Zipping Through the Treetops

Jim finishes up the final zip lineSue and George come down the zip line togetherI rested my left hand on the trolley which, in turn, rested on the steel cable above my head. Making sure the thick leather padding in the glove of my right hand was straight; I rested it on top of my left hand. At George’s say so, I let my weight rest in the harness encircling my hips and thighs. Then George eased the tension on the strap connected to the back of my harness and I slid three feet down the cable. George called, “Ready?” “Ready,” I answered and George jumped from the platform. Together we rushed down the zip line. As we flew through the forest, the sound of our trolleys on the steel cable rose and rose in pitch as we zipped along.

The thrill of speed became my world.

“Get ready to brake,” called George. Slipping my right hand in its heavily padded glove back, onto the cable above my head, I pressed down. We slowed, we rose, the thrum of the trolleys on the cable dropped in pitch. “Platform . . . platform now,” called George. I raised my legs to clear the platform and Blue received me, helping me get my feet back under me.

We were on the zip line course with Wildwater Adventures in the Nantahala Gorge. Slightly edited from their web site at:
Nantahala Gorge Canopy Tours offers 13 different zip lines and 8 bridges. We have added 2 more zip lines and 2 more bridges to include platforms with views of Clingman’s Dome, Fontana Lake and waterfalls. Soar out to the point for the highest platform, then on to the highest tree with unbelievable views. One more zip takes you to a bridge and the final 2 zips. A zip line canopy tour is a soaring and gliding experience naturally fueled by a gradual elevation change. More than a zip line ride, NGCT takes you through multiple ecosystems, past hemlocks, into hardwoods and through a deciduous forest packed with native flowering plants such as mountain laurel, dogwood, rhododendron, giant Frazier magnolia, rare umbrella magnolia, silver bells and many more. This three-hour experience gives you air time with:
• Training and practice on easier zip lines first – Ground School
• 13 zip line sections, the longest and most exciting in Nantahala Gorge
• Over 20 scenic acres alternating between slope side, trees and elevated platforms
• 8 Aerial, swinging Bridges
• 4 Tandem Zips
• Soar over 1 mile with 50 mile mountain views, waterfall views & view of Fontana Lake
• Walk the Green Mile, the Burma Road, fly into the Slingshot and soar into the Bermuda Triangle
Sounds pretty amazing doesn’t it? And it was. The day before we wanted to do the Canopy Tour we entered the airy office and approached the desk. We had only a tiny bit of experience with zip lines and were wondering if someone who is blind could do the tour. We spoke with Lee. He thought out loud for a few and then said, “The difficult, I can accomplish immediately. The improbable might take me a few minutes.” We gave him our cell number and departed.

The next day, as instructed, we showed up at 2:30. To our delight, the first person we saw was Mary Kit. We had met her at the restaurant where we had dinner a couple of nights earlier. When she overheard us talking about zip lining over dinner she had come over, introduced herself and told us about the Canopy Tour with Wildwater Adventures. She had mentioned that her boyfriend, Blue, would be happy to take us on the tour. And sure enough, Blue was there. Introductions were made. Two others completed the party, George, who was going to be my escort, and Matthew, Mary Kit’s son.
We began by gearing up. The equipment was far more sophisticated than any climbing equipment I’d ever seen. Webbing straps encircled my hips and thighs and came up over my shoulders. George helped me get everything situated while Blue explained the complicated harness, the two “yellow tails,” and the trolley. We all donned helmets and gloves and headed out to “ground school.” One by one we traveled a short zip line and learned how to brake, meaning the right hand in a heavily padded glove was slipped back on the cable and downward pressure was applied, thus allowing for a decrease in speed.

Then we all trooped up the hill and climbed to the first platform. Blue went first so that he’d be on the platform at the end of the line ready to receive us and help us get safely on the platform. The first four lines were tandem, meaning there were two zip lines, side by side. Mary Kit and Matthew went next, Then Jim on the right line and George and me on the left line. “Wahoo!” I yelled as the thrill of unfettered speed took me over. At each platform, George and Blue assisted the rest of us, transferring one “yellow tail” at a time, from the cable we were leaving to the new cable. They were so utterly calm and competent that it never occurred to me to be afraid.

At each platform, either Blue, George, or Jim would point out a plant or a tree in the forest. “The Mountain Laurel down there is in full bloom.” “There’s one of the Umbrella Magnolias.” “Look, over there, it’s Clingman’s Dome. It’s been in cloud all day until now.” I appreciated the running commentary of the sights. I have visual memories of all of those things, tactual memories of many of them, and I love creating a visual image of my surroundings.

The final line was over 600 feet long and Lee was at the end, snapping pictures. That last line seemed to go on forever! As George and I approached Lee and his camera, George said, “There’s Lee, on your left.” I suppose I had pretty much had a huge grin on my face most of the afternoon and Lee captured that look as I waved and whooped.

Thanks to Lee, Blue, George, and Mary Kit. Thanks to Wildwater Adventures. You guys never batted an eyelash when a blind woman wandered in and asked if there was a way she could do your zip line tour.

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