, and feeling the breeze, so to speak, our guide explained it was time for some ‘exercises’ to enhance the experience. She explained that she wanted each of us to place the front of our feet a couple of inches from the edge. From the edge of the walkway the curvature of the CN Tower’s base is very visible, and the seemingly gravity-defying dimensions of the structure are more fully appreciated.

Our first warm-up exercise completed, our guide moved us on to a more advanced activity: leaning back over the edge of the walkway! Looking between your legs the view was straight to the ground, which was a very unnerving and exhilarating experience that I could only describe to the guide as ‘freaky;’ not a standard medical term, of course, but she knew what I meant. Looking up provides an equally impressive view of the top of the Tower that few will ever see close-up. The EdgeWalk takes place just above the 360 Restaurant at 356 metres (1,168 ft) giving a great perspective on the Sky Pod. As you observe the tower, people inside observe you — a good form of advertising for the walk.

Returning to a fully vertical position, with feet planted firmly on the platform, it was time for a walk around the Tower. Our guide provided a history of the Tower and nearby section of the city. Walking around the outside of the Tower on a narrow ledge while discussing the city was a surreal experience, and one that gave, dare I say, a ‘lofty’ perspective on Toronto.

Having stretched our legs it was time for another exercise, this time leaning off the Tower face-first. I have bungee jumped once and this felt like starting over the edge to immediately stop and stare down at where the mind says your body should be going. Returning to the relative safety of the narrow ledge, we continued our walk and stopped over the cage used by window cleaners. Before completing the circle we posed for a group photo while leaning back over the edge. It seemed like nothing compared to the first time at the start of the walk, demonstrating quickly we can adapt to different experiences.

The EdgeWalk runs May to October, rain or shine, although it is cancelled when there is lightning to prevent guests from having a too electrifying experience. Short-term sojourners not have the choice of perfect weather for the walk, but supposedly each different weather condition provides for a unique experience. If you have a fear of heights you might find the experience unnerving, but it’s very safe and it might be good for you; what better way to confront your fears than by crossing your arms, leaning back and dangling over the abyss?

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