#21: Go ziplining

Miguel Cooke* was one of many “problem students” at the elementary school I attended.  (Note that I attended elementary school in the early 1980s – a time when ‘political correctness’ didn’t really exist.  These days, students like Miguel would most likely be called ‘challenging’ or ‘troubled’; but I digress.)  Though Miguel was only one grade ahead of me, he was several years older than his fellow classmates.  Miguel had been held back at kindergarten, first grade, and second grade – so by the time he reached third grade, he was already twelve years old.  At a time when some of his peers were just learning that Santa wasn’t real, Miguel was dabbling in smoking and swearing.  During recess Miguel preferred to play football with the sixth graders instead of kickball with the “little kids”.

It was during recess that I first encountered Miguel.  While most of my girlfriends were playing jacks, I was eyeing the merry-go-round.

zipline_merry-go-round

Miguel caught me looking at the piece of playground equipment, and with a semi-malicious/semi-sarcastic tone asked me if I wanted a ride.  Not hearing the intent behind Miguel’s words, I smiled, nodded my head slightly, and began to walk towards the round metal platform.  Surprised and shocked, Miguel’s smirk turned to confusion as I climbed aboard the merry-go-round.  As I wrapped my tiny arms around the metal bars, Miguel looked at me, trying to decide what to do next.  He had a few options: he could push the merry-go-round as hard as possible and do his very best to scare me; he could spin the equipment more slowly and give me a fun-yet-gentle ride; or he could walk away all together and pretend like he never said anything at all.  Not one to walk away from anything, Miguel dismissed option #3 (if he had even considered it at all).  Swaying between an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, Miguel stood on the ground opposite me, and quietly asked, “You ready?”   Again I nodded, my smile growing wider, eager for an anticipated few minutes of fun.  Miguel’s mouth turned into a sneer, his eyes narrowed – and WHAM! He pushed the merry-go-round with as much force as he could muster.

I knew Miguel was strong, and I had anticipated an abrupt start to the experience – yet even though I had tried to brace myself, I still felt my little body jerk back uncontrollably.  But after that initial moment of shock, I regained my footing and my grip, leaned into the metal bar at the edge of the merry-go-round, and settled in to enjoy the ride.  As I turned past Miguel for the first time, I could see him winding up to give the platform another huge shove.  For several minutes, Miguel hit the merry-go-round as quickly and with as much force as his twelve-year-old body could produce; I have little doubt he wanted me to be scared, cry, and possibly even get thrown off the piece of equipment.  What Miguel didn’t know was that even though I was a tiny child (at that age I was probably three-and-a-half feet tall and probably weighed around 50 pounds – a midget compared to Miguel’s 5-foot, 90-pound frame), I had a fierce spirit.  The faster the merry-go-round went, the more I genuinely enjoyed it.  The more Miguel tried to make me afraid, the more fun I ended up having.  After many minutes of fast-and-furious pushing, Miguel was genuinely fatigued; he dropped his hands from the gear, and eventually the ride came to a stop.

As I stepped down from the platform, I stood still for a moment to collect my bearings.  Once the dizziness cleared from my head, I walked over to Miguel, looked up at him, and in my tiny eight-year-old voice said, “Thank you!  That was a great ride.” I smiled, then turned and skipped back to my circle of girlfriends who were still focused on their jacks.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in that moment, I had earned Miguel’s respect and devotion.  The fact that I could “take” whatever he dished out definitely impressed him; but my extending kindness to him likely shocked him – and definitely touched him.  From that point on, whenever Miguel saw me in the hallway, at the cafeteria, or on the playground, the persistent glare on his face softened to a momentary smile; and whenever he saw me on the merry-go-round, he always stepped away from his football game for a few minutes to give me a ride.

When the merry-go-round was too full (or when Miguel was unavailable to give a ‘real’ ride), I spent most of my playground hours on the swings.

zipline_swings

While the swings didn’t give me the awesome dizzy feeling that the merry-go-round produced, I did receive a pleasurable flying sensation when I was able to pump my legs hard enough and get my body high enough.  Back and forth I’d go, until my toes touched the treetops and my body went almost parallel to the ground, twenty feet (or so) in the air.  Ever since I was a toddler, the sensations of spinning, floating, and flying have produced powerful feelings of excited pleasure for me.

