I visited the new zip line on May 9, threw on a harness and experienced zipping for the first time. Guides Jim Scroggins and Katie Mellas showed me the ropes -- literally -- and went over some safety guidelines and hand signals (there are just three, "keep it comin'," "brake," and "brake harder"), and showed me the most important thing to know about zipping: how to stop. Each tour has two guides, one who zips first to receive every member of the party at the forward platform, and one who brings up the rear, ensuring each zipper is securely harnessed and ready to ride.
After a quick run along Baby Bear, the course's 300-foot training line, the guides were convinced enough that I could brake, but there were two more relatively easy lines before they unleashed me on the Soaring Eagle, a 2,000-foot line, 250 feet above a steep ravine.
Before dangling my life on the line, I had to find out a bit more about my guides. When I asked for his zip lining credentials, Scroggins told me he's been climbing and cutting down trees for years. He's a roping and rigging pro, and, as course manager, he inspects the lines each morning and actually helped with the construction of the zip line. Mellas, however, had the most "mom cred" with me. She was a stay-at-home mom who was looking for a fun job. She's a newly certified zip-line guide, and something about her made me trust she wasn't going to launch a fellow mom into a less-than-safe situation.
Standing on the Soaring Eagle launch platform with the guides tinkering with carabiners and straps, I faced two choices, trust the line and my guides and rocket across the ravine, or take the "Walk of Shame" back to the parking lot (it's a nice feature to keep in mind, especially if you're considering zipping with kids or adults prone to anxiety). Of course, I was here to zip, so a leisurely hike through the woods was out of the question. When I asked how fast I'd be zipping, Scroggins told me some zippers have gotten up to about 55-60 mph. "Don't worry. I will stop you," he added as he stepped off the platform and zipped ahead of me to the next platform. Mellas rigged me up to the line, and off I went. It was far more peaceful than I had anticipated (you can see helmet-cam video of the ride below).
There were five more lines to transverse before we reached the bottom of the ravine. None were as long as the Soaring Eagle, but they all seemed just as fast. My arms and abs were a bit like Jello by the end of the hour-and-a-half trek, but I could have gone back for more.
Know Before You Go
- Kids can zip. All riders must prove they can safely brake, and they must be heavy enough to build necessary momentum to reach the end of the line. It's up to the guides' discretion whether kids will zip tandem with a guide or independently.
- All participants must sign a waiver, and those under 18 must have their waivers signed by a parent or guardian.
- Wear sunglasses. Even if it's not sunny, they'll help break the wind.
- You'll be in the great outdoors, so be mindful of ticks and other biting bugs.
Grafton Zipline Adventures is located at 600 Timber Ridge Road, Grafton, Ill., 62037, on the same property as Aerie's Riverview Winery and Cottages. Zipping costs $89 and discounts are available for large parties. Aerie's also plans to offer some package deals for families staying in their new villas. For more information, visit www.graftonzipline.com or the company's Facebook page, or call 618-786-8439.
Top: Jessica Pupillo brakes as she arrives at one of eight landing platforms.
Middle: Course manager Jim Scroggins zips to the forward platform to meet riders.
Bottom: Several of the platforms along the course "float" or hang from the trees. Riders are tethered to the zipline at all times. While it may look otherwise, the guides and special stops prevent riders from colliding with the trees the zip lines are attached to.
|Watch the Video
See parts of Jessica's zip trip for yourself! For riders that want to capture their experience on video, Grafton Zipline Adventures offers guests a helmet cam and a souvenier video for $30.