There's something majestic about an expanse of California redwoods rising toward the sky and swaying in the breeze.

That sense of majesty gives way to something else, however, when you're perched near the top of one of them on a landing platform smaller than the dining room table and preparing to zip-line to another several hundred feet away. Then the sensation is more like a cross between exhilaration and terror.

That's where I was Monday, in a Sonoma County forest near the quaint burg of Occidental (population: 1,125). A Father's Day gift from my daughter, Meredith, brought us to Sonoma Canopy Tours, where seven "adrenaline-pumping zip lines," two 100-foot, wood-and-cable sky bridges and a 60-foot rappel keeps a guy's ticker thumping for nearly two hours.

Zip lines, which also are known as flying foxes, aerial runways and death slides -- wait a minute, death slides? -- have been around since at least the 18th century, when steeplejacks slid down long lines to make quick descents from elevated work places.

Since then, they've been modernized -- riders hang from pulleys hooked on to steel cables -- to traverse mountainous terrain, access remote relocations or, in this case, help an adult daughter get her sedentary father off the couch.

The daughter is no stranger to adventure -- skydiving is on her resume -- but not all of her lust for living was transmitted genetically. So while her eyes sparkled at the chance to fly from one treetop to the next, mine were busy estimating the distance I'd fall if I slipped out of my harness.


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There was little chance of that. The two guides leading our group, Brandon Jacobs and Lydia Gebken, made certain we were double-buckled before each leap. And they were unfailingly encouraging, in a darkly humorous way. "We've never lost anyone -- yet," Brandon said.

The tree-top excursion is laid out like a golf course, each participant waiting for his or her turn on the tee and playing out before taking aim at the next fairway. One big difference: Each hole is a par 1.

Our highest perch was 200 feet above the ground, which provided the answer to a question I never thought to ask: How much do the tops of redwood trees sway in the breeze? (Answer: enough to make your stomach queasy.)

Our longest zip was 800 feet -- we couldn't see the landing spot from the takeoff -- and took 25 seconds to cover, which is a long time to be alone with your thoughts, take in the wonders of nature and wonder how many bones you'd break if you fell.

Acceleration down each new cable brought an adrenaline rush and the recurring thought that arriving at your destination with too much speed is just as worrisome as stopping short. Our guides coached us on how and when to decelerate by dragging our gloved hands against the cable.

The final leap of faith required strapping our harnesses to a rope looped through a friction descender, grabbing the loose end, stepping off a platform 60 feet in the air and slowly rappelling to the ground. Stepping off an elevated platform does not come naturally, by the way. My brain kept wondering why my body would do such a thing.

My heart calmed down a few hours later, and we relished in the afterglow of a heart-pounding brush with adventure. It gave me an appreciation for what I'd been missing.

I'm going to give that a lot of thought as I'm lying on the couch this week.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.