Catalina Island Inspiration: Finding Faith on a Zip Line

It’s interesting how close you can come to complete trust in your connection to the universe and still hold back just that little bit. I don’t belong to any organized religion, but feel a deep connection to the divine energy that connects us all. I have had all kinds of evidence over the years that I can trust in the support and guidance of that divine energy, but I still often hesitate in fear. What if I leap after my dreams and the universe doesn’t support me? Ever had that feeling?

I ponder the thought from a wooden platform high in the hills of Catalina Island with a hint of a view of Avalon Harbor.

Catalina Zip Line

View down the line on the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island, CA

It was already on my mind when I was invited by the Catalina Island Company, which owns most of the private portion of Catalina Island that’s not part of the Catalina Conservancy, to join a few other writers for a night on Catalina sampling some of the island adventures. It sounded like it could be fun, but wouldn’t really move me toward my goals as the newly minted children’s singer/songwriter, Auntie Kayte.

Rather than agonize over the decision, I checked in with the universe and asked if I should go.

It said yes. Go for it.

I was surprised. I expected a quick no, and I’d move on with more music-related activities.

I asked again and still got yes.

That made me kind of curious, and I really do trust my connection to the universe, so I accepted the invitation. Maybe I would meet someone I needed to know on the trip. Maybe I just needed a break.

I wasn’t really expecting to end up here on this platform.

The invitation offered a choice of activities like a Hummer tour, helicopter tour, zip lining, Dolphin Quest, Undersea Adventure, kayaking, and more.  I thought I’d have a chance to choose my specific adventures, but arriving on the island, I received my itinerary which included the Hummer tour and a helicopter tour for all of us and a separate more active itinerary for me and another Kate who also wanted to spend some more time outdoors. The bonus adventures they booked us were the Dolphin Quest at 11 am and a 2:30 pm Zip Line Eco Tour.

Uh huh. Even though I’m pretty adventurous – white water rafting is one of my favorite activities – in some cases I’m more adventurous in my fantasy than in my perceived reality.

I have no interest in bungee jumping or sky diving, but zip lining was a gray area. I like to think of me being that adventurous, but the idea of stepping off a platform and trusting a cable to carry me across a canyon is pretty intimidating. Yet here I am.

A couple years ago to test my mettle, I tried the zip line across the LA Convention Center at the annual LA Travel Show. I survived (the climb up was pretty scary), but it didn’t make me want to book a trip to Costa Rica to zip through the rain forest.

When looked at the itinerary with the Zip Line Eco Tour, my first thought was “……..zip lining….what have I gotten myself into?” followed more slowly by, “I did it in the convention hall. I can do this.”

When I checked into my room at the Pavilion Hotel, I quickly pulled out my laptop to look up the specific activities on my schedule. Dolphin Quest turned out to be a speed boat ride looking for dolphins wherever they’ve last been spotted in the bay. It’s “not recommended for people who get motion sickness.”  Good thing I brought along some Bonine and my anti-motion sickness wrist bands.

My research continued to the Zip Line Eco Tour. Two hours zipping down 5 different lines from platform to platform from the summit down to the beach. Five lines. Not one. Five times stepping off a platform and trusting that I won’t fall to my death or make a crash landing at the next platform. Neither of those outcomes particularly concerned me. I was more afraid of that free-fall stomach drop you get in an amusement park drop ride. I avoid those rides.

Since it was scheduled toward the end of the 2nd day, I still had time to chicken out altogether.

The Hummer Eco Tour of the East End was great fun. Our driver, Bear, made a point of perching us precariously close to the edge of the dirt road with a shear drop into the canyons to take in each stunning view. I felt perfectly secure belted into the open Hummer inches from the precipice, but the passenger seated behind me was squealing in fear (although she wasn’t scared enough to move to an interior seat).

Hummer Touor

Visitors on the East End Hummer Tour on Catalina Island, CA

Bear gave us a detailed description of the island’s history and ecology as he drove, from the American Bison herd left behind after a 1920s movie shoot, to the reintroduction of the bald eagle after DDT destroyed the original population, to the 19 varieties of eucalyptus trees. Periodically he reached out the window and pointed out a bit of dessert paintbrush growing next to the dirt road or the abundant white sage used by the Native Americans for purification and spiritual cleansing, or as “cowboy cologne” to mask less pleasant odors.

