Can I do it again? Right now?
That’s what was going through my mind even as my feet hit the platform at the end of the new ZOOm the River! zip line at Riverbanks Zoo.
I had hardly noticed the “shooting out of a tunnel” effect as I zoomed through the botanical garden forest at the start of the 1,010-foot trip over the Saluda River. I was too busy trying to stop an inadvertent left-hand turn and making sure my legs were pulled up tight under me to pick up speed.
I looked toward the pedestrian bridge as I crossed the river. Maybe I should have focused more on the rapids to the other side.
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I didn’t scream. Would that have enhanced the experience?
I must do it again and again and again to test all of the variables. Alas, the zip line course can only handle 56 people a day on the current schedule, and reservations already are filling up. My one trip, part of a media tour Thursday before the official Friday opening, will have to suffice for now.
If you reserve a spot on the ZOOm course, be prepared for a lot of waiting, a little exercise and blasts of sheer exhilaration. Taking the canopy tour has some similarities to kayaking on the river below, where you paddle through flat water stretches for long periods then rip through a rapid.
(Consumer break: The ZOOm tour isn’t cheap. It’s $40 for Riverbanks Society members and $55 for non-members, which includes zoo admission. The shorter Zip the Zoo! near the carousel is $30 and $45. That’s about par with the major zip lines in the North Carolina mountains, but the cost might price some families out of the experience.)
Zip line tours, where people use harnesses and trolleys to slide on a series of cables anchored high up in trees, are a growing trend nationwide. Riverbanks hired Beanstalk Builders of Morganton, N.C., to construct its two courses.
The zip line tour begins with your guides helping you strap into the harness that connects to the line. Then you take a shuttle ride over the pedestrian bridge and up the hill to the botanical garden.
After a quick safety talk (“don’t touch the shiny parts” is the key), there’s a short climb up a rope chute to the first platform, where the waiting starts. Guides have to clamp and unclamp two carabiners connected to every person at every step of the way. That way no person is ever completely disconnected from the safety lines. With a group of eight, the process can take several minutes at each platform.
But I dream of climbing huge trees and living in a treehouse, so every minute on the platforms — each increasingly higher in white oak trees — was a blast. Some in our group were disturbed by the swaying of the trees. I longed for stronger wind to make the trees dance.
The first zip lasts five to seven seconds. The second is about the same. They’re an ideal start for zip line novices. The third section involves walking over six boards suspended on ropes. It’s a test of balance that some in our group found strenuous. I wanted to run over the boards because the river zip was next.
The view from the platform to the river through the tree canopy tunnel carved out by course architects Beanstalk Builders will get your heart racing. The drop from the start of the river zip to the end is 67 feet. In several weeks of course testing by zoo employees and a brief soft opening for the public last week, nobody has backed out at that point. Eventually, somebody probably will.
After being last to go on the first two zips, I ended up first among our group on the river zip. I got to watch guide Will Kramer go across, but he’s a veteran. After squatting to put all the weight on the harness, I must have pushed off slightly with one foot because I twisted to the left. That distracted me during the pass through the tree canopy.
I also spent too much time — maybe a full second — considering whether to wave or just smile at the cameras on the pedestrian bridge. That was a waste of a precious second of the 30 seconds on the trip. I also spent a second or two looking down to make sure the GoPro video camera strapped to my chest was pointed in the right direction.
Then the last couple of seconds, I was paying attention to Will’s instructions to make sure I made it all the way to the platform.
The zip seemed to last only five or six seconds. I was shocked to watch the GoPro video and realize how long it really was. The guides say it took eight or nine trips for them to feel comfortable enough to simply enjoy the sensory experience.
Next time I’ll know not to worry about spinning. Next time I’ll pay more attention to the tree tunnel and the river rapids. Next time I’ll glide to the platform like a pro.
I can’t wait for the next time.