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 (you know — like Ashevilleans.) These 10-foot 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, I became an Avatar. I was anointed as such by my guide at the ziplining reserve, Navitat, in Western North Carolina, following my successful completion of my task: While tethered to cables, course along the sky 200 feet in the air, brake gradually and alight onto a tree stump fixed to the timber platform some 900 feet away. And do it all in one smooth move.
It wasn’t easy. First, our little band of eight was brought up the gravel roadway in four-wheel drive vehicles. We were then fitted with harnesses and prepped as to what we could expect by knowledgeable guides.
By that point, there was no turning back. (Well, there was, but I felt it would be 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 cannon-balling so as to control torque. (Sound impressive?)
The sport is called ziplining. But its legions of supporters are mostly young, athletic types who like to push the envelope. You know, the same ones who navigate past razor-edged rocks in whitewater rafting or jump out of planes at 20,000 feet. They live for the thrill.
Most grandmothers of 66 don’t partake.
But I did, for I had the supreme misfortune of mentioning ziplining to my visiting younger daughter, and she wouldn’t be dissuaded from trying it. With that, we signed on for the $89, 3-½ hour tour that saw us leap off eight treehouse-type platforms, rappel two others and negotiate a rope sky bridge whose planks were way too far apart for my comfort.
Right off the first platform (I was first of the eight of us), I didn’t brake in time and slammed into our guide at the second tree station. From the get-go, I’d realigned my skeletal system — and his, too, probably.
Following that, our guide positioned me last, perhaps thinking my performance might kill others’ morale. That heightened my anxiety, for now I had to wait out the flights of all participants. Finally, I came at them full force, akin to a bowling ball hurtling at the pins.
Few knew my real emotional state. A young woman who was nervous herself even accused me of being “wonderfully relaxed, appearing like a pro,” while I thought: “I really have mastered that adage: ‘Never let ‘em see you sweat.’
At periodic points, in the leaping off or rappelling, our guide pointed out flora and fauna, the trees, how the bark “talks” and gives information to help one classify it.
I feigned polite interest, but seriously … all I really wanted was a transport vehicle akin to the sleds used to ferry injured skiers down slopes at ski resorts. But there was no such escape mechanism. I had to finish what I’d signed on for, despite the fact I was exhausted, my limbs shook and I was left parched by terror.
But if you’d seen me course through the trees, you’d have thought I was having the time of my life. I screamed, too. In fact, we all did. We were encouraged to do so, for apparently, screaming is a primal right of those who fly through those air corridors at 35 miles per hour, while the ground disappears below. The difference? My screams were real.
But at the end of a day of ziplining, 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: “Finn, Sam and Luke would think you’re a pretty cool grandmother for doing this.”
And I thought: Sometimes, in life, just looking the part is good enough.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (firstname.lastname@example.org) came to Asheville eight years ago for a quieter lifestyle, but that didn’t happen. On a mountain road, four years ago, her husband was hit head-on by a 12-year-old girl in a truck. He “died” following surgery (staff shocked him back to life), and they’ve been crawling back ever since. In this column, Mellor opines on life in Western North Carolina as only the “born again” can do. Published in The Wall Street Journal, among others, Mellor adds her senior view of a region often touted as one of America’s “Best Retirement Towns.”