So when I created my 101 list, I knew I wanted to include some enjoyable adrenaline-generating experiences for myself.  But the key word here is enjoyable: I think I have a relatively good handle on what will likely thrill me versus terrify me – so while I consider roller coasters fun, I think skydiving would be horrifying.  As I reflected on what new-to-me endeavors might push me without causing me to crack (or break {gulp}), I landed on a few options, one of which was ziplining.  Ziplining seemed to combine the height/flight sensation of a swing with the speed factor of a Miguel-driven merry-go-round; I was excited to try it and see if my imagined perception was indeed reality.

I found a Living Social deal for a ziplining tour just an hour south of the city.  The location was good, and the price was right (the company was offering a 50% discount on their regular prices), so I jumped on this opportunity to complete #21.  I then asked my sweetie if he was interested in participating in this experience with me, and he surprised me by saying, “Yes.”  So I purchased a second tour voucher, made our reservations, and waited for August 2 to arrive.

Happily, the first Friday in August turned out to be an absolutely perfect day for an outdoor activity.  The temperature was an incredibly comfortable 75 degrees (F); the sky was blue but also partly cloudy (which means we could be outside without sunglasses and wouldn’t be forced to squint the entire time); the wind provided a slight, gentle breeze (so the bugs were held at bay, but we wouldn’t be pushed around on the ziplines like ping pong balls in a BINGO cage); the humidity was quite low (so we remained dry from an absence of both rain and perspiration)… the conditions Ma Nature provided were downright beautiful.

When my sweetie and I arrived at the tour location, we learned that we would be in a group with three other participants (a mom and her two teenage sons [14 and 18 years old]) and two “sky guides”.  After conducting brief introductions, we all got decked out in gear – which included a full-body harness, a helmet, heavy-duty gloves, and a “brake pad” (basically, a leather covering that fit over the palm of our already-gloved dominant hand).

The gear for my sweetie and I.

The gear for my sweetie and I.

Once our sky guides adjusted our harness and helmets (and confirmed that we were all safely secure in them), we loaded up into two all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and enjoyed a bumpy-and-dusty-but-fun ride to our first zipline stop.  Riding an ATV was a bonus ‘first’ for me – I had never ridden on one before.

zipline_atv

The ride was only a few minutes long.  After the ATV climbed a few hundred feet, our driver parked at the edge of a forest path; from there, we left the vehicles and walked about 100 feet to our first zipline stop.

But before we experienced the ‘real’ ziplines, our two guides brought us to a practice area where we received a brief primer on how to safely engage in ziplining.  Specifically, we learned to:

  • Wait until the guide hooked our safety lines onto the zipline.
  • Hook the trolley (the device that connects one’s harness to the zipline, then moves the rider down the cable) over-and-onto the zipline.
  • Sit back into the harness (like sitting into a chair), and put our full body weight into the harness until our feet leave the platform.
  • Wait to receive the “all clear” signal; then lean forward slightly, and take off!
  • When the guide on the platform at the “finish” end of the line gives the appropriate signal, gently apply the “brake” (i.e., the leather-gloved hand).  Important: Press the hand down on the line behind the trolley (not in front of it [hopefully for obvious reasons], and do not squeeze the line (as it will hurt one’s arm/shoulder).  Simply press the hand down gently on the line, and enjoy a smooth, gliding stop.
  • Wait until the guide hooks our safety lines onto the “holding” area of the platform, then step aside, watch our fellow tour participants slide down the line, and get ready to do it all over again.

One of our guides then hooked himself onto the first practice line, and showed us how easy it was to “trolley on”, zip down the cable, gently apply his brake, and gracefully arrive at the end to a gentle stop.  Easy.

zipline_guide_stopping

Cool, I can totally do this.

