Monday, October 5, 2015

Yoinks and Away: A Zipline Adventure

Jesus, no!
  Sometimes my wife decides on some rather interesting adventures that I would not choose-upon normally.  Embracing the spirit of adventure, however, I'm usually pretty game about it.  One such recent adventure was zip-lining in Durango, about 320 miles south-west of Colorado Springs (though some would argue I live in Fountain, and there was some debate when I first moved here at the Post Office that went as such:
You live where I TELL you, bitch!
Let me look that up for you!
Hello fine Post Master and a good-day to you fine sir!
Ah, well my fine fellow, perhaps you could inform me what my actual town name is.  You see, I just moved here from Denver last-morrow!
Oh, well certainly!  It's (address given with zip-code).  Is it the town of Security, Widefield, Fountain, or Colorado Springs?
What do you mean, "Whatever I want?"  What is the actual town itself?
Well, no sir.  No sir that won't do.  I must insist the actual township!
Well, I can't accept, "It doesn't matter!"  Pray thee well sir, do you not know?
"Then I told him it doesn't MATTER!"
  Further research (on my own) is that Widefield isn't actually a town, nor is Security.  These are "municipalities" named by the locals.  You'd be surprised how many of these exist.  In Colorado Springs there are several, such as Stetson Hills and Tri-Lakes.  Not real places, just slang-named non-towns.  Fountain does exist, but I don't live there.  I'm outside of it enough by a mile or so.  I actually live in Colorado Springs and so happily pay the more-expensive tax therein.  Yay and fra-la!
  We drove straight there in the Chevy Volt, playing with various modes that recharge the vehicle while driving.  We determined that Mountain Mode is okay but unnecessary and the L-gear regenerates while decelerating or going down-hill very well and it's best to just leave it in L for all eternity.  We were able (coming back) to recharge enough from Alamosa to get all the way to Pueblo (121 miles) without using any gas at all on a near-zero-remaining electric-charge.  Free ride thanks to the slight downward slope!  Pretty neat.
Durango sunset.  Note* A Tesla wouldn't be able to make it here without stopping 1/2 way for the night to charge-up.
Did you say, Irish PUG?  No?  Aww.
So we drive to Durango and spend the night in a trusty Marriott which always have a predictable standard and aren't too snobby and had dinner at an Irish pub, The Irish Embassy which was fantastic.  Biasing me further from the Sheppard's Pie was various Irish beers and ciders on-tap.  Jameson Vintage Reserve on-hand, but only enough for one glass; they just let me have it for free.  Should cost $60!  Had Magner's Cider on-tap as well and went well with dinner (my favorite).
Music-night at the Irish Embassy Pub in Durago
  Had to take a coal-train to the location near Silverton as a bonus-ride.  We were greeted by two of the staff (2 college kids) with an amusing sense-of-humor and took the two-hour ride up (halfway to Silverton north-bound).  The train setup is very old-tymey and some folks there dress-up period-style.
This photo is taken late-fall from Silverton (not by me and the terminus from Durango).
  We were treated to first-class accommodations with the zipline package offered by Soaring Treetop Adventures.  Lower-class seats had no walls and wooden seats (!) whereas ours had leather-clad padding and was quite comfy.  We had a lot of pre-takeoff warnings about the coal-dust and to keep our windows closed and that if we got coal ember in our eyes we were not to rub but to blink rapidly and flush with water or we'd "scratch our retinas permanently"!!!  Turns-out a return-visitor to Soaring TA had this exact thing happen to him, that it was quite painful and had to go to the hospital.  The train is shoveled coal which explains why sometimes you see steampunk train engineers with goggles on.  Makes a lot of sense now else they'd be blinded by the first day!  I fear for the lower-class passengers desperately, and you can smell the coal smoke going through the mountain passes as the engine struggles along.  The ride is hot and lengthy and not air-conditioned at 80 degrees but we're offered free non-alcoholic drinks so that's nice.
