For my second adventure I chose Ziplining with Alaska Canopy Adventures. Before we go into how this worked out for me, I want to stress that though the day was a disaster, I cannot say enough good things about the company and the tour.
If you do it, this is what you can expect. You’ll be picked up at the dock by a rep, and if you’re lucky that rep will be Earl, a lovely gentleman who’s been doing this for years. If you accidentally get caught up in conversation with a fellow ACA attendee and get on the wrong bus, he’ll be infinitely patient as he tries to find you. He’ll keep up a good patter of information about Ketchikan as he drives you to your location, and you should tip him well.
At the spot they’ll invite you to go potty multiple times at the base, and then you’ll be taken up to the head of the ziplines in this thing: which is apparently designed to go up really steep hills. Anything that might attract bears is locked in a box. You’ll be invited to go potty again. When everyone is satisfactorily evacuated, there are all the safety speeches to get through, and then you’re hitched into your seat harnesses.
You follow your guides- two per group- outside and see a marvelous view not unlike this: and pretty shit all around you not unlike this: Then there’ll be a demo, in which, if one of your guides is Tyler, you can admire his guns as he explains what to do/not to do. Then off you go on the first, baby zip! You’ll spend the next couple of hours going through longer and faster zips, from platform to platform. The platforms are attached to the tops of spruce trees. You can see for miles. The ocean and further islands are visible through the trees. It’s breathtaking. You might see a bear! As you gain confidence you can try cannon-balling to go faster, or holding out your arms. You can take pictures if you want- they’ll secure your camera to your harness so it doesn’t fall. In the downtime on platforms while waiting for everyone else to complete the last zip you can take pictures that will make all your facebook friends jealous. At some point if you do my course, you’ll walk across a few swinging bridges that will make you shriek, probably. And then you’ll be at the bottom and you’ll high five and probably buy the photograph that the professional photographer takes of you, massive grin on your face, as you give a thumbs up on the last zip.
And those of you who are afraid of heights, as several of my friends profess to be? Don’t worry. You’ll get over it. At no time do you feel unsafe. At no time, up in the canopy, are you not securely fastened to something. There is no way to fall.You’ll soon be feeling confident and having the time of your life, says even my friend Angel, who is afraid to stand on chairs.
But then was me.
I’ve always been moderately afraid of heights. I dislike ladders, but can cope with them. Airplanes don’t bother me, though, and I don’t panic at views from tall buildings.
I also dislike the feeling of falling. No roller coasters for me, please. Dropping is an unpleasant and profoundly unfun sensation that no amount of adrenaline-fueled endorphin rush can make okay.
I knew I’d be scared my first few zips, but I figured the scenery and the fun of it would get the better of me, and that as we moved from zipline to zipline I’d get more confident, and as I was waiting for my first zip I was debating whether 20 bucks was worth it for a photo of me in the tree tops and thinking, yeah, it probably was.
First zip- awful. Oh god I hate that feeling of dropping. Dying from a broken elevator cable rates only somewhat less than being tortured to death by Assad’s thugs, in my book. But I got through it and made it to the platform! It could only get easier, right?
The platform seemed about the size of a postage stamp, and had no railings. Worse, the tree was MOVING… swaying in the wind.
Rational brain knew I was securely latched onto the tree and nothing was going to happen to me. Lizard brain was sending out rather strident alarms. I looked at the wooden pathway back and wondered if I should consider going back? No. Agent L is many things, but she is not a pussy. It is healthy to conquer your fears! Onward!
Still, I clung close to the tree til it was my turn and looked at the next zip- intimidatingly long- with growing trepidation.
The zips got longer and faster and instead of getting less afraid, with each one I somehow grew more afraid. By the third one I refused to look at the next, and had to be led to the block to stand on before I zipped. Every time I jumped off I HATED it.
By the fifth I refused to open my eyes on the platforms and just stood there, shaking, and holding the tree trunk in a death grip. I have never been so frightened in my life.
I cannot at this point stress enough how good the staff were with me. Makenzie was great at speaking to me soothingly, congratulating me on, well, trying to conquer my fears, and getting me through zip after zip. At one point in the middle there were three swinging bridges to navigate, that were careening alarmingly side to side, and the ground was so very, very far away. Probably. I couldn’t look. Might’ve actually been a few inches for all I knew. The first had the steepest slope and I felt, a quarter of the way down, that I couldn’t take another step. I had on overwhelming desire to sit down and clutch the slats for dear life. Makenzie was walking backwards so she could face me, and was keeping up a patter of questions so I kept talking.
“Can you just stop a minute so I can walk closer to you?” I pleaded, feeling the beginnings of a panic attack creeping around the edges. The trees in my peripheral vision seemed to be spinning.
“Sure,” she said. “Anything else we can do to make you more comfortable?”
Get me the fuck out of this nightmare.
“Nope. That’ll be good.”
“You can DO this, Sarah!” she said.
In the last segment the zipline went across a glade and in the glade was a black bear, rooting for grubs in the undergrowth. I was hugging the tree with all my might, my legs already starting to ache from the effort of trembling so hard for so long, eyes squeezed shut.
“Sarah can you just turn your head a minute? Just a minute? To see the bear?”
“Nope, I’m good.”
“You don’t want to see the bear?”
“There will be other bears.”
A lady on my tour kindly asked if she wanted her to take a picture of it with my phone. I fumbled with my pocket zipper and then finally said, “My hands are shaking so hard I can’t get at it, and if I DO get at it, I’m afraid I’ll drop it. Thank you, though.”
On the last zip I opened one eye for a moment and saw the bear in the glade, nosing something in a hillock and thought how marvelous this would have been had I been able, somehow, to keep my goddamned lizard brain from flooding my body with FLIGHT!!!!! signals and adrenaline.
Reaching the ground was the best part. There was a bear across the field from us that I attempted to take a photo of but my hands were too shakey, and I got to see a reindeer pen, or as they call them here, sausage pens.
I don’t know. I was pretty miserable.
But others I’ve spoken to who are afraid of heights swear they love ziplining. You never know until you try, and one way or another- this company takes safety very, very seriously- you will survive.
Experience: 0 (for me.)
Staff:4 (Guides outstanding, those in the shop and in charge of getting you onto a bus home, a bit disorganized)
Bathrooms: 5 (spacious, plenty of stalls, clean)
Snack: 2 (salmon dip on a cracker and bulk cookies, plenty of free coffee and hot chocolate)
Retail: 5 (thoughtfully chosen gift store chock full of stuff you won’t find in town, ACA specific postcards, bunch of great children’s books)