Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Plenty of ZIP as We Mature

Blog readers who know us personally are surprised to see Vi on a zipline [click image at left for larger version]. But here is my non-athletic wife of 46 years doing just fine as she zips between trees, flying some fifty feet above the ground.

The photo is of one of the shorter of the seven zips we did in Ketchican, last week. Vi is arriving at a tree platform as our guide Katie reaches out to grab her. The second photo is of me starting a zip. You can see how far I have to go to the next tree platform.

Our zipline adventure has been the highlight of our Alaska family vacation. Two of our granddaughters and our son-in-law (their dad) accompanied us. We all had a fine time.

All of you have seen people on ziplines, but how many have actually done it?

I was amazed when Vi informed me she had signed up to join our grands on this zipline adventure. I was kind of challenged into signing up as well. Prior to and during the cruise from Vancouver Canada to Alaska, Vi continually brought up the zipline. Quite frankly, I was somewhat worried even though I am the more physically adventurous of the two of us.

As we sailed into Ketchican and debarked for the bus that would take us to Alaska Canopy Adventures [click to see more photos and info], I was very worried. First, that I would chicken out and second that Vi would have some sort of trouble.

There were seven in our group, our family plus a wonderful couple, Craig and Ann, who provided us with some great photos including the one of Vi above. We were fitted with gloves, helmets and harnesses, which turned out to be quite comfortable.

The harness fastened around the waist with loops for the legs and shoulders. The main support came up the front and connected to two pulleys, one on the bottom cable and one on the top cable. There are also two safety straps that are fastened to the cable at the tree platform or that hook to the pulley mechanism during the zip. At least one safety strap is fastened at all times.

During the zip your left hand holds the top of the pulley assembly and your right hand holds the main support (as if you were holding a microphone). We were instructed to sit with our legs raised for best aerodynamics. As we approached the target tree platform, our guide Katie would signal for us to place our right hand behind our head and gently rest it on the cable, squeezing it just enough to slow us for a nice landing. This is fine only in theory.

Both Vi and I had some bad landings and Katie really earned her pay.

The problem I had was on the first long zip, after a good ride on the short intro zip. My legs rotated to the right and I found myself going sideways. That could have affected the aerodynamics and resulted in a landing short of the target. I tried to rotate my left hand to correct the rotation, but my attempt backfired and I found myself riding backwards! (Quick, hold your left hand above your head and imagine it is on the top of the pulley assembly and your legs are rotating to the right. Which way should you rotate your hand? Well, in the excitement, I rotated it the wrong way.)

Well, here I was going full speed, but backwards, and I was unable to see the signal to put my right hand on the cable to slow down. Also, I was unsure where to safely place my hand without risking having my fingers dragged into the pulley. So I came into the target tree platform too fast and slammed into Katie who, in turn, slammed into the padding on the tree trunk. Fortunately, she has had experience with this type of landing and knew what to do to prevent any injury to either of us.

Vi had the opposite problem. When she saw Katie signal to slow down, she over-reacted and landed short of the platform. All I could see in the distance through the tree branches were her legs running in space as Katie pulled her up to the platform.

After these misadventures, both Vi and I were instructed to place our right hand over the top of our left hand on the pulley assembly (rather than in the normal "microphone" position). That helped keep our legs straight ahead during the remaining zips.

In addition to the seven zips, we also walked over a bouncy, shaky suspension bridge, repelled down 30 feet, and went down a 250 foot slide.

Here we were in a totally unfamiliar situation, flying between trees high above the ground, suspended by a pulley contraption. During the adventure, our guides were very professional and reassuring and, strangely as I think about it now, neither of us felt any fear. Yet, having done it, and enjoying having done it, I do not think I will ever do it again.

Ira Glickstein


joel said...

I'm glad to read that you and Vi have had so much fun zipping through the forest. You don't mention your kids actually zipping, (or I missed it) so I wonder whether this might be an Alaskan version of the Eskimo custom of putting the aged parents out on the ice overnight. -Joel

Ira Glickstein said...

Thanks, Joel, for your concern that our ziplining adventure may be "an Alaskan version of the Eskimo custom of putting the aged parents out on the ice overnight."

We were not alone on the zipline adventure. Two of our granddaughters and our son-in-law joined us. So, whatever danger we had of dying was shared by at least three of our younger relations.

On the other hand, I think it would be preferable if our health care system adopted some more rational, evidence-based, and cost-effective processes in caring for old and young. In particular we need to distinguish between those who have health problems that are likely to be cured and returned to normal levels of living vs those who have chronic or terminal conditions and will most likely never improve significantly. The latter should be given only hospice-type health care to make them as comfortable as possible. See my views on End of Life care

There are health states that are worse than death. However, I do not favor putting the aged, chronic, and terminal folks out on the ice to die.

We are now in Fairbanks for a couple of days and then to Seattle for a couple more and then home. This adventure has been excellent and it is great to have the family together.

Ira Glickstein

Bernie said...

Ira, that had to be an exciting experience. Vi (and you) are proof "you don't stop doing things because you're old --- your old when you stop doing things."
Glad to hear about your adventure and look forward to hearing more in person.

Kathryn said...

Wow! I'm impressed.

joel said...

You said you felt no fear, yet you don't believe you'll ever do it again. That's interesting. Joanna and I went on a hot air balloon ride in the French wine country for our anniversary twenty years ago. We felt no fear and enjoyed it immensely, but we've never done it since. I wonder what that's about. Is there a secondary fear that sets in? I there a fear that we've used up our luck in a risky situation?

Ira Glickstein said...

Yes, Joel, I think there is a "secondary fear" that sets in after the initial euphoria of being in the moment dissipates.

Rationally, I know that the only way I could have been seriously hurt was if BOTH of the cables gave way or if BOTH of the safety straps came loose, or that the double pulley contraption could have come apart or broken, etc.

However, there was a chance I could have been hurt if I came in too fast and our guide was not as adept as she happened to be, or that my glove could have got caught up in the pulley hurting my fingers, or that I might have slowed early and missed my landing by ten feet or more. That would have been embarassing and, as our guide demonstrated, I would have had to turn myself around and pulled the cable hand over hand to get myself to the landing platform. I am not sure I could have done that well -or at all- and then the guide would have had to come out an pull herself and me to safety. Those thoughts are what is fueling my "secondary fear".

As for your hot air balloon ride, Vi and I have taken two of them. One in Albuquerque and the second across the NY/PA border. We enjoyed them alot and have no "secondary fear" and would go again in an instant. Also, Vi says she would go on the zipline again. Perhaps, if I was appropriately challenged, I would go also.

Ira Glickstein

Anonymous said...

Amiable post and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thanks you for your information.

Stu Denenberg said...

I don't think it's a secondary fear setting in but rather a "been there done that" satisfaction. I loved our balloon ride in Egypt but have no strong desire to repeat the experience.

But here's my question to Ira: as you zipped along, were you able to appreciate the view or were you so "in the moment" that was not possible?

Ira Glickstein said...

Stu asks a great question: "as you zipped along, were you able to appreciate the view or were you so 'in the moment' that was not possible?"

I was totally "in the moment". It went by so fast (even the 800 foot one) that I really did not see the view. At the start, I was enjoying the feeling of free flight and the whirring "zip" sound of the pulleys on the cable, then I was concerned about holding my feet up for aerodynamics and also not rotating sideways or backwards as I had on a previous zip. Finally, as the target tree approached, I was focussed on getting my gloved hand atop the cable and squeezing just enough to slow down for an easy landing. So, no, I did not "enjoy the view" while zipping.

Fortunately, we had a fair amount of time atop the tree platforms, while waiting for the other zippers and the first guide to arrive from the previous platform, and the second guide and the zippers ahead of us to fly to the next platform. During that time, and watching the others zip, we certainly had a chance to really enjoy the view, look for wildlife, and so on.

You mention hot air balooning. Vi and I have taken two flights. The first was a round-trip in Alburquerque (taking advantage of winds of different directions in a canyon) with about a dozen in a large gondola balloon with dozens of other balloons nearby.

The second was from Binghamton NY to some place in Pennsylvania, with a half-dozen others in a relatively small balloon. In both cases, I felt totally at ease and enjoyed the view the whole time. The landing of the second balloon was spectacular! We came down in a farm field not too far from the house and three husky farmers came out to horse the gondola to a clearing, help us get out, and invite us into the house where we were served coffee and cake. I was a "gentleman farmer" (sheep) at the time and they gave me a tour of their barn! The farmers had no idea we were coming. They were honored that the air currents had brought us into their world. It took a while for our chase car to find us and we settled in with the farmers like long-lost relatives. I would definitely take another balloon flight!

Ira Glickstein