The Only Way Down

Brian Harris had grown tired of asking his friends to adventure with him, so he decided to go on his own. He didn’t know that he would soon be a member of a new team, a short-lived band of arboreal brothers who, like him, couldn’t wait for the guides to tie him to a steel cable and send him flying merrily through the treetops.

Except for one member of that team, who would’ve been happy to wait indefinitely for that to happen…but we’ll get to that soon enough.If you’ve never been ziplining, you may not know what all the fuss is about. Allow me to clarify:Your guides put you into a special harness and helmet and make you feel like a cool mountaineer.After a wonderfully quick explanation of the gear, you proceed on a short walk through the woods and get immediately to business. After climbing a few wooden stairs, you’re suddenly on a platform 30 feet aloft and the only thing between you and your first flight through the canopy is a rope bridge reminiscent of those of Indiana Jones fame, but with fewer crocodiles. Womp womp…Content yourself with squirrels and a final safety talk, and then you are hooked onto the first steel cable of the many that will keep you safe for the duration of the tour. (That’s right; you’re even safely secured when crossing the rope bridges – which is certainly for the best, as they are mighty bouncy and quite high up.)At this point my terrified colleague looks like a large sad dog that’s been asked to get into a canoe for the first time. Barely three stories in the air, the poor bastard is literally clinging to the bark of the tree for dear life. The rest of the group seems sympathetic but enthusiastic; politely, the colleague apologizes frequently for his fear throughout the excursion…and now, time for that crucial first zip…The guides and the gear do all the work for you at ZipZone, right down to braking you at the other end of the line. The system of cables ensure that all adventurers are safely clipped to a line with not one but two sturdy carabineers at all times during the tour, and so outside the sensation of height and the dizzying quality of standing on a wooden platform 60 feet up in a tree cheerfully swaying in the breeze, you’re as safe as such an activity could allow.The zipping part is easy: merely step up to the platform, wait for the guide’s “all-clear,”  swallow your fear, lean forward, and away you go. The cable and the pulleys do the hard work; while steering is counterintuitive, after a few lines you’ll get the hang of it – or you can just let yourself spin freely and feel your lunch remind you it’s there.The guides do what they can to minimize your fear, and even my poor fearful colleague finally got into the swing of things – but not before leaving some pretty serious claw-marks in the trunks of the first few trees.The ZipZone’s owners, Lori and Jarrod Pingle, have been building ziplines all over the country for the last 10 years, even one in Hawaii. While all courses are different in layout, the same principals guide their hands, with safety primest among them.Best of all, the tract of land they leased in the historically significant Camp Mary Orton was left nearly intact by the construction of the attraction; only one healthy tree was removed, with the course otherwise following more-or-less natural paths through the canopy – great news for a venerable old forest.“The builder we recommend the most is very environmentally conscious as far as cutting trees. He pretty much does everything he can to save as many as possible,” said Jarrod, adding that no heavy equipment was used in the construction of the course. Every cable, platform, and pulley was humped out into the woods on foot.After establishing themselves as builders and designers for zip courses, 2007 saw the Pingles decide to build a course for themselves. Worthington’s proximity to Columbus wasn’t the only attractive element to the site, as Lori grew up in Worthington and had familiarity with Camp Mary Orton. There, they found willing partners for the project. The rest is history, and the last two years have really flown by, but ZipZone’s first full season sits in marked contrast with the longevity of the forest it tours.“I mean, this camp has been here for over a hundred years,” said Jarrod reverently. “You guys were in some really old oak trees just now.”

Zipzone Canopy Tours (located at 7925 N High St. at Camp Mary Orton) are open from March 22 through the middle of November. Weekend rates are $69 per rider; weekday tickets cost $64, but groups of eight can save $10 per rider, so grab your friends! For more information, visit www.zipzonetours.com or give them a call at (614) 847-9477

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