Discover Colorado: Mike Nelson tries the extreme zip line course at the Royal Gorge

PARKDALE, Colo. - Our trip up the canyon on the Royal Gorge Railroad was smooth, beautiful and peaceful.  My zip line adventure at Parkdale, Colorado --  at the entrance of the Royal Gorge -- was smooth, beautiful, thrilling - but not peaceful!

I was accompanied by my wife, Cindy and her mom, Gladys.  We were met by our zip line guides and given the choice of either the standard course or the extreme zip line course.  I chose to be bold and picked the extreme course!

As the skies around us darkened with an approaching storm, the guides quickly, but thoroughly covered all the basics of zip line safety and technique.  I had done this once before on a vacation in the Caribbean, so I was not a complete novice.

My guide crew helped me secure my helmet -- complete with a GO-PRO HD camera.  Cindy gave me a kiss and made me promise to come back in one piece.  My mother-in-law, Gladys pondered whether she would give this a try herself!

Before I knew it, I was all strapped into my gear and heading for the first zip line course.  I climbed to the edge of the starting platform, was hooked in by my guide and took my first leap of faith! 

It is a little unnerving to leap from a 20 foot tower out into the wild blue yonder, but in just a few seconds you realize that the zip line cable is holding fast and you are racing across a scenic canyon!

The ride is short, fast and exciting!  As the zip line gear hums above your head, you simply take in the lovely view. 

The guide at the other end is ready to help you stop -- in case you forget to follow instructions and use your gloved hand to check your speed.  As a "seasoned" zip line veteran, I remembered to slow myself as I approached the landing zone and all was well!

After that initial ride, we were off to try higher and longer courses!  The weather was slowly closing in, but the crew and I were mindful of the lightning risk and counted the time between and lightning flash and the thunder.  As the storms were still several miles away, we went through a couple more courses before the weather finally got too close.

The final run was nearly a half mile long and featured a dual line where you can race another person.  We both hooked our gear and with a "three - two - one", the race was on!  I was ahead until the last 20 yards, but just came up short in the end - I think I started hitting the brake a little soon!

Our wonderful fun was capped off by a great lunch and conversation at the Waterwater Bar & Grill on Highway 50!  Terrific homemade food and many stories filled the hour.  The only thing we missed? Gladys did not get a chance to ride the zip line as the lightning was just too close!  How bad would it look for the weatherman to do in his mother-in-law with a lightning strike!

Royal Gorge zip line tours run $89-$149 depending on the course you chose. Learn more:

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