Friday, July 15, 2011

I Believe I Can Fly; Actually I Did!

My wife and I have been talking about zip lining for over a year.  We had planned to do it last summer, but life got in the way, and it never made the cut.  We were determined to do it this summer.  A friend of mine recommended Empower in Middletown, Connecticut.  We checked the weather, picked a date, and made reservations for the canopy tour.  They have other tours such as scavenger hunts, team building and personal development. Total for two adults, $93.59.  Not cheap, but this is summer and my wife and I want to have fun.

We arrive and check in.  The facility is gorgeous.  There is a tidy pavilion on a well-groomed field that abuts the wooded course.   We sign a waiver that no one reads which absolves them of any and all liability.  Don’t worry, safety is paramount here. You are securely attached to a safety line at all times. 

The rest of the people in our group show up and we introduce each other.  There is a mom who woke up her two high schools boys and told them they were going zip lining today.  Surprise!  A father and son team doing the bonding thing. Three kids ages eleven through fifteen, who were with their grandmother.  Grandma is seventy-seven! Three years ago she went skydiving.  Twice! 

John and Nick are the guides/instructors--two very engaging young men.   They line us up and help us into our harnesses.  Very snug, but comfortable.  The webbing is thick and sturdy and the hardware is in good order.  The helmets are wiped down and disinfected between runs. We clip into the safety line and climb the ladder to the start platform.  Once on the platform, instruction begins.  We are told what to do for every conceivable scenario.  How to turn when you are on the zip line.  Where to place your hands.  And even what to do if you are the unlucky one who gets stuck in the middle of the zip line.  Not someplace that I want to be, so instead of my usual comments and cracks I listen intently. Nothing says stupid more than embarrassing yourself in front of a group of strangers.  Oh, the guides are taking pictures of you too! 

I’m very excited and a little nervous.  One of the guides clips in, and zip lines to the other platform.  It looks cool.   He will be catching you as you land on the platform. One by one our group gets on the zip line and goes.  My turn.  I step onto the platform, wait for the zip on signal, lift my feet and I’m flying. Wow! I start to rotate a bit, so I steer the rig and I’m back on track.  This is amazing.  I feel the warm air rushing past my face as I watch the ground whizzing by.  The platform is approaching, I stick my legs out, here it comes, smile for the camera, BAM, hit the platform, the guide grabs me and it’s over way too soon.  What a rush! My wife and I high five each other and babble about how incredible that was.  We wait for the rest of the group to finish.  

The next two zip lines are under the tree canopy.  We are flying through the forest. I think of the Star Wars scene where Luke and Leia are racing through the forest on the speeders.   It is so exhilarating. My wife is grinning from ear to ear saying, “Amazing! Fantastic! Out of Body!”  

Everybody is fist bumping, shaking hands, making jokes, calming nerves and encouraging each other.  The group of strangers is becoming a team.  A good thing too because the next stop on this journey is the Obstacle Course.  To the right--the cargo net and tightrope.  To the left--the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom style  bridge.  My wife goes for the bridge.  I opt for the cargo net.  I grew up watching World War II movies and inevitably there would be a scene of grim GI’s scrambling down a cargo net. I didn’t think too much about the tightrope.  Rookie mistake.  We’ll get to that later.

Team Bridge goes first.  My wife will pick up the narrative.  “The first bridge doesn’t appear to be too daunting since all the planks were joined together by two steel cables running through the ends on each side.  Hold on to the cable, put one foot in front of the other and go!  Just put your foot on the center bolt and walk.  Piece of cake until the next one.” 

Team Cargo Net goes next.  John, our guide, tells us how to hold it.  The key is to push your hips into the rope.  That way you aren’t putting the strain on your arms.  You want your legs to do all of the work and use your arms to stabilize yourself.  I get on, push my hips into the ropes and crab across.  The team is cheering me on, I’m making my way across, I stop, smile for the camera, and continue. I get to the other side, hit the platform and shake my head in wonder.  I just traversed a cargo net, fifty feet above the ground.  I am so amped from the adrenaline. I cheer the rest of Team Cargo Net across, yelling advice and encouragement. Everyone makes it across. 

It’s time for Team Bridge to cross the second bridge.  My wife will continue. “Bridge Two looked like a dozen swings tied to a steel cable on either side.  Not so easy.  Just put your foot on the center bolt and walk.  For people like me with short legs, the 2-foot separation between swaying planks was a stretch…stretch I did!  Nick said, “Slide your hands to the next knot, then put your foot on the plank and lift the other foot up.  Don’t put two feet on the plank at the same time or you’ll be rocking like a teeter totter.” Nick was right!  One foot on a plank at a time, slide to the next knot, keep going.  Easy for him to say.  He’s not uncoordinated like me.  Each time I lifted the back leg, the swing slammed into the heel of the front leg.  I never thought walking the plank could be so painful.  Finally, the white-knuckle event is over and I am swaying on terra-firma 50 feet above the ground.  The youngest of our group froze on the second plank.  She turned white as a ghost.  I was sure Nick would have to rescue her.  I started cheering her on and the rest of the group joined in.  Finally she had breached the divide and was safe with the rest of us.”

Team Tightrope now has to cross.  Picture this.  A twenty-five foot wire strung between two trees with ropes hung vertically, spaced every three to four feet.  Got it?  I step onto the wire, and grasp the rope.  Immediately I begin to sway. Not good.  I remember what the guide said, “hold the rope high to prevent wobbling.”  I steady myself and begin to inch my way across.  The ropes are cleverly placed just out of your grasp to make this challenging. I begin to wobble again.  I stop, take a few deep breaths, compose myself and concentrate.  I am now totally relaxed. It is a fantastic feeling when you are totally focused.  Everything is crystal clear.  It’s a zen like feeling that is similar to when I target shoot.  I block out everything and concentrate on the task at hand.  I will my way across.  Finally I hit the platform. 

Everyone finishes, and we start to come down from the adrenaline rush.  We were congratulating each other for conquering the most difficult part of our journey. We were beaming with pride because of our accomplishments. 

There are two more zip lines.  The longest is 650 feet.  I cannot wait to get back on the line.  Clip in, and take off.  Amazing!  The last line brings us back to the ground. 

  Our group forms up for one more picture, and then a short hike back to the pavilion.  We remove our gear shake hands and hug our new friends.  Sallyanne and I discreetly tip our guides for the fantastic job they did.  This was without a doubt one of the most fun times I’ve had in while.  Check it out.  I guarantee you will have a blast. 

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