Friday, October 7, 2011


I'm not one of those people who goes gaga for crazy roller coaster rides or extreme merry-go-rounds. Heck, the most "extreme" thing I've done in the last 10 years was an ill-advised attempt at recapturing my youth on a pair of water skis - that is until a couple of weeks ago when I went zip-lining through the Appalachian forest canopy.

The Navitat canopy tour was arranged by my wife, Sue, and the other women of the family as a joint Christmas gift for me, my father and my brother-in-law, Jeff. We're talking last Christmas here. It took the three of us this long to get our acts together  and pick a date that worked for everyone.

Driving up.
The weather couldn't have been any better in the valley north of Asheville, where Navitat has a lease on 600 acres of undisturbed forest. After a safety brief where we met our guides and fellow zippers, it was up, up to the top of the ridge in a Kubota all-terrain vehicle to get to the first platform.

Our two young guides were pretty much what you'd expect - recent college grads (or drop-outs) with an appetite for adventure, tempered by the closing days of a long season sheparding people like me, my dad and my brother-in-law through the thrill of a lifetime. To put it another way; by this point in the season, they'd seen it all. But they were good guys and they did their best to stay enthusiastic and keep everyone safe.

Buckling Dad in.

From our perspective, however, it was hard not to be overcome by the amazing act of attaching oneself to a harness and cable, then dropping off of a high platform and allowing gravity to whisk us through and across the forest at speeds reaching 40 miles-per-hour. The first two "zips" were short and slow in order for everyone to get the hang of things. After that, it seemed the sky was the limit.
And he's off!

We were zippin' fools - especially Dad, who decided early on that safety instruction was for suckers and using two hands wasn't what got him through the last 70 years. While Jeff and I tried to remain cool in the face of 900-foot rides across the valley some 200 feet above the ground, Dad was screaming "kawabunga!" and spinning his illegally free arm like a rodeo bronc rider.

I must admit, I have become jaded by my father's antics. After 20 years or so of picking up my messes, Dad seems to have made it his mission in life to try to embarrass me. I can't really blame him, and it sure looked like he was enjoying himself.
Here's where it gets interesting. See those cables stretching across the valley?
His enthusiasm was infectious. Pretty soon, everyone was whooping and hollering as we flew down the valley, zip-by-zip.

Jeff - going down.
There were other obstacles too; suspension bridges and rappelling ropes that squooze our manhood in most-unsavory ways. Through it all we had fun in the sort of crazy, google-eyed wonderment kids run around with at a Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party, except it was better, because it takes more to get us there these days.

Oh, I suppose there are people who come away from the Navitat Canopy Tour with a new-found sense of empowerment or self confidence. I can see how a trip through the tree tops could give a person a thirst for more adventure in their life. But for me, the lesson was learned by watching my dad, who could be sitting on a couch, watching football and drinking soda pop all day, but instead seems to have grabbed life by the tail and is having the time of his life. That's a lesson for all of us.