First-class accommodations (scotch optional/mandatory).
This is the no-class seats with no windows (and dangerous coal embers everywhere, burning eyes, souls..)
  The ride was bumpy but grandiose, looking down over great precipices upon the Animas River several hundred feet below with only a spoon's width to the edge.  Now be advised I'm quite afraid of heights, but I have a rational fear, not an irrational one.  I've flown single-prop planes myself and a sense of control goes miles.  Funny I'm going to zipline where you are dozens of feet above the ground, but hey.  Beautiful vistas and the air (sans coal smoke when the wind shifts) was clean and nice.
Seems this victim has her tongue pierced (click image for closeup).  You know what that means, right?  She wasn't paying attention and sadly got run over 3 times.  I kept the boots.


We get to Soaring TA, a train-stop completely isolated from society by 80 miles, and we're immediately fitted with harnesses and have a small briefing and walk up a cabin in an open field.  Suddenly, Nazis come out with Lugers and kill all but a few of us and demand our loyalty to Hitler (no, just kidding, Hitler's long-dead).  Cheeky monkey. 
Come on!  Death is only an illusion!  (The pain is real, though).
  We walk-out to the first platform upon a large White Pine.  The platform is an aluminum ring surrounding the tree that is latice-work, suspended further-up with cables creating a sort of birdcage effect, though there's only 6 cables.  The cables continue down to the base where they're tied for stabilization around the tree.  The disc-platform is about 2 feet out from the tree itself and there's no railings, which I find a concern, though we're tethered with a small rope to a main-rope that rings around the tree as well.  Lining the tree are Lord of the Rings, Elven symbols that look like wings from Rivendell in the Peter Jackson film which are quite sharp and at ankle-to-calf height.
   Now, I have a fear of heights (a reasonable one) so this is very much a "face-your-fear" kind of situation.  We go through about an hour brief about the magic of "trees" and are fitted with some harnesses and climb some stairs in a little building, stepping-out onto a balcony with a tree very close to it; some sort of pine.  I think they were all "white pines" for the most part.  Lots of Aspens around though (of course.. it's the Rockies).
  The ledge is narrow, and there's about 15 of us.  We're clipped-in to an inline wheel setup that looks like if the 1970's tried to make inline skates.  I deeply investigate the wheels and clip with much interest as my life is literally "on-the-line".  Ahem.  It looks as flimsy as all hell.  One of the guides with us jumps up, clips in, and quickly zips to the next tree via the rope attached, his '70's wheels screaming like a professional bass-fish caster.  I should have watched his technique closer..
  One of the issues of great pride of this company is they have no brakes because of the angles involved, that such a thing naturally slows you down, so you just have to enjoy the ride.  Well, I guess that's okay.  Wonder why no other place does that?  They mention there is ONE other place in Brazil that does but everywhere else has a hand-brake.  Shrug.  Okay, whatever.  Turns out NOT whatever.  In fetal-positions, the first couple in front of me take turns and walk-the-plank and zip-off.  On the other end, the rope at the last second sort of turns upwards with some slack and the victim is lifted up and grabbed by the employee so they don't drop.  Looks okay.  My back is pressed hard against the tree because there's only a 2 foot see-through aluminum ledge with no guard-rail.
SO, it's my turn.  I look down, it's about 40 feet or so, a nice, permanent injury if I fail.  I walk off and immediately sink down about 10 feet due to the rope-slack, which, for those concerned of heights, is rather.. "invigorating".  The only thing you can hold on to is the backpack-like strap that attaches you to a D-ring (!) to the 1970's skate-device loosely hanging on the rope above.  I zip (and turn) white-knuckling the backpack-ish strap and approach the landing-ledge (with the Lord of the Rings, Lothlorian spikes) at what seems to be 100 mph.  I'm told to "lift my feet" into a reverse sit-up, pulling my knees as best I can up into my chest, but my weight is about twice that of a kid, so the rope-sag is greater.  I bang my feet into the ledge hard, cutting them on the LotR bullshit and then SMASH into the tree HARD.  As I said before, no brakes.  There's also no way to slow down.  There's also no way to keep from spinning during your "glide/fall" because it's one strap (which they're very proud of).  Do you remember those flying-saucer sleds from the 1960's and 1970's?  Two straps made of bendable and breakable plastic and you'd just spin around going 100 mph?  Yep.  You'd smash into anything with no control?  Now imagine your big brother/sister promising you that they'd catch you at the bottom.  Now imagine they don't.  Now imagine you're on Mt. Everest.
