Zip-line to paradise

2011-08-13 00:00

WITH South Africans facing the brunt of the economic global crisis, continuous political dramas and day-to-day personal struggles, it’s obvious we’re all feeling quite stressed. Like really stressed. I heard somewhere that we have the highest heart-attack rate in the world. Sjoe! We seriously need to unwind. I suppose that’s why there’s such growth in the extreme-adventure industry. People are starting to realise that pubs and clubs don’t offer them that ultra dose of medicine as much as doing crazy things in the great outdoors might.

“Stress be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art about to vanish if this line snaps and I fall 100 metres into the depths of Oribi Gorge.” Those were not the words flashing through my mind this week, when I took to Lake Eland Game Reserve’s new zip-line swing. That’s only because I was too frozen to think of anything remotely witty to say.

“Are you sure my harness is on properly?” I ask Shepstone Barnes, manager of the new R1,6-million business on the South Coast. He responds politely: “You’ve asked me three times already. Let’s send you on your way, shall we?”

Funnily, I had already done five of the 10 sections of the three-kilometre adventure course. However, the first five had only skimmed the edge of the gorge, the moments of terror only lasting seconds. I hadn’t been too scared then.

It’s quite an interesting process. I’m strapped in tightly and then my pulley is connected to a cable that can take over two tons of weight. Another emergency cord is attached to a second emergency cable, which can also take over two tons of weight. With all safety measures in place, I was told that I had complete control over the process. Yikes! Not sure if I want complete control, I thought. Wearing thick industrial leather gloves, I was told to keep my hand behind my head, holding on to the cable. “This is your ABS,” remarked Barnes, showing me how to tighten the grip, ensuring I stopped at the next base. “That’s African Breaking System.”

The great thing about the adventure course was that I got multiple views of the beautiful area. Each launch offered another vista of the incredible views, which stretch as far as inner KwaZulu-Natal. I could feel the air rushing past me and the sensation of being airborne became ever more sensational.

Stopping at the next base turned out to be easier than I thought. Guides at each base are positioned to ensure I stopped, even if I had forgotten to apply ABS. “We have emergency breaks in place so the guides can stop you if you freeze up,” Barnes explained, his thorough explanations and obvious experience calming me down.

But now, I was about to cross the gorge, a 700-metre swing that would take me whooshing across an abyss. What was really great about this experience was that I couldn’t really see what was below me. Only once I launched was the true height evident. Which helped. Richard Zuma, an experienced hand at zip-lining, launched himself off before me. The deputy manager of the business, Zuma was as much an actor as he was confident. He acted the whole way across the gorge, using his arms and legs in a running motion and then turning into a bird, flapping his “wings”. He started swinging his legs above his head, proving how utterly safe the system is. I started wondering what actions I could mimic. Not a lot, as it turned out. Releasing my grip on the cable, I began the 45 km/h slide across the gorge, but I was simply too stunned by the serene beauty that was around me to start aping about. I felt like a bird gliding through the gorge, the river far beneath trickling on its course to the sea.

Stress? What stress? Life made sense again. It was not about the petty decisions one has to make in life, or the daily grind that one endures. Luckily, philosophising was put aside before it could crumble into diatribe. That was because crossing the gorge was not the end.

Another four swings remained, one gliding through a forest, the others over two more severe heights. After a three-hour adventure, the final swing awaited. The shimmering water of Lake Eland looked as though it was going to gobble me up before my final landing, but as I made my final glide over the water’s surface, I landed.

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