What I learned from doing 11 ziplines in one afternoon

A few weeks ago, I went zipping over treetops and over a waterfall suspended from cables, some 320 m long. Sounds scary? It was. But it was also the fastest way to learn what I am capable of and a great way to boost my confidence. I might have had shaky legs and a pounding heart, but I did it and feel mighty proud of myself. As I was zipping over big expanses of nothing, I realised that ziplining can teach you a lot about your attitude to life, goals, and problems.

Before I share those teachable moments from ziplining, let me explain what it is. A zipline is a thick cable strung between two cliffs that you “zip” across, with your hands above your head, hanging in a seated position from a harness. It’s not very fast, but it’s fast enough to make you nervous. What it definitely is, is high. I’m talking about ziplines over the treetops and seeing the horizon high.

This promotional video by Cape Canopy Tours gives you an idea of what to expect.

I completed all 11 ziplines, but it really took a lot of guts and a few pep talks with myself along the way. I’m not an adrenaline junky at all (I skydived for my 10th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas, and I hated every second of it). So why would I put myself through the experience? Because I wanted to do something brand new and fun, and experience in a very real way the life philosophy that even if things are hard in the beginning, if you stick to it and master the technique, even the scary stuff should become fun. At least, that’s what I hoped with happen….

Turned out I was right. Here I am doing my final zipline. I’m enjoying myself! It DID get easier and more enjoyable!

The first two ziplines were terrifying; by the third one I had received enough feedback from guides to master the technique, by zipline four it became fun, and by the 11th zipline, I was so damn proud of myself.

This is what I learned from doing 11 ziplines in one afternoon.

  1. In the orientation lesson, the guides tell you to hold on to the cable and lift your feet. I think this applies to achieving life goals as well. Whether your goal is to get to the other side of the crevice or a new job, don’t let go of the dream, lift your feet and get moving. If your feet stay planted on the ledge, even if you are looking ahead to the other side, you’re still not going to get there. Equally, if you lift your feet but you’re not attached to the goal, you’re not going to get there.
  2. The other important part of the ziplining technique is to lightly hold onto the cable and allow your hand to slide along the cable – don’t grip it tightly. If you do, you will slow down your progress and risk getting stuck halfway. The cable is a guide, and your hand just slides along in case you need to break. It’s the same in life. You have to be okay with not being completely in control and allowing circumstances to guide you towards the goal. We so often want to control every single aspect of our plans – and others – on our way to our destination but in effect, you’re just slowing down the process until it eventually grinds to a halt and “leaves you hanging.” Yes, you might have to put on the brakes if it becomes clear that you are on the wrong path or things start going out of control, but you don’t want to be holding yourself back because you are “gripping” onto an outcome/process/way of doing things or an arbitrary timescale.
  3. You’re likely to make a few mistakes at the beginning. Ziplining has a learning curve. That’s why John and I decided to do the mother of ziplining experiences for our first zipline because we knew that you would have to get the technique right in order to enjoy it. If you have 11 tries to perfect the technique, you’ll eventually nail it and will have an enjoyable experience. Same with life. New things take time to master, but once you do, it’s fun, and you get into the flow.
  4. You have to be aware of what you’re doing wrong in order to change it. That includes listening to the people who know more than you and putting your ego aside. With ziplining, if you place your hands too close to the pulley and you’ll slide sidewise. Grip the cable too tightly, and you’ll slow down and risk not making it to the other side. Forget to pull up your legs, and you might kick the guide when he catches you. Self-awareness, even while you’re in a stressful situation, is needed so that you can adjust and improve.
  5. It’s good to have fun! Life is about balance, and it’s important to offset work time with play time. Your head will be clearer, and you’ll feel more energised after a fun experience. Equally, you’ll be able to push through the work week if you know there’s something fun planned. A good rule is to ask yourself what would a 10-year old enjoy doing and give that a try. 
  6. Mix it up. Ziplining was my husband’s suggestion and not something I would have come up with as a fun experience, but it’s good to open yourself up to, and join in, what others think of as fun. New things can be fun. In fact, they’re usually the most fun.

Be bold, be brave, be you. These words were written on a poster in the ladies bathroom of Cape Canopy Tours. Never before did corny wording on a poster mean so much to me, or turn out to be so true. Go out there and do something bold to prove to yourself that you are brave.  I highly recommend it. Who knows what you might learn about yourself in the process.