I glance down past my harness, boots and the industrial catwalk, to the tree canopy 70 feet below. The momentary disorientation is followed quickly by the high of adrenaline. The zipline in front of me looks exhilarating. I want to stop and savor the moment.
But I can’t.
I have a five-year-old “radling” climbing on me, clawing like a cat avoiding a bath. She is terrified, her wide eyes devoid of their usual sparkle, her little heart pounding hard against my chest.
I wonder if I’ve wasted my time and money bringing our family of four to this adventure ziplines park. It’s already been an expensive, albeit fun, visit to the glittery city of Branson.
Touted as the “Las Vegas of the Midwest”, Branson is nestled in the Ozark Mountains of southwest Missouri. The city is famous for family-friendly theatre and dinner shows, but the surrounding hills inspire the area’s best outdoor activity – zip lining.
Branson ziplines are a big tourist draw – there are eight different companies operating here. All offer a unique perspective on the nearby scenery but Adventure Ziplines of Branson is the only one that allows children as young as three to participate, riding tandem with a parent or guide. As General Manager Jason Schwark explains: “When I took over, I wanted to create a family-friendly environment. The owner decided early on to incorporate our tandem ride so children and their parents could enjoy the zipline together.”
And it’s together that we huddle, watching the others. I tell her that sometimes things can be both fun and scary at the same time. She’s not convinced. In the end, she allows the guide to hoist her up onto the zipline cable, realizing that the only other way out is to climb back down the 65 steep spiral stairs that sway slightly with the breeze.
Our guide smiles as he connects our harnesses to the running gear on the cables with quick efficient fingers. “Our cables are over a half inch thick each – and we use two of them!”
“You could hang a whole school bus full of kids on our ziplines and they won’t break.”
I settle my weight into my harness and grip the cable behind me with a gloved hand. The other I wrap around the heaving little ribcage sitting in the harness in front of me. I draw her close and whisper soothing words into her ear, willing her to love the adventure, even if we are dangling over an abyss.
Thankfully, our guides are seasoned experts at making novices feel comfortable at heights. “They hired me for my good looks,” one laughs as he hangs upside down in his harness, eliciting a giggle from the helmeted mop of hair pushing into my chest. Jason later tells me: “I hire them based on their personality and how they interact with the kids. Skills can be taught – personality can’t.”
With each swoop down the cable, my little tandem rider gets more confident. Unlike the other Branson ziplines, this experience involves seven separate zip lines ranging from 450 to 2,000 feet long. The first is a simple training run. The next two are longer and higher, whetting our appetite for what’s to come. The final four are set above the tree canopy, each connected to the next by elevated platforms and three swinging bridges. As we sail through the treetops, we enthusiastically spot birds, squirrels and – apparently – forest fairies.
After nearly two hours, we bundle into the ATV to begin our return trip. Bright sparkling eyes look up at me, full of excitement. “Mommy, let’s do that again!”
Photos by Adventure Ziplines of Branson
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