When I tell people that we’re going to Canada to run up all 1,776 steps of the tallest building this side of Dubai, most people smile, nod, and simply say, “Yeah, but why Toronto?”

For the past month, I’ve been telling them the obvious.

This is a great way to kickoff the blog with a unique, somewhat challenging event. And if you’re going to start tower running, why not start at the top? Plus, we’ll get to explore Niagara Falls and Toronto. And I’m dying to use a winter coat in mid-April.

Most of these are true, but they’re also hiding a secret.

The main reason I chose the CN Tower Climb has nothing to do with stairs.

It’s so I can ride its elevator again. This time, without crying.

No joke.

And I’m not talking about captivated-by-the-beauty-of-the-view tears. I’m talking about uncontrollable, I-want-my-mommy sobbing.

In a nutshell, that’s what happened on my first trip to the CN Tower.

It was the summer of 1992. Or maybe 1991. Nobody bothered to write those details in the summer photo album, so it’s all just a guess.

What we do know is that I was either 10 or 11, and that I was delightfully chubby. Not incredibly chubby, but just chubby enough that no girl was going to talk to me for at least another 5 years.

My parents threw me in the back seat of a 1989 Mazda 626 with two bags of Cheetos, a Walkman, and a cheap, handheld LCD video game with graphics no more exciting than an Etch A Sketch.

We drove from Raleigh to Wisconsin to visit my uncle, aunt, and cousins. Next, we drove clear around the Great Lakes until we reached Toronto. With only a few hours to kill before going to Pittsburgh for another family engagement, ascending the tower was an easy decision. Having gone to the top of the World Trade Center the summer before, I was excited to cross another tall building off my list. (Not that I had an actual list.)

My excitement turned to nervous apprehension as soon as I stepped into the glass-bottomed elevator and heard the operator proudly inform us that the car would shoot to the tower’s observation deck at a NASA-grade speed of 15 floors per second.

I froze.

I was used to riding elevators that traveled at creepily slow paces. Now, this elevator trip was starting to feel like an amusement park ride. And not the kind of oversized-teacup-spinning, flying-elephant amusement park ride I could tolerate.

Even now, I’m still cautious of getting on rides that have height requirements. Or that require seat belts. But back then, you couldn’t drag me on a scary ride for anything.

I remember going to Busch Gardens with a friend and refusing to ride any of the major roller coasters. When my friend’s dad pulled me aside to explain that the whole point of coming to Busch Gardens was to ride scary rides, I told him we should probably just go home. He then parked me on a picnic table and proceeded to ride the Loch Ness Monster three times with my friend while I watched an army of ants drag a fried dough crumb into the bushes. Maybe it wasn’t what the park’s marketing directors had in mind when they promised a taste of the old country, but, for me, it sure beat a taste of lunch creeping back up my esophagus.

It’s not that I was scared of heights. It’s just that I valued the central, steady, reliable location of my stomach.

So there I was in the CN Tower elevator, a 4-foot-10-inch pile of baby fat, unwillingly recruited for my first launch into the stratosphere. If I had more wits about me, I would have punched a hole through the emergency stop button (if one even existed). Instead, I bit my lip and watched the ground disappear underneath the glass floor. As we raced skyward, I could swear I saw my stomach, intestines, and colon far below on the CN Tower lawn.

The worst part about getting shot out of a cannon is that time stands totally still while it’s happening. While the elevator ride felt like a normal 10 seconds to the rest of the passengers, I went through puberty, applied to college, and bought a house on that ride up. Unfortunately, by the time we reached the top, I was no less of a giant sissy. Once my brain could account for the whereabouts of all members of my digestive system, all its power shifted to our next hurdle—the trip down.

This is where I lost it.

I don’t remember exactly what happened because I’m pretty sure I blacked out. If my stomach dropped that much on the way up, I thought, what might happen on the way down? My panic achieved maximum climax. The tears immediately followed. In streams. And that wasn’t the worst of it.

Here’s how my mom remembers those moments.

“You weren’t just crying,” she said, “you were shaking.”

As the tears subsided, I strongly considered two possible plans of action. One, I would ask a security guard for access to the stairs, and I would meet my parents at the bottom an hour later; or I would live the rest of my life at the top of that tower.

Unwilling to disturb a security guard from the practice of actual security and no less enthused about Christmases shared with tourists in a cramped observation deck, my parents turned to the next best, brilliant solution—bribery. Take the elevator back down, they promised, and I could have my pick of the lot from the tower’s gift shop. That and a fresh bag of Cheetos for the road.

I was still clinging to the stairwell exit plan, but I also had my eye on a new hat, so I eventually agreed to their plan. I even managed to enjoy the view for a bit.

Minutes later came the moment of truth, my date with a death drop.

My tear ducts were on high alert.

Turns out, I didn’t even need them.

The ride down was smoother than a perfect landing. Before I knew it, I was giggling in the gift shop, trying on goofy hats and posing for pictures, as if I hadn’t experienced a complete meltdown just 20 minutes earlier.

Nearly 20 years later, I’m excited to climb the stairs I so desperately wanted to descend as a kid.

And after running up that many steps, that elevator ride down seems like the perfect exit strategy.

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