I never knew that I’d ever end up here. I wonder what had made me choose to come up here in the first place.
I was five hundred feet above the ground, the only things holding me up were a strong metal wire and my harness. The sun burned the back of my neck as I stared into the scene below me, but despite the warmth, I was still shivering, either from the short breeze that blew by or the realization of the alarming distance I stood from the ground. I’m not sure I’ve ever been this high in open air before. I thought, not calming me down at all. Why did I ever choose for this to happen?
The last glimpse of the ground I got was of the tranquil scene below, many of wild animals roaming around peacefully. If only they knew what it felt like from up here. I thought. I was finally distracted. And all of a sudden, I was released, soaring forward through the air.
During the summer of 2017, my family and I visited San Diego, California, “America’s Finest City”. The entire vacation had been hectic and full of adventures including the San Diego Zoo and Seaworld and (the very end of) Comic Con, Balboa Park and Belmont Park and La Jolla and the Del Mar racetrack and, of course, plenty of beaches. However, in my opinion, the whole week-long trip led up to this moment, the San Diego Zoo AND Safari Park (not to be confused with the San Diego Zoo). This park, unlike the San Diego Zoo, is not in the city but, in fact, about an hour away from it in the hills of California. This zoo is unlike most, especially because about half the animals are allowed to roam free, (in vast enclosures) or you are allowed to get close to them. And even this was not the main reason I was here. That was the zipline.
My family and I navigated our way throughout the expansive park and eventually approached the small zipline booth. It read “Flightline”, the San Diego Safari Park’s name for the zipline, in wavy, red letters. Behind the glass stood an older woman. She seemed bored and annoyed with her job, as if it wasn’t what she had dreamed of doing (which was probably the case) “How can I help you?” She said in a monotone voice.
“We’re here for the zipline.” My mom answered in an annoyed tone, obviously sensing the disinterested tone from the woman.
“Can I see the tickets?” The woman asked, although it sounded like more of a statement than a question. My dad grabbed the tickets and slid them through the opening in the glass.
“Great.” She said as as she sighed and checked all four papers. “Step onto the platform for your weight.” She motioned to a metal square on the floor, slightly lower than ground level. All of us stepped on and were measured. “The kids are just above minimum weight.” She stated.
“Okay. Thanks!” Melina and I responded in unison.
“You can go through the gate on the left to put on your gear. Have fun on the Flightline Safari.” Despite my excitement, just having a single thought about the zipline made me scared (I’m afraid of heights!). I hate it whenever I’m high up. I always become super self-conscious or my every move and aware of my safety.
After this, we walked behind the booth to a closed-off section for zipline participants only. Here, we were introduced to our instructors, Dustin and Zach, and put on our safety equipment. We also put all of our belongings in a bin, besides our phones which we received lanyards for. Others started arriving through the gate including a mother and her son who look a few years younger than Melina and I, and a family of three, except they were older and had a daughter who seemed to be in her early twenties. The instructors got everyone settled and played the safety video from a TV placed on the back of the Flightline booth. This got me even more frightened to go on the zipline, especially because it gave me a visual of what the ride would be like. It also taught us how the safety gear would work. After that finished, we headed down to the practice zipline.
The practice zipline was, I felt, an eighth of the ⅔ of a mile ride. This was short enough to not give you a great idea of what the large zipline would be like, but helps to know how to set up the equipment. “Why don’t you go first little guy.” One of the instructors said. I always hated being called little guy, like I was 7 or something. Especially now when I am twelve years old and in middle school. I stepped in first and everyone followed behind and filled the four spots on the zipline.
The zipline stood between the trees, like a river between a valley. The trees made way and framed the zipline until the platform was reached. I glanced down. We were about fifty feet above the ground. A breeze blew by. I felt the sun peeking through the shade of the trees, resting on the back of my neck. I took a deep breath of the fresh sharp, cool spring air. The leaves rustled in the trees. It reminded me of the trail we traveled on to get here, with lots of elaborate paths hidden in the trees.
