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Texans in Trees and Kiwis on Lakes

CANADA | Saturday, 26 June 2010 | Views [896]

Chilling in my hotel suite after an adventure-filled day.  Got a full 8 hours of sleep last night and rolled out of bed and headed straight to Ziptrek Ecotours.  I wore my "Keep Austin Weird" shirt as I do at least once for every international trip just to call out to other Texans, and no sooner had I hopped into the elevator in my hotel that a couple from Tampa asked me if I was from Austin and the man said that he knew a few people who lived there.  When I got to Ziptrek a girl spotted my shirt and went straight up to me asking if I was from Texas and how she got excited because she recognized my shirt.  So we talked for a bit and she and her sister and mother were on the tour and they were from the Woodlands.  She was still in college so I told her, "Enjoy your freedom now because once you enter the real world it will all be gone.  I wish I had traveled more when I still had the time back in college."  Then a father and daughter on the tour were from Dallas, so out of my group of 10 we had 6 Texans, 2 other Americans, and 2 Canadians.  It was pretty neat.  I absolutely love random meetings like that.  Our guides were from Russia and Australia, and someone commented that they had hardly met any Canadians while in Whistler, which is true as almost all the workers I've talked to in Whistler have accents (well, NON-Canadian accents).

I was pretty nervous about the trip.  Don't really know why since I knew it couldn't be worse than bungy jumping but my heart was still pounding before heading on the first zipline.  Just the anticipation was nerve-wracking once we climbed the stairs to the first one.  There were 2 zip tours available - the Bear and the Eagle, and I opted for the more adrenaline-filled (and thus more expensive) Eagle Tour, which contained as the brochure mentioned and the guides later explained, a "monster" zipline of 2,200 feet that drops you 20 stories where you can reach speeds of up to 50 mph.  So the first one was a bit nervous but it always helps to have other people on the tour a lot more nervous than you (which has always been the case).  So I held on to the yellow rope for the first jump along with everyone else.  James the Aussie guide later explained that he noticed some people doing the "death grip" on the rope and that you can hold on to it as much as you want, but it's not going to do anything since your harness already does all the work for you.  He added it was as useful as sucking your thumb.  The 2nd jump was where the photographer was stationed at the launch area and James suggested not holding onto the rope so they could take good pictures of us.  So, as I always try to get a good pic for these types of things, launched off backwards hands-free.  Got a nice pic and it did feel a lot more fun to ride with hands open and feel the wind all around.  So it was hands-free for the rest of the trip where it was definitely more fun than scary.  Even the "monster" line wasn't bad.  The lines are all smooth and it always has tension so there's never a moment of freefall.  Once you get used to the way it feels it is incredibly fun and the views around were breathtaking as you whiz by trees and creeks underneath you.  

It wasn't just all about adventure though; the guides talked about "sustainability" (a word which I only started to hear when I got to Seattle), which means using resources only at the same rate they can be replenished.  There were some pretty interesting facts about Whistler and the area.  There is no garbage curbside pickup in Whistler so if you need to drop off your garbage you have to drive it to the center.  Then about the forest itself, which was coastal rainforest, the trees would drop their branches that didn't get enough sunlight and that they can't maintain, and then the dropped branches decompose on the forest floor into nutrients.  The planks that they used to build the pathways among the trees were made of western red cedar, which doesn't need to be treated and lasts around 20 years, and once they need to replace it they can just take the nails out and let the planks drop to the forest floor where it also decomposes.  James also mentioned how the presence of lichen growing on the trees indicated that it was very clean air so we all took deep whiffs of it.  Enough of the hippie spiel, but I thought it was pretty interesting and being a guide on this tour seems like it would be an awesome summer job.

Up next was whitewater rafting which along with ziplining I have never done before.  There were 3 guides and I definitely thought I heard kiwi accents, and yep, 2 New Zealanders.  I got Dino from Queenstown and it just felt satisfying and very comfortable to have a kiwi guide.  Kiwis always have a funky sense of humour.  I got all nostalgic.  Dino was saying how you could always find a kiwi doing something like this in every country, and also how he and the other New Zealanders had the lowest flipped raft rate since they raft all year long and in Whistler it's only during the summer.  He mentioned how he hadn't seen a winter in about 6 years since he worked here during the summer and then headed back to New Zealand in September.  There were also 2 girls from New Zealand as well - only they were from Hamilton i.e. the North Island and since Dino was from the South he was semi-mocking them.  They retorted at least they weren't from Australia.  Guides on these types of activities are always so laidback even when their jobs involve inherent risks for themselves and for their participants.  It makes you think about how silly it is to stress so much about jobs that don't have these risks.

Rafting itself was pretty cool.  It was only a couple of hours roundtrip since I wanted to fit both the zipline and rafting in one day, but it was really good fun.  Dino said he hadn't seen the water in the river this high before, so it gave more of an exciting ride.  It took a few minutes to get used to feeling comfortable sitting on the edge of the raft and feeling like I wasn't going to get thrown off, and on our entrance into the rapids we semi-crashed into a rock after the raft behind us hit us, which was quite an impact.  But everything after that was smooth (relatively speaking).  I got drenched with cold water but it was very exhilarating and I got used to seeing a wave coming and knowing it was going to hit us.  There were a lot of safety moves we had to practice in the beginning,  like "hold" and "get down" and "jump right" and "jump left" and these horrible "what if" scenarios about what you should do if you happen to fall into the water, which of course is rare but necessary, but also ramped up the fear factor.  But it is another activity I would definitely recommend.  The time on the water just breezed by.

Tomorrow I am opting for a more casual day - my last day in Whistler.  I haven't booked anything yet.  I had my heart set on dogsledding but unfortunately after calling the company I found out that conditions aren't good for that and they only booked the big tour groups.  Boo the disadvantages of traveling solo.  So tomorrow I plan on waking up early and trying to find anything short to do.  Maybe horseback riding or snow tubing or any other activity that will require signing what was the scariest thing I have ever signed (for both activities today) - the "release of liability" form - which basically "releases" the company from any liability if you are injured or worse, even if it is complete idiotic negligence on their part.  I guess this is where the "sue-happy" reputation of the U.S. comes in.

Otherwise I am feeling really good.  Today was more relaxing than city-walking.  I was so drained going around on foot in Seattle and Vancouver because I have to maintain this spatial map of where everything is in my head and take safety precautions everywhere, but here the area is a lot smaller and tourists are all jammed together and all I have to worry about is staying calm and focused and having fun.   And today, mission accomplished.

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