Fearless flying on a zipline

Friday July 13, 2012

If you’re wondering if you can do a zipline this summer, you can. And the new Adventure Center at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., is a perfect place to prove that. Spending an afternoon flying fearlessly through the treetops is every bit as fun as it sounds, especially if you are lucky enough to be at least apprehensive, if not downright scared of heights.

My sweetheart, Marilyn, and I have zipped a number of times before. This time, I wanted to share the experience with people who had never had done it. Hopefully, one of them would be at least nervous. So she and I assembled our own little group. A number of our friends (you know who you are!) had initially signed on, then waffled and finally wussed out. Sad, very sad.

We ended up with a group of six: Us, Marilyn’s godchildren Ryan and Erin, one of my sons, Justin, and his girlfriend Louisa, who is, it turns out, scared of heights. Zippers travel in packs of eight and we were joined by Tammy and Denise, who, much to my delight, were seriously "concerned" about the elevation of this adventure. They were great to
have along!

All zipline adventures start with signing your life away on a release form (which seems silly, since the most dangerous part of the adventure was driving to get there), then you are outfitted with a harness and a helmet. Your guides check you every step of the way as you gear up.

The harnesses at Sunapee are the most elaborate I’ve ever seen, with shoulder straps to keep you from falling out in the very unlikely event you ever ended up upside down (not that you could fall out of a properly-worn waist harness).

The harnesses are equipped with a heavy-duty roller block attached by a stout strap (the kind used to hoist heavy cargo), and two heavy duty safety lines with locking carabiners. Serious overkill -- I think this setup would hold a grand piano. You also wear a helmet. On some zipline setups you need gloves, but not on Sunapee’s.

Then it’s out to the chairlift for a pleasant ride up South Peak (Sunapee’s learning area in the winter). At the top, you walk a hundred yards to the start of the first zipline. One guide waits at the bottom as you climb up a cargo net to reach the first platform (about 10 feet up), where the second guide clips you onto the safety lines.

When everyone’s safely on the platform, one of the guides zips across to show you how it’s done, then the first zipper is clipped (and clipped, and clipped) on to the line. Your guide gives you the OK. From there it’s all downhill (and really fun) on seven different ziplines, two suspension bridges and two rappels (they lower you from one platform to another by rope.)

Everyone was pumped up on adrenaline for the first zip. Some were scared but everyone did it, of course. By the second zip, everyone’s still pumped, but the nervous grimaces have given way to huge grins. And so it goes, down the mountain. By the end, it’s the people
who were most scared who are having the most fun. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get
out and enjoy! The zip experience

At Sunapee, you travel the zipline course with two guides. One guide clips you onto the lines, double-checking everything for you. You aren’t allowed to even touch any of the gear yourself. The other guide is there at the end of the zip to catch you, help you onto the platform and make sure all your safety lines are always clipped. Some of the other ziplines and aerial adventures I’ve been on, especially in Canada, require you to take much more responsibility for your personal safety.

The first line is the toughest for anyone who is feeling nervous. The guide clips you on, then it’s up to you to launch yourself. Taking that first leap off the platform is an act of will. Sunapee’s ziplines have automatic brakes at the end which slow you down before you reach the end platform so you glide in for a gentle landing.

Tammy, Denise and Louisa all were clearly nervous, not knowing what to expect. They had a bigger hurdle to leap to get their feet off that first platform, but the smiles at the end said it was worth it. The rest of us had zipped before, done rock climbing or aerial tricks on skis and were comfortable with heights -- at least in our conscious brains. Your more primitive synapses still feel the thrill.

Gradually you learn to trust the guides and the equipment, so the fear disappears but the fun doesn’t.

Double zip

The last zipline, the longest at 1,000 feet, is a double where you can race someone. (Hint: Get a running start, tuck into a cannonball to present less surface area to the wind and it appeared to me the right hand line was a tiny bit faster than the left).

This double zipline is available as a stand-alone ride if you don’t want to do the whole course.

Mark your calendar July 28

Need an excuse to get out paddling? On July 28, the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (www.northernforestcanoetrail.org) is holding its third annual 740 Miles in One Day event! Just register, paddle anywhere on the 740-mile trail for an hour or all day, one mile or many, solo or with a group, in canoes, kayaks (or even row boats), them email them with your mileage (two people, five miles = 10 miles). It will be added to the collective total.

They’ve totaled more than 2,500 miles in the past two years combined and are secretly hoping to shatter that in one day. The more miles the merrier!

The website has some recommended paddle spots if you aren’t familiar with the trail.

Tim Jones is the executive editor of the online magazine EasternSlopes.com and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email: timjones@easternslopes.com.


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