We broke out of the overcast as we climbed to the summit. We could see the tiny town of Avalon far below to the east. Fingers of cloud rolled over the hills to the west, giving Bear a moment’s pause before deciding to continue in the direction we were heading – through the clouds and past the Zip Line Eco Tour entrance.

 Hummer Tour on Catalina Island

The East End Hummer Tour on Catalina Island, CA

“What’s that trail next to the platform?” I asked. “That’s the bail out trail if someone chickens out and doesn’t want to jump,” said Bear. I found the idea reassuring.

We awoke the next morning to a fine drizzle (what do they expect when they invite Rainy Day Traveler?). With a helicopter tour, a bumpy boat ride and zip line tour ahead of me, I added a dose of Bonine to my coffee, fruit and croissant from the breakfast buffet.

Exclusively for guests of the Pavilion Hotel, the Catalina Island Company now offers Heli-Hiking and Biking options where a helicopter will fly you to a spot above Two Harbors at the other end of the island, and pick you up after you hike down to the town, or it will drop you at a location in town where you can ride a mountain bike into the hills and back. We got the 18 minute ride, without the hiking or biking, which was just as well, since it would have been wet and muddy in the mist.

Helicopter View of Catalina

Rainy helicopter view of the isthmus at Two Harbors on Catalina Island, CA

It wasn’t the best visibility for flying. In fact it was complete white-out conditions on the north side of the island, so we headed back the way we came. It was fun getting a bird’s eye view just the same, and the ride was smoother than I expected.

Dolphin Quest, on the other hand, was wildly bumpy. It’s so jarring that they seat you straddled, like on a horse, so you can stabilize yourself with your legs over the big waves and don’t go flying around the boat. Our quest took us south of Avalon and then north, with no dolphins to be found. We did get to see hundreds of sea lions on a beach near the quarry and on a large buoy in the bay. On the way back to the pier we ran into another posse of 20 or so sea lions out cavorting in the ocean.

Sea lions

Sleeping sea lions near Catalina Island, CA

The bouncy race over the waves was exhilarating, like riding whitewater, but I could have used a winter parka rather than my little rain jacket given the wind chill factor. Kate was bundled in blankets against the cold. We were the only two passengers on a boat that holds six to 12 so there were no other bodies to help keep us warm.

Dolphin Quest Catalina

Wrapped in a blanket against the wind on a rubber speed boat on a Dolphin Quest from Avalon, Catalina Island, CA

As much as we enjoyed the heli-tour and the Dolphin Quest, we both agreed they would make better afternoon activities after the sun has time to break through the marine layer.

After lunch it’s time to face my fears. Sarah joins Kate and I and 7 other adventurers as we receive our orientation from our dashing and entertaining young guides, Jake and Doug at Zip Line Eco Tours.

As we line up to get fitted in our harnesses, a young man turns to me, “You’re going too?” he asks surprised.

OK, so I guess at 5’5″ coming in just barely under the weight limit I don’t look the part of the great adventurer. As Jake is fitting my harness, I’m wondering if these straps are going to aggravate my bursitis, which I’ve finally gotten under some control. “You’ll be fine,” comes from my Trusted Source and the pain potential vanishes from my thoughts.

Zip Line Eco Tour

Jake demontrates the rig during orientation at the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

In addition to the heavy metal rig that attaches us to the wire that we each have to carry, I’ve got a 5 pound camera-lens setup with me as I join the others on the bus to the top of the course. I have no illusion that I’ll be able to shoot from the line, but I can at least get some action shots of my companions from the platforms.

So now here we are, geared up and ready to go, high up near the summit with the ocean barely peaking around all the hills below.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Platform 1 on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

In addition to our trio, the group consists of a couple young guys from Malaysia, another Katie, in her 20s and her dad, a tall woman named Kat in high fashion boots and fishnet sweater who decided at the last minute this would be a great way to help her boyfriend get over his fear of heights, and Ethan, a 15-year-old with plenty of zip line experience  whose T-shirt declares quite truthfully “I am awesome.”

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Our crew on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Doug zips down the line first to set up catch position at the next platform. Then Jake attaches young Ethan to the line to show us how it’s done. Jake explains that one hand should be kept on the handle to keep you from spinning and getting tangled, and that upside down probably isn’t a good idea. Other than that, we’re free to move around.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Doug zips ahead to set up catch position at platform 2.

