Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-awww…

“You have a what?”

Have you ever just begun something and it wasn’t until someone came along and asked you what you were doing that you realized what you were up to might be bad…? unhealthy…? dangerous…?


Just me…? Fine.

So, yeah, over the years of writing my blog, I have started to try to have stories at a relevant time of the year. For example, summer stories in the summer, Christmas stories at Christmas… This is the last week of summer vacation for me and my youngest child (she’s still at home). And recently, while visiting with some family, I was reminded of an incident, which, I am about to share with you. Once again, I have a tale from my time with the B.S.A.

For the safety of those that attend scout camp, there are rules that Thunder Ridge would have. Again, they were there for the general safety of all, but they weren’t exactly rules we could enforce. For example: No structures could be built over five feet in height, off the ground. Well, that’s not true. The Boy Scouts of America’s policy is six feet, not five. We would say five, because if we allowed six feet, they would accidentally build it higher and would have to take it down. If we tell them five, they might build it at six, which is fine, and there would be no problem. So, we would lie about some things in order to prevent future problems—in theory.

Well, knowing about the five-foot (really six-foot) rule I had built a platform, in my program area, that was six feet off the ground—which was totally acceptable. Additionally, because I am good at what I do, the structure was sound. It was solid. It was a platform that was built using four solid, standing trees as the support poles. This made for a great tower as it was an almost perfect square shape. On the short short side (the ground had a steep slope), there was a simple log and rope ladder that allowed access to it. The campers were not allowed up there (for safety), but my staff and I would hang out on it. We would just enjoy the nature that was around us. Then, one day, we found a pulley.

Just like any home can collect strange and unusual items with a history unknown to those that uncover it from a dusty box in the attic, Thunder Ridge had some of the oddest bits and bobs all over that mountain. One of which was a large aluminum pulley. This pulley had a side that could be opened, via a hinge, to allow ropes to be set onto the pulley wheel without the rope needing to be fed through, from one end, and weighed almost 15 pounds. This was a big, cool pulley. But, what to do with it? How could we use it out in Scoutcraft? We used ropes and logs to build stuff. Also, one merit badge requirement was to make a pulley system out of rope, not use a metal pulley. What to do…?

“This would be cool to use on a zipline.”

I don’t remember who said it. It could have been me. It could have been Mathew. Either way, we now had a use for this really cool pulley. We now just needed a zipline. Getting enough rope for a zipline wasn’t a problem. Getting the right kind of rope was.

While I wasn’t going to try and hide the fact that I was devising plans to build a zipline, I wasn’t going to go about advertising it either. Not that I believed that I was doing anything wrong, but, I do know that ziplines are fun and if too many people know about it, my program area would be overrun with scouts—and posibley staff—trying to use it. That would not be desirable.

Knowing what I do about rope, tensile strength, and other stuff, Mathew and I set up our zipline. We utilized the platform that we had already constructed, added a railing around it (safety), then set the zipline to run down a opening in the trees. Almost hiding it completely from view. Perfect.

The zipline was constructed simply by using very long lengths of cotton rope. (I know what I wrote) Yes, cotton rope. Just let me explain my reasoning before some of you freak out even more that you already have. Okay?

See, we had a large amount of cotton rope up at camp. Why? I don’t recall. I just know we did. So, we measured off the length required for the zipline—taking into account the angle and what it would take to tie it off on both ends. Due to the source, the rope could be cut in single lengths—ideal. The rope was braided, this made it stronger (stronger for cotten). Being braided, there would be less bumps and ridges to slow the pulley down or whatever. The rope was, however, only a quarter of an inch in diameter. We needed thicker rope. So, we made it thicker. We took four lengths of rope and twisted thim into a larger, thicker rope. Perfect.

By doing this, we had removed most of the natural slack in the line, made it wider, and stronger. At this stage, all we needed was a handle for the pulley… Something we could hold onto…

“What about a stick?”

Again, I don’t recall who had this idea, but it was a good one. There were plenty of sticks strewn  about the forest floor. Many of which fit into the loop that normaly would have been used to mount the pulley on a hook—if we were using the pulley properly (which we weren’t). Perfect!

Climb up the ladder. Open pulley hing. Mount pulley onto zipline. Stick stick into hole. Begin ziplining. That’s how easy it was supposed to be. Supposed to…




Hit ground.

“The stick broke.”

“I can see that.”

“Also, I almost hit this small pine tree.”

“Yeah… We should clear the pathway better.”

The first stick we picked was not strong enough. Lesson learned. The path of zipping was not clear enough. Lesson learned. The ground was soft. Lesson learned. It was good that the rule was to keep the height of platforms at six feet. That made the fall easier to take. Lesson already known, just reinforced.

Once we had the details figured out, our free time was spent zipping down the line and returning the pulley for the next guy. That took a bit of figuring out. All we had to do was tie a small length of rope to it, toss it up to the next rider, and they could pull it to them. Done. The only down side was the slack that entered into the zipline rope due to use. We expected that. Mathew and I had been studying ropes, and the like, for years. The solution: Tension ropes—near the end.

With the zipline rope being so long—despite it’s lack of height from the ground—we had plenty of adjustment space. See, as I just mentioned, the zipline was long, but close to the ground, so, if you were shorter (or tucked your legs up to your chest) you got a longer ride. This allowed plenty of adjustment rope at the end of the whole thing.

There came a point where up to twelve trees were involved with it. The first and last trees, then, as more slack entered, we would pull the zipline back and forth to other trees to help remove said slack. At this point, if someone was using it, you could see those twelve treetops waving in perfect tandom as though a wind was blowing only on them. It made it easy to know if anyone was using the zipline without permission. That only happened a few times (it was still kinda funny to see).

At any rate, after a few weeks of owning, operating, maintaining (safely), and playing on the zipline it was brought to an abrupt halt: Lunchtime.

Most of the staff would usually eat all three meals together. And, during one of those lunches—as we were all shuffling through the line—one of the staff asked me, “Hey, Batman. Can I use your zipline after lunch?”

Note: Remember, I’m Batman.

“You have a what?” The Camp Director was right there.

“Sorry, Batman.” And the crestfallen staff member slumped away.

This is where I found out about the rules regarding the how’s, why’s, and when’s of ziplines at Boy Scout Camp. Years later I would become the guy that could build, run, and supervise those things. Years later. That year, it couldn’t be. I had to take it down. Okay. I understood. I hadn’t attempted to hide it. Ever. I just didn’t bring it up because it was never relevant. I knew what I was doing. I knew how to supervise it. My staff and I maintained it. All was well. And, well, they say all good things come to an end…

As I was heading toward my seat, to eat my lunch, my brother approached me (he was the Program Director, 2nd in command, if you will), “So, you understand that the zipline needs to come down after lunch, right?”

“Yeah.” There were liability issues and injury concerns. Yeah, I understood.

“Before you take it down, I wanna try it.”

I had to shake my head as my brother limped away—he already had one leg in a plaster cast.

An end.

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