Camp Meeker Beat - October 2011
I’ve been itching to write this column for months. First, I had to complete the journalistic legwork – and what with one thing and another, it wasn’t getting done. Well, at last the hard grubby grunt-work is complete. I have gone zip-lining.
That’s right: this is the column where I give you the skinny on Sonoma Canopy Tours. You’ve been walking the trails and hearing the giddy screams of delight emanating from somewhere over your head in the indefinite middle distance. You’ve been eying those deliciously rickety-looking rope bridges and wondering what it’s all about. You’ve heard that it involves something called “zip-lining”. Your friends raved about that when they came back from Costa Rica or Mendocino or something. It sounds great, but also kind of scary. Is there some kind of skill involved? What happens if I screw up? That sort of thing.
If that’s the case, I’m your man. That was exactly my experience, and my apprehensions, before I went on the Sonoma Canopy Tours website (www.sonomacanopytours.com) and reserved a spot. We all met in the Alliance Redwoods parking lot in that little bus stop-looking place. My co-adventurers were also rookies, except for that one guy who did it that one time. Two couples, a friendly group of three, and me. We piled in the back of their shuttle truck, feeling just a little bit like GI’s in the WW2 movies riding one of those lumbering covered troop trucks to the front lines. The tension was further accentuated by the grinning pit bull racing doggedly (sorry about that) behind the truck, threatening at any moment to leap upon and devour us. Okay, cover us in slobbery dog kisses, but you know what I mean.
We then geared up while nervously watching helmeted adventurers arriving at a tiny platform very, very high up in the trees. That’s when the first “oh god, what have I gotten myself into?” thoughts started, followed closely by plenty of nervous jokes. Our guides, Molly and Luke, calmly walked us through the gearing up process. The gist: don’t touch the shiny things.
Our next stop was the baby zip-line, where we got to try out what we’d learned. It turns out that doing is easier than hearing. You hang almost perfectly balanced in your harness. Your hands are resting on the pulley mechanism, but that is merely to keep them out of the way. You’re really not using those arm muscles much at all, except to gently correct your heading if you start yawing side to side a little (and that’s all it took, a gentle twist of the wrists). The only other required skill is braking, which involves placing your sturdily-gloved hand in a salute posture and applying it, brake-shoe style, to the cable in the designated spot behind your pulley. That’s it! Everything else is “enjoy the ride!”
I will admit that the enjoyment was well-tempered with a few butterflies at first. The ground looks absurdly far away, and the platform you will be resting on absurdly tiny. Remember the guides and their shiny things? Those shiny things clip you securely to the tree and/or the zip line cable 100 percent of the time. 200 percent almost, because usually you have two shiny things attaching you to the tree, and the only people handling the shiny things are professionally trained guides. Of course, there is a time lag between your brain telling you you are 100% safe, and your body agreeing with the sentiment. The first baby zip line had my palms sweaty in my gloves, and although I was securely clipped on to the tree I kept a weather hand on the cable at all times, just to be sure. I don’t consider myself acrophobic, but boy it looked a long way down. The next zip line had us on a redwood, which (unlike the stalwart Doug Fir) tends to sway gently in the breeze. Yikes!
Then the real fun started. By the time you’ve done it two or three times, you realize there is nothing to it. Let go and fly like a red-tailed hawk through the treetops. We did a fast zip and a really, really LONG zip, and now WE were the ones screaming and laughing with joy on our tiny platform in the trees, looking down on the slightly terrified rookies gearing up on the ground below. Then we got to climb the spiral staircase and cross the bridges. Yes, clipped in 200 percent of the time by Luke and Molly, our able guides. While being absolutely crisp and methodical about safety procedures, they were also friendly and entertaining tour guides to the canopy. The hours, you will pardon one last pun, flew by!