Ethan takes a running leap off the platform. He twists this way and that, waves for my camera, then strikes a superman pose for a second before turning back to landing position.

Zip Line Eco Tour Catalina

On the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island, CA

Yeah, sure.

Sarah and Kate have each zipped before. Kate steps up next. She steps off conservatively and gets her bearings before letting go with one hand and turning back to us with a smile and a big scissor kick. Sarah’s orange shoes stand out against the sage chaparral of the canyon as she zips down the line.

Zip Line Eco Tour

Kate on the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island, CA

Now it’s my turn.

I step up onto the platform to be attached to the line, securing my camera. I have no intention of letting go of the two handles to take pictures. Jake fastens my rig to the line.

Zip Line Eco Tour

Jake fastens my rig to the line on the Zip Line Eco Tour on Catalina Island

Some of the others stepped off the edge; some leapt. I can’t just step off the platform. I fear that stomach plunge. So I move carefully down the couple steps and sit down in the harness until I can feel its support. Once I can feel the line go tense, I lift my feet, Jake gives me a little push and I soar straight down the line. Hands gripping, legs straight out in landing position from the get go.

About half way down I let out a tiny “weeeee!” that carries across the canyon. But my eyes don’t stray from my goal. At full speed, it’s hard to imagine that the brake will be able to stop me, but it does, gently, and Doug reels me in and unhooks me.

I did it! One down. Four more to go.

At each platform there are interpretive panels about the flora and fauna of the area . Jake expounds mostly on the fauna, but only as long as we continue to express interest. He fills in more detail on some of the stories we heard the day before from Bear, like where the birth control came from that they’re now using on the bison to keep the herd size down. Doug doesn’t talk much other than a hearty “great job!” as you land.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Kat is all style on the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

Time for the second run. I get a little braver and move a little closer to the edge before sitting into the harness, but I still need to feel that support before I take off. This time I experiment with the idea of taking one hand off the handle, but as the wind starts to spin me, I grasp for my strap to keep from completely spinning around and return both hands to the handles.

Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

It’s easier to shoot video one-handed with a point and shoot camera

On the third run, the longest at 1100 feet, I think about trying to take a photo, but again the wind is too strong for me to keep from spinning, much less to aim 5 pounds of camera one-handed.

From the 4th platform, I snap a photo of a mule deer grazing below. One of the last few non-native species that they’re trying to figure out how to get off the island, according to Jake. The non-native American bison are staying.

Mule Deer on Catalina Island

Mule Deer on Catalina Island

The line on run four is a little closer to the platform, so Jake encourages me to get all the way to the very edge, humoring me as I put my weight into the harness before taking off. I’m finally feeling comfortable enough to look around and enjoy the scenery and not just look at the next platform. From here, we’re starting to see the Avalon Casino peaking around the hill below.

Avalon Harbor

Avalon Harbor from the Catalina Zip Line Eco Tour

On the final line we get instructions on how to pose for the camera, which takes a photo almost at the bottom of the line. We see it flash as Doug goes down ahead to take up his catching position.

It’s the last run. I dig out my cell phone, set it on video and hand it to Kate to shoot me going down. Jake fastens my rig to the line. I walk forward to the edge of the platform. I finally trust my harness and don’t need to test it. I step right off, flying down the line. My triumphant “Woohoo!” echoes across the canyon as I let go my left hand and give a giant smile for the camera.

Safely back at sea level, I reflect that my zipping experience has been a metaphor for my connection to the divine energy of the universe that some people call God. Testing. Testing. Testing. Testing. And that the lesson I needed to learn was in that final fifth line. Letting go of doubt to take the leap, trusting that the support will be there.

Heading home on the Catalina Express at sunset, those streaks of sunshine sometimes called “God rays” reach down and spread out from a small gap between the island and the dark clouds just above it, reminding me of that moment of complete trust. I take a moment to look into the sunbeams and thank my divine guidance for sending me to Catalina.

Catalina Island Sunset

Sunbeams bid farewell with a Catalina Island Sunset

Read more about the Top Catalina Island Adventures on my LA Travel site on About.com.

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As is common in the travel industry, the writer was a guest of the Catalina Island Company and Catalina Express, who provided transportation, accommodations and activities. Divine inspiration provided by a Higher Source.

