From a sheltered platform more than 40 feet high, I step out into darkness, my heart beating a little faster than usual. The zipline cable from which I hang hums as I gather speed, cool air rushing past my face.
Some 100 feet in the distance, I see small yellow, green, and pink lights, then two red glowsticks forming an “X.” I reach back with a gloved hand and press down on the zipline, slowing to land among those lights on a platform built around the trunk of a towering cypress.
This full-moon adventure at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours near Spicewood puts a whole new twist on ziplining. It follows the same five-line course as day tours, tracing a line of centuries-old cypress trees along a creek flowing through a narrow valley. But after dark, participants wear glowsticks around their necks, on both wrists, and atop helmets. The guides are similarly adorned, and they also carry larger, hand-held sticks to signal us zippers when to brake. Small lanterns on the platforms provide just enough light to see without spoiling the nighttime effect. It feels exhilarating, flying through the darkness, stars above and only vague shadows around me.
Right on cue, while I wait my turn for the second line, an orange glow appears through the trees. The full moon grows steadily brighter and higher, giving me more light by which to see the trees around us, although the ground below remains in darkness.
Tonight’s group numbers seven, including my 20-year-old daughter, Bridget, and me. Our guides, Christine Alexander and Shelby Semon, clip us securely to the platforms or ziplines, keeping us fastened to something at all times—a comfort even more welcome in the dark.
Along the way, they tell stories and fill us in on the history of Cypress Valley. Austinites David and Amy Beilharz bought the property in 1997 to live closer to nature, raise bison, and try their luck using solar and hydro-power. After a few years, they decided that they wanted to share their special place with others, but they didn’t want to modify the land to put in trails or campgrounds. Then, in 2004, David took a zipline tour in Costa Rica, and the couple realized that lines through the canopy would allow people to experience the landscape without affecting it much. Public tours started in 2005.
Between the first and second lines, we cross two bridges right out of an Indiana Jones movie, constructed from boards a foot or so apart, with just enough swing to make things interesting. Fortunately, unlike in the movies, these bridges don’t fall apart and drop us into pits of crocodiles or zombies. On the next zipline, the longest at more than 350 feet, our group decides, given the darkness and the moon, to scream as we traverse it. Good thing the neighbors are far away. After that line, we walk a short distance on the ground to the next platform, which features twin lines so partners can race each other. It takes a bit of courage to push off and go as fast as possible in the dark, but it helps that strings of lights line the landing platform.
We zip the final line, then Shelby informs us we will rappel to the ground some 35 feet below. One by one, we slide down thick line, landing in a clearing where soft lights glow in the vegetation around us. A short walk out of the valley takes us to a golf cart that returns us to the starting point, where we remove our helmets and wriggle out of harnesses, raving about the bright, white moon, a perfect round saucer in the night sky.
Fortunately, for Bridget and me, the night isn’t over. We hop into my car and follow the golf cart down a dirt road to Cypress Valley’s new “tree--house” accommodations, Lofthaven. Here, a small house on the lip of the val---ley contains a bathroom, kitchenette, and rock hot tub. Out the back door, a suspension bridge leads to a yurt built 40 feet above the ground in a tree growing from the ravine, where we find a queen-size bed, hammock, table, and a few chairs arranged around the central trunk. Before bedtime, we relax on the deck outside, listening to the creek below and watching the moon above, grateful for our new perspective.