It’s Official: I’m an Avatar

(The spectacular protagonist Neytiri, a Na’vi who falls for the human Na’vi hybrid, Jake–aka military man)

In James Cameron’s “Avatar,” the Na’vis of Pandora inhabit an Earth-like moon of the Alpha Centauri star system. They are a pure and superior breed of humanoids who harbor deep respect for the land. These 10′ beings have incredible athletic prowess as they leap astride dragons and ride them through the skies. They’re true Avatars in every sense.

For a brief time, recently, I, too, became an Avatar. I was anointed such by my guide at the zip-lining reserve, Navitat, in western North Carolina, following my successful completion of my task: Course along the sky, 200′ up, tethered to cables, brake gradually, and alight onto a tree stump fixed to the timber platform some 900′ away, and do it all in one smooth move.

Yes, I did it….but I didn’t get there easily.

First, our little band of 8 (all novices) were brought up the gravel roadway in 4-wheel-drive vehicles; we were fitted with harnesses; and we were prepped as to what we could expect, by knowledgeable guides.

By that point, there was no turning back. (Why? Too humiliating.)

At our first jumping-off station, we watched the group in front of us hurtle through open space, one at a time, flying over steel cables, going from one high timber platform to another. We learned the fine art of canonballing (same one you use in diving) so as to control torque (sound impressive?)

The sport is called Zip-lining, and it’s the latest craze. But its legions of supporters are mostly young, athletic types who like the push the envelope. You know, the same ones who ride rapids in white water rafting or jump out of planes at 20,000 feet. They clearly live for the thrill.

Most grandmothers of 65 don’t partake.

But I did, for I had the supreme misfortune of mentioning zip-lining to my younger daughter (she was visiting), and she couldn’t be dissuaded (she’s one of the afore-mentioned physically-fit individuals). With that, we signed on for the $89.00, 3 and ½ hour tour that saw us leap off 8 platforms (they look like treehouses without sides), rappel 2 others (yes, we had to learn that technique, too), as well as negotiate a rope sky bridge whose planks are set waaayyy too far apart for comfort, forcing one to see the ground far below (we all had safety straps, however).

To say I did the entire “recreational jaunt” with my insides screwed up in knots is serious understatement. For, right off the first platform (I was first of the 8 of us), I didn’t brake in time and slammed into the guide at the second tree station. From the git-go, I’d realigned my skeletal system (and his, too, probably.)

Our guide positioned me last in the sequence after that, perhaps thinking my less-than-stellar performance might kill others’ morale. That new placement actually heightened my anxiety, for now I had to await the run of each and anticipated hitting them all full-force (akin to bowling where I was the ball and they were the pins).

But few knew my real emotional state. A young woman (who was nervous, herself) even accused me of being “wonderfully-relaxed, appearing like a pro,” through each of the trials, while I thought: “I really have mastered that life adage: ‘Never let ‘em see you sweat.’

At periodic points in our multi-tasking (before another leap off a platform or descent to the ground by rappeling), our guide pointed out flora and fauna, the trees, how the bark “talks” and gives information to help one classify. At those points I screamed inwardly: “I don’t care what species of tree this is; I just want to be finished with this whole ordeal!”

Yes, I feigned polite interest, when all I really wanted was a transport vehicle akin to those snow sleds they use to bring down injured skiers at ski resorts. But there were no such escape mechanisms. I simply had to finish what I’d signed on for, despite the fact I was exhausted; my limbs shook; and I was parched in the way only terror effects.

But if you’d seen me course through the trees, you’d have thought I was having the time of my life. And I screamed, too. In fact, we all did…we were encouraged to do so, for apparently, screaming’s considered a primal right of all those who fly through those air corridors at 35 miles per hour, while the ground disappears below.

The difference? My screams were real.

It reminded me of the time (as a child) I sat behind my older brother on an amusement park ride and bellowed continually. He didn‘t realize it, at the time, but each time our car plunged, he tensed and pressed my little legs into the sides of the car, causing me excruciating pain, prompting my screams. He only realized the brutality of my experience when I left the ride, with legs hobbled and bruised.

But at the end of a day of zip-lining, I’d become an Avatar, and I can honestly say: I’m thrilled I did it. The frosting on the cake is when my daughter said: “I’m proud of you…You’re a cool grandmother (to not let panic overtake me).”

And I thought: Sometimes, in life, just looking the part is “Good enough.”

(Click on the link below to learn about Navitat, the wonderful place we visited for our zip-line experience. It’s a nature refuge, with hundreds of acres of pristine land, and guides committed to helping one through every aspect of this thrilling experience. There are few restrictions. The only thing I caution: Follow your guides’ directions, get your canonball perfected on the first stations, and learn that torque technique (Now, don’t I sound like a pro? Just remember I’m not; I’m merely a first-timer who was mightily impressed with this place.)

(Click on the footbridge picture to enlarge it; in this way, you can truly see how much space lies between partitions.)

***And click the link to the wonderland that made it all possible: http://www.navitat.com/(Pay particular attention to video 1 when the zip-liner does a jig atop the log on the platform. A true Avatar aims to alight effortlessly onto that log at each station, following her ride through the sky. I finally achieved it on my 3rd. attempt. “Weeeeeeeeeeeee……………………!”)

P.S. Zip-lining facilities are offered in many states, and you can find reviews of these on line. Research the sport, first, to see if it might be right for you. If so, take the plunge and you, too, will be an Avatar.






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A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog, kevinMD.com, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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