I recently attended a conference in Vancouver that was, in part, sponsored by Tourism Vancouver. They were also good enough to offer a variety of complimentary day tours before the start of the conference, including the one I chose, the North Shore Combo with the tour company Landsea Tours & Adventures.
Included in this day tour were the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Capilano Cliffwalk and an expedition to the still snowy Grouse Mountain. I mostly knew what to expect from the day, but the one thing I didn’t expect was to be flung across a mountain in a foggy, snowy haze.
Let me back up and say that I have a small issue with heights. It’s not a consistent, all consuming fear, instead it seems to be situational. For example, I have no problem ascending the tallest building in the world for a view from the observation deck, but if I have to climb a ladder at home I start shaking. It’s weird, I know, but what can you do. Given this hit or miss fear, I was anticipating some issues on my “Conquer Your Fear of Heights” Tour in Canada.
The first couple of tests were fine, not my favorite experiences, but fine. The real activity that threatened to push me to my limit was zip lining.
As we took the skylift up Growse Mountain, the first thing I noticed was, well, nothing actually. The fog was a thick blanket over the mountain and it was impossible to see more than a few inches away. As we stepped off the lift, my feet crunched in a long since forgotten meteorological phenomenon, snow. It was June, but there was still plenty of snow on the mountain and, according to the employees, there was even weekend skiing on Growse.
Much to my surprise, we were offered the chance to zip line in the questionable weather, an opportunity I knew I couldn’t pass up.
While we were getting outfitted, the trusty guides led us through some safety precautions. Nothing abnormal about that, but my ears perked when I heard the phrase, “…protect your neck from impact…”
Whoa! I was expecting a nice, albeit exciting, flying adventure through the Canadian tree tops. I wasn’t expecting to engage in an activity that would put life and limb at risk.
I started to get concerned, but decided to let it go. The one or two butterflies in my stomach turned into a flutter as I approached the first zip line. I was the last one to go and I was scared. I looked down and while the drop wasn’t life threatening, it surely wouldn’t be a pleasant experience to fall. Before I could object, I was flying through the tree tops.
It was amazing. Although the first line was brief, the sensation of flying was like none other I’ve experienced. Then it all stopped with a sudden and violent thud. Literally, we slammed into the end of the line with full force. I began to understand why the guides had us crouch into a breaking position at the end of the first line.
I was a little shaken, but otherwise fine. As we walked towards the second of three lines the guides increased their insistence that we be careful as the next line was the “most intense” of the day. Doubt and worry both began to creep in as I looked at the decidedly longer fall to the ground from the platform.
We were told to extend our hands and legs in order to slow ourselves down and to make sure to brace for impact. Once again, terms that were in direct conflict with my notion of zip lining as a fun, but harmless activity.
Once again I was last and once again I was nervous. Someone asked if I was ready, I gave a meek reply and I was off.
I honestly did try to extend my arms and legs, but I’m tall and the trees were close and I was worried about catching a limb. So, in an unconscious move of protection, I kept my limbs in and started gaining speed. A lot of speed. In the few seconds I had to think, I started to get worried. The guide’s warnings started careening about my head and all I could think to do was to assume the breaking position. My mistake was how far in advance I decided to assume the defensive posture and, without realizing it, I had turned myself into a bullet racing towards the end of the zip line at full speed.
Like a bullet, I hit with maximum impact. Without too much exaggeration, it felt like what I imagine hitting a brick wall feels like, except that I did indeed survive. The first few moments after impact I was in shock. My brain couldn’t process the speed with which I hit the end of the line and then I started to get angry.
That wasn’t just a mild mannered stop, that was a violent end to what should have been a fun experience. Was some of it my own fault? Yes, you bet, but I really feel like the guides should have done a better job preparing us for what the experience was really like. I was shaking as I left the line area, both from fear as well as anger. My back started to hurt and the headache was immediate. I went on to complete the zip line experience, but it was with a lot of trepidation and fear.
Looking back at the day, I did in fact enjoy my first zip line experience and I am, sort of, looking forward to trying it again. More than just flying through the tree tops on Growse Mountain, it was a surreal experience to soar through the foggy mountain range, snow on the ground and who knows what ahead. Next time though, I’ll make sure to bring some Advil.
Photos courtesy of Dawn Lyon, LyonShare Communications