Aw, fuck!  Jesus!
"Don't Worry, I'll catch you!"
"No you won't!  I'll crash!"
"You're right, bitch!  Hahahaha!  The pain is REAL!"
Poor Mikey got a boo-boo?  Quit bitchin', bitch.
   After regaining my senses and tending my bleeding wounds, I ask if there's any way I could control my descent or spin.  I'm told "no" from the tiny girl who was supposed to catch me but couldn't because my mass and momentum were too much for her.  I try not to bleed on her too much.  Only 36 more trees to go!
  I get a better handle on lifting my feet for the remainder, though doing these prolonged, 40-second crunches at 100 mph (it's probably more like 40 mph) while spinning around and the pain of holding on to the backpack-strap (unpadded, mind you, no gloves, no knee-pads, etc.) is difficult.  No helmet either.  No safety gear whatsoever.  We smash our heads on thick branches and feet on ledges coming-in hard.  I scrape my back on the trees, hugging the ledges in fear of death from falling over 100 feet.  I often smash into the trees with no hope of not.  We're encouraged to do "stunts", since grabbing the backpack-strap is not necessary (just psychological) but I don't at all trust the college-student internship team now, as they can't stop me properly, not save my feet from repeated damage due to a one-size-fits-all design of the whole system.  It was not made for adult males whatsoever, or anyone over 150 pounds.  Some go upside-down, legs in the air, but I'm pretty certain I'd be brained from the ledge.  Becky recommends the stunting slows her down due to the wind-resistance but I'll have none of that, I just want to survive this.  It's difficult and very painful, but I keep upbeat.
  We get a rather good snack and I'm getting used to the dropping-off insanity and hurt my body less, though my spins are more pronounced as I try to lift my feet up to avoid repeated damage at super high speeds.  Great "core" workout for several hours. 
  We then get to a final tree and get to "drop off" down with a winch.  For some reason, it doesn't activate for most of us until 1/2 way down so we literally drop hard and free-fall about 50 feet (again, quite invigorating for those afraid of heights)  then it suddenly JERKS and nearly chokes us like being hanged in an old Western.  We land about 1/2 speed from a free-fall pretty hard.  Again, these devices are not made for adults, it seems.  Maybe if I weighed 120 lbs.?  The blood from my knee wounds are soaking through my jeans.
Some old guy about to suffer, coming-in at 200 mph.
  Lunch was spectacular, though we're all sore.  One of the older couples I approached and asked what she thought and if she was having a good time or not.  She said it's all relative, that she was afraid of heights.  I commented, "Well, for the thrill, we're really getting OUR money's worth, because it's way scarier for US."  She grimly agreed, her hands calloused from holding on so hard.  Mine were too and red and raw.
  The next 18 trees were across a river.  I'm ready to quit at this point, completely exhausted from being smashed, etc.  I tell Becky I'll do some more though, because, hey, river!  The Animas River was very pretty, though recently destroyed due to mining accidents and very poisonous for the next several decades.  The river-crosses are much longer and faster but cooler due to the 85-degree heat.  We're not dressed for hiking but there are 500-foot climbs we have to do to get to each massive boulder/tree jump-off.  The elderly are struggling.  More smashing into trees because we go a lot faster now to make the distance.  No control still.  I ask if there's a way we can slow it down and one said that if we had gloves (no one did) that we could grab the wheels causing friction.  Ah. 