Rainy Day Fun Spans the River in the Quad Cities

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

The Sky BridgePeople on the outer edges of the United States may never have heard of the Quad Cities, but for residents of America’s heartland, this collection of towns on the Iowa/Illinois border is a popular destination with much to offer visitors. On a bend in the Mississippi River where it flows from east to west, the cities of Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa on the north bank, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island, across the water in Illinois to the south, make up Quad Cities, with the borders flexing to include activities in a few neighboring communities as well.

Isle of Capri CasinoIn 1991, the Quad Cities reintroduced riverboat gaming on the Mississippi River. The economic impact allowed an unprecedented boom in cultural investment in the region with a bevy of new museums and cultural centers bringing much The Channel Cat Water Taxineeded educational tools to local communities and creating new attractions to entice visitors to the area.

On a clear day, you can bike along the river, take a ride on the Channel Cat water taxi, or visit the Niabi Zoo. On a rainy, snowy or sweltering day, in addition to the three riverboat casinos, there are plenty of indoor options to keep the whole family comfortably entertained.

Moline

Driving a combine at the John Deere PavilionThe number one tourist draw in the area is John Deere. People come from all over the world to pick up their brightly colored green and yellow tractors and combines. In 1997 as part of the revitalization of downtown Moline, the John Deere Pavilion was opened on John Deere Commons to showcase the company’s products and innovations. Docents will walk you through the history and future of agricultureThe John Deere Collectors Center and the role of John Deere equipment or you can explore the interactive exhibits on your own and climb up to check out the view from a towering combine, baler or cotton picker.

Around the corner, the John Deere Collectors Center is a recreation of a 1950s showroom with vintage equipment on display, a repair workshop and a play area for kids. Souvenirs are on sale at the Collectors Center or at the John Deere Store.

Davenport

"River of Life" by Louis Comfort Tiffany, at the Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IAThe latest addition to Quad Cities culture is the new Figge Art Museum in downtown Davenport. The glass building designed by British architect David Chipperfield houses a wonderful collection of Mexican Colonial paintings and vibrant Haitian art as well as regional artists and traveling exhibitions. They also have the long-term loan of the iridescent ” River of Life,” a 1905 Tiffany stained-glass window, beautifully backlit for display. Family-friendly tours and hands on activities make this a great stop with school-age kids.

River Music Experience, Davenport, IAAround the corner from the Figge, the River Music Experience is a café and live music venue downstairs, with a gallery upstairs dedicated to the history and tradition of music along the Mississippi River. Interactive consoles let you browse topics and listen to stories, interviews and music clips arranged geographically with stations for Memphis, St. Louis, Up River, and Beyond the River. Photos, records and instruments help tell the tale of the legends of blues and jazz from native son Bix Beiderbecke to Artists at the Bucktown Center, Davenport, IAthe Charlie Daniels Band. (Read more about the River Music Experience in Going Solo.)

In a former warehouse down the street, the Bucktown Center for the Arts is a cluster of art studios and shops where you’ll find local artists creating wearable art in the form of fashions and jewelry, wall art in every medium from oils to watercolors to photography and digital art, custom furnishings and décor. Original art purchased from local artists makes a great souvenir.

Rock Island

Rock Island is the name of the county and city in Illinois with the Mississippi River to the north and the Rock River to the south. Part of the city is an island in the Mississippi known as Arsenal Island, home of the Rock Island Arsenal. There is still a working military base and arsenal on the island, but there are also several attractions worth visiting. There are bridges to the island from Davenport, Rock Island and Moline.

The Mississippi River Visitors Center at Lock 15The Mississippi River Visitors Center near the bridge to Davenport, is a great spot to watch water vessels maneuver through Lock 15, where the Rock Island Rapids would once have kept commercial and recreational boats from navigating this part of the river. The best view is from the outside deck, but you can also get a good look from the climate-controlled Visitors Center. Exhibits explain how the lock and dam system works to overcome the elevation changes along the Mississippi River.

Davenport House, Arsenal Island, Rock Island, ILThe Colonel Davenport House, on the north side of the island, was the home of George Davenport, a local fur trader and government agent in the early 19th century, who was one of the founding fathers of the Quad Cities. The restored building is furnished with accoutrement of the times, with a touchy-feely trading post upstairs illustrating the history of the fur trade in the area. Tours elucidate the Federal architecture, “sleep-tight” beds and other antique furnishings, and the historic significance of the Colonel, his home, and his untimely end.

