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Zip the Zoo and Zoom the River at Riverbanks Zoo!

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I got off the river zip line about four hours ago and am still having a hard time writing something other than “Oh my holy moly! THAT WAS SO COOL! Do it again!”

ZiptheZoo

Let’s rewind a little bit. A while back I was invited by Riverbanks Zoo to attend Media Preview Day for Zip the Zoo. I accepted. A few days later I realized this meant I would be hanging from a string from very, very high up over rushing, cold water … with a bunch of actual grown up media professionals. So we have the fear of heights and unknown, crazy, physical stuff combined with  the social anxiety of looking like I have no business being there combining for a perfect storm of anxiety. I painfully admit that I seriously considered backing out for several days this week. But I got up this morning, put on my big girl pants and a full body harness.

ziptozookatilaughingSafety First

The zip line tours at Riverbanks Zoo were built by Beanstalk Builders out of North Carolina, who go above and beyond normal industry regulations. Riverbanks Zoo writes, “Riverbanks’ zip lines have been engineered for safety and exceed all industry construction, training and safety standards.” You have a full body harness and are attached to the safety or zip cable with two independent attachment points originating from two separate places on your harness. They use gravity braking for most of the lines and a magnetic braking system for the zip line across the river. So, you don’t have to worry about hand braking. Beanstalk’s website says the aim for “Tinkerbell-like landings”, and that’s what I saw all day.

You are attached to something (tree or zipline) through out the tour. This is one of the main reasons the tour takes two hours. Only person is on the zipline at a time. Then it takes a few minutes to get that person unhooked from the zipline and secured to the tree. It gives you plenty of time to take cool pictures from the platforms of your friends and the beautiful scenery. I had on pants with pockets that zipped to make double sure everything (my phone, car key, etc) wasn’t going anywhere. I would highly recommend a small camera with a wrist strap.

ziptozootreeCertified arborists worked with Riverbanks and the builders to ensure the best trees were used. The platforms are attached to white oak trees carefully chosen for their size and makeup. The anchors go 10 inches deep into the tree to be sturdy. The anchor system was designed to not damage the tree and to allow for future tree growth. But a warning – they do sway while you are on the platform. From a physics standpoint, this is a good thing. From a scaredy cat’s point of view, it’s a bit unnerving.

Now to today’s adventure …

ziptozoogear

First, your super guides get you all snug in your harness and your helmet fitted. The harnesses were actually quite comfortable. I was not the only on to be pleasantly surprised that nothing pinched or squeezed to bad. You do need to wear long shorts or pants. I would also recommend a longer-ish shirt. Everything gets shifted and scooched.  The Zip the Zoo tour all takes places right around this area, the Carousel Plaza. For Zoom the River (the tour I did today), you get a ride to just across the pedestrian bridge.

ziptozoolittlecargo

To get up to your first platform, you climb up the cargo net tunnel thingy. It’s not really hard, but it takes some strength to get up at that incline.

ziptozoofirstline

This is the first line. Not too bad, huh? This is the point I started to breathe a little easier and think I could actually do this. One of our guides, Will, said it was totally okay if I threw up, just to please not get it on the harness, because it’s hard to clean. The photographer in the bottom of the picture helps you see it’s not that bad height wise.

ziptozoosecondline

Above is the second line. If you can find the other photographer in the bottom, you can see this one is much higher. The part sticking out is the runway to help you “walk/run” up to the platform as you come in. Side note – the weather today was PERFECT!! Can you believe 70 degrees in August in SC? It was even chilly up in the trees!

ziptozoobridgewiggleThis bridge. OMG. This bridge. This is the one place I don’t think I took four breaths or blinked. It looks simple enough, right? No. It’s high up. It moves back and forth. It moves side to side. It moves up and down. Just when you think you’ve found some rhythm or gotten some balance, you have to step from one board to another. And it’s not a small gap. So you have to get your balance on the last board. Then step one foot to the other board and get that foot balanced, while still trying to keep your back foot balanced, then move. This bridge almost did me in. The whole time I’m thinking, “Why is this so hard? I’m a smart girl. I’m a strong girl. For the love of God, I taught gymnastics. Just look at the end of the board. Who am I kidding. This bridge is kickin’ my butt. Balance beams don’t move.” But I did it!!

ziptozooriverline3This is the view from the other side of the platform at the end of the bridge. I’m not going to lie. It took me a good four minutes of getting over the internal freak out over the bridge to look around and realize this was the line that goes over the river. So …. after a long break while everyone got to the platform and  then the first person or two went across the river, it was my turn.

ziptozooriverline2And obviously, I made it to the other side! This is the view as other people come in. If you look carefully, that little white speck is Alicia Barnes from ABC Columbia. I’m bummed I didn’t get better pictures of this part, because it is truly amazing!! From the platform you are zipping through the trees then all of a sudden, the ground drops off underneath you (67? foot drop) and you’re in the wide open and over the river going about 35 miles per hour. The 1000+ ft ride takes about thirty seconds. It is stunning and thrilling and just plain fun. My advice – remind yourself to look around, left, right, up, down. I was so focused on the end that I missed a bunch. I did wave to two families on the bridge. My very first thought was that I want to do that again!!

ziptozoocargoAnd this is the much longer, steeper cargo net tunnel thingy you have to climb/walk down to get back to solid ground. It’s also the one you climb up to do the shorter Zip the Zoo tour. The Zip the Zoo tour is four shorter lines that all go around the Carousel Plaza area, designed for beginners, intermediates and those who need to warm up to the idea of the Zoom the River tour. Maybe I should’ve done that tour first.

I am so happy I decided to go today! It was a wonderful experience in itself, but personally, also a huge confidence builder physically and all the way around. Everyone was so super nice from our super guides, Will and Megan, to the Riverbanks Zoo staff and volunteers to the other people in my group. I can’t thank Riverbanks Zoo enough for inviting me and Amy (the super assistant) and my sister telling me to “mom up” and go.

What you need to know so you can Zip the Zoo too:

Reservations are required – you can make your reservations here.

Tickets Prices:
Zip the Zoo: $30 for Riverbanks members, $45 for the general publicZoom the River: $40 for Riverbanks members, $55 for the general public
All prices include general admission.

(I know. These are not dollar menu prices, but it is worth it. I’m not saying you have to do it every weekend, but it is an experience to cross off your to do list and worth it! You get what you pay for! I plan to go twice or so a year.)

Plan on getting there thirty minutes early. Tours last two to three hours.

Wear long shorts or pants. Bring a rain jacket for rainy days. Long hair has to be tied back. Wear a strap for glasses and sunglasses. Have a wrist or neck strap for cameras.

Tours will go on in the rain, but will be cancelled for inclement weather.
Cancellations will be posted at www.riverbanks.org or guests with reservations may call 803.779.8717 for updates.

Weight restrictions: must be over 70 lbs. and under 250 lbs.

There are more pictures on Twitter, and I’m going to post more on Facebook.

So … when are you going to Zip the Zoo and who are you taking with you???

 

 

attached to the safety or zip cable with two independent

attachment points originating from two distinct and separate places on

the full body harness,

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1 Comment

  1. Shannon

    August 15, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Very cool! So glad you got to be one of the first and share the details with us. I would love to do this sometime!

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