Zip on

Zip on

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Zip on

The thrill of gliding through trees

By Carissa Wright

Stretched between two huge trees, you’re careening through the air at what seems like a thousand miles per hour, soaring high above fields, a gully, and a lake.

The call comes from 100 feet away, filtering through Douglas firs and Western red cedars.
“Zip on!”

The guide at the launch platform gives the OK, and you’re off. Hooked to a cable stretched
between two huge trees, you’re careening through the air at what seems like a thousand miles per hour, soaring high above fields, a gully, a lake.

As you approach the landing, the guide on the platform gives you a signal, throwing her arms wide to indicate you should do the same. An automatic braking system on this line will slow you down as you come in to land, but it’s gonna hurt if your hands are in the way.

You land on the platform exhilarated and a little shaky, and after clearing the line, you crowd toward the back with your zipping companions, waiting for the next incoming zipper to land.
Zip lining has long been held the exclusive province of the tropical getaway, more familiar in jungle canopies and rainforests. However, a handful of companies in the shadow of Mt. Baker are changing all that.

One of those is Zip San Juan, which is heading into its second season of operation. The eight-line course is located on private property about 10 minutes outside Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.

My day of zip lining started well before sunup with a drive down to the Anacortes ferry
terminal and a 6:20 a.m. boat to Friday Harbor. My zipping buddy and I were set to meet our Zip San Juan guide at 10 a.m. just a short walk up from the ferry terminal.

After a much-needed latte at the closest coffee shop (the ferry’s galley doesn’t open until 10 a.m. so bring your caffeine fix with you), we strolled the streets of Friday Harbor for an hour or so, meandering down to the docks to check out the boats in the early-morning sun.

When the appointed hour rolled around, we met our guide and filled out the requisite
paperwork, introducing ourselves to the group we’d be spending the next few hours with.

On the drive to the site, guide Candace pointed out the island’s resident camel, Mona.
A row of bright blue helmets and yellow harnesses greeted us at the end of our bumpy ride
off the main road. The harness is awkward and uncomfortable at first, of course, but once
you’re off and zipping, you’ll hardly notice it.

While giving us the rundown on what to do and what to expect, Candace pointed out that physically, zip lining is extremely safe. When you’re not attached to the zip line itself, you’re clipped in to a cable attached to the takeoff or landing platform. The guides are actually more worried about zippers’ emotional state. If you panic in the middle of a line and try to stop or slow yourself down, you’ll get stuck, and a guide will have to come out and tow you to the platform.

So when a guide asks how you’re doing, Candace said, they want to know how your mental state is holding up.

The practice lines (called “Easy Peasy” and “Lemon Squeezy”) completed, we walked to the first launch platform. The day was intermittently cloudy, with the sun breaking through every so often. The rain stayed away, but the guides warned that even if the skies opened the tour would go on.

Sitting in a harness, dangling from a cable and holding on to the trolley above your head is definitely an awkward posture, but after just one line, you’re used to it. Once the awkwardness passes, you’re able to really look at your surroundings, drinking in the unusual vantage point.

Instead of looking up at towering fir trees from below, you’re gliding along amid their branches, gazing over the tops of smaller trees to see the world around you as if you were a giant.
Instead of looking across an otter-inhabited lake from a dock, you’re soaring above it, catching a glimpse of your reflection far below.

There’s a lot of waiting in a day of zipping, which makes the guides and group you’re zipping with a huge part of your day. The Zip San Juan guides were genial and fun, and our group was definitely open to having a great time. On one of the relatively slow lines, Candace said we should have a competition to see who could spin the most – I’m pretty sure the 10-year-old took home the prize.

A rollicking suspension bridge connects two of the later zip lines and, with the guides’ permission, my zipping buddy and I took off across it at the same time, trying to run as fast as possible and shaking the bridge under each other’s feet.The final line of the day is the longest, and crosses the aforementioned otter-inhabited lake. I was one of the last to go, and just as I hit the midpoint of the lake, the sun broke through the clouds one last time. The Pacific Northwest has always been my home, my playground, my backyard. From this viewpoint, however, it was entirely new. X

A Puget Sound native, Carissa Wright is always looking for new ways to experience the best this region has to offer. Got an idea? Shoot her an email at cwright@pointrobertspress.com

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