Arsenal MuseumThe Rock Island Arsenal Museum showcases the history of the island as a manufacturer of munitions for the US Army. From the creation of Fort Armstrong as a military presence on the western frontier in 1817, through the construction of limestone barracks and factories after the Civil War, and the increased production of military ordinance through two World Wars, Korea, Vietnam and right up to the present.

Exhibits include the Indian Guns of the Little Bighorn, typical infantry gear over time, and an amazing array of swords, canons, machine guns, handguns and rifles. Weapons from other countries are also on display, including the arms a German soldier would have been carrying in WWII. Production photos, uniforms, and manufacturing equipment round out the exhibit. Kid-size camouflage, civil war uniforms and prairie dresses are available for photo opportunities in the Discovery Room.

Family Fun in the Quad Cities

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

Quad Cities is a very family friendly destination, with children’s programs or activities at most attractions. Even the hotel where we stayed at the Isle of Capri Casino had an indoor pool that was always packed with kids, and cribs were available for the room. But there are a couple places in the Quad Cities that are just kid heaven.

Family Museum

Rhythm AlleyFor toddlers through pre-teens, the Family Museum in Bettendorf offers hands-on learning experiences that can keep youngsters entertained all day. My niece Becca, 9 and nephew Declan, 2, enjoyed their stay so much that we squeezed in a second visit before leaving town.

Kids generate a tornado at the Family Museum in Bettendorf.Making noise is always fun, so applying the mallets to xylophones made of different materials and banging on steel drums in a special sound-proof room in Rhythm Alley were perfect 2-year-old diversions that Becca also enjoyed.

In the Amazing Acres exhibit, you can puff a cloud into existence, spin up a tornado or generate lighting in the weather display. Drive a John Deer combine through virtual corn fields; learn how farm goods become food at the market; groom and ride a stuffed horse, or fill up the car with bio-fuel. Our little squirrels enjoyed scampering up a giant tree trunk, and Declan became attached to a wooly sheep that was almost as big as he was.

The Energy Hog at the Family Museum in Bettendorf, IA.In Watts Up with Energy, see how hard you have to peddle a bicycle to generate enough energy to run a light bulb, a blender or a blow-dryer. The Energy Hog, a giant pig in a leather jacket, holds an interactive display that uses computer games toAssembling a skeleton at the Family Museum in Bettendorf, IA.teach lessons on saving energy around the house.

The Human Body exhibit allows kids to assemble a skeleton like a puzzle from xrays of different bones, and try to insert all the organs in the right spaces in a plastic torso. A high-powered microscope gives a close up look at tiny blood cells; while a giant model of a heart lets you walk right through its chambers.

There’s a special play area called the Garden where parents can let toddlers loose to climb and explore. The gift shop is full of learning-inspired toys, and if you need a lunch break, there’s a café in the Library next door.

Michael’s Fun World

Jousting at Michael's Fun WorldFor kids 5 through teens and adults, another great option is Michael’s Fun World. This was Becca’s favorite stop on our trip. Outdoors, Michael’s has a go kart track and miniature golf course, but on a rainy day you’ll want to head for the indoor fun.

The main warehouse-size building is filled with inflated play areas with competitive games like trampoline basketball and jousting. There’s even an air-filled obstacle course for two. Of course there’s one just for bouncing that requires no skill at all, just socks.

s Fun World, Davenport, IAA climbing, sliding playground that rises three stories into the rafters, a rock climbing wall and the inflatables are all included in the price of admission. There’s also a full arcade with video games, simulators, skill games and a couple lanes of Bowlingo requiring the purchase of tokens.

Lazer Tag at Michael's fun World in Davenport, IAFor hunters and warriors, there’s a separate room and a separate fee for laser tag. Wearing glow-in-the-dark green and orange vests, two teams face off against each other in a dark room, skulking among pseudo-structures to shoot the enemy’s vests and disable their lasers. They aren’t’ finished for good; they just have to recharge before getting back in the game.

A separate building holds the baseball and softball batting cages with automatic pitching machines.

Family Museum
2900 Learning Campus Drive
Bettendorf, IA 52722
(563) 344-4106
www.familymuseum.org

Michael’s Fun World
345 West 76th Street
Davenport, IA 52806
(563) 386-3826
www.michaelsfunworld.com

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