 We're pretty deep in the wooded-section of the river now.  Lots of mosquitoes of course.  After one crossing my feet planted but my upper body angled backwards comically like a banana.  A girl named Mary, one of the workers from New Mexico, had to grab my shirt HARD and yank be back from dashing into the rapids below.  I could grab nothing and I wasn't about to grab her to off-balance her too.  I help as best I could by muscle-control like some Michael Jackson or Buster Keaton film (harder than it looks).  She saved my life.  I promised her scotch and got her address to send it.
This chick saved my life.  She's now offering me lichen, because, she says oddly, "It tastes like Christmas."  WTF?
Still a LOT more climbing vertically on barely navigable trails with loose rocks and dirt and moss.  We're at about 11k feet elevation.  I decided to call it quits with 8 runs left, of which a 3-mile vertical hike was required for the last one and scrambling-up of rocks.  No one was dressed for this, and the brochure didn't even suggest this, recommending t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers.  Hiking gear (what the kids wore who worked there) would have been best; that and gloves, a helmet, and knee-and-elbow pads, YES, please?!  Jesus.  We were all worn and weary.  Most continued-on.  No thanks.  I'm done. 
  Becky and I sat it out in the lodge-area with big cozy chairs and chatted about it, the good and bad of it, and that pads would have been a nice touch, or not-bare trees, or freakin' BRAKES!  We both crashed pretty good into the trees, but we both agreed it was a crazy adventure and despite the bruises and bumps and such, pretty fun and interesting regardless.  Seriously. 
Becky is always chippy-upbeat, here at Johnny Rocket's at the Vegas airport earlier.
  The views were spectacular, and though the train ride up (and back) was each 2 hours, the vistas and mountain views were amazing.  The food was very good (even by my critical standards) and the thrill of "flying" though out-of-control was pretty intense.  Got banged-up pretty bad, but hey.  We called it quits at a good point, and the staff was friendly enough. 
Jack Sprat got engaged on this trip!
 We talked to a girl working the desk and she was new to life it seemed with happy, eager eyes about the world.  Her adventures have just begun.  Many of the kids who worked there were college interns, living in a non-accessible commune with no electricity or running water nearby.  They came from all over the world as a summer gig!  Nice.
  The remaining people come, very quiet.  The elderly couple looked pretty bad-off.  No one was very happy doing the remainder and looked worn.  The train came up right away and they had no time to rest.
  On the way back on the train, one of the college staff kids said he's on summer-break from engineering college.  He also noted he's part of the fire-brigade for the train.  Understandable since the coal embers fly out willy-nilly into the forest.  He said since the rains, there's only been 25 forest fires (!)  I asked that many this year?  He said no, this trip up!  What?!  Apparently, there's anywhere from 25 to 55 full-on forest-fires every trip up and back to Silverton, and that the staff jump out of the train on-foot and put out small fires the train creates constantly.  I was horrified as there were houses along the tracks, some quite close!  They carry backpacks full of water and put 'em out, then run back onto the train pretty regularly.  He also helps mend train-tracks, putting down new track pretty often, some on the edges of cliffs.  The wood beams are around 400 pounds so it takes at least two (only two?!) men to move 'em in and then they hammer-in train-spikes.  This is done usually a half-dozen times a month, but on the weekends when the train doesn't run for passengers.  They also live at the Soaring TA location about a mile south where there's no electricity, wifi, cell-phone coverage, running-water or sewage all summer in camping-cabins like a commune, all 30 of 'em.  I can just imagine Jason Voorhees keeping an eye on any potential Shenanigans.
  I sent a bottle of Glenlivet Nadurra scotch to Mary's address she gave me (her dad's).  Not sure if she got it as New Mexico is funny with alcohol shipment but it seems so with instructions on the proper sip-method of drinking fine scotch.  Small price to pay for my life, I warrant.
Here's a chippy..
Hyper-cute "actress" Kennedy Leigh
And, of course, one for the ladies..
Who loves ya, baby?!

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