My family went first. The instructors hooked us up to the zipline. I looked over at Melina. “This is a bit high.”
“C’mon Jason, it won’t be that bad.”
“Well, you can go on Ripcord at the Carnival. I can barely go on the Ferris Wheel.” These were rides from the Easton Fireman’s Carnival. I’ve never been a big fan of rides.
“Ready little man?” The same instructor asked. Ugh. And all of the sudden I was off, flying through the trees. I looked down. The ground seemed so far away. I was never used to being high up. Luckily, in seconds it was over. I was scared out of my mind, my hands shaking as fast as a speedster’s in the Flash (my favorite TV show). We brought our gear over to a road where we sat in the bed of the truck. There were benches, and it overall reminded me of a haunted hayride-style truck, except it was leading to something scarier. Although the initial zipline didn’t seem so bad, I knew it would get worse. My excitement was overpowered by my anxiety and fear of heights. We departed for the zipline.
“So we are approaching the outside of the park. We are now passing the place where we store the food for the animals.” Dustin pointed to a metal building on the right. “We often times get deer and other animals which are able to hop over the fences and eat some of the food. “
“How often do you think?” My mom asked.
“Weekly. But as long as the animals are fed, from the park or not, it is okay.”
Our instructors explained more about the park, animals, and habitat. Being a zoo, they used the metaphor of us being birds, with the practice zipline making us “fledglings”. Throughout all of this, I was unable to listen, being too scared out of my mind to hear what they were saying. We passed through a gate signifying the border of the park. I realized that we were exiting San Diego Safari Park grounds. I couldn’t believe I got this far. At this point, climbing up the mountains, I was starting to get a sense of the height. We passed through hills and rocky terrain, parts where only people would go if they were going on the zipline.
“You guys know you’ll be, like, 500 feet up.” Dustin said. The other instructor was driving the truck. “Most people can’t make it through the whole ride. Everyone thought this was funny, EXCEPT me. This started to freak me out, and even though he was joking, I pictured myself in that situation.
I looked out at the California desert terrain surrounding us, an endangered biome (as I learned from the ride up to the zipline) and remembered back to the time where I told my mom to buy the tickets early so I couldn’t back out. This was so I couldn’t back out before the trip, because I would feel guilty that she had spent money on it already. Now, I was regretting that decision, although it was a courageous one.
We could finally see it in the distance, a platform connecting to a strong wire, both of which were mounted several hundred feet off of the African Plains and Asian Savanna parts of the zoo. We reached the hill at the end of the path. At this point, I was worried about only my safety, especially at this height. We brought our gear out as we exited the truck and stepped onto the platform. The bottom was similar to one on a playground, but sturdier being in cliff. You could see the ground through the octagon-shaped holes. I glanced down. All of a sudden, I was atop Mount Everest, instead the ground was grassy and the weather warm.
“Guys, can we take some pictures?” Mom asked, although we all knew it was a command.
“Umm, I don’t know. This isn’t exactly the type of moment that I’ll wanna remember.” I confessed.
“You’ll be fine, Jason. Stop freaking out. It’ll be fun. Definitely better than you probably think it’ll be.” Dad assured.
“Okay.” I muttered. Although this sounded like the typical thing that only a parent would say to calm their child down, I wanted to believe him, that it would be okay.
“Guys, can you look at the camera?” Mom asked. My mom, as usual, took pictures of us. I put on a fake smile, although they knew I was scared. I made sure my phone was ready to film this, just in case what Dad said was true. The instructors hooked us up to the zipline.
“You ready, bud?” The other instructor, Zach, said.
“Eh.” I muttered quietly. I looked over to Melina who was preparing to film. Right now that was the least of my worries. I imagined the zipline snapping. I began to feel sick and wish I hadn’t agreed to this. How is this even supposed to be an “amusement ride”? I thought. I noticed that the bulky gear we were wearing was designed to act as a chair when sitting connected to the zipline.
