By Paris Wolfe, Traveler/Foodie * Blogger
When I was about 9, I took swimming lessons at the Chardon Village (Ohio) swimming pool. I can still see the aqua L-shape with black stripes separating lanes in the long section, a rope with oblong white floats separating a short, deep hopper.
I was a quick learner and mastered the low diving board. But I hated heights. So, when encouraged to climb the 10-foot high aluminum ladder, I trembled. Hand-over-hand I ascended. Then, I walked to the end of the grit-surfaced white board. And sat down.
No way was I going to free fall 10 feet into the 70-plus degree, sparkling water. So, I sat. With my legs hanging over the edge and my nylon bikini bottoms snagging on the sandpapery surface.
And, I sat. And sat.
The teenaged instructor and my 30-year-old mom said the only way down was through the air. They were lying in my best interest. So, I sat through the final 15 minutes of my swim lesson and on into the opening minutes of public swim.
Finally, I crawled to the safety of the ladder and, both self-righteously and timidly, stepped gently down the ladder to the cement pad. (This high diving board was removed in 1986.)
Decades later I was offered a chance to fly more than 3,000 feet on the Fatbird SuperFlyer zipline at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in western Pennsylvania. I choose, instead, to have someone stick long, thin needles into my hands, ears and feet. Ok, so it was a scientifically painless acupuncture treatment that quelled the chronic pain in my right big toe.
Regardless, Paris doesn’t do heights.
Until September 10, 2016 at Seven Springs Resort in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands.
That’s when the boyfriend (who loved the Nemacolin zipline) coaxed me onto the ledge.
On the uphill jaunt from the hotel room nervous energy condensed in my chest. As I was signing a safety waiver, another ball of energy began spinning in my abdomen. To get new-agey, my sacral and heart chakras were whirring out of control.
I acted silly, cradling my face in my hands for a “Scream” selfie. I struggled to be strong, reminding myself that I’d given birth. Twice.
At Seven Springs’ Screaming Hawk Zipline, I placed a blue plastic bowl on my sweat-soaked hair and clamped it tightly. The lid was insignificant compared to the heft of my usual ski and motorcycle helmets .
I’ve dangled from chairlifts above rocky, snow-covered ground with only a lap bar for security. And, I’ve hurtled down double black diamond ski slopes. I’ve straddled two wheels without a seatbelt at 75 mph down a busy freeway.
But screaming 55 mph at 40 feet above the ground with a rope and two safety lines? Nope!
With Gary’s encouragement I stepped into the harness. Larry Alvarez, zipline guide, clicked the buckles and tightened the straps. Meanwhile, I acknowledged the emotional-turned-physical tension in my body and tried to let it go. Feel it and free it. That’s what a therapist would say.
I was OK, until the netted rope ladder, like a pirate ship, to climb to the first platform. It twisted and bounced as my motorcycle-cum-cowgirl boots poked through openings; but I wobbled up 15 feet and accepted Larry’s helping hand. Then, wrapped my arms not-so-casually around the center pole while Gary and Eathan Mellinger, the other zipline guide, joined us.
Larry showed us how, explaining safety and the process before zipping 20 MPH across the 350-foot line. Gary followed. At Eathan’s urging I moved my wobbly legs to the top of a two-step stool. He clipped on my trolley and secured my safety lines.
My knees buckled and my chakras hurt. I thought I was going to cry. Or maybe throw up. Ethan, 19, just waited. And waited.
Realizing the climb down would be difficult, I finally sat into the harness and flew 350 feet to the next perch. A wobbly 60-foot high platform. Once there, I wrapped my arms around the center pole for a sense of security until it was my turn again.
I’d faced my fear and won. Only three more stretches and a swinging bridge before solid ground. Each time flight to the next platform got easier. The final stretch was the longest, fastest and highest — 777-feet at 60 mph 35 feet above the Summer Tubing Park.
Letting go of solid ground is the hardest part. But, then you’re flying. A metaphor for life? Perhaps.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort, 777 Waterwheel Drive , Seven Springs, PA (about four hours from Cleveland) has two zipline experiences. The Screaming Hawk, which lasts about 90 minutes, is the perfect introductory tour, starting low and slow, then building. The second, the Laurel Ridgeline Zipline Tour is more challenging. It includes a full-length tour of the mountain that zips 10 times, crosses two sky bridges and requires rappelling. The highest point is 175 feet, while the longest zip is 1,500 feet. It takes about three hours. The tours run Memorial Day through Labor Day and weekends in September and October, weather permitting. For more information www.7springs.com or 800-452-2223, ext. 7997.