By Blair Thomas
“So I just step off the edge?”
My ziplining guide, Michael Peterson, grabs the strap hanging from my helmet and pulls it tight – for the third time in the last 10 minutes he’s spent calming my nerves – before clipping the pulley attached to my harness to the steel cable and running it back and forth a few passes to make sure it is secure. He smiles down at me. “You’re ready to fly.”
Standing at the edge of a wooden platform built about seven feet off the ground on the edge of a ravine, my eyes follow the steel cable secured to the tree behind me until it disappears into the old growth forest. I can’t see the end, but I can see the ground – many, many feet below me.
“Here goes nothing.” I clutch the rope connecting my harness to the zipline and take a step.
And I’m flying.
The trees are a blur as I pass them, my legs kicking, my arms stretched out in either direction. I can hear Peterson cheering me on, but his voice is lost behind me as I zip across the 100-yard cable. Soon I only hear my voice, squealing and laughing as I zoom down the zipline.
The end is approaching so I prepare for my landing. The ziplines at Adventureworks in Kingston Springs don’t use hand brakes on the cables. Instead, the lines are designed to slant higher toward their end, and I have to stop myself by putting my feet down and slowing my momentum.
“Imagine you’re landing on a moving treadmill,” the guide’s words from earlier echo in my mind in the five seconds I have to prepare myself for this landing.
The ground approaches, and I find myself sprawled on my back on the forest floor, my torso still attached to the zipline by my harness. It was less than graceful, but I’m too exhilarated to care.
“I told you that you’d love it!” Peterson announces as he lands on both feet and unhooks his harness in one fluid motion. Show off.
But he’s right, I did love it – even the sloppy landing. I’m not sure why I doubted him. Peterson has 23 years of experiences as a ziplining guide, and he’s been at Adventureworks in Kingston Springs, just 30 minutes west of Nashville, since the park first installed ziplines in 2008. (Related: Ziplining Sites in Tennessee)
Peterson swears there are no special skills required with the landing, and that “it will get easier with more practice, I promise.” (I, in fact, prove this theory wrong. I get continuously worse at the landing part as we make our way through the park’s nine ziplines. But in my defense, by the time we’ve approached the longest zipline of the day – a whopping two football fields long – I’m having so much fun that I find myself swinging my legs around and laying back in my harness. So the landings sneak up on me.)
Adventureworks first opened as a team-building activity center in 1987. Jennifer Halverson and Brian Davis now own the park, which still offers teamwork programs but also caters to providing fun adventures for families and other groups.
The land around the park naturally lent itself to ziplining, Davis says. “The topography in this area is ideal,” he notes. “The bend of the Harpeth River cuts through these hills and creates these incredible ravines. If you tried to walk it, you’d have to hike down to these very low spots – our highest zip is 84 feet off the ground – and then you’d have to hike back up.”
But you don’t have to have a large forest of 80-foot ravines to set up a zipline. In fact, many farms across the state are adding ziplines to their agritourism attractions.
RiverView Mounds Century Farm in Clarksville has two ziplines – one 600 feet long and the other about 400 – which range between 15 and 30 feet off the ground. They offer ziplining to families who visit during the farm’s spring and fall festivals.
Brothers Chris and Steve Rinehart and Chris’ wife, Scarlett Mulligan-Rinehart, have been running RiverView Mounds since the brothers inherited the farm in 2006. It was on a kindergarten field trip with their son to a pumpkin farm in Portland that Chris Rinehart and his wife realized what they wanted to do with RiverView Mounds’ 400 acres.
“We’d never even considered agritourism, even though it makes so much sense to us now,” Mulligan-Rinehart says. “I just remember sitting on that Portland farm and my husband and I looking at each other and both saying, ‘We have to do this.’ ”
A few years later, the husband and wife had the same experience while standing on the platform getting ready to take off down a zipline in Mammoth Cave, Ky.
“We’re standing there, all harnessed in and getting ready to zip, and I turned and looked at Chris and just like that time on our son’s field trip, we both just instantly knew this was it,” Mulligan-Rinehart recalls. “This is what we needed on the farm.”
Mulligan-Rinehart, who is also the president of Tennessee’s Agritourism Association, had been looking for a way to entertain the teens who visit RiverView Mounds with their families.
“I’d watched so many teenagers come to our farm with their families,” she says. “And they were texting or sulking, their lips curled up, just determined not to have a good time. I wanted a way to engage that group.”
They didn’t waste any time. On the car ride back to Tennessee from their ziplining trip, Mulligan-Rinehart was on her smartphone researching professionals in the Clarksville area who could set up safe ziplines. By fall 2011, RiverView Mounds had their zips.
“It’s becoming so popular,” she says. “Every farm is going to be putting these in soon.”
Ziplining is a great attraction for any farm or community because pretty much anyone can do it.
“I always joke that ‘If you can put on a pair of pants, you can zipline,’ because putting on the harness is the hardest part,” Peterson says back at Adventureworks. “It really is something anyone can enjoy. The oldest person I’ve had on a tour was 96. She wanted to cross it off her bucket list.”
“It doesn’t matter your age or who you are, you’re going to enjoy this,” he adds. “It’s such a unique experience, you just clip on and let go. You can’t help but enjoy yourself. After you leave, it’s still running through your mind, even the next day. That sense of youthfulness stays with you.”
I’m begging him to run through the course just one more time before we call it a day.
“What happened to the girl who was afraid to walk off the ledge?” he asks as he clips me to the cable and tests that it is secure.
I just shrug and leap off the platform. And I’m flying.