On December 10, 2014 · Comments Off on Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

I pondered Zip Lines recently. Actually I’d been researching postal ZIP Codes and wondering how I’d missed the 50th Birthday of the system in 2013. Then I noticed an auto-suggestion for Zip Lines and it zipped me straight down a protracted tangent metaphorically speaking. I decided to find the longest Zip Line in the world, a feat more difficult than I anticipated. I turned