If flying through the air on little more than a thread sounds threatening, walking off the ledge of a 150-foot tree is an assault to the senses.
My knees quiver as I step up one, two, three stairs closer to the wire fastened high on the tree, then I teeter on tippy toes as the guide clicks the latch from my waist to the line. My eyes are squeezed shut, though I can feel my heart doing its best to drop down into my stomach for solace. My head spins a little as I catch the slightest glimpse of the sky around me. This high up, you can hardly even smell the pine of the trees – or if I could, that sense has already fainted.
“All set!” my guide tells me and his walkie talkie at the same time. He beams as he monkeys himself out of my way, leaving nothing but space around me.
For a moment, I think of changing my mind, but despite myself, my feet are already following instructions and stepping towards a great precipice of nothing but a blurry green backdrop and air. If this doesn’t hold me, I envision a five-second drop to my death. But if all goes well …
I am flying.
Wind gusts past my face, and a shriek escapes my mouth, two seconds too late. I gasp. My legs instinctively relax into the harness, and I blast through the zipline in a few watery blinks. Smack! My line hits the bumper break at the end of the cable, and the next thing I know, another guide is pulling me in.
“How was that?” she asks with a hopeful smile. I wonder what my face must look like as I breathe out one word: “awesome.”
Jonathan Heerema of Adrena LINE Zipline Adventure Tours says he sees at least one person every month who comes out specifically to beat fears.
“If we can get people up there, on the training line, most of the time they’re shocked at how easy it is, and they love it,” Heerema says. “Then, we can’t get them to quit.”
Case in point: my mother. To celebrate her impending birthday, my mom decides to join me on the adventure, adding a new fear to my own – how will she do? She watches the preview videos in the waiting room before we suit up, and I can see her starting to swallow a little more rapidly. By the time the guides help her adjust the GoPro camera on her helmet, only a slight shake to her voice betrays her – she looks every bit as hardcore as the experienced guides. And, through a little trepidation, she launches off the lines, one after another, with growing confidence and even a few backbends.
While Heerema points out that the adventure group hosts all ages from young kids to over 90-year-olds, zipliners must have two working arms and be able to move themselves between lines. For those with a phobia that doesn’t back down, there is an escape route, but it could mean a long hike down a steep hill.
Which brings up the scariest part of the experience: The MOG. The military-grade all terrain vehicle takes tourists on a hairy, 10-minute ride up the private mountain that will become the entrance to the zipping experience. Even though the course is nestled in 100 acres of lush forest in the Sooke Hills, the coastal temperate rainforest, token old-growth trees and magnificent mountain and ocean views can get lost in the anticipation of what’s to come.
What isn’t lost is the knowledge that, within the two-hour course, you will be riding at speeds of up to 60 kilometres an hour as you soar up to 150 feet off the ground on eight lines, ranging in length from 150 feet to an unforgettable 1,000 feet. Oh, and there’s a bonus suspension bridge thrown in there just to make sure you have ample opportunity to break your fear of heights – and tippy things.
“What’s amazing is seeing the people who come to us with comments like ‘I’m really afraid of heights, is this safe for me?’ Of course it’s safe for you – it’s safe for everyone, but working that out in our brains can be the challenge,” says Heerema.
My mom and I meet the climax of the course together – the 1,000-foot line that threatens to have you whizzing through the air for about 45 seconds. We exchange nervous glances on the slim pole balcony, take one last photo for good measure, and each, in turn, utter the magic word: ready.
“Waaahooooo!” I hear my mom call as first she, and then I, disappear into the sky.
– Due to technical difficulties, Danielle Pope’s ziplining video is unavailable.