I am back after a short hiatus of…yesterday.
As some of you (stalkers lol) may know, yesterday happened to be my 43rd birthday on this planet (birthdays off of the planet do not count). I had preplanned to take the day off from work and spend it with my girlfriend and her son. We dropped the little one off at the daycare for late morning early afternoon to take a surprise excursion. Our mystery destination was revealed prematurely by Siri (that disembodied cyber bitch housed within the phone).
The day started off with a frozen ice cream birthday cake in the freezer and after stopping at the daycare, we scooted through Mickey D’s drive-thru for a little crunchy sustenance and Sprites all around. Upon programming the destination into the phone for GPS directions, Siri (not on mute) proceeded to announce “Commencing route to Grafton Zipline”. Kristi responded as a person who is anxiously anticipating a long awaited sequel to a favorite movie might if a third party started blurting out plot points and the secret twist ending. The cat was out of the bag. Surprise. But it was still a good surprise. I have long wanted to try ziplining so I was excited with a mouth full of hash browns.
We drove for a bit over an hour, crossing state lines in the process, to reach Grafton, Illinois. Along the way we crossed the bridge in Alton, Illinois and observed the elevated flood waters and modified roadways. One stretch of road had the westbound two lanes combined to shared one lane each of west and east travel as the two east bound lanes were submerged beneath catfish infested waters. Long barges, being manipulated by tugboats, were out in abundance on the brown and surging waters. In surveying the waters, I did not see any dorsal fins to indicate the presence of sharks. Which made me wonder if sharks are just super prissy? You generally only see them in clear, pristine waters but not murky, muddy waters. Hmmm. Good enough for crocs and gators. Hmmm. OK back to the Great River Road to Grafton.
With the muddy river to the left, the scenes to the right alternated from partially flooded residences to sheer outcroppings of rock facades with trees galore. Very scenic and relaxing. After a tense moment or two when we had to navigate a closed road detour (flooding), we ascended to Aerie’s Winery (and Grafton Zipline). The road was rough and steep but my little car made it to the top. We checked in and got strapped into our zipping gear and were ready to wait as last minute guests arrived and joined the tour.
Once we finished listening to some tips and rules we were all ready to go. The youngest in the group was six years old and the oldest was older than me (it’s not polite to ask women their age). Right out of the chute, we got a 300 foot ‘Baby Bear’ test stretch to make sure everyone could comprehend and follow the rules. The scariest part of the first run was the landing platform that was a floating platform on the tree. The platform was not hammered into the tree but able to give and turn on the wire cables that tethered it to the tree from above. Freaky! After that it was on to the longer and more fun stretches. I do not remember how many lines we zipped but I think it was somewhere around 8 or 9. After the 300 foot starter line, we moved onto a 700 foot line and then 1500 and 2000! The heights varied from 30 feet or so to a few hundred. Having your harnessed body zinging along the wire, suspended like a bird, is an incredible feeling. Looking straight down to see creek beds and the tops of smaller trees and off to the sides the valley views – I would recommend it to anyone. I am not all that keen on heights and the experience really did not bother me for even a second. The wonder and exhilaration pushed all that aside for an awesome experience. The young children on the tour zipped as if they had been doing it all their young lives. Kristi made the zips with a big smile and a few laughs interspersed. If you are picturing her long flowing reddish hair cascading in the breeze – stop it. lol. Ladies (and gentlemen) with long hair are required to put it up in a bun or a ponytail to avoid having it get caught in the harness or mechanism. Because who wants to get stuck on a wire cable suspended 200 feet above the forest in the middle of a 2000 foot run while someone else tries to untangle your possibly painful hair knot? All the while the cable is causing you to sway and turn under the extra tension put on the line? No thanks!
Some of the runs were moderate in the speed you achieved and some were quite zippy indeed. The only problem with the faster runs is the experience is over too quickly and you don’t get to really look around and enjoy it but it is still very fun in my opinion. About halfway through the tour someone in the group asked how many runs we had left and then the countdown began. After each turn, it was a little bittersweet as the experience was so enjoyable but like eating your favorite food. With each bite a little more disappeared until your plate was empty and you were done. The only experience I can compare it to that equates a little is riding a roller coaster. Obviously it is not an apples-to-apples comparison but that is the only thing that comes to mind. A roller coaster flying over an invisible track with some speed and air rushing by your face.
Adding to the experience were the two guides. A guy and a girl. The guy was the lead where he ran ahead to ‘catch’ the guests after they left point A and he caught them at point B. The girl was the anchor and loaded everyone for their zips and naturally came along last after everyone made it successfully. I feel like a jerk but I forget their names. The guy was taller and quick witted. The girl was shorter than him but was also witty. She tended to get overshadowed by her partner for laughs but they both worked well together and made us feel comfortable despite the obvious peril. Of course, one of the other guests asked the natural question: Has anyone died doing this? And the female zip guide responded that no one had died in the four years since they had been open. She tried to be friendly and engaging by asking where you were from and other similar questions. Towards the end of the tour, she disclosed that she would like to try some other competitors but was advised she would probably need to travel to more exotic locations as the other ziplines locally were probably a step or two down from Grafton Zipline. Most other competitors locally (generically speaking) do not have as many runs and some of the ones they do have are less scenic by going over mundane things like parking lots.
I can honestly say it’s one of the most memorable things I have ever done for my birthday or any other day for that matter.
The tour was around $70 a person but for about 90-120 minutes you are on the zip course I think it is worth it. As we were leaving after the tour, we were given coupons for a discounted rate in case we wanted to return before the end of August 2015. Over the first few runs there is a photographer on the ground taking digital pictures that can be purchased on a CD-R for $24 if you wish to get a few action shots of your self waving, screaming or hooting. The guides let you take pictures in between runs but not on the actual runs themselves.
Halfway down the hill is the winery where you can sample some versions of beers and wines with a limited food kitchen. Overall it was not too bad on selection or price – just beware if you order the chicken club the chicken is like a whole chicken breast not the sliced chicken I was used to or expecting. Just up the hill about 75 feet from the winery restaurant is the gift shop. It includes an array of different souvenirs and such but keep in mind they do not open until 11am and have almost no short sleeved t-shirts in case you were wanting to purchase one. 😉
From the I-270 and I-55 highway interchange (Missouri) it took about 75 minutes to drive. So depending on where you are coming from I would plan on blocking out about 5 hours for the drive and zipping combined (depending on if you get a large or small group).
I have heard that Florida and some places in Central America have incredible runs so that may be something to look for in the future!
We celebrated our zipping experience afterwards with ice cream cake! Woot Woot!
So if you get the chance, take the leap. It’s a bunch of fun.
Happy Hump Day. Peace.