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Flightline

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Ropes What!? Jungle Ropes Safari Opens 7-20 at Safari Park

Matt rides the Jungle Ropes Safari zip line.

It wasn’t until I completed the first few challenges that a huge grin appeared on my face. I was getting the hang of the clicking and unclicking of the “smart belay” system. The ducking and dodging and balancing and climbing became more comfortable and familiar. I was learning to exist in another world–an arboreal world high above the ground full of pulleys and wires and intricately designed floating obstacles. The rush from accomplishing previous challenges drove me forward, and the anticipation of the challenges ahead manifested in a big, defiant smile that said “bring it on.” I was hooked.

When I first heard a “ropes course” was being installed at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, my first reaction was “ropes what!?” I had never heard of a ropes course. I had an idea that it might be some kind of obstacle course, but I never envisioned the otherworldly treetop labyrinth that is Jungle Ropes Safari. When you head to the Safari Park and see it for yourself, you’ll know what I mean. It’s pretty impressive. I was lucky enough to be offered a sneak peek at Jungle Ropes Safari, and I can safely say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done.

After suiting up in a super-stylish harness and watching a quick safety briefing, I was let loose on the course. It took me a few minutes to get in the groove, but soon I was brachiating with the best of them. I could say I felt like a monkey or an orangutan, but I’d be lying. I was way too clumsy with my awkward, bipedal human body that was clearly adapted for ground dwelling. It didn’t make me feel like an arboreal ape, but it gave me A TON of respect for them. Honestly, an orangutan wouldn’t bat an eye at Jungle Ropes Safari. Child’s play.

When I was about halfway through the course, I noticed a peaceful feeling falling over me. Sure I was breaking a sweat and trying not to fall, but after a while I forgot about all that. I was focused on nothing but finding my next footing. It was just me and the trees and the course as I conquered challenge after challenge. It was an unexpected kind of meditation, but very welcome.

Think you have what it takes to make it across?

I finally arrived at the zip line portion of the course. It’s nothing compared to our Flightline Safari zip line, which is 2/3 of a mile long, but it’s a nice breather from the rest of the course. You get to sit back and enjoy the ride to the next platform without expending much energy. I clicked my smart belays onto the line and attached my trolley. I knew where to put my hands, almost like second nature at this point–one on the trolley and the other on the straps. I leaned back and pushed off the platform. Gliding through the lush canopy with dappled sunlight lighting my way, I found myself thinking, “I could do this all day.”

Jungle Ropes Safari opens to the public on July 20, 2012.

*Due to the strenuous nature of this aerial adventure, children must be at least 7 years old to participate. Safety restrictions require that only guests who are between 50 and 275 pounds and have a reach (measured from the sole of the foot to the up-stretched tips of the fingers) of 55 inches can take the Safari. We don’t have a price solidified yet, but we’ll keep you in the loop.

Matt Steele is the social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Garden Fest Insect House Tweet-up.

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Flightline

Damien takes flight!

After working for the San Diego Zoo for two years, I finally worked up the courage to take on Flightline, the zipline experience at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park! I have always loved birds and often stop to admire the hawks soaring at the Wild Animal Park each time I visit. I knew I wouldn’t be flying in circles, but I wanted to know what it would feel like to step off a ledge and not fall straight down!

I arrived at the Park early in the morning for a 10 a.m. “flight.” It was a beautiful July morning, and the Park was just starting to wake up. I decided to purchase a helmet cam, too, so I could save the experience and brag, of course, on facebook, youtube, twitter, etc. with a video of the ride. (View the video below!)

Our trainer, Jesse, reviewed how to fly safely on the Flightline and taught us about birds and some of the mechanics of flight, with the help of ostrich and condor feathers. We learned how to position our bodies to go faster or slower and then learned what we needed to do to “land” at the end of the line. Landing consisted of lifting legs to the sky to create some resistance and prepare for the braking columns at the end of the line. So much less graceful than a bird, I have to admit, but much better than flying in an airplane.

The shorter “fledgling” line would help us get familiar with take off and landing. Walking onto its platform, I looked down and thought, “This is it? Noooooo problem!” Jesse strapped each of us onto our line, gave us a few tips, and released us one by one; before I knew it, I was flying in a straight line above the ground, going faster and faster. It felt like being on a huge swing, only there was no backward motion. I could feel the air wrap around my body as I picked up speed and quickly realized how poorly humans are suited for flying! I didn’t have any beautiful feathers to guide me gracefully or eyes on the sides of my face to deal with the onslaught of wind! Why didn’t I wear sunglasses? It all came rapidly to an end as the landing platform approached and I pivoted my legs into the air.

Flightline's launching platform

We were guided to a caravan truck next to drive up to the main line for the big flight. I got to see areas of the Park I had never seen before. Arriving at the top of the hill, we were ready for our big flight! I was overcome by the view and the size of the line; I could see the entire Park, the surrounding mountains and sky, everything! And I was just looking straight out. Looking down, I realized how high up we were—900 feet! Jesse told us we’d be dropping about 400 feet at speeds of around 45 miles per hour. I started to get a little nervous as I got strapped into the line; the main line made the fledging line look like child’s play.

Asked if I was ready, I nodded as confidently as I could and stepped off the platform. The drop was gradual and easy at first, and I couldn’t believe how high off the ground I was. I realized that I would soon be passing over the larger open field exhibits and started to look down to see what I could find. The only thing I remember seeing was a rhino, and then the speed started to kick in. The wind really just enveloped my entire body with my face taking the brunt of the air. This must be why most birds have their eyes on the side of their face! Full speed now, I looked down to see my shoes zipping directly over trees just below, everything just a bit of a blur looking down. Looking up and side to side, I was just amazed by the view and the sensation of gliding down.

The final landing platform was approaching, and I could just make out a guide waiting to signal me to go into landing position. Once done, I hit the braking columns, and my flight was over—I was safely on the landing platform! Turning around, I couldn’t believe that I had just come from the top of the flight deck on the hill. It was so much smaller from this vantage point and seemed to blend into the hill. It was fantastic experience!

Next time I’d like to do a night flight. I think the view of a sunset taking the same flight would just be awesome. I left the Park that day with an even greater admiration of birds and a better understanding of the Park’s conservation efforts. If you decide to take a flight, bring some sunglasses, a camera, and a little extra courage!

Damien Lasater is a manager in the San Diego Zoo’s Marketing Department.