Sun shining, a recent Friday morning is hot but not overbearingly so as I soak in the green and brown landscape along the winding, hillside roads on the way to Lake Travis Zipline Adventures, the newest of Central Texas' zipline tours.
Located on the north side of Lake Travis, Lake Travis Zipline Adventures opened for business at the end of July after about a year of planning and construction. Developers John Shipley and Brian George are business partners and co-owners of the park, which sits on land that has been part of George's family since the 1930s. Other projects on Shipley's and George's résumés include Sandy Creek Yacht Club & Marina and two residential subdivisions on Lake Travis . The duo also has preserved 600 acres inside Volente.
They decided to open a zipline park at the insistence of close friend Jeff Allen, who helped with the construction of Wimberley Zipline Adventures, another Central Texas zipline course, George says.
"(Allen) always thought our land was the perfect place for one," explains George . "We were concentrating on the marina at the time, but he planted a seed and watered it on a regular basis."
George says he and Shipley kept thinking about the project and attended a conference in February for the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), the governing board for zipline and challenge courses.
"After that, we decided to go full-steam ahead on the project," George says. "It's the most interesting, challenging and rewarding project I've worked on."
Shipley says that they take pride in the park's cleanliness, safety and eco-friendliness and the 22 jobs it has provided. And then there are the sprawling lake views and nature hikes, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
Around 11:15 a.m., I meet zipline guide Jessi Waite and the rest of our nine-person tour group after signing a waiver and dropping my car keys off at the desk (wouldn't want to lose those to the canyons I'm about to zip over). We leave the registration cabin and board the white van that takes us to a dry beachy spot where a motorboat and driver await us.
Though packed with people — a middle-aged couple, a father and young son, a father with his two kids and co-worker, and me — the van is quiet as can be. Waite asks whether we're excited to zipline. We respond in unison: a reserved, polite affirmative. I'm more eager than anxious since this is my second zipline adventure — the first was last fall with friends in West Virginia — and I wonder if the others are nervous.
The boat transports us to the other side of the lake where we meet our other guide, Jay Birchard, and get suited up in a shaded area by a wood cabin of restrooms and coolers of water. Our gear is already arranged in a circle when we get there. We step into our harnesses, adjusting the straps until they fit snugly around our waists and thighs. Also in our piles are ropes with carabiners, a metal pulley that will sit atop the cable we'll soon hang from, and orange helmets. Last come inspections by Waite and Birchard, who make sure our gear is fitted properly.
Waite and Birchard give us two rules for the day: "Do not touch the cable, and listen to your guides." Easy enough, I think.
Then, to the soundtrack of buzzing insects, we embark on our first short hike through the wooded hillside to the first leg of the zipline. We start with the park's third of seven lines. Waite and Birchard decide we'll skip lines one and two, the bunny slopes of the park.
We stand or sit, partially shaded from the blaring sun by tarps stretched taut between the trees. I'm third in line, and when it's my turn, I walk up the wooden steps to a platform where Waite sets up the pulley on the cable and fastens my ropes and carabiners. She tells me to make sure to lift my legs a little before landing on the next platform since it rests high. Birchard is waiting on the other side to help us down. I hold the rope in front of me with one hand and a carabiner with the other. I feel ready to float through the trees, and with that, I step off the platform, surrendering my control to the cable.
The wind pushes against me as I take in the trees around and the distance below. The zipline buzzes like an airplane gearing up for take-off. About midway through the short line, I spin backward (nature's choice, not mine) and appreciate the new view as I continue to surf through the trees. I'm not able to spin myself back again, so I breathe in the cedar-infused air and enjoy the ride. When I sense the end of the line coming, I lift my legs up in a backward landing.
Birchard unhooks me from the cable, and I wait with the others until everyone in our group has finished the first line. There are high fives and delighted screams as people learn what it feels like to glide through the air.
The next two hours include longer and faster lines, more challenging uphill hikes, and increasingly beautiful views. Our third line of the day is about 1,200 feet long. About a quarter of the way through, the trees fade away as the lake opens up in the most surprising and spectacular way .
Father-son ziplining duo Ketan and Hirshal Pandya, 13, are waiting on the other side of the line when I get there. They have ziplined in Hawaii and Costa Rica, known for its impressive rainforest canopy tours, but it's their first time zipping in Austin.
"I like the hiking part, and it's mostly shaded," says Ketan, 41, who works in marketing. "You hike and then earn the zipline. The facilities here are awesome."
It's important to note that the facilities are also safe. Zipline accidents are rare and can usually be attributed to human, and not equipment, error, Shipley says.
The park has been inspected and certified by ACCT. All tour guides are also ACCT-certified, meaning they have a minimum of 40 hours of classroom training. Seventy percent of their time is spent out on the course, learning how to secure zipliners' equipment, the proper techniques for braking, and how to inspect the course and cable, which can hold up to 26,000 pounds.
I feel safe as I glide swiftly along the last line, about 2,000 feet in length and 20 stories high in some places. I swerve and spin, gaining speed with trees and scrubby brush to one side and the wide open lake on the other. Somewhere along the line, I lose the plastic water bottle hanging from my waist harness to the ground below. When I make it safely to the last platform, Birchard helps me down and says that speeds hover around 45 miles per hour for the last line. Yes, that sounds about right.
If you're going ...
Lake Travis Zipline Adventures offers tours by appointment only. The cost is $89 a person, and you must be 10 years or older and 70 to 250 pounds to zipline. There are challenging nature walks during the tour. The staff says the longest hike is similar to walking up 12 flights of stairs. Wear comfortable clothing and closed-toed shoes. For more information, go to www.ziplaketravis.com, or call 614-1996.
Other zipline courses in Central Texas include Wimberley Zipline Adventures (wimberleyzipline.com) and Cypress Valley Canopy Tours (cypressvalleycanopytours.com).