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05.27.09

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Phaedra

Photograph by Curtis Cartier
Zippity Done That: Leadership Santa Cruz County executive director Dave Vincent comes in for a zipline landing.

The Air Up There

Zipping around the redwoods for fun and edification

By Jessica Lussenhop


FALLING out of a tree is not as easy as it sounds. Not if all that's keeping you from a faceful of fiddleheads some 40 feet below is a thin cable. "This one is like the bunny slope," our canopy tour guide, Steve Richards, assures us. "Enjoy the zip." And then he tips off the edge of the wooden platform built treehouse-style around the trunk of a living redwood tree and whizzes across a 158-foot zipline, his shadow dancing along just behind him in the sunlit brush below.

Tour coordinator Laurie Loofbourrow confesses that if you're going to chicken out, the first zipline on the Mt. Hermon Conference Center Canopy Tour is the place to do it. "It doesn't get easier," she says, clicking the safety clamps attached to my belt. "If you're nervous right here, it doesn't get better."

In order to zip, you just sit back in the harness like a baby in a cradle and let go. You're doubly secured to the galvanized steel cable. You're helmeted and strapped in. But when Richards' voice on the walkie-talkie chirps, "Zip clear, Laurie," the idea of stepping out into thin air feels like a really stupid idea. "He's ready for you," Loofbourrow coaxes gently. Who are we talking about, exactly?

To Loofbourrow, this is the best part of the Canopy Tour. "I think the biggest thrill for a lot of people is because you're so far up in the trees," she says. "The adrenaline comes from being so far up and trusting the equipment."

That's important to note, since the ride from tree to tree feels rather leisurely, with time to take in the view above, below and 360 degrees around, so long as you're not panicking the whole way over. "It is not a thrill ride," says Loofbourrow. "It's an experience and a unique perspective on the redwood forest."

The Canopy Tour is also designed more as an educational and team-building experience, so rather than flying from tree to tree conga-line style, Richards waits for each group to make it to the next platform--built from sustainable redwood and designed to allow the tree to continue to grow--where he points out ponderosa pines and fire scars. And then, of course, he makes sure to share with us how high up we're going to be this time.

"You'll be 150 feet up," he says, balancing nonchalantly on the tips of his Converse sneakers on the very edge of the platform. "In the second half of the tour, people get comfortable and start looking around. Enjoy this one, it's really fun." And off he goes.

In the fleeting seconds of airtime, it is possible to watch the humming birds pester one another, whiz by an abandoned squirrel's nest, and to feel the blast of cool air coming up from the forest floor. By the last of the six jumps, you're ready to go again, this time without all the teeth-clenching. "We're very intentional in nature," says Loofbourrow. "We'd like people to come away with a sense of awe."

MT. HERMON'S REDWOOD CANOPY TOURS: more information is available at www.mounthermon.org or 831.419.0153.


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