A ziplining guide for those frightened of heights, those not so young, and natural cowards - in my case all three.
In a group of 8, invited by the fun-loving ladies of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism and the dynamic Delta Airlines most young enough to be my kids, I sensibly decided to sit this one out. But then pride and FOMO (fear of missing out), kicked in, and I quickly found myself here… looking down at these…..
It wasn’t signing the disclaimer that concerned me, it was stepping onto the scale – I NEVER weigh myself; but now I know I am somewhere between 70 and 250lbs, the minimum and maximum they allow and that’s as near accurate as I need!
There were two delightfully positive, enthusiastic and clearly competent guides accompanying us, and in true U.S style, they made us feel like we were the first through the door - ever. And of course there was ‘us’ and I’m such a team player, so I signed the form and stepped into my harness which fitted like supple, custom-made scaffolding – I’d never had support like it!
Taxi to the top
The initial journey was in a buggy up the forested hill to the practice area. This is a platform about 1 metre off the ground, with a zip line of about 6 metres. I learned to get hooked on with my two robust clips, which my guide took care of, and then to slide, brake and self-rescue. Self-rescue is simply damage limitation from over-braking and involves shimmying manually towards the destination platform – I paid particular attention to this instruction! First step completed - I graduated ground school!
So competent in the art of stepping up, standing still, trusting my equipment and recognising a waving arm as a sign to start braking I headed for my first high zip. The scariest part was literally that first ladder up to the first platform – at this point I considered backing out completely, thinking that it would just get worse from there on, but this was by far, the most forbidding part; and you only do it once – the rest is from platform to platform in the tree canopy. They go from about 20 to 50ft but as they are on a hill there’s often a lower side – I’d always look that way! It you don’t look down you have no idea how high you are, and as you zip from one canopy to another it’s not a sensation of falling but travelling.
There are a 2 or 3 rappels (lowering you down to the ground) which need you to lean backwards and let your head and body lower before your feet – the first one of these kicks in after several zips and to be honest it was fun and only down a few feet – the group and I grew to love these!
And a bridge or two
The course has a couple of sky bridges – you’re still hooked on as if you’re zipping so cannot possibly fall, and there are so many ropes and places to hold on to, it was confidence building and even fun.
Change of mind
Secure in the knowledge that at any point, you can opt out, there seems little need once you’re up there. The speed and length of the zips increases but not that you feel at all out of control – you can if you choose to slow yourself down anyway. Still, it's nice to know it's an option.
Building up speed
The course begins with a shortish zip. You are standing on a timber platform around a dense tree, and you are double hooked on with 2 clips that would easily bear the weight of fleets of trucks. There will always be a guide with you on your launch tree and a guide to meet you at the destination. You will be asked to step up onto a sort of launch pad which is about 18 inches high – I found the waiting the worst part and was glad to be summoned! I simply looked at my guide, put my ground school instructions into practice, allowing the harness and zipline to take my weight. There’s no leaping off into the unknown or setting off at a gallop, this is all about gravity and advancing from one point to another – I was thrilled to reach the next platform and eager to take on zip number 2.
Smiles all round
By the time we were 3 or 4 zips in, any fears had subsided and we were enjoying the thrill of travelling at speed - the longest zip enables you to reach up to 35mph - it was at this time that we began to fully appreciate our magnificent surroundings and admire the endless mountain views.
Do it again – sure would!
I’d say that the actual ziplining sensation itself was exhilarating, you see fabulous countryside, a few hawks and evidence of ground mammals. The views across the hills from some of the platforms is quite spectacular and the peaceful atmosphere and super-clean air raises your mood. Steal yourself and give it a go, whatever your age or disposition. It was one of my highlights in New England and a real sense of achievement.
Ziplining is now a popular activity across the world. This one was at Zoar Outdoor in The Berkshires, Massachusetts. It is just one of several exciting challenges alongside river rafting, canoeing and winter snow adventures.