I glanced down and noticed that that the only thing separating me from the sky was this platform. The rest of the scene expanded below. I could see the whole Africa Exhibit in front of me. There was a small pond down below for the animals to cool down. The cloudless sky was a bright blue, reflecting itself in the pond’s waters. The animals grazed gracefully in the green grass as a gust of wind glided by. The breeze sent chills throughout my body (it was colder in this higher altitude). The other families silently whispered behind us. Despite the scene’s peacefulness, I had to look away, having realized the height I was looking at it from. I looked to my right and saw Melina and Dad on the two lines. I looked to the left to find my mom. We made eye contact.
“Jason, make sure you…” And all of a sudden, I was off. The wind whooshed past my ears. I could hear the zipline glide as I flew down, whizzing as each second passed. I jerked my head forward to find Melina and Mom and Dad far ahead, although Mom and Dad were released after Melina and I. Anxious, I decided to take a look down. The Whole Entire Africa exhibit stretched out below me, with all of the gazelles and giraffes and rhinos and elephants and zebras and antelopes and vultures and rams roaming around, except now they were the size of ants.
All of the nervous energy inside me suddenly disappeared. I was no longer stressed, but actually enjoying the ride.
No ideas of falling off.
Enjoying the weather and the scenery, (for once today!) I flew down the zipline, unnerved by the height anymore. I didn’t see why this was such a big problem to me before. I noticed that the ride up was way worse than the ride down! Nearing the end, I searched for my family. They were only feet from the ending platform. Why was I so far behind them?
I neared the final one hundred feet, but I was gradually getting slower. I stopped about twenty feet from the end. I was stuck. My heart picked up and started to beat as fast as a cheetah runs. I was stuck. The instructors at the end said “Stay calm. You’re fine.” I disagreed. How could I get to the platform? I sat feet away from the platform, my family standing on it. My feet, however, were dangling far above the ground. I couldn’t inch myself forward and I couldn’t pull myself towards the platform. I imagined a whole crew coming in and trying to get me over.
“Why are you still over there?” Melina laughed, not sensing my worrying.
But luckily, one of the staff pulled out a large pole. It reached over to me and I grabbed on. I was okay. My feet were above the ending platform. I made it. They unhooked me and I planted my feet on the ground.
I stared up at the Ripcord, supposedly the “scariest ride” at the Easton Fireman’s Carnival. It was a drop ride, a ride unlike any other at the carnival.
“You going?” Peter, one of my friends, said. They all knew I would probably chicken out and watch them go on. I saw Melina approaching the ride with her friends.
“Are you gonna go on?” She asked.
“I’m not so sure.” I replied, an obvious no.
“C’mon Jason. You can do it.” She encouraged. “You did the zipline in San Diego! You can do this for sure. It’s not that bad.” I remembered all of the times I couldn’t go on rides, when I rejected to be near them. But she was right.
“Are you sure? I think you can handle it.”
“Okay. I’ll do it.” My friends looked surprised. I couldn’t blame them. I surprised myself. We all rushed towards the Ripcord and sat in the seats. We tightened the safety bar and we started moving up. There’s the nervous feeling again. I thought. Where my chest gets all tight and I start to think of all the worst possible situations. The carnival expanded below. The people becoming the size of ants. We were slowly dragged upwards, as if the creators of this ride wanted me to suffer.
“You’ll hear clicking when we are close to the top.” Paul declared. I couldn’t respond, I was shaking so much. Then, I remembered the zipline. This wasn’t nearly as high as that! I could get through this. I had over exaggerated everything that happened during that ride. The height. Getting stuck. The Ripcord wouldn’t be nearly as bad. I’m probably over exaggerating this too. The fear and anxiety was diminished. I was surprisingly excited to do this. I could tell Mom and Dad that I went on a ride this year, not that I avoided them all. The clicking began. We slowly reached the top of the Ripcord.
And I was dropped.