Much of the daytime is spent relaxing around the pool, reading a good book and talking to our friends, Tom and Velma. Among the activities we’ve done so far, zip lining is our favorite.
Just up the road is Kapalua Ziplines, situated on the west side of the island. A four wheeled van ferried us up the rough red dirt road on the western side of Puu Kukui mountain to the first of several tall wooden towers. There we got our helmets, rain gear, harnesses, trollies and last minute instructions. Climbing up a rope suspension ladder to the base of the tower, we then crept up a steep staircase to the top platform. Two cables, side by side, allow us to slide down with our partner. Our instructor tightened our harness, inspected our gear and slung the heavy trolley over the thick cable suspended high above the canopy below us. Hooking up to the trolley, we were now suspended in air, our feet braced against each side of the open gate, high above the tropical floor. Our instructor counts down, “One, two, three…go!”
Whatever anxiety you may have had is quickly replaced with exhilaration as you accelerate down the taunt cable. Nearing the end of our first “bunny slope”, another assistant provides hand signals instructing you to slow your descent, much like a signalman on an aircraft carrier guiding in warplanes following a mission, poised to abort the landing if things weren’t going right. In our case, however, aborting the landing is not an option. Arms outstretched like a starfish, you try to grab as much air as possible. Then, the instructor raises his fisted hands high above his head signaling you to brace for landing (or, should I say, impact). You grab the trapeze with both arms tensed and prepare for the unexpected.
There are many ways ziplines use to brake a person’s descent ranging from a simple grab rope to automatic systems. Fortunately, ours relied on the later, more idiot-proof automatic method. This consisted of essentially a number large springs threaded over the cable for perhaps 20 feet before the landing platform. As the trolley hits the springs, they compress, slowing your speed, hopefully enough to stop you in time. The instructor, standing by, hooks a carabiner tied to a short rope onto your harness to secure you to the platform. As you can appreciate, while the springs stop your forward movement, you are building potential energy that wants to (and does) propel you, just as fast, in the opposite direction! If not for the rope and the quick response of your instructor, you would be launched back out into the valley, but certainly not with enough energy to reach the other side. In other words, you would be left stranded somewhere above the tropical canopy, out of reach of the platform, while your ziplining friends look out in horror. Our instructors assured us that they would come to our rescue, but this was clearly an unfavorable outcome.
Getting back to our ride, your speeds can reach up to 55 mph. Soon, you are comfortable enough to take your hands off the trapeze, lean back in your harness and enjoy the ride which retakes you whizzing above trees, through man-made cuts through thick bushes and next to jungle waterfalls. Nearing the end of your jungle journey you spot the guide on the platform below, straining to see his hand signals below, your eyes watering through the wind. You grab the trapeze bar and tense up while the platform and instructor grow quickly in size as you rush quickly towards them.
While the ride itself is exhilarating, the landing is equally exciting. As the trolley hits the first spring, there is a startling, CLACK, CLACK, CLACK as the springs compress. What you failed to appreciate is that while it took some time to get to the 55 mph in your descent, you decelerate to zero in less than 20 feet! Your body is thrust forward and you become a human pendulum, staring up at the sky with your feet outstretched above your head. If you were lucky, you remembered to spread your legs to avoid your knees smashing against the cable between you legs. While the instructors casually made mention of this tip, they failed to tell us WHY it was important.
Safely on earth you undo the trolley, sling it over your shoulder and loosen your harness, joining your friends with large smiles on their faces, eager to climb the next tower for the even longer and faster ride.