There was a time when I was a bit of an adrenalin junkie; I rode a motorcycle, did a bit of skydiving, and tried some rock climbing, that sort of thing. It was mostly back in my twenties, less in my thirties, and now, in my forties, I don’t feel as compelled. Maybe I’m mellowing out or just at a different place in my life (i.e. a parent), but when I read about the new zipline ride through the Sonoma redwoods a little voice in me said “whoo hoo!”
It was supposed to be an uncharacteristically sunny and warm February day when I went for my zipline experience at Sonoma Canopy Tours. It turned out to be typically cold and foggy. From the parking lot bus stop where I waited with some fellow zipline initiates we could hear the high pitch whiz of people zipping through the trees. I focused my eyes to see but only barely caught a glimpse of someone as they whipped through the top of my peripheral vision. Oh, way up there!
A little electric pickup truck shuttled us up to the base of the operation where we signed our lives away and underwent a crash course at the zipline ground school. Our guides, Luke and Joey, immediately cut the nervous tension with their steady stream of humor as they decked us out in harnesses, helmets, and leather gloves. It was a substantial getup but I felt oddly comforted by the weight of the zipline trolley dangling from my chest and the thick carabiner lines resting across my shoulders.
The initial steps of ziplining in the jargon of Luke and Joey are this: (1) Logon – stand up on the log so you can reach the line; (2) Get online – snap your trolley onto the cable. Once you are secured you can sit down in your harness, place your right hand on top of the trolley, put your left hand over your right, and go! Joey was our departure guide and Luke was our arrival guide. As we approached the other end of the cable Luke would signal us to break. How do you break? With your left hand, of course! The friction of placing your hand on the cable behind you is what slows you down, from speeds of up to 25 miles an hour. I admit that I was a bit skeptical about that part…
Everyone passed ground school and we were shuttled uphill to the start of the course. During the ride some final questions were thrown around.
“So, has anyone ever thrown up?”
“Has anyone ever not gone through with it?”
“That won’t be me!”
From the first platform the view overlooking the valley was beautiful. The fog was tucked in amongst the towering redwood trees, soft and ethereal; a bizarrely suitable backdrop for a surreal sport. It was a relatively short zip to build our confidence. We were always secured to something while we were on the zip course. Our trollies clipped securly onto the cable for the zip ride and once we reached a platform one of our carabiner cables tethered us to the tree. One carabiner cable always remained attached as we moved around the platform. The platforms, small wooden decks that wrapped around a Douglas fir or redwood tree, cozily fit all eight of us. There were no railings.
The second zip was farther, faster and higher (about 80 feet from the canopy floor). The breaking took a bit longer and I could feel my pulse quicken. The platform around the redwood tree swayed noticeably. We could push ourselves off of a nearby tree and feel it move. Someone asked if the tree would eventually give under the stress but apparently it responds by getting stronger, not weaker. That was a relief.
(to be continued…)