Slide Show
Day Trips
BY GERALD E. MCLEOD
THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE
June 27, 2008
 

Photo by Gerald E. McLeod
  Wimberley Zipline Adventures lives up to its name. Flying over the rugged Hill Country landscape east of Wimberley is an exhilarating adventure, best described as a thrill ride without the amusement park tedium.

"This is about as close to flying like a bird that a human can get," says Mike Robinson. Along with his partner, Jim Turner, Robinson opened the zip-line course in March after spending more than a year and a half weaving two hills together with thick galvanized cable.

Wimberley Zipline has five runs ranging from just under 300 feet to almost 900 feet. Until a few weeks ago, it was the longest zip-line run in North America. An outfit in Colorado managed to string 2,000 feet of cable across a Rocky Mountain canyon. Wimberley still holds the record for longest zip line among the five operations in Texas.

Using equipment designed for mountaineering, the Wimberley crew straps visitors into a harness that wraps around their legs and waists, making a perfect sling when your feet are off the ground. A strap from the harness clamps to a set of wheels that zip along the cable. Your momentum is slowed at the end of the run by the drape of the cable and a thick welder's glove that you drag along the cable.

"There's a lot of math up on the side of that hill," Robinson says, pointing to the cables that look like electrical lines that end abruptly. Each of the five runs had to be installed just right to take advantage of the stretch, drape, and angle of the cable.

Robinson is most proud of the redundant safety features built into the system. Each end of the cables is anchored into two concrete pads and laced together multiple times. It would take a lot more than a 200-pound tourist to strain this foundation.

A real estate broker by trade, Robinson fell in love with zip-lining while on vacation in Belize. When he returned to the states, he began researching the possibility of opening such a ride in the Hill Country. Along with his neighbor and friend, he leased a corner of the historic Winn Ranch and set about building a dream. "This is the most blessed endeavor that I have ever been a part of," Turner says. The business has been growing every week since they opened.

Anybody from 10 to 80 can do it, Robinson says, as long as they are moderately fit. The most exertion is climbing the half-mile up the rough path to the takeoff points. Once you hook onto the cable, gravity does all the work, and you can enjoy the view of Wimberley Valley.

During the 1½- to two-hour tour, the guides point out the unique plants and features of the limestone hills that you'll be flying over. From the highest water stop, you can see more than 15 miles of the peaks and valleys that the area is famous for.

"All you have to do is pick up your feet, sit down, and let gravity do its work," Robinson says. "It's as easy as walking off the side of a cliff." The first run is the hardest, even though it's the lowest and the slowest. Flying over the treetops isn't nearly as scary as watching the hillside coming at you. That's when you learn that you have more control than you thought, and it's a lot easier than it looks. It doesn't take much practice to master the sport.

By the time you get to the fifth and longest run, the whine of the pulley wheels on the steel rail as you reach 30 mph becomes music to your ears, and the ride is over much too soon. Who would have thought stepping off a cliff would be so easy or so much fun?

Wimberley Zipline Adventures is about two miles east of the square in Wimberley. Tours are limited to 18 guests and run every two hours between 9am and 3pm (they're closed on Tuesdays) and 1 and 3pm on Sunday. Tours cost $60 per person; reservations and a deposit are required. For more information, call 512/847-9990 or go to www.wimberleyzipline.com.

886th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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