Hometownie Hero

Beyond Pun-derdome

On a recent mountain trip, Observer columnist Mike Cavaliere learned that the only thing to fear while ziplining is fear itself. Well, and tour guides who talk only in dad jokes. They’re also horrifyi

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  • | 7:00 a.m. February 1, 2024
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“What do you call Batman when he skips church on Sunday?”

I scratched my head and pretended to think, while the rest of the group just stared.

“Christian … Bail,” our zipline tour guide, Parks, answered, clearly pleased with himself.

Mike Cavaliere

We nodded unenthusiastically.

“Yikes,” one of us said.

Another groaned.

But Parks was unfazed.

“What do you call a cow with no legs?” he pressed on. We were huddled onto a wobbly wooden platform high above the forest floor, overlooking splintered trunks and rocks below. I looked down and welcomed the flutter of butterflies in my stomach, a rare sensation for someone whose job it is to stare at computer screens all day, click keyboard buttons, guide mouse cursors.

“Hm, no legs,” someone said, finally. “I dunno, what?”

Ground beef,” Parks smirked, with the same smugness as a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat.

“Are you a dad?” a girl from our party piped up. “Because these jokes….”

They were distracting, and that’s the point. After all, zipline guides are paid for just two things:

  1. To keep you safe.
  2. To keep you from noticing that you are 100% not safe.

Parks grinned. “What do you call a cow with just two legs?”

“Please, no more.”

“Here it comes.”

Lean beef,” Parks chuckled then gave the next in our group the go-ahead to zip away.

All but one of us had braved the first line now, zipping from the starting platform to the second, where we crowded together, waiting for Joey, who had been dreading this trip all day. Before I launched, he was trembling, hugging the tree, saying, “I don’t think I can do it.”

“I promise you will be safe,” Parks told him, all bedside manner. “But I won’t lie — it’s only gonna get worse from here.”

Joey leaned to peek off the platform then stopped short. “I don’t think I can do it.”

“Fear of heights?”

Joey nodded.

“Did the other guide tell you about when he fell in love with a tree?” Parks asked, hoping to break the tension. “They ran away together — to Holly … wood.”


“Unfortunately, the tree cheated on him,” Parks sighed. “With some guy named … Spruce Willis.”

From the other end of the line, I joined the group in watching Joey peel his hands from his hugging tree then freeze, staring at the empty space between him and us.

“He’s gonna do it,” I said, nodding.

“You got this!” a woman with long white hair and a biker T-shirt in our party yelled across the void. She took a pull from her vape. “You’ll regret it if you don’t!”

“JO-EY!” a chant started then grew, as the 12 of us, half of us strangers, raised our voices in unison. Most days, we were a group of play-it-safe suburbanites, but vacation-fueled adrenaline had transformed us. We were death-defiers now, daredevils, all hopped up on the chest-puffing power of feeling afraid but doing it anyway. Never mind that we were harnessed and helmeted and joining thousands, probably, to have safely navigated these lines before us. We were warriors, true mountain men, and we had the waivers to prove it. We wanted Joey to feel this rush. Taste this danger. Be this alive.

“JO-EY!” we chanted louder. “JO-EY!”

He looked at us then down off the platform, stiff shoulders, clenched fists.

We yelled, straining our voices until they echoed through the mountains, faster, more insistent, until their vibrations shot past trees, shaking dead leaves from their branches. And as those wisps of winter color fell, tumbling downwind toward the Earth — where careless hooves and baking sun and tearing winds and drowning rains would ensure that they stayed one with the soil, not the sky — we kept on shouting with everything we had, our noise and life and elevation, daring them all to watch us fly.

Mike Cavaliere is the author of The Humorist: Adventures in Adulting & Horror Movies, available now.


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