Sunday, October 18, 2009

You Must Zip It (Roanoke, Va)

Above: Preparing to take a zip line into darkness on Saturday night

Above: Still alive at the bottom with some fellow zip-liners from McLean Bible Church

Above: Playing the Partridge Family with host family Sunday night - Brendan (left) and Mitchell (right). Not pictured - their mom Laura, band photographer

There are a few things I didn't think I would get to experience on this trip. Near the top of that list would have been "take a zipline 900ft down a mountain into the pitch black night while screaming like a little girl". But life is full of surprises. Given that I can't predict them, the least I can do is go with the flow.

That is the mantra I was repeating to myself as I climbed up the side of a mountain on a moonless night with zip line gear thrown around my neck. My host for the weekend Laura and her two sons Mitchell and Brendan were with me, quietly marching up like turkeys to the slaughter. When we reached the top the attendant asked us who would like to go first. Silence. I wish I could say that I boldly stepped up to the plate, chivalrously volunteering to test out the line's strength for the woman and teenagers in my group. Instead I looked around awkwardly and blew a sigh of relief when 15-year-old Mitchell said, "I'll go first."

I jumped at going second, now suddenly Ponce de la Garth. As I stood on the wood frame with Mitchell poised to go off, I was hyper alert of everything going on. I knew that 900 feet below lay the braking cable and a small group of people waiting to come up. I knew that only because I had just been down there. From where we stood, there was only darkness.

Mitchell went off and all I could hear was the whir of the zip line for about 15 long seconds before the sound of the bungee break came wafting back up the mountain. I guess he didn't die. That was good news. Now it was my turn. The attendant repeated his checks and cross checks, attached me to the line and I turned around for the "I'm going to smile and look like I'm not anxious at all" photo op. I was told to step off on the count of three. "On three or after three" I wanted to ask but he was already counting and the line got taut right at three and sent me barrelling into the darkness.

It felt like I hit the maximum speed of 35mph about 1.2 seconds after taking off. The speed and the cold air and the dark night was exhilarating. Once I realized I wouldn't be falling to my death I gave out a few rebel yells on my way down to punctuate the experience.

At the bottom I was unhitched and got to wait around with some of the other guys waiting to zip down. There was a group from the McLean Bible Church and between lightening the mood with movie quotes and good-natured kidding some of them asked me about my walk cross country. If only there were a zip line to New Orleans, I could get this trip in the books much quicker.

Laura and Brendan also made it down without incident and we were hay-rided back to the main lodge for cookies and hot chocolate. Many thanks to the folks at Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing for making sure I didn't die and we all had a good time. If you find yourself lost in the mountains east of Roanoke, follow the screaming and you might find their zip line. They're good people.


I met Laura and her boys through the couchsurfing website which has turned out to be a real boon for me in Virginia. I stayed with them for two nights instead of one so I could work in a rest day on Sunday. My rest days are important because they are my opportunity to sleep in a little bit, catch up on email, try and contact potential hosts for weeks to come and give my tired feet a chance to recuperate from the rigors of the road.

After my experience with the cold last week I wanted to gear up a bit better. Laura took me into downtown Roanoke and I bought some new North Face pants, long johns and gloves just in case an another arctic high pressure mass decides to walk a few days with me in the coming months. After that I got a free therapeutic massage (Laura's a CMT) to add to the free chiropractic adjustment I received in New Jersey and then the whole crew capped the night off with a viewing of Where The Wild Things Are at the local Grandin Theater.

I can't say it was my favorite movie ever but I enjoyed how its themes challenged me. Max and I don't have the same anger management problem, but we are both caught up in adventures of our own makings - sojourns that exist in part to teach us valuable lessons about the importance of home, of friends and family. If you don't count the bed bugs drunk on my blood in Opal, I haven't encountered any external Wild Things on my trip. The wild things for me, when they exist, are in my mind. They are my fears - loneliness, worry, fatigue, failure, having nowhere to stay - and they come out and rumpus from time to time. To silence them I need not sail through night and day, and in an out of weeks and almost over a year. I simply have to stop living in an imagined future and enjoy what is happening to me right now ... like I did when I was hurtling down an unknown mountain with only a zip line to support me. That's being forced to live in the Present. And it is a lesson well taken. Thanks Laura, Mitchell and Brendan.