(Photo Source: Louisville CVB)
I'm just a little bit afraid of heights and a little bit uncomfortable in the dark and I kind of get claustrophobic underground.
So, there I was standing on a tiny little platform 75 feet above a dark abyss with just a headlamp for light about 150 feet under the city of Louisville, Kentucky. And yes, my heart was racing.
But my friend Amy was on a similar platform next to me as a crowd counted down to the moment when we had to step off into the darkness and race each other across the underground cavern in the final event of the MegaCavern Zip Line Course.
MegaCavern bills itself as the world's only fully underground zip line course. That in itself is worthy of a road trip to Louisville, but MegaCavern also has a ropes course, a bike course, and then for the real wimps of the world, a sane little tram ride. During the holidays, the cavern goes full-blown North Pole with 850 characters created by more than 2 million twinkling lights. Its the only underground spectacle of its kind in the world!
In the beginning, or at least in the 1930s, MegaCavern was a massive limestone mine, generating much of the material for building the city of Louisville and neighboring communities. When the mining was over, it was really just a big hole in the ground with corridors crisscrossing for 17 miles under the streets and buildings of Louisville. The Louisville Zoo sits right on top of the MegaCavern.
City leaders considered turning it into an underground shopping mall, but that went nowhere. Finally, it went on the auction block in the 1980s.
The folks who purchased the old mine first created an underground storage area and then an underground recycling center, both good ideas. Then they started educational tram tours to explore the geology of the region. Another good idea that eventually led to the best idea of all.
They then went all extreme adventure by creating the underground ropes course, followed by the zip line and then the bike park. Switching from storage to slightly insane activities requiring waivers, helmets and parental approvals wasn't easy, but it revolutionized this unique space. Of course, it's also another great reason to make sure that you have adventure travel insurance.
The zip line starts out with a little bunny slope, just to make sure everyone is comfortable with zipping in the darkness. Occasionally, a few people decide its not for them, and that's OK. Sure enough, one person in our group went outside to enjoy the afternoon waiting at a picnic table instead of hurtling through the darkness.
After the bunny slope, things get intense. Appropriately called the Zip Line to Hell, the back wall of the cavern had to be cut back farther to make the line the required 666 feet long-get it? Fake orange flames leap from the bottom of the cavern as you zip along, but the screams are all real.
The longest of the six lines is 900 feet long and it crisscrosses over another line. It's really quite spooky and a lot of fun to see the other headlamps and hear screams moving above or below you in the darkness. One of the most difficult parts for me was the two challenge bridges we had to cross to get to the next station. My friend's jumping and bouncing didn't make it any easier, but we all had so much fun.
It takes about 2 and a half hours for a group of 10 or so to maneuver the entire course. The guides are quite diligent about all of the hooks and harnesses and safety issues, so there's really nothing to worry about. There's also a lot of walking over uneven terrain that can become tiresome for anyone who doesn't really enjoy this kind of stuff, so keep that in mind before you take the plunge.
Finally, we got to the last zip the dual line to the finish. Giving my friend Amy the evil eye, I was the first to climb up on that dimly lit platform. After the attendant hooked me up, I had a few minutes to stand there and fully take in my surroundings. For the first time since I was a child, I felt butterflies in my stomach and I think my feet were even sweating a little.
As the crowd counted down 3-2-1-ZIP I froze. Try as I might, I could not will my foot to step off the platform into the dark abyss. Amy was halfway to the other side before I finally jumped.
I demand a re-match, a great reason among many to return to the great city of Louisville.
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A Midwest farm girl at heart, Diana Lambdin Meyer caught the roaming bug early in life. Diana married well - to a photographer who also has the travel bug and whose work in still and video complements her words. Now based in the Kansas City area, Diana is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers who makes a full-time living on the road and at the keyboard. Read about Diana's adventures on her blog, Mojotraveler or follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.
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