The guide who remained on the starting platform then looked at our group, and asked us who would like to volunteer to go first.  The mom, her two kids, and my husband all looked at the guide somewhat hesitantly.  Not afraid to make a fool of myself, I looked at him and said, “I’ll do it!  That way I can show everyone all of the mistakes they shouldn’t make,” and gently laughed.  The guide laughed as well, and I felt some of the tension among the remaining four participants dissipate a bit.  I waited until the guide hooked my safety guides onto the line.  I heard “trolley on”, then I slipped my metal trolley onto the line.  I sat back into my harness, and waited for the “all clear”.  Once I was allowed to go, I took a deep breath in, leaned forward slightly, and felt my feet leave the platform.  My body picked up speed, and within one second I was zipping down the cable.  It felt very exciting, but admittedly also a little nerve-wracking.  I was fine with going fast, but as I approached the ending platform with what seemed like intense speed, I was concerned about stopping.  I did wait for the guide to give me the “brake now” signal, but once he did I instinctively squeezed the cable with my hand – which, you may recall, is the exact move I wasn’t supposed to make.  I immediately knew the mistake I had committed, and I laughed again.  “See, I told you!” I called out to the crowd below.  “I’m just showing you what not to do…”  I smiled.  The guide at the end of the line pulled me in towards the platform, where I lowered my legs and felt my feet connect with the ground.  My heart was beating in my chest a little more quickly than usual, but nothing too extreme.  I felt energized and alive, not panicked or fearful. As I stepped to the side and waited for my fellow participants to join me on the platform, I felt myself wanting to go again – which is good, because we had 90 minutes of ziplining ahead of us.  🙂

Once everyone in our party reached the ending platform, our sky guides walked us to its right side, where another “practice” line waited.  This line was a little steeper and a little higher off the ground than line #1, but nothing too crazy.  Just like with the previous line, I was the first person to zip down line #2.  But unlike the previous line, this time I completed the braking motion perfectly.  😉

Once all five of us “tourists” successfully completed the second practice line, our two guides declared that we had all passed “ground school”, and deemed us ready to hit the main course.  We walked on a brief wooded path for a minute or so, then climbed up the equivalent of three flights of stairs – and saw our first “real” zipline:

zipline_first real one

The guide again asked who wanted to go first down this much higher, much longer line; and again, everyone in the group was silent.  I happily stepped toward the guide, ready to get on this “real” line, when the 18-year-old said, “Yeah, I’ll do it.”  The guide looked a little nervously between the two of us, uncertain as to which one of us he should send down first.  I quickly solved the dilemma for him by looking at the student and saying, “Let’s do rock-paper-scissors for it.”  Relieved that we would reach the decision using such a ‘silly’ (and therefore non-personal/non-controversial) method, the young man smiled ever-so-slightly, and I began the count.  One, two, three! I splayed my hand flat in ‘paper’ formation.  The student had kept his hand in a fist, noting ‘rock’.  “Ah, paper covers rock!” I declared.  “Looks like I get to go first!” I said, with the slightest hint of good-natured ribbing.  The student stepped aside, I hooked my trolley onto the line, and zoom! down I went through treetops, on my first “real” zipline ride.  I felt secure and safe in the harness, but also light and free as my legs dangled literally a hundred feet above the ground.  I breathed in the fresh air rushing past my face, and looked around as much as I could at all of the green leaves beneath and beside me.  I reached the ending platform, and felt exuberant and calm all at the same time. I felt like how a baby bird must feel after she gains confidence during her first solo flight: still somewhat dependent on her mom, but also somewhat free.  Placing my feet on the wood floor, my face held on to a wide smile that had unconsciously formed during my ride.  I felt peaceful and serene, but also vibrant and lively.  It was as close a feeling to yin/yang/present-moment-groundedness I have experienced thus far in life.  I felt fantastic.

My sweetie was the next one down the line, and he arrived by my side with a similar happy smile on his face.  I was thrilled that he was having fun, too.

During the remaining time on our tour, we walked across a 100-foot-long suspension bridge that was 170 feet in the air (which was a whole different experience that got my heart pumping anew – but which I did really enjoy), and climbed 10 (or so) flights of metal spiral stairs (which swayed as we walked on them [if you’ve ever climbed a fire tower, you know the sensation; it’s a little freaky, but also kinda cool]).  We also rode down eight more ziplines: the longest one was a quarter-mile, the highest one was suspended around 200 feet above the ground, and on one of them we got to slide down backwards (which was different and kinda fun).  I glided down to the end of all but one of the lines; the last line of the day had a semi-significant upward turn at the end of it, and even though I held my knees tightly to my chest and “cannonballed” myself for the entire ride (to go as fast as physically possible), my body still didn’t generate enough speed to get me to the platform, and I came up about 20 feet short.  Dangling from the line, I turned around in my harness, placed both of my hands beyond my head, and pulled myself hand-over-hand until I reached the other side – which was quite fun to do, but which was also a bit tiring.

