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Catching a break at Malaekahana, on O‘ahu's windward coast.
Vol. 11, No. 3
June/July 2008

  >>   The Giving Tree
  >>   Green Chic
  >>   Town & Country

High-wire Acts (Page 3)

There’s a lot of tree-hugging going on at Kaua‘i’s Just Live, but it has more to do with saving yourself than saving the earth—specifically, saving yourself from falling to the earth. Just Live (which, in tree-hugger fashion, recycles, uses natural cleansers and has neither electricity nor running water) is Hawai‘i’s only zip course that is entirely treetop-based; that is, your feet don’t touch the ground until you disembark from the final line. The rest of the time, you’re a modern-day Tarzan, soaring from Norfolk pine to distant Norfolk pine.

To quell everyone’s fears about safety—the number one concern for most zippers—our guide Matt tells us that each of the galvanized cables can support 26,000 pounds, each pulley 19,000 pounds, and each carabiner 11,000 pounds. In other words, even those approaching the 275-pound weight limit need not worry.

Atop the platform on the first tree, I meet Jane, a 79-year-old visiting from Ohio with her two sons. “I told the girls at Jazzercise I was doing it,” Jane tells me enthusiastically. “They said, ‘Take a photo!’”

As Jane prepares for her first zip, her son Joe, who remembers zipping in Army training thirty-five years ago, offers her some words of encouragement: “Oprah did it. You can do it, too!”

Just Live, which started out as a ropes challenge course for community youth and continues to sponsor high school adventure clinics, specializes in getting people out of their comfort zones. Accompanying the six-zip course are two dangling rope bridges that, for many, are more daunting than the passive sit-and-zip traverses. The challenge sparks instant bonding among the intimidated—“team-building” is what the ropes course purveyors call it.

“Did Oprah do it?” Jane asks, gazing warily at the ground 80 feet below. But as soon as Matt secures her harness and gives her clearance, there’s no hesitation. She bounds off the platform with a cheek-to-cheek grin, crying, “Farewell!” Tarzan’s heart would have fluttered.

Education aside, the overriding aim of ziplining, of course, is fun with a capital F, which is compounded by the camaraderie of your guides and fellow high-flyers. The 15-minute van ride to Kipu Ranch, site of the Outfitters Kaua‘i Kipu Falls Zipline Trek, gives our six-person group a chance to get acquainted. We rattle off names, hometowns and, at our guide Adrian’s request, astrological signs. After he points out Mount Wai‘ale‘ale, the world’s wettest spot, Adrian tells us that he and fellow guide Carina were recently voted world’s best tour guides. They confirm this by pointing out what they say is a rare sighting of the world’s last remaining pterodactyl, which to me looks suspiciously like a cattle egret.

During this tour, I discover I am more Tom Sawyer than either James Bond or Tarzan. Besides two traditional zips, we rappel down a waterfall, romp across swinging suspension bridges and jump off a 25-foot cliff on a rope swing into a fairy tale waterfall pool. Midway through, I decide I don’t want to return to civilization.

With Outfitters Kaua‘i’s hands-free harnesses, the zipping takes on a kamikaze-like character. We learn creative take offs: the iron cross (backward with your arms in a T) and the running leap. By the time we reach the final dual lines, we’re zipping upside down and twirling with the grace of trapeze artists—well, almost.

On the way back to the van, Adrian crowns us with official “I Survived Ziplining” hats fashioned out of green elephant-ear leaves. We’re giddy enough to actually wear them. I make a mental note: Hard hat, leaf hat or no hat, zipping can turn you into a total dork. I highly recommend it anyway. HH