Slide Show
New Wimberley zipline offers high-flying tour

Bret Gerbe/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
American-Statesman writer Pamela LeBlanc, above, takes a ride under the guidance of Mike Robinson, co-owner of Wimberley Zipline Adventures, which opened this month. At right, Mike and Kristy Robinson prepare for action on one of five wire cables that crisscross a ravine on the 4 Winns' Ranch outside Wimberley. 'It's smooth and exhilarating,' Mike Robinson says.

Bret Gerbe/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Flying above trees with the greatest of ease, Kristy Robinson descends on one of five ziplines at Wimberley Zipline Adventures. Robinson and her husband were inspired to start their business after they discovered ziplines in Belize.

Bret Gerbe/FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN
With help from Wimberley-area residents Jim Turner (left) and Andrew Winn, Mike Robinson and Kristy Robinson got Wimberley Zipline Adventures off the ground March 1. The zipline is built of half-inch galvanized wire cables anchored into the limestone bedrock.
  By Pamela LeBlanc
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, March 14, 2008

WIMBERLEY — Mike Robinson swoops down a scrubby Texas hillside like a wannabe Tarzan, only he's suspended from a wire cable, not a jungle vine.

No matter. He whoops and hollers, and dips the tips of his toes into the leaves poking out of a ravine far below. Johnny Weissmüller would be proud.

A little more than a year ago, Robinson and his wife, Kristy, zipped through the treetops of Belize on a canopy tour. "We thought it was just a hoot. Being as old as I am, I'm not really into bungee jumping or jumping out of airplanes. But it was flying through trees," Robinson, 55, says. And who can resist that?

Based on that one-hour experience in Belize, Robinson and his wife started dreaming about opening their own zipline business when they returned home to Wimberley. "You would have to know me; this is what I do," Robinson says. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

He spent the next few months researching the possibility, checking out engineering studies and surveying property around town. He rode the shady Cypress Valley Canopy Tour that opened in 2005 in Spicewood — "they're wonderful," he says — and pictured a slightly different kind of ride in Wimberley. He consulted with a Colorado company to buy cable anchors that would work in the Hill Country. Once he found 4 Winns' Ranch in Wimberley, he walked through the property, envisioning where he'd install cables so customers could zip across wide-open valleys and soak up miles-long views. "Then we strung ropes where we imagined they might go. We fit them together like a big puzzle."

Robinson says he has invested about $50,000 in Wimberley Zipline Adventures, which opened this month.

The couple partnered with fellow Wimberley residents Jim and Cheryl Turner and leased land on 4 Winns' Ranch on the outskirts of town. Construction began last June. The zipline is built of half-inch galvanized wire cables anchored into the limestone bedrock. "You could hang four cars from it," says Robinson, a real estate broker who has also operated nightclubs, restaurants, a moving company and a wood blinds factory over the years.

VoilĂ . Wimberley, already a destination for shops, bed and breakfasts and the scenic Blanco River running through the town about 45 minutes southwest of Austin, now has another destination.

Customers check in at a welcome center in the middle of a cow pasture, then proceed to flight school, where they are fitted with mountaineering harnesses that clip to the cables with pulleys and lanyards. There, they practice on a mini-zipline strung between trees, learning at low altitude how to brake by holding their gloved hand flat on the cable behind the pulley. Then they pile into a van that transports them for a mile on a bumpy dirt road, where they unload and hike up a rocky hillside.

The tour is billed as an eco-walking tour and zipline adventure. Customers get a whiff of local history and an introduction to the local geography and flora as they make their way to the first launch site. The zipline operators also note that their enterprise uses no electricity, water or septic services.

The Texas Department of Insurance requires that amusement rides have liability insurance and pass an inspection by an insurance company.

The Wimberley zipline is covered by $1 million in general liability insurance and passed an inspection by its insurance carrier, Robinson says. Customers must sign a waiver before they ride. He says the zipline — built with 26,000-pound breaking-strength cable — is safe.

Zipline accidents are rare, but a teenager died in a zipline accident at a church youth retreat in North Carolina in 2006 when his harness apparently disengaged and he fell. The 17-year-old was wearing the harness attached to his back instead of how it was designed to be worn — attached to his front.

The Wimberley zipline features a series of five wire cables that crisscross a ravine. The first line is a bunny slope of sorts, a 250-foot gentle glide that gets customers used to how it feels to zip over treetops. The longest is 875 feet long — nearly three football fields — and carries you 100 feet above a canyon in an adrenalin-fueled rush. Heavier folks zip fastest — up to 30 mph, according to Robinson.

On this day, Andrew Winn, whose family owns the 4 Winns' Ranch, points out a Madrone tree with a trunk as smooth as a woman's leg. At the top of the hill, he clicks onto the first cable and buzzes down the wire. "Zippity do dah!" he hollers as he cruises into the platform at the other side.

"You suck in your breath," Robinson says. "You basically sit down and start. It's very gentle. Because I'm in my 50s, I don't want to get jammed or thrown down a hill or ride a bucking bronco. It's smooth and exhilarating."

The wide-open and high-flying experience is a different feeling from the shaded Cypress Valley Canopy Tour, where people glide along cable lines strung between the tops of towering cypress and other trees growing in a rocky canyon. "Ours is between two mountains," Robinson says. "It's more of an extreme ride."

With that, it's time that I try. I tug on a pair of pink leather gloves and straighten the white plastic helmet on my head. Winn clips me onto the cable. I grasp the pulley with my left hand and hold my right hand back, ready to brake if needed.

I sit down in the harness and let gravity work its magic. I pick up speed, swooping along like an actor in a Peter Pan production. My legs dangle in the breeze, and the pulley buzzes like a cloud of angry bees. I swivel my head around as I soar over the valley, taking in the scenery. I can see the pasture where I parked my car, and beyond that, Wimberley. It looks like Whoville in the distance.

I think I dreamed this once. It wasn't a bad way to spend the night.

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