Yikes, there I was on a platform hugging a maple tree 40 feet up. Pretty weird for a maple sugar-maker who prefers his “tree intimacy” at ground level.
“C’mon Burr, you can do it,” my buddy Todd Paton said. Todd manages the visitor center over at Rock of Ages quarry.
“Easy for you t’say Todd,” I thought. “At your workplace, folks commonly dangle over a 600-foot hole in the ground from a thin cable. They also make gravestones, something I may need real soon!”
Although I’m tethered securely and in the hands of true professionals, my teeth are chatterin’ and I will not let go of that tree.
Besides Todd, I was with four other friends, all board members of the Vermont Attractions Association. I’ve been on that board for some 20 years now and keep “re-upping” because it’s such a great group and we work well together.
We hold a “retreat” every summer at some interesting member attraction. This summer, it was Arbortrek Canopy Adventures over at Smuggler’s Notch Ski Resort. Michael Smith, president of Arbortrek, had graciously invited up to nine of us to try the zip line and I, cheap old Yankee who would sign up for a rap session in a lions’ den if it was free, signed up.
Our meeting started at 10 a.m. with a pleasant bag lunch break at noon. My thoughts were solely on VAA business until a little before 2 p.m., an Arbortrek worker came to get our group for orientation. It was only then that what I had signed up to do started to “sink in.”
I, Burr Morse, Yankee, am also a card-carrying member of the “total chicken” club.
There are two things that most frighten me, heights and speed, and a haunting premonition shouted that the zip line I was about to ride offered both in mountainous proportions.
The six of us were led to a room where we met Stephanie and Chris, two twenty-something kids who would be in charge of our well-being for the next two and a half hours. They fitted us with harnesses, hard hats, and thick leather gloves. I wondered why the leather gloves were necessary in 90-degree heat but I would find out. Oh, boy, would I ever find out!
We next walked a short distance to a practice zip line. Although the practice zip was a “piece of cake,” my haunting premonition followed me right into the Arbortrek van.
A quiet 10-minute ride up steep gravel roads did nothing to assuage my dread: ”What goes up must come down. Damn you, Newton!”
We got to the starting point, disembarked from the van and walked toward a distant ground-level platform.
Once on the platform, Stephanie and Chris briefed us on what lay ahead. They explained that each new zip line (eight in all) would present unique qualities, but would basically get faster, higher, and more difficult. Our thick leather gloves, they said, would be our brakes.
”You’ll be going fast but toward the end of the run, you’ll be signaled to slow down. Put your left hand against the cable and friction will lower your speed.”
My query about braking the whole way brought a resounding “No!” Although the cables are strung downhill, they sag slightly from station to station. Without sufficient speed, the zippee, or in my case, a 185-pound wimp, would be left stranded 40 feet in the air helplessly upside-down. (They had covered the antidote for this in our orientation but I knew it was nothing I wanted to be part of.)
I, close to the melting point, knew that this was my chance to bail out; I could make an embarrassed apology and get back into the van, or press on. I looked beyond Stephanie, our lead guide, at the 200-foot length of cable going to the next station. In a way not unlike “Little Red Riding Hood” I impulsively decided to press on.
The first zip was not too bad because of the ground level that we started from. We all zipped to station number two where, “yikes,” we were 40 feet up in the maple tree I was hugging when this story began!
In my 10-year history as a columnist, I’ve never written a serial but I’m out of space and going to leave you hanging till my next installment in two weeks. After all, the best of my story is yet to come.
And speaking of hanging, yes, they finally coaxed me away from that maple tree, so here I am about to be hanging upside down from a high wire and heading through the tree tops like a “bat outa hell.” I inch toward the edge, say my hundredth silent prayer and step off.
So, until next time, Goodbyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeee.
Burr Morse lives in East Montpelier.
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