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Zipping to School
March 23, 2010 3:44 PM   Subscribe

German explorer Alexander von Humboldt was the first Westerner to observe the unusual rope system in 1804. Back then the ropes were made from hemp, which has a propensity for breaking due to rot. The hemp ropes have since been replaced by steel cables. What hasn't changed is that they are 1,300 ft above the river, people zip down them using only a small stick to control their speed and if you are too small, you have to ride in a burlap sack (video).
posted by Mr_Zero (45 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
*clench*
posted by Decimask at 3:50 PM on March 23, 2010


Woah. I'm three-quarters jealous, and one-quarter terrified. It would suck to be the little guy in the bag, though.
posted by Forktine at 3:51 PM on March 23, 2010


that little girl made me feel like a coward.
posted by TrialByMedia at 3:51 PM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Compared to that girl, you are a coward.
posted by GuyZero at 3:52 PM on March 23, 2010 [11 favorites]


I would go to school twelve times a day if I could go like that.
posted by rtha at 3:53 PM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm not quite ready to fly out there to do it, but I'd certainly give it a try if it were easier.

I have a huge wide American ass, though, so I might be over the (unknown) weight limit.
posted by poe at 3:58 PM on March 23, 2010


How do they get back up?
posted by obvious at 4:00 PM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


TrialByMedia: "that little girl made me feel like a coward."

I'm too chicken to ever do something like that.
posted by deezil at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2010


That's nothing. When I was her age I rode the school bus all by myself.

Seriously, the younger me thinks that it would be cool, the older, vertigo positive me was fucking terrified for the little kids doing that.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2010


How do they get back up?

Two one-way lines, each sloping downhill. So you could ride one across, hike uphill, and ride the other back.
posted by Forktine at 4:01 PM on March 23, 2010


How do they get back up?

When I was your age I used to ride a zip line down to school. Both ways!
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 4:02 PM on March 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Man alive, the kid in me is envious. (The adult is petrified.)
posted by phliar at 4:03 PM on March 23, 2010


Driving a car down a two-lane highway late on a Saturday night is probably more dangerous than this. Technology has evolved way faster than our hunter-gatherer brain's ability to intuitively understand relative risks.

And even knowing that, the video still scares the heck out of me. I will now have nightmares about ripping burlap bags.
posted by Dimpy at 4:19 PM on March 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


How do they get back up?

I was wondering the exact opposite about my testicles after looking at those pictures.
posted by Splunge at 4:28 PM on March 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


Brave kids. Probably not as dangerous as Escalator Fails though.
posted by netbros at 4:30 PM on March 23, 2010


Technology has evolved way faster than our hunter-gatherer brain's ability to intuitively understand relative risks.

From the pictures, it looks like the "technology" keeping them suspended below the cable is a canvas strap with no real safety harness. I'd say the opposite of your statement is true -- our hunger-gatherer brains, which used to know how to assess real risk to life and limb, have been lulled into a false sense of security by a reliance on "technology," where no modern technology really exists.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:41 PM on March 23, 2010


mudpuppie: the relative risks of hanging mid air off a canvas strap are pretty well covered by our hunter gatherer instincts (see: everyone above). But the relative risks of zipping down the freeway in a little metal box surrounded by other boxes all moving faster than you can react to...people aren't good at figuring that one out. We haven't adapted our risk assessment to technology.
posted by jacalata at 4:55 PM on March 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


My testicles retracted just from reading the description.
posted by Joe Beese at 5:03 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This jalopy cable system has never injured anybody, which is a better record than the automobile has. And the scenery is a lot nicer. And my testicles hurt.
posted by localroger at 5:23 PM on March 23, 2010


I'd swallow my balls in fear, but the fact remains that this has been a safe zipline. The reality of the danger is probably much, much less than what we imagine.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:30 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming they don't need that much vertical drop, so long as the pully-line drag is kept low. So they can go downhill both ways, with only a small hike on each side to gain gravitational potential energy.
posted by phrontist at 5:44 PM on March 23, 2010


Alexander von Humboldt was the first Westerner to observe the unusual rope system in 1804. Back then the ropes were made from hemp

When you think of hemp, think Humboldt!
posted by Afroblanco at 5:46 PM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


They were even braver when that rope was still hemp.
posted by ceribus peribus at 6:07 PM on March 23, 2010


Why can't the person who strung the wire string 2 or 3 more and make it into a (marginally) safer bridge?
posted by DU at 6:21 PM on March 23, 2010


Why can't the person who strung the wire string 2 or 3 more and make it into a (marginally) safer bridge?

