Uncharted: Learning to fly - A zip lining experience

LAKE SHORE--Although the metal swing set in my childhood backyard was firmly tethered to the ground, it shuddered with an eerie creak when the momentum of my swing carried me higher into the air.

Chelsey Perkins in harness is suspended from a zip line with a canopy of pine trees in the background.
Chelsey Perkins zip lines in June at the Brainerd Zip Line Tour, located at Mount Ski Gull. The seven-line course features views of Gull Lake and a 50-foot drop at the end. Submitted photo / Brainerd Zip Line Tour
Contributed / Brainerd Zip Line Tour

LAKE SHORE-Although the metal swing set in my childhood backyard was firmly tethered to the ground, it shuddered with an eerie creak when the momentum of my swing carried me higher into the air.

Any courage I'd mustered to leap from the pinnacle of the swing's height dissipated when I heard the metallic screech, planting me to the seat and sending pangs of fear through my chest. I felt that recognizable tightening once again creeping across my body last month as I stood on a wooden platform among the treetops, preparing to jump from the edge. Instead of a sound, it was the realization only a steel cable and a harness in which I'd placed my complete trust stood between me and the forest floor.

But I didn't let the feeling stop me this time. I inhaled deeply and lifted my feet into the air, allowing the zip line trolley to take control. As I glided to the next platform-the second stop along the Brainerd Zip Line Tour, high above Mount Ski Gull-my body relaxed. I (probably) wasn't going to fall. And I felt like I was flying.

With each successive flight on the seven-line course, my confidence grew and so did the camaraderie among our group of eight, plus the two guides. Witnessing everyone else's bravery bolstered my own, and the guides kept the atmosphere light and jovial.

The views didn't hurt, either-perched among the oaks and pines of the Pillsbury State Forest, the expanse of Gull Lake stretched out to the east, while the much smaller Agate Lake dotted the landscape below. Deadfall and trees tamed by the forceful winds of two years of successive violent summer storms surround the course, most prevalent near the line aptly named "Derecho."


But in destruction's wake, the emergence of life followed. Seedlings littered the ground, and the clearing forged by the storm path served as a lookout point for wildlife. One area near a landing was known as a frequent bedding area for spotted fawns, we were told, and black bears rambled through, unaffected by the bizarre display of human pleasure zooming above them.

The course crescendos with a 50-foot drop from the last platform to a mat below-the feature I most feared before arriving. But after zipping along seven lines and crossing a suspension bridge to a glorified deer stand encompassing an enormous pine, the drop seemed the only way to end the experience.

I could've turned around and walked down the stairs, leaving my tour buddies to experience the free fall on their own, without me. My heart pumped and my stomach lurched, but in that moment, I thought of my great-aunt Kay Perkins-the woman whose life and death inspired this Uncharted project. I think often of the last words she ever wrote in her journal, before Parkinson's disease robbed her of the ability.

"Be brave, have courage, and love life."

The quick descent lasted just long enough to repeat those words in my head, and then I stuck the landing.

Six months into my search for meaning, I'm learning risk-taking can not only be good, but it can be amazing. I can't go back and tell my 6-year-old self to jump off the swing. But at nearly 32, I can tell myself saying yes to risky endeavors-being brave and having courage-can pay off in a big way.

UNCHARTED is the monthly column chronicling the new life experiences of Community Editor Chelsey Perkins. Perkins may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .

Opinion by Chelsey Perkins
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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