I am afraid of heights. Not paranoid, just fearful. Over the years I’ve been on top of 20 foot ladders, cliffs and other scary places and done OK. I’ve even parasailed. Then again, I’ve gotten the yips just standing on the edge of a diving board or looking down a stairwell. Then Ben said “let’s ride a zipline!” We signed on with an outfit called Adventures on the Gorge, recommended by a fellow camper. Adventures on the Gorge calls itself “The Adventure Resort.” It turned out to be a huge complex of restaurants cabins and tent sites ranging from fancy-scmancy to rustic with a huge swimming pool, disc golf, climbing walls and just about everything else you can imagine. They offered Gauley and New River trips, climbing, cycling horseback riding, paddle board, hiking and of course zip lines. They offered two zips; a tree canopy zip suitable for families, and a Blazing Fast Gravity Line Zip. Guess which one Ben chose? I had a full day to consider my fate.
We arrived at the center where we checked in on a computer. I was relieved to see that we were not the only geezers who had signed on for the zipline. I began the registration program. One page of registration information, four pages of waivers. Was I doing this of my own free will? Check. Did I certify I DID NOT have any medical conditions that would be worsened by my particiation, like neck, shoulder or a huge list of other problems? Well, I’m old and everything usually hurts. I have arthritis in about every joint I own and a 50% tear in the rotator cuff on my left shoulder. If I were to fall down my stairs at home I’d probably crumble into a pile of broken bones and quivering flesh. I checked “No conditions.” Did I promise neither I nor my heirs to never ever hold Adventures on the Gorge responsible if I went sailing off the zipline into the forest never to be seen again? I checked “I promise never to sue.” Having surrendered my well being and all rights to a cozy disability/death benefit, it was time to board the school bus. Ben also got on the bus, so I assume he also surrendered his rights. We were joined by about 20 other souls. “Y’all ready to ROLL,” yelled Mike, our bus driver. We roared off down the road. Our three guides were–well, since I didn’t have a paper and pen with me and my brain was addled with fear I can’t remember their names. I shall call them Zach, Wes and Bob. They gave us a pep talk on the way, telling us that we had 6 zips in all on the highest, longest and fastest zipline east of the Mississippi, and that we could expect to hit speeds of 60 mph. We were also told we would have a lesson and a practice zip. We turned off the highway and bounced up the mountain on a narrow rutted dirt road. School buses aren’t noted for the quality of ride on a highway; as we jounced around we were thrown about like marbles in a jar. We finally reached our destination. We unloaded and were told to find a pile of gear and stand in front of it. Once we got in position, some of us were rearranged by size. Then the guides came over and dressed us one by one. Full body harness and a helmet that was flimsier than my bike helmet. (I wondered to myself how this would be helpful if I was flying along at 60 mph.) Work gloves. A device (Ben called it a trolley, that works for me) that clipped to the zipline that was the mechanism that–well, zips. Draped with carabiners harnesses and straps, we waddled in a group to a low cable. With Bob as a model, Zach proceeded to show us how to zip properly; legs crossed, body tucked to minimize wind resistance. Again, we were told to “relax into your harness, let your equipment do the work.” Right. If we were unfortunate enough to run out of momentum, a quick lesson on self-rescue; hand over hand pulling to the landing deck. Then we clinked, clanked and hobbbled a few hundred yards up the rest of the mountain to the first zipline.
Since you’re reading this, you know we survived. It was actually fun. The first zip,
which turned out to be the practice run was hardest, because it involved jumping off a platform. Ben said the first zip had maximum pucker factor. Once we got past the first drop off, it got easier. The last zip was 3,100 feet long. There wasn’t anyone around with a radar gun, but it felt like we were going at least a million miles an hour. I read the draft of this story to Ben, who directed me to tell you he was glad he didn’t wet his pants. I kept my eyes open the whole time, and actually took in the scenery. Our fellow zippers were all ages and sizes, and we had fun whooping and hollering encouragement. A couple people did stall on their zips; one lady started to panic and Zach talked her through the self-rescue and slid out on the line to coach her in. All three guides were patient and great fun. On the way back, Mike the bus driver busted open the coolers and passed around sodas and beers to the group. Drinking anything carbonated is a challenge when you’re being thrown around in a school bus, but we were all seasoned zip liners now, and we cheered with gusto. We faced our fears and lived! I toasted my success with a Diet Coke. That’s life on the wild side. Check out the pictures below!