Calling all adrenaline junkies
July 25, 2013
I've hiked up a mountain before, dripping in sweat while my hamstrings burn.
I've gone camping, and done the whole sleeping under the stars thing.
However, I recently had a moment of panic: here I am, spending my first summer in Colorado with a few weeks left and there was still so much I wanted to do. Sitting behind a computer and writing stories is fun, but sometimes you just need to get a little higher.
After adopting an attitude of saying "yes" to everything and anything (other than prostitution), I set out to partake in activities that would wake me up and truly make me feel alive. The Rocky Mountains serve as the perfect outlet for this, and I'm happy to report I checked two things off my bucket list: paragliding and zip lining, and I encourage you to do the same.
Color/STND Yellow 1Vail Valley Paragliding
Paragliding, my friends, is something you have to do because if heaven exists, I just about touched it.
At 8 a.m. I drove to meet up with the "pilots," group of gentlemen from Vail Valley Paragliding.
"See up there?" My soon-to-be co-pilot and tandem paragliding expert, David Champaign pointed to a cliff off in the distance. I looked, still calm and collected.
"That's what we're jumping off of," Champaign said.
Training for these pilots is just as important as for the pilots who fly planes; your life is in their hands. Also similar to flying planes, everything in reference to paragliding is an aviation term, and everyone who takes flight becomes a member of the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
After signing some standard liability and safety forms, the rest of the group and I piled into the one of the instructor's cars. We made our way up to the top of their usual morning site Bellyache Ridge, which has some pretty spectacular views and apparently has the perfect air for jumping off a mountain. Champaign informed me it's the cool air draining in from the Continental Divide to the East, which makes it ideal. The morning flight costs you $185, and each person gets to document their flight with a provided GoPro camera.
Each instructor set up their glide — a colorful, lightweight aircraft that from a distance looks like a UFO. The rest of us stood around marveling in the view, until finally my time had come. Champaign summoned me towards him, and explained each instructor is loosely harnessed to their flying partner, in a way that makes it comfortable for them to be in a seated or standing position, when need be. I'm also told there's backup parachutes as an extra safety measure.
"I'm nervous," I said looking back at Champaign, finally allowing the nerves to catch up.
"Really?" he asked, laughing. "That's okay, because I'm not."
Seconds later, the wind was perfect, and he told me start running. There's no actual "jump" in paragliding when taking off (thank God) because as you're running, the glider is inflating and holding you back with resistance. We neared the edge, the glider took form, and we were off. I think I felt my heart drop through my buttocks, if we're being honest, and it wasn't until a minute in flight when I realized I could breathe.
Looking out across the expansive valley, exploding with different shades of greens, browns and blues, I saw my future. I saw my loved ones. I saw my strengths and weaknesses. My stresses became lessened with the altitude, allowing me to reach a state of complete nirvana.
"Do you like roller coasters?" Champaign asked, about 15 minutes into our flight.
"Yeah," I said.
As he pulled one side of the glider, we started spiraling downwards like a wounded bird. Within seconds we had smoothed out, and had our feet back on solid ground. Champaign describes the experience as rebooting your mental computer; you walk away refreshed.
"There's no worries while you're doing it," he said. "All you need is desire."
Color/STND Yellow 1Zip Adventures
If you're looking for a more independent feat of adrenaline, that's not quite as elevated as paragliding, Zip Adventures, located at the 4 Eagle Ranch in Wolcott, offers a two-hour course. It'll cost you $150, which includes all equipment, water and snacks.
Our group consisted of about 15 people and two guides. The guides got us into our harnesses and helmets, adjusting the sizes accordingly, and I realized these harnesses were unlike any I'd seen before.
Zip Adventures offers a full-body harness, which allows people to go upside-down on some of the zip lines, an act I couldn't quite picture in my head, yet was something I needed to try.
The actual act of zip lining consists of a pulley suspended on a cable, usually strung high above the ground. Zip Adventures' course consists of six different zip lines spread across Alkali Canyon. What kind of people sign up to zip across canyons hundreds of feet in the air? According to Suzanne Johnson, one of Zip Adventure's receptionists, they've seen a child as young as 18 months, as well as someone celebrating their 92nd birthday, strap on a harness and fly. In essence, if you can fit in the harness, you can do it.
The mode of transportation to the first zip was also unlike something I had ever seen before. Zip Adventures uses a Pinzgauer — a '70s, Austrian-made, six-wheel-drive vehicle that was once used by the military. Bumping around in the back, I started talking to one of our guides, Charlie Corken. There's got to be a certain application that zip guides fill out prior to getting this kind of a gig considering their sense of humor.
"I love taking people out here because everyone's happy to see me," said Corken. "The adrenaline comes from not the fear of heights, but the fear of falling; I just help them along the way. It's like the ice cream man — everyone's excited to see the ice cream man," he laughed.
The first zip line, called "The Bunny Hill," is meant to ease you into the sensation of, well, jumping off a platform into a canyon. Getting that speed was bliss, and looking past my dangling feet, suspended 200 feet in the air created a surge of energy that made me even more excited for the rest of the course. Each jump was routine yet different than the one before — you start with one guide at the beginning, and they'd send you to the other side, where another guide would help unhook you.
The second zip line was "The Glide," and with the group feeling a little more comfortable, the guides told us if we wanted to we could flip upside down. One by one, we jumped. On my turn, I tried to flip but only got sideways. Then, someone in the group did it and we watched in amazement as he became inverted while screaming in excitement.
"The adrenaline from it caught me off guard when I was looking down," said William Binyard, who was visiting from Gainesville, Florida. This was Binyards first time zip lining; from such an impressive move, I think he'll be hooked.
Some of the six different zip lines provided a chance for a tandem jump, where you could get double the speed because of the weight with your friend or sibling attached.
Each zip line got longer, and the views only got better. Catching that speed is definitely something I'll always remember.