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If a Backcountry Zipline Adventure guide tells your clients to
“be the ball,” they darn well better be the ball. Otherwise, they
might find themselves suspended safely above waterfalls, streams
and tropical terrain until someone pulls them back to terra
Run by Kauai Backcountry Adventures, the zipline tour propels
clients back and forth along a series of heavy-duty cables high
above a rain forest. Our guide Christy was in charge of sending us
across each line, while Milo stood on each receiving platform,
ready to catch us one by one. Guide number three, the lanky
Lindsey, ran interference.
After a thorough safety briefing, we donned elaborate harnesses and
sturdy helmets as Christy explained the routine.
“I’m going to check you carefully to make sure you’re ready, then
I’ll tell each of you how to hold your body for the best zip across
the canyon,” she said. “When the winds blow really strong, like
they are today, or if you have a smaller build, you need to tuck
your legs up to your chest, in the cannonball position, so there’s
First up was Nick, a beefy quarterback of a guy who looked like he
would have no trouble picking up speed, since each zipline runs
“Don’t tuck, just go for it,” Christy told him.
Nick jumped off the platform, zipped about halfway across the
cable, then slowed down when the wind started pushing him back.
Large as he was, his weight couldn’t carry him to the other
That’s when Milo swung into action. He tied one end of a rope to
the receiving platform, held onto the other end, hooked his own
harness onto the cable and pulled himself along the line to Nick.
Grabbing Nick around the waist, he used the rope to pull the two of
them back to the far platform.
Nick looked chagrined. The rest of us cheered heartily.
Let me state emphatically that on any zipline tour, clients should
always follow directions, but when it was my turn, I bent the rules
so I could be rescued. When Christy connected my harness to the
cable, eyeballed my build and cried, “Okay Marty, tuck. Be the
ball,” I kept my legs looser than necessary. Sure enough, halfway
across the run, my zip lost its zest and I stopped.
Others might be afraid, hanging from the middle of the line, held
only by a harness connected to a cable. But earlier, during our
25-minute ride from KBA’s headquarters to the top of the zipline
course, I had listened carefully as Christy described the measures
that were taken to make this trip a safe one. Now I put my faith in
the equipment and enjoyed the view. Above me towered Waialeale,
central Kauai’s 5,148-foot pinnacle and one of the wettest places
in the world. Below were irrigation tunnels built by hand in 1864,
and the streams of the Waiahi Valley. I heard nothing but the wind
in my ears. I felt free as a bird.
Sure enough, Milo went into his Sir Galahad act, tying the rope,
shimmying out to retrieve me and pulling me back to the other side,
while chatting happily about the perks of his job. I couldn’t have
been happier. Over the remaining six ziplines, I tucked on command
and zipped effortlessly along, even across the longest run of 950
feet, the length of three football fields.
Christy, Milo and Lindsey rewarded us for our courage by setting
out a picnic lunch of wraps, chips, cookies and water, enjoyed in a
private bamboo grove by a swimming hole. A few hearty souls jumped
into the icy mountain water. I preferred to chat a bit longer with
the guides and learned some fun facts about the tour. The oldest
person they’ve taken out so far was 77 years old, they said. The
trail crosses land owned by America Online founder Steve Case. It
took three months to build the course, during which all the
materials were brought in on foot or by air.
For the ride back to headquarters, dirty and proud of our feat, we
felt like a band of brothers brought back down to earth.