Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just Zip it!

I think both men and women have suffered the fleeting embarrassment of an open zipper at one time or another. Although very exhilarating (depending on the season), I doubt your exposure would compare to the pure joy, excitement and freedom of a “Zip line tour” and amusement rides popping up all over the U.S.

Wow, I’m sorry for the redirection in the topic sentence. Oddly I have so much to say on both subjects that it’s just too hard to contain myself. My first brush with the mighty ‘zip line’ was on a long flight back to Los Angeles. I had exhausted my feeble attempts at the crossword and had moved on to the “Sky Mall” magazine. The whole concept of a mall in the sky generally intrigues me anyway regarding American consumerism. We cannot even last 3 or 4 hours, 7 miles up in the air, without the ‘opportunity’ to buy something. I’m just as guilty. I like the magazine and to this day get at least a half-hours worth of distraction from it when flying.

Anyway, within the colorful pages of the magazine, I noted an ad for a bright yellow plastic trolley with two handles sticking out of it. It had a pulley that hooked on to the included 25 feet of rope. It was a genuine Zip line but obviously designed for light loads and kids only. I do not remember the price but clearly it was more than I wanted to pay for a mere toy, especially one that if improperly weak, could kill you.

So when I got home, I set out to design my own durable and ’safe’ zip line. I had a hill; I had cable; I had both the large and small test dummies (me and the kid) – what else did I need? I ended up buying heavy industrial bearing pulleys and encapsulating them between two aluminum plates. I mounted a continuous steel handle bar through one corner of the diamond-shaped trolley and wrapped the handles with tape for all-weather grip. We were all set to go except for one thing – we moved permanently away from the house on the hill.

As fate would have it, I rarely willingly walk away from anything. If an idea is not complete, I simply put it down for awhile, let it percolate, and then resurrect it in all its Frankenstein glory down the road. So I kept the trolley and moved it with the rest of our sacred possessions half-way across the U.S. The Zip trolley stayed box-bound for two years until a suitable landscape was found to finally attempt its ‘first flight’. I ended up mounting 60 feet of quarter inch stainless steel cable between two large trees. The attach points were triple reinforced with ‘slip markers’ so I could determine if the cable was giving-way under load. Even at a mere 15 feet of altitude difference between the attach points, our Zip line was born and was fabulously ZIPPY! Yes it required some strength and smarts to use and was not without risk. But it was also addicting, and so much fun that all the neighborhood 'wanna-be pilots' wanted a turn at flying - even the kid next door with the broken arm.

After all that work over many years, just to build a toy, you might now understand why I’m intrigued with the rapid expansion of commercial zip-line amusements and canopy tours around the world. This has become somewhat of a rage with the $50 - $150 rides available at most every tourist venue. I have attached a link here with video so you can get an idea of the comfortable advancements in technology since my first primitive effort. Now anyone can safely feel the wind in their face and true exhilaration of zip line flying regardless of age, experience, or strength. Just one thing though; make sure to break out the suntan lotion and ‘ZIP UP’! No sense starting your holiday out with a nasty, and embarrassing, sunburn!

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