Friday, May 25, 2007

Made it!

Since I last updated, things went more or less according to plan. That being the whole fly-to-Seattle-late-then-fly-to-Juneau-then-overnight-in-Juneau-then-go-to-Ketchikan plan put together by the largely incompetent Alaska Air desk guy (who eventually confided in me that he'd only been working there for four months and really didn't have a clue). OK, sure, the Juneau Travelodge was, by far, the crappiest place I've ever spent $150 to stay in. (Seriously. I pulled down the bedspread to get in bed and found a big brown stain on the sheet. Ewww.) And, yeah, the guy next to me on the L.A.-to-Seattle flight was a big guy who hogged the armrest and left me sitting sideways for the whole flight. And did I mention that Alaska Airlines probably shouldn't have put anyone in that seat at all as the seat cushion had lost all support and reminded of one of those old-fashioned toilet-chair things with a great big hole in the middle? And, ok, the Seattle-to-Juneau flight was an hour late taking off.

But, setting aside all of that, things were actually pretty good. I got me a solid 5 hours of sleep in Juneau, made the connection to Ketchikan, and -- most importantly -- got checked in with the cruise people in time to do my very first shore excursion: the Canopy Adventure.

The guy from the cruise line picked me up at the airport and brought me to the hotel where everyone else was staying (and where I should have been staying, too). My dad met me outside with the bad news that my mother was feeling too bad (bad back) to go on the canopy adventure with me. The good news was that he was going in her place.

I was impressed. The Canopy Adventure was one of only two shore excursions on the whole trip that the three of us hadn't signed up for together. Dad had zero interest in riding zip lines through the rainforest. (Yes, rainforest. Ketchikan gets 13 feet of rain every year. Lots of rain makes a very green rainforest -- but not a tropical one, a temperate one. Spiffy.) With Mom on the injured list, Dad stepped in to pinch hit.

There were only six of us from the cruise on the Canopy. They dropped us off at the bottom of a hill where we were met by two guides with an open-backed four-wheel drive vehicle, and a box of helmets. (We were also pointed to 2 porta-potties in a "last can for hours" stop. It was suggested that we use it. Y'know, in case we got all nervous about the zip lines and ... well they didn't want any accidents on their equipment.) After answering nature's call, we strapped on our brain buckets, piled in the 4WD, told to "hold on" and were driven way uphill at a steep grade. Dad and I looked at each other, thought about mom's back, and figured she never would have made it this far.

Up at the top of the hill, they had a cabin set up with a bunch of equipment. We were all harnassed up (there will be photos of this later) -- both a harness on our legs (when they were describing how to put it on, they said to imagine it as a "really skimpy pair of shorts") and one over our chests (in case we did something really stupid and decided to flip over while zipping). Once suitably attired, we were taken outside to the first zipline. It was actually a practice line -- just a few feet off the ground, and with a path to walk back if you needed a little more practice.

We had two guides with us at all times. One would zip over to the far end (well, not so far on the practice line) and then "receive" us after the other one, who hung back, hooked us up and zipped us over. We didn't have to handle the equipment at all -- in fact, we were instructed not to. Pretty much all we had to do was (1) get in proper zipping position ("seated" with legs out in front); (2) steer (i.e., hold the contraption on the zip line and turn it a bit if we felt our bodies twisting sideways); and, when directed (3) brake (hold a gloved hand against the line to slow the heck down).

Our guide selected one of us to "volunteer" to be first across the practice line, and selected my Dad. I thought this was not the best choice as he was the one person who hadn't actually wanted to be there, but he was a good sport about it and zipped on over. I followed, then the rest of the group. Only one of us had to go back and try the practice line a second time. Conveniently, it was not me.

Once we more or less had the hang of it -- remember the first time you went skiing? (I do; it wasn't all that long ago) You know how they make sure you can sorta kinda do a snowplow stop, then they decide you're ready for the basic run? It's pretty much that way here. Once you show that you can sorta get in the right position and have some vague idea how to slow yourself, it's good enough for them. So, we were off. Dad was first again. :)

I gotta say, it probably took the first five zip lines -- which kept getting longer and faster. (I think one was over 300 feet, but I was trying not to pay attention whenever they told us these facts. We also started something like 95 feet off the ground.) ANYWAY, it probably took the first five of them for me to REALLY get the hang of it. First time, I tried to brake too hard. (The guide asked if my shoulder was ok because I took "quite a jolt." With all the adrenaline, I didn't feel a thing. Now, twelve hours later, I'm feeling it.) Another time, I had the braking down, but didn't have enough momentum to carry myself to the end of the line, so I had to turn myself around and pull myself in hand-over-hand. (The guide, bless her heart, said that this was because I was too small, and that nobody under 140 pounds can make it all the way across that particular line unless they're balled up in a "cannonball" position.) Another time, I twisted hard to one side, and, although I recovered, I never should have let myself get that far turned. Several times, I hit my helmet against the line.

After the first 5 zips, there was a series of three suspension bridges between the trees (a mid-zip palette-cleansing sorbet, as it were). I am not good on suspension bridges. Clip my harness to a zip line and send me across and I'm fine -- but have me walk across a wobbly bridge and I'm shaking like a leaf. Weird. Guide kept informing me how sturdy the bridges were and how much more weight they could take than just us. Said they were built to even stricter specifications than the zip lines -- which really was comforting because this operation's zip lines were really the sort of thing with so many built-in redudancies you didn't question their safety.

At the end of the bridges we had two more zips, which I really rocked on as, by now, I'd figured out how to sit so I wasn't using my helmet as a brake. I even had my Dad snap some pics of me, and I snapped some of him, too. (Which will be posted in due course.) Even the woman who had started out so wobbly she had to run the practice line again finished happily, and we were all pretty impressed with ourselves, and the lovely scenery we'd just sailed through.


hewasolddog299 said...

Glad you made it all the way to Juneau without a major hitch.

Sorry that the TraveLodge is such a sty. Such is life.

Sure glad you made your connect to Ketchikan ok ... Bon Voyage!

"(The guide, bless her heart, said that this was because I was too small, and that nobody under 140 pounds can make it all the way across that particular line unless they're balled up in a "cannonball" position.)"

Now, if you'd had little ol' 270 pound me zipping your way behind you, the hand over hand trick would have come to you in a split second...

Sounds like you had more fun than you deserve.

Have I mentioned that I'm seriously envious of you and this trip?


hewasolddog299 said...

P.S. Weird coincidence: the banner advert above this entry is one for Shrek 3. It shows all of the major characters holding on for dear life to a line strung across a void.

As they say in the intro music to Andrew Zimmerman's show on cable, "How bizarre, how bizarre!"


helmswondermom said...

Zipping sounds fun and terrifying at the same time!  I'm glad you had a great time, but I would not have made it.  I can't even ride amusement park rides!