Life Lessons From The Ziplining Tortilla

When my son and I arrived on a North Georgia mountaintop several years ago for our first zip-lining outing, I did not know quite what to expect.

I had read many people's accounts of the zip-lining experience; I had speculated about how I would feel about the heights and the speed. I had wondered if my son (or I) would love it or freak out.

Nowhere in the information I read or the expectations I had developed did I run across Mexican food. You heard me: tortillas, tacos, burritos.

As it turns out, the zip-lining guides utilize the names of these foods to represent zip-lining stopping techniques. Since I'm usually thinking about how my life experiences translate to the business world, I couldn't help drawing some parallels

Prior to zipping, each participant has to take ground school in order to acclimate to the procedures. Ground school is taught on a mini zip-line that is only a few feet off the ground. In zip-lining, the brakes are your gloved hands.

Are you wondering when we are going to get to the food analogies? Break out the salsa - here they come...

The Tortilla Brake

The best brake is the tortilla. In the tortilla brake the rider watches for the guide, who is standing at the arrival platform. When the guide begins making braking motions, the rider is supposed to take their gloved hand, keep it completely flat, and apply it to the steel cable to slow down the rider.

Parallel: It is important to pay attention to the signs ahead of us in order to avoid reacting too soon or too late. In addition, utilizing a slow, steady, methodical approach to an upcoming change can make the process easier on everyone.

The Taco Brake

We were warned to avoid a taco brake. In a taco brake the hand is no longer flat on the cable, but rather folded over the cable like a taco shell. This is bad because it may make you stop too fast and may make you more susceptible to injury.

Parallel: When you are hurtling toward a desired destination, it is sometimes hard to trust the lessons that others who have been down the same road tried to teach you. Until you have personally lived the experience, sometimes the voice of experience just isn't quite enough.

The Burrito Brake

The guides advised us most strongly against the burrito brake. A burrito brake is where you grab onto the cable and surround it with your hand, like a burrito. Why is this bad? One reason is that you could pull your shoulder out of joint. A zip line rider reaches rapid speeds, and you don't want your hand to be affixed to the steel cable while your body tries to continue on its trajectory.

Parallel: Practice is good. When you watch people zip line but you haven't experienced it yourself, it's easy to say, "Oh, I'd never do a burrito brake." Reflexes and adrenaline can do funny things to your judgment. Businesses have Continuity and Contingency Plans (BCCP's) in case disaster strikes, and they are supposed to test their systems periodically. We would be wise to do the same as individuals.

When Braking Fails

If all the Mexican-food themed strategies in the world fail and you find yourself short of the platform, you get to self-rescue. Another technique practiced at ground school, you turn so that your head is facing the platform and your feet are facing the origination point and pull yourself back up the cable, arm over arm.

Parallel: You may find that you end up looking back where you started, having to work a lot harder than you anticipated to get to your destination. And you're going to need help in the form of a teammate to finish.

A version of this post appeared previously on Perspicacity.

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