CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charleston resident Dorothy King checked one more item off her bucket list last weekend, when she went zip lining at Adventures on the Gorge, in Lansing, Fayette County.
“I thought it’s such a big deal, everybody seems to be doing it, it’s something that ought to be on my bucket list,” King said.
But King isn’t your usual zip liner. The occasion? A gift — exactly what she asked for — in honor of her 90th birthday.
Her son, Art King, scheduled a family outing that included his wife and two of their four children.
Once signed in and headed for the mountain via tour bus, Dorothy King found out that the trip consisted of not one, but six zip lines.
That’s not exactly what she had in mind, but, undaunted, decided she would do the test run and then choose whether to continue or not.
On-site, the group were strapped securely into their harnesses and underwent a short training session where they dangled from a cable only 4 feet from the ground.
With the necessary preliminaries behind her, King stepped onto the wooden platform overlooking the hillside and valley below. Then she stepped forward.
“As I lifted my feet and started down the line, I was looking downward to the treetops below me, aware of just how far I was above the earth,” she said.
“Suddenly, I felt a rush of adrenaline, a nervous moment, my heart racing! Then I realized I should be looking upward, enjoying God’s gifts of the beautiful mountains in the distance, a lake in the scenery below, focusing on what beauty I was missing.
“From that point on, I was not nervous or fearful, and chose to continue to enjoy all six zip lines,” King added.
As you might suspect, this wasn’t her first brush with adventure. She went parasailing in Hilton Head, South Carolina, to celebrate her 80th birthday, in 2004.
She’d heard of zip lining from family and friends and thought it would be an exciting way to celebrate her 90th year.
It was quite different than parasailing over the blue ocean, she found.
“When you parasail you are just drifting, and it’s not fearful at all,” she said. “But I did wonder what would happen if I landed in the water, since I’m not a strong swimmer.”
Zip lining began as a form of transportation in mountainous regions over 100 years ago. It consists of cables suspended from trees. In recent years, it’s been adopted by thrill-seekers and is popular in Canada, the Caribbean, South America and many U.S. states.
Participants are harnessed to a pulley that glides down the cable, reaching speeds of up to 60 miles an hour. They travel from one platform to another, making their way down in elevation, powered by gravity.
Weight and aerodynamics help determine speed and distance in zip lining. Because the cables at Adventures on the Gorge have some slack and curve upward near the landing platforms, guides warn that people weighing less than 150 pounds might not be able to reach the end of the line on some of the steeper inclines and come to a stop somewhere short of the landing site.
At 118 pounds, King didn’t always make it and had to be rescued by a guide. Her life wasn’t in danger — just hanging by a cable. A guide had to zip down the line and tow her in.
The last cable on the three-hour excursion was a 3,100-foot drop called Adrena-Line, designed with two parallel cables so participants could race to the finish. Art and Dorothy decided to see who could reach the platform on the opposite side of the gorge first.
Side-by-side for only a brief moment, Art soon zipped past his mother and landed well ahead of her, traveling at an estimated speed of 60 miles per hour.
The youngest of six children and a minister’s daughter, King has always had an adventurous spirit. When they were raising their family, she and her husband of 59 years, Hiram, would take the kids to amusement parks, where the parents “enjoyed riding all the rides — especially the roller coasters.”
“When our children [Art and Kay King Bird] were young, not liking heights, they would wait patiently at the gate for their happy parents to return,” she said. “Looking back, I believe only Kay was afraid of heights and Art was being a good big brother, staying with his sister.”
King has remained active throughout her years and exercises daily, but she has not been free of medical issues.
“I have had two total hip replacements on my left hip, the last one eight years ago,” she explained. “It used to be a death sentence to break a hip, there were no hopes. But, now I am enjoying excellent health, pain-free, after having been blessed with a divine healing three years ago when a scheduled surgery was canceled.”
She has enjoyed many more traditional hobbies over the years including needlepoint, gardening, ceramics and cake decorating. She has a knack for interior design and displays collections of beautiful trinkets from her travels. Her favorites are Nativities and a necklace, the Jerusalem Cross, which depicts the Four Gospels. King wears it on all her adventures.
She’s also traveled extensively, having visited every state of the union as well as Europe, the Holy Land and “other interesting destinations.”
“Our family has always had a passion for traveling by car, plane, train or cruising,” she said.
When she isn’t out and about, King enjoys time at home with her “perfect little companion,” Gypsy Girl, a cat she rescued from the Kanawha/Charleston Animal Shelter about seven years ago that was featured in the Sunday Gazette-Mail’s Pets of the Week column this spring.
King encourages people — especially as they age — to “keep active and find interesting things to look forward to each day.”
“Look for new, different and exciting activities, and accept new challenges,” she said. “I encourage all my friends, especially the senior ones and my exercise group at Canaan United Methodist Church, to add more fun and exciting activities to their bucket list. It is truly later than we think!”
When asked about her plans for her 100th birthday, she smiled.
She said she’s not planning to skydive like former President George H.W. Bush did recently. But who knows? She just might surprise herself and do something even more adventurous.
Reach Marta Tankersley at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1249 or follow @MartaRee on Twitter.