I was looking through my latest Sportsman’s Guide mail order catalog when I ran across an ad for build-your-own zip lines. You know, zip lines … those elevated cables that carry suspended thrill seekers across some interesting or dangerous space.
Prices range from $45 for short cables for children to $135 for longer cables capable of handing folks up to, say, 250 pounds. These zip lines promise “fast-moving, active outdoor fun for all,” and you can install one yourself using basic tools you have in your garage!
From where I sit, this is a redneck suicide kit in a box. I can see it now: A lazy Sunday afternoon. A couple of guys sitting around the above ground pool telling lies. Suddenly one of them pops up and says, “Here, hold my beer. Watch this …”
(zzzzzzzz .. insert comic or tragic outcome here)
I know that zip lines are not new and that they’re the rage in wildlife parks and jungle preserves all over the world. Those setups usually have seats or harnesses and belts and helmets and overseers with ways of keeping bored, half-soused thrill seekers from killing themselves.
On the other hand, I think giving someone 90 feet of cable, some hardware and do-it-yourself instructions is just asking for trouble. And, I have to wonder if anybody at Sportsman’s Guide is thinking about the camo hat crowd and what could happen.
I have some knowledge of zip lines, having ridden one many times during my childhood in DeBerry, Texas. It was rudimentary and really dangerous, but we rode it nonetheless.
Gary Dee Lawless found the thing, back in a pasture behind the shotgun house he shared with his mother, Betty, his father, Dee, and along about that same time, his younger brother, Stevie.
Gary Dee is dead now. He killed himself several years after being paralyzed in a drunk driving accident of his own making. He was kind of alone by then and obviously didn’t see any other way out, though he’d kind of made peace with my dad, Brother Leggett, the childhood pastor who baptized both of us on the same night years before.
But Gary Dee always had that thrill-seeking personality, whether it was building a treehouse 30 feet up in the top of a china berry tree when he was 10 or — because Panola County was the driest dry county in the state — chasing his way in the middle of the night to Longview or Shreveport where he could buy more beer when he was 20.
It was Gary Dee who got to me with the double secret news about the discovery of the zip line. He called it a trolley, not a zip line. He said we were going back there to ride the trolley.
Nobody else could know. Nobody. That meant he’d probably said something to Betty Sue or Dee, and they’d told him to stay away from the thing. But there was a big blackberry patch not far from there, and we took pails with us to pick some fruit. That would cover our tracks, he said.
The trolley was nothing more than a quarter-inch steel cable run from the very top of a giant pine tree 40 or 50 feet down to a steel pipe driven into the soft, sandy ground. The handle was a 12-inch length of galvanized pipe an inch in diameter.
If you could manage the climb to the top of the tree, you pulled a piece of string back up into the crown and that would return the “handle” to the rider. Push away from the tree and you’d slide down the cable holding the pipe and eventually walk out at the other end.
I have no idea whether anyone ever dropped off the trolley and hurt themselves at the base of the tree, but they must have, right? That pipe handle could have severed fingers if there had been a slip on the way down.
We never slipped, and we survived, at least we survived that, and nobody ever knew.
I’ve driven by there a few times in the last few years, and I’ve thought of that trolley. I bet I could find it.