During each of the rides down the various lines, I made a point to be as observant and as ‘present’ as possible – to feel (really feel) the wind and sensations of flying, to see (really see) the awesome views of the river valley below me, to hear (really hear) the contrasting sounds of the zipline activity amid the calm of the forested area; and being actively, consciously aware of the sights, sounds, and sensations all around me made the experience even more pleasurable.

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After our last pass down the last zipline, our group climbed up two flights of wooden stairs, and arrived at the edge of a gravel road – where the two ATVs were waiting for us.  Another few minutes down a dusty, bumpy path, we were deposited back to the equipment shed where we were freed from our gear.  As we returned to the office to collect our car keys, one of the employees mentioned that the tour provided gorgeous views in the fall, when all of the tree leaves were changing colors.  I nodded my head in agreement, easily visualizing zipping above brilliant hues of red, orange, and yellow.  To my surprise, my sweetie looked at me almost immediately and said, “We should come back.”  Clearly he had a great time today as well – which made me feel even better.  I’m so happy that he enjoyed himself!  Getting to share this experience with him made it even more fun for me.  While I am very content to be independent and do things on my own, sometimes it’s just nice to have company on some of my ‘adventures’.  This was certainly one of those times.

All in all, a very enjoyable day, and a very fun experience.  I bet Miguel would be proud.

Stef

P.S. #1: As I searched online for a few pictures, I came across a video that captures a minute of ziplining at the exact place where my husband and I went!  So I can share the true essence of the experience with you – super cool.

P.S.  #2: As I completed some fact-checking for this blog entry, I ran across this You Tube video showing an activity called “kiiking”. I had never even heard of “kiiking” before today – but if I ever get the opportunity to try it, I think I’d kinda have to do it.  I think it looks semi-terrifying, but also pretty darn cool…

* Note: The name has been changed to protect the identity of this individual.  I have no idea where “Miguel” is today – but I hope he is happy, safe, and at ease in the world.

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About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
This entry was posted in 101 in 1001, day zero project, postaday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to #21: Go ziplining

  1. Ruth says:

    What an adventure filled day! Wow. I will experience this vicariously through your story and pics.
    Loved your description of Miguel giving you a ride on the Merry Go Round.

    Like

    • Stef says:

      It was indeed an adventure – and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m happy to hear that you liked reading about Miguel; it was fun for me to re-discover that memory.

      Like

  2. Arman says:

    What a day!!! That looked like so much fun. Maybe I should get on the bandwagon of creating a list of things to do before I die too 😀

    Like

    • Stef says:

      It was a lot of fun! And you should totally make a list; it’s causing me to do things I would otherwise push off or ignore altogether. But to clarify: this isn’t a “bucket list” (in that these are things I want to do before I die); it’s simply a list of things I want to do and haven’t made the time/effort to get them done until now. 🙂

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  3. Jennie Saia says:

    I loved the story at the beginning of this – it reinforces some things I already suspected about your personality. 🙂

    I very much want to go zip lining! I’ve been skydiving twice, and both times I experienced the same zen-like state you described. I’d like to be able to access that for cheaper. 😉

    Like

    • Stef says:

      I’m impressed that you found a space of zen-like acceptance when hurtling thousands of miles-per-hour towards the earth – you’re hard core! 😉

      I definitely recommend zip-lining. If you find a place to go, I’d love to hear what you thought of the experience (and how it compared [and was different to] skydiving).

      Like

      • Jennie Saia says:

        Someday! A place has opened in the mountains not too far from us. 🙂

        As for the zen, it came once the rush of falling was over, and the peace of gently descending had begun. Once that shoot is up and the danger is passed, and your instructor silently wheels you toward the earth as birds fly by… it’d be hard not to be entranced/

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      • Stef says:

        The latter part of skydiving (the floating down to earth) I think would be amazing. But I truly wonder if my heart could survive the few seconds of terror that precedes it…?

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  4. Miguel would be proud 🙂 Sounds like a wonderful day. I’ve never went zip-lining and got butterflies looking at your pictures. I’m terrified of heights and envy your bravery 🙂

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