Just east of Salida, in a forgotten canyon alongside the Arkansas River, Monty Holmes found his calling.
A veteran adventure-sports nut, Holmes saw potential in this property. He'd been to Costa Rica a number of times, where he'd tried his hand at that nation's famed zipline courses, set just above the treetops. And here, in this Colorado canyon, he envisioned a similar setup only, instead of grazing the branches below, zippers would pass over 145-foot drops in the bedrock.
After finding a group of investors and an engineering firm capable of installing the poles and cords needed for such a course, Holmes' Lost Canyon Adventure Zipline Tours (captainzipline.com) was born.
But this morning, sitting in his car on U.S. Highway 50, we can't get there. No, we're stuck behind miles of traffic caused by a truck tipped over down the road.
Holmes isn't pleased. He's got me, two Boulder residents and one of his financial backers on the schedule for an 11 a.m. run today. That adds up to a lot of time and money spent to be here.
He doesn't want to disappoint, but it doesn't look like we're going to make it. This is the only route out to Holmes' canyon. And no one seems to know when the road will reopen.
Frustrated, Holmes spins the steering wheel and pulls a U-turn on the two-lane highway. He takes us back to town for a bit.
"We'll try again later on in the day," he says.
It's the best he can offer.
Just trying to zipline is looking like a bit of an adventure.
It's almost four in the afternoon when Holmes calls to tell me we're on again. The highway backup, he says, has subsided.
The trip from Salida to Holmes' setup is a quick one. As we drive along the route that was, earlier in the day, littered with parked cars, we make a sudden left turn onto a bridge over the river. After a short trek through some safari-like terrain, we pull to a stop.
Once out of the car, Holmes apologizes for the lack of a driveway.
"This place hasn't been Disney-fied yet," he says with a smile.
I notice a precarious drop just over a mound a few feet away from me. But before I can investigate it, Holmes stops me:
"No, no, no. Not yet. I don't want you to ruin the surprise."
He leads me and the others into a small cabin and asks us to sign a waiver. It says I won't sue Holmes and his company should I die on this trip.
Really reassuring stuff.
After being fitted with a harness and helmet, we start our lesson in zipline safety. Holmes and his head instructor, Norman Riest, lead the group to the "bunny" zipline, a short cord held up by two small trees just a dozen or so yards apart. They show us the ropes (pun intended) and let us practice for a bit on the bunny line.
The instructors seem to know what they're talking about. Holmes looks like a surfer; Riest, a biker. But Holmes assures us that he's been doing this for years (since 1969, in fact) and, upon request, Riest lists his adventure-sports experience: He taught scuba-diving lessons for a year, and he was once a five-time Canadian barefoot waterskiing champion.
I'm not sure why, but it calms my fears. And, after a couple of zips on the bunny line, Riest and Holmes seem to think the others and I are ready for the real deal.
Holmes was right to keep me and the others from catching a sneak peak of the canyon. The view from the first zipline perch is intimidating as hell.
And the landing spot looks like it's miles away.
After watching Holmes scream across the line, I slowly inch my way toward the perch. Riest is there, helping me out, but I barely notice him. The drop's pretty nasty from that first angle, and it clouds your mind.
Still, Riest is reassuring, and he says it's as easy as lifting my legs and going. So I do just that. And, suddenly, I, too, zip across the line.
It all happens so fast up to 45 miles per hour, Holmes estimates. You get up to the perch, you glance around, and you go. And before you know it and before you've had the chance to look around and appreciate the landscape zipping by you it's over.
Holmes unhooks me at the other end of the line. Then come the others.
After screams of "WOO!!", high-fives are exchanged, hints shared. Half the fun of the zipline course, it seems, is the instant camaraderie created with these strangers, and the instant revelry shared in having just done something you've never done before.
Six zipline runs and more than 2,000 feet of cable later, the whole thing is over. Like each individual run, the collective felt as though it went by incredibly quickly, though it actually took about two hours.
But I didn't really care. After zipping through the air, as the sun set over the mountains on a perfect summer's day near Salida, the expression staring back at me in my rearview mirror when I returned to my car said it all.
The payoff was worth the wait.
Lost Canyon Adventure Zipline Tours
Arkansas River, east of Salida off U.S. Hwy. 50
Tours at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily through Aug. 30; other seasons, 1 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays. Groups of five (minimum) to 12 (maximum).
Cost: $79/person, paid in advance, no credit cards, discounts for larger groups. For more, call 877/ZIPLINE (947-5463) or visit captainzipline.com.