I dunno, maybe because if you have to travel that distance that high up, it's best if it's over veryfuckingquicklyaaaaaahhhhhhh...
posted by Splunge at 6:33 PM on March 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


On that note, I have to say that those are some very dedicated children. I mean, when I was their age, my school was half a block away. I was constantly late.

I could sincerely understand one of them saying, "Mom, I feel sick today. A bit dizzy. I might fall off of the zipline."

They do it.

Every day.

To go to school.

They are some special kids. Kudos doesn't begin to explain how I feel about them. Fucking amazing.
posted by Splunge at 6:38 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I found a few more sources (1 2 3) sources about a similar system, also located in Colombia, across the Rio Negro, and with the same burlap sack and forked stick protocol. There are some inconsistencies, but I think it might be the same one: the stepping-off point looks pretty similar, and how many of these systems can there be?

Some of the more interesting inconsistencies, relative to the video: the caption on the Life photos state that there is a government-built bridge across the river, and the other two links claim that many have fallen to their deaths.
posted by Serf at 6:51 PM on March 23, 2010


I wonder if there are any kids in school who have "Firestone" stamped in reverse on their forehead because their hand slipped off the brake.
posted by digsrus at 6:52 PM on March 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Columbians aren't Westerners?

Anyway, that does look like fun. Every day is the high ropes course!
posted by mike_bling at 7:01 PM on March 23, 2010


Colombians. Argh.
posted by mike_bling at 7:02 PM on March 23, 2010


there's a lot of talk about MeFite testicles on here. Thankfully, these kids seem to have cojones to spare.

Seriously, tho, the idea is certainly thrilling, but I wonder what it's like when that's your everyday routine? What does a "normal" day feel like if you're getting tossed across a vast chasm twice daily?
posted by LMGM at 7:20 PM on March 23, 2010


the relative risks of hanging mid air off a canvas strap are pretty well covered by our hunter gatherer instincts (see: everyone above). But the relative risks of zipping down the freeway in a little metal box surrounded by other boxes all moving faster than you can react to...people aren't good at figuring that one out.

I think you're both wrong. Human instincts aren't great at either of these. Machismo and habit often triumph over fear when it comes to taking risks. Plenty of people in these kinds of societies die by doing stupid things, just like here. And I have seen no lack of fear in people about driving: you should have seen some of the faces my dad made the one time he tried to teach me how to drive! He never tried that again!

So these guys have gotten used to their dangerous commute, and you got used to yours years ago. I don't see any reason to believe that driving is more dangerous than this. The sample size is too small to tell, anyway.
posted by Xezlec at 8:06 PM on March 23, 2010


From the pictures, it looks like the "technology" keeping them suspended below the cable is a canvas strap with no real safety harness

Not everyone can afford a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:02 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why can't the person who strung the wire string 2 or 3 more and make it into a (marginally) safer bridge?

Here's the thing, DU: at first glance, your idea makes a lot of sense. 3-4 lines are much safer than one, right?

Except... once there's a bridge, there's multiple payloads moving across it at once. In the current zipline system, they know to feel the vibrations in the line; when the line stops vibrating, the previous passenger has arrived. (Expert mode: when the vibrations stop, and the line points straight down, the previous passenger has permanently arrived...) So, there's only one passenger at a time.

This system has only a few possible failure points, and only one (the cable breaks) ruins the system. Of course, it's pretty much a binary failure mode... A user who has a shoddy pulley (but all of them have probably been proofed by now) or unwisely overburdens his pulley will pay the ultimate consequence... but his risk is his alone. They "pack their own chutes", to use a phrase from another thrill ride.

No Bridge of San Luis Rey mass disaster for this zipline.

And I'd pay a heap for that ride. But I'd empty my biological exit passages first.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:41 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Related (and I believe this may have been posted here before):

Meteora monasteries, where until the 1960's monks relied on a rope pulley as their only access to the rest of the world.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:46 PM on March 23, 2010


Just checking in since the post mentions my namesake... ... ... aaaaand hemp.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:53 PM on March 23, 2010


And I'd pay a heap for that ride. But I'd empty my biological exit passages first.

Don't worry. The trip down has that covered.

Seriously, tho, the idea is certainly thrilling, but I wonder what it's like when that's your everyday routine? What does a "normal" day feel like if you're getting tossed across a vast chasm twice daily?

Sort of like eating a live toad first thing in the morning. Everything after that is a pleasure.
posted by Splunge at 9:53 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I suppose you wouldn't need a cup of coffee to get your blood flowing after that.
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:59 PM on March 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


What does a "normal" day feel like if you're getting tossed across a vast chasm twice daily?

Pretty normal, I should think. Especially if you've grown up with it. Especially if you're young enough to not really understand death.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:06 PM on March 23, 2010


I don't see any reason to believe that driving is more dangerous than this.

Well, there are the other drivers. You driven very much? Other drivers are way the hell more dangerous than a zip-line.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:09 PM on March 23, 2010


previously about Humboldt
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 9:08 AM on March 24, 2010


Other drivers are way the hell more dangerous than a zip-line.

I see no objective evidence of this. Someone built that pulley. You trust him? You think that cable and its tie-points get safety inspected a lot? You think mechanical systems don't experience wear? There are plenty of dangers in an improvised zip-line (assuming it is improvised). Without enough riders to make up a solid statistical sample, you can't say for sure whether it's more or less dangerous than driving. After all, the percentage of our population that dies in car accidents is relatively low. The number of trips so far on the zip line may not yet be large enough that a corresponding percentage would add up to a number above 1.

I think the only way to know for sure would be to know enough about the construction of this thing to get an estimate of its probability of failure so you can compare it to the probability of a car accident. Without a detailed inspection, I don't think such an estimate is possible.
posted by Xezlec at 1:29 PM on March 24, 2010


There are eight children using the zipline twice a day. There has been a zipline there for a couple hundred years. They claim there have been no accidents.

You're not going to get any objective evidence, but it isn't difficult to figure that at sixteen car trips a day, it's very likely — very probable, even — that there'd be a few accidents. All the more so if we're talking about travelling Los Pinos' road to the school.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:06 PM on March 24, 2010


Other drivers are way the hell more dangerous than a zip-line.

I see no objective evidence of this.... Without enough riders to make up a solid statistical sample, you can't say for sure whether it's more or less dangerous than driving. After all, the percentage of our population that dies in car accidents is relatively low. The number of trips so far on the zip line may not yet be large enough that a corresponding percentage would add up to a number above 1.

I think the only way to know for sure would be to know enough about the construction of this thing to get an estimate of its probability of failure so you can compare it to the probability of a car accident. Without a detailed inspection, I don't think such an estimate is possible.


OK, Xezlec, I'll bite.

US Fatalities per 100 Million Vehicle Miles Traveled in 2008: 1.27
Average car commute = 12 miles, round trip.
Therefore, approximately 1 death per 7 million commute-trips, assuming that deaths are just as likely on commutes as on shopping trips or vacations or.... Anyway, it makes the math easier.

Now it gets more hand-wavey.

I don't see any data on the number of villagers, other than "a handful of families", so let's say 35 people (because it divides nicely into 7 million). Their equivalent death rate would be one villager every 200,000 days (7e6/35), or one every 500 years.

1 villager falls every four centuries = more dangerous than driving.
Zipline deaths occur less than twice a millenium = less dangerous than driving.

My bet is the zipline is more dangerous than cars.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:22 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gods, there's nothing like a geek to deliver a plate of beans. Good on you, IAB.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:01 PM on March 24, 2010


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