Crossing the line

Phoenix couple Tom and Nancy Purdue have been spending their retirement crossing items off their bucket list: parasailing in Mexico, a 20-day trip with friends down the Baja Peninsula, and now: flying high above the treetops suspended from a cable.

Tom, 69, a former educator, and Nancy, 65, a former bookkeeper, first heard about ziplining after their son and daughter-in-law raved about soaring through the air in Costa Rica and Mexico. They found Rogue Valley ZipLine Adventure in Gold Hill on Facebook and jumped at the chance to check another item off their list.

Where you can do it

A Rogue Valley ZipLine Adventure tour costs $68 and takes about three hours to complete. Other ziplines in the area include Out 'n' About Treesort in Cave Junction, which offers a variety of different zip lines with individual pricing for each, and the Prescott Park Challenge Course on Roxy Ann Peak in Medford. The Prescott Park Challenge Course is nearly completed and is slated to open April 28.

On a sunny winter's day, Tom and Nancy park their car at the Moose Lodge in Gold Hill to catch a shuttle to the zipline park. They are met by owner Lindsey Rice-Meilicke and guide Lisa Stutey, who drive them up a long, steep, gravel road to the park, located on Rice-Meilicke's property high on a hill off Kane Creek Road.

On the way, Rice-Meilicke stops to show the Purdues and other clients an abandoned gold mine on her property. Then it's back in the van and on up the steep grade, with Rice-Meilicke and Stutey cracking jokes and answering questions to quell fears.

At the park, guests are reminded to use the bathroom one last time before strapping into the harnesses. Ahead of them: Five lines that increase in length — and height off the ground — as clients zip from one line to the next.

Rice-Meilicke and her husband, Jason Meilicke, opened the park in July 2011. At press time, they'd zipped more than 2,000 people, and only three couldn't complete the course out of fear.

Rice-Meilicke comforts first-time zippers by letting them know the cables hold up to 5,000 pounds and how often all the equipment is checked.

"We check everything visibly and we touch a lot of stuff, too," Rice-Meilicke says. "Monthly we check the tension on the lines and we check every nut and bolt with pressure. Then there is an annual inspection where we do all kinds of testing. The ACCT (Association for Challenge Course Technology) sets standards for how zip line parks are run. We follow all the standards that they say. We also check the lines daily before any groups arrive."

Rice-Meilicke says her crew has zipped kids as young as 6 and others as old as 83. Four of the lines are accessible to those in wheelchairs who still have use of their hands and arms. The course isn't approved according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, but is considered ADA-friendly, with the Meilickes accommodating guests to the best of their ability.

Zippers are presented first with something small, what the guides call "the bunny hill": a quick zip to get them acclimated to the feel of the harness and their bodies suspended in the air.

But after a few people zip across, the guides decide the catch — a device that pulls the zippers forward at the end of the short run — isn't working properly, so everyone moves to the second line.

This one's about 35 feet off the ground, and zippers land on a wooden platform built onto a tree. It's a little daunting for the Purdues, who didn't get a chance to try the bunny hill.

Rice-Meilicke recommends that those most fearful zip right away, so anxiety doesn't build while they watch others.

For the Purdues, that's Nancy.

Without a sound, Nancy plunges forward on her first zip line adventure, her husband snapping photos of her clutching the handle bars with white knuckles. Silently she swoops through the air, and there's a small whoop at the end as she reaches the platform.

With an exuberant yell, Tom flies through the air right behind her, screaming out again as they happily reunite on a circular platform in the treetops.

The park's fifth and final zip line is more than 1,300 feet long and about 300 feet off the ground, making it one of the longest zip lines in the Pacific Northwest. By now experienced zippers, the Purdues take the challenge in stride.

"That was unbelievable!" Tom says after his feet reach solid ground again.

"Now that you kind of know what to expect, it would be fun to do it again, because then you're not terrified," Nancy says.

To see video of the Purdues crossing zip lining off their bucket list, go to www.mailtribune.com/videos.

Reach reporter Mandy Valencia at 541-776-4486 or by email at avalencia@mailtribune.com.



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