Tackling My Fear Bucket List – Part 1

By Laura Braden

This past July, I shared my top seven fears that seemed to be especially irrational…and conquerable. Since then, I’ve been crushing them one a time and learning some pretty interesting lessons along the way.

First up? Skydiving, guns and snakes.


Turns out I may be an adrenalin junkie after all. I thought this was going to be scariest one to conquer…but I literally can’t wait to go again. I was lucky enough to enlist some of my closest Knoxville friends to embark on this adventure with me, which made it much, MUCH easier.

After arriving at SkyDive East Tennessee, we  were matched with tandem partners (I picked the tallest, most alpha-looking guy in the bunch to ensure maximum safety) and suited up in awesome, ski-bunny-esque-flight-suits. We watched a safety video from the 1970s, signed our lives away on multiple waivers, and waited our turn.

A “plane.”

As we walked out to what they said was a plane, but can best be described as a 1984 Pinto, my life literally flashed before my eyes.

I had been expecting a scene out of Band of Brothers, complete with benches and a beam down the center where you simply stand, line-up, hook-up and step out of the plane.

The reality was seven people (one pilot, two video/photographers, two tandems and two terrified girls) in a mishmash of limbs and equipment, sitting on the floor of a plane the size of lifeboat. The take-off and ascent were surprisingly smooth, and the scenery (rivers, lakes, mountains and trees) was breathtaking. About 10 minutes in, I remarked (actually yelled at the top of my lungs into my tandem partner’s ear, which was located five inches in front of my face) how high we were, and we must be close to jumping, right? WRONG. We were only at 1,300 feet – and weren’t jumping until 11,000. Folks, that’s the altitude where Gogo’s Inflight WiFi kicks in. I gulped, sat back, stared out the window and tried to focus on my breathing (and reminded myself that I was there by choice).


When it came time to jump, we were literally above the clouds. They pushed the door open, a blast of arctic air slapped us in the face (which frankly felt amazing – think cold tile when you’re drunk/hungover), and the video/photographer guy jumped out and was holding onto the wing with his body flapping in the wind (he has to let go at the same time to capture your full experience). My tandem partner then attached himself to me and (literally) shoved me out the door.

The next 7-8 minutes are truly impossible to explain. I know that we did a flip as we exited the plane, that we were falling at 120 MPH for about 3-4 minutes (and we were going faster when he’d lean into the wind, Rocketeer-style), that we did multiple spins, and that my shoot opened at the appropriate time before we floated peacefully to the ground into a soft landing.

But the experience was the definition of surreal. There’s nothing right about what you’re doing. Humans aren’t supposed to jump out of planes at that height and survive. Your senses can’t even comprehend what’s going on so you just sort of…space out. And you enjoy it. I mean really enjoy it. I laughed and shrieked like a little kid the entire way down. There’s no time for anxiety or fear. For those 7-8 minutes, I was Buddha, a Hindu goddess, Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert (post-Eat Pray Love) all wrapped into one. I wasn’t thinking about anything other than the moment. It was the most present I’ve ever felt. And it felt awesome.

Bottom Line? I learned that sometimes the scariest part about [insert anything you think is scary] is simply in the anticipation – not the act itself.

Post-jump, staring at the clouds and trying to understand what we just did.


Ok, so not all of the bulls-eyes are mine…but a few of them were.

Still on a high from skydiving, I felt 100 percent ready to conquer this fear.

As you’ll recall, this is the most serious of the bunch. I (for good reason) hated, hated, HATED guns. Unless you’re Hank Shaw, I saw zero reason to own one. To me, all they represented was shattered lives, death and destruction.

But thanks to the tutelage of a trusted friend, I’ve had a full and total conversion. He sat down and taught me…well, everything. Different types of guns. The difference in calibers and gauges. Why the shape of the bullet impacts velocity and accuracy. How you use different guns for different activities. Why some recoil more than others. How to clean and disassemble them, etc, etc.

Now, I’m not the easiest pupil. I’m stubborn and get frustrated when I don’t instantly “get it,” but he was patient and made me do everything (cleaning, assembling, etc) on my own – and made me do it over and over again until I got it right. And it was actually fun. I couldn’t believe how much physics, math/science and engineering went into all of it. Did you know that some guns were so flawlessly designed that they haven’t been updated in 80-90 years? #NerdAlert, I find that fascinating.

So anyways, onto the actual shooting. We went to the Gun Range just north of Midtown (3479 Orange Grove Ave). The staff were friendly, laidback and very knowledgeable. It’s sort of like bowling – you rent a “lane,” buy ammo/targets, suit up in goggles and protective headphones, and then head to your designated area.

Everything was going fine until the folks next to us starting shooting their guns. It was loud. VERY loud. It sounded like they were shooting Civil War cannons. I kept jumping and then the shaking-light-headedness-and-sweaty palms kicked in as I imagined one of them going postal and massacring us all.

But I was with a true professional. He took the gun, put it in my hands, showed me how to aim and made me fire the trigger. And again. And again. And again. I eventually shot three types of guns (.22, glock and AR15 rifle) and went through about two+ boxes of amno. And I loved it.

He watched and offered suggestions, which were all aiming-related. I couldn’t believe how hard it was to point and actually hit your target. Did I hit the rough outline of the man? Sure. But when I tried hitting designated points, it got way more complicated (I kept mentally reminding myself to set up an appt with an eye doctor). I walked away with a newfound appreciation for hunters, policemen, the military, etc. Am I ready to own one? Not yet…but I’m no longer ruling it out either.

Bottom Line? I learned that information (in every facet of my life) is crucial to making me feel empowered and comfortable.


GOTG is a big and long-time fan of the Sacramento Zoo located in the heart of Land Park. If you haven’t been yet, definitely make a trip and/or attend their super fun annual events (see GOTG’s past coverage here). Open since 1927, the Sacramento Zoo is home to over 140 native, exotic and endangered species and is one of over 200 accredited institutions of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Heck, even Betty White visited the renovated giraffe exhibit “Tall Wonders.”

So they were an obvious choice to help conquer this particularly embarrassing fear. I arrived not knowing exactly what to expect. I had asked for a quick educational briefing and the opportunity to hold a snake… but all I could imagine was Indiana Jones descending into an ancient pit full of of the creeping little suckers.

Upon arrival I was escorted to an amphitheater where I was introduced to Mike Owyang, one of their education specialists. Next to him was a little cooler…and a large cooler. Gulp. Before he even opened them, he walked me through who they were and what I could expect.

Both were ladies (nod to GOTG) and very laidback. The first little lady was a Brazilian Rainbow Boa. The second (much larger )lady was a Puerto Rican Boa. She was even more laidback than the first and much heavier.

Both looked like beautiful shoes or handbags (jokes…not really), and holding them was just odd. They were hard but squishy. Solid/strong but fragile. Neither tried to bite or squeeze the life out of me – they seemed content simply to wrap themselves around my arms sensing who I was via their tongues (gulp).

Am I buying a snake as a pet? Nope. But I’m not going to run for the hills the next time I see one on a hike (unless it’s a rattlesnake of course), and I would hold one again, given the chance.

A special shout-out to staffers Tonja Swank and Jamie Wilson – they’re wonderful ladies who are dedicated to the Zoo’s mission and were nice enough to help me cross this one off my bucket list!

For the next post, I’ll discuss karaoke, rejection and visiting a nudist resort (officially the scariest one on this list!!).

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