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September 24, 2018

Fear of Ziplining

I’m afraid of heights. Used to close my eyes on roller coasters but got over that. Once crawled all the way around the metal porch at the top of a lighthouse we were visiting because I was too terrified to stand up.

“Do you want to try ziplining?” Mary asked.

“Uh…”

For my 75th birthday, Mary arranged a five-day, 140-mile bicycle trip on a rail trail called Le Petit Train du Nord in nearby Quebec.

Railtrail

Notice that Mont-Tremblant is in the middle of the journey. Since we’re tourists on bikes and not bikers on a tour, we decided we’d take a day off in the middle and explore the ski area. So what should we do on our day off? I had some nerding to do in the morning and Mary went out to reconnoiter.

“Well, do you want to try the zipline?”

“I guess,” I said. Maybe we won’t be able to get a reservation, I thought.

No such luck. There was a tour leaving in ten minutes. Five separate zips. The longest such torture course in Quebec. “Can we just do the last short one? We’ve never done this before.”

C'est impossible.” The cruelest words in French.

“Is there an age limit?”

“You have to be seven or above.” She sold us senior tickets. How’s that for an oxymoron? senior tickets on a zipline. Below is us on the first platform before the first short zip – but one that takes you to 90km/hour (60mph) and 300 feet over an abyss.

Zipplatform

I’m much more scared than Mary if you can’t tell. In her right hand is a little metal car which a friendly guide places on the cable you see behind my left shoulder. It is attached to the harness by the blue and yellow straps hanging down from Mary’s waist. The gate I’m leaning on opens. You walk down four terrifying steps which project into space; there is no fifth step.

Steps

You lean back into your harness. You lift up your legs… The picture below is not me; it’s from a brochure.

Harness

Whoosh. Sixty mph is really fast. In theory you don’t need to hold on. I have a death grip on the blue and yellow straps. Oh, no. I’m spinning around and going backwards. Bang; the metal car hits a brake at the other end where the catenary of the cable turns up towards the low platform and clips in. A guide either slows you down or reels you in the rest of the way.

“The next one is much longer.”

“Each one is longer than the last,” says a fellow victim who’d done her homework.

I was still plenty scared. However, it seemed that people who held on to a black handle where the straps attach to the car didn’t spin. This time I had a death grip on the black handle. Sixty mph for 3000 feet is a long time; but I didn’t spin.

“The wind is against us on the next zip. You can’t hold onto the black handle. You also need to draw your legs up into what we call the cannonball so you’ll go faster.”

“What if we don’t?”

“You won’t make it to the other end.”

Mary and I did as we were told. Sure enough, I spun. But that just left me back to the wind so I could see without my eyes tearing. Actually wasn’t so bad.

But one woman didn’t obey orders. She ended dangling from the low point in the cable. A guide hooked his car on the same cable and went out hand-over-hand to her; clipped onto her; and hauled her up hand-over hand to the platform. Would have been ignominious.

The competence of the guides (from a company called ZipTrek Ecotours) made it much less scary than it would’ve been otherwise. They clipped us in, reeled us in, and helped us unclip and were meticulous in explaining what to do and in safety checks for every zip.

By the fifth zip, I let go with both hands.

Volia! and Merci, Marie for making me do it.

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