Mighty Life List
Sep 30 2009

Go Zip-Lining? Check.

So last week, before the paragliding fiasco, I went zip-lining. Melissa and I were supposed to go in Puerto Rico, but then one of you mentioned in comments that there was a newish operation nearby in Santa Cruz. I decided I’d rather zipline through Redwoods, so we signed up with Mount Hermon.

zipmaggie

I called Evany to see if she wanted to come along.

- Do you want to go zip-lining with me?
- What?
- Wanna go zip-lining in Santa Cruz?
- Is this a life list thing?
- Yes.
- What does zip-lining entail?
- I do not know.
- Hmm. I don’t know if I can be away from Desi for the day, I’m nursing.
- Bring the baby. We’ll strap him to you.
- OK.

Then the folks at Mount Hermon were all, “You cannot strap a newborn baby to you while you’re zip-lining six stories above the ground.” And we were all over Twitter like, “MT. HERMON HATES BABIES!”

Oh, but I kid. Evany’s husband Marco came along for baby support, so Evany could feed Desi and still live life on her own terms. Boo-yah.

zipmarco

She fed the baby, and then Max and Jon (our instructors) strapped us into our harnesses. That may be the kinkiest sentence I’ve ever typed.

zipjonmax

I was impressed by Evany’s willingness to do something so daring right after going through labor. New moms tend to be mortality aware, and Desi was very concerned for our well being.

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Speaking of mortality, let’s revisit the six-stories-up concept. Once again, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I pictured some roadside operation with a little cable strung between two trees, and people zooping back and forth ten feet off the ground. Zoop. Zoop! Sort of like the training course, but slightly higher.

zipmaggiezoop

I realize my ignorance has become a running theme with these sportier adventures, and my reasoning is thus: If I were to research these things beforehand, I would not go. I’d simply spend a few weeks obsessing over what could go wrong, and I’d eventually decide adventures were for stupid people. Then I’d snuggle up with a down comforter to read back issues of The New Yorker until I grew old and withered — which sounds rather pleasant, actually.

zipbrake

At any rate, that’s how I found myself on a platform contemplating the surprising chasm below. Surprise!

zipchasm

Actually, it doesn’t look as threatening in the photo, but that’s only because you can’t see the giant teeth lining the edges. In real life, it looks more like this:

zipstarwars

Intellectually I knew I was safe. They let ten-year-olds zip-line, because it’s difficult to seriously damage yourself. At every point, you’re double-hooked to cables so strong that they’d shear an old-growth redwood in half before they snapped. I was safe, but my spine begged to differ. My spine thought we should go find a nice glass of warm milk and see what was on the History Channel.

I peeked over the edge of the platform.

zipjaws

If I hadn’t signed a contract with Intel saying I wanted to do this (for fun! for kicks!), if Evany had not been equally terrified but holding her ground, it’s possible I would have walked away.

Instead, my medulla was throbbing like a dental drill. I tried to fight the vertigo with Zenlike thoughts. I am well. I am healthy. I am whole. I am plummeting to my death.

Evany went first, and I couldn’t watch. When Max told me the line was clear, I closed my eyes, let out a low whine, and stepped off the edge.

zipterror

I could feel the wind on my face and hear the cord humming, so I peeked to see my feet dangling above the abyss. Bad idea. I closed my eyes.

About half way across I started to relax. I felt strangely light, like I was flying. It was exceptional. I opened my eyes again and my keening turned into laughter.

Then the next platform was heading at me like a bullet, so I grabbed the cable with my hand and stopped a few feet shy. I had to do what they call a self rescue, which involves dangling with your back to a chasm while you pull yourself hand over hand to the next platform. It’s a treat.

ziprescue

There were six or seven lines on the course, plus an air bridge, and after that first zip, both Evany and I relaxed considerably. I felt the most vertigo and distress on the platforms, perhaps because my brain kept trying to balance so I wouldn’t “fall.”

zipbridge

Every time I left the platform, I had to disregard my terror. I felt my heart in my mouth, swallowed it, and stepped off the edge. Once I was moving, my body understood the physics involved, and I could fly. Evany said, “Next time, we should bring capes.”

The day made me braver, and more secure in my ability to tell the difference between actual risk and perceived risk. I have never been so afraid of something — with the possible exception of labor — and done it anyway. If you’re anywhere near a zip-line, I hope you’ll try it. It will change your subconscious.

Here’s to fewer falling nightmares, and more flying dreams.

I’m profoundly grateful to the team at Intel for sponsoring my Mighty Life List. They paid for this zip-lining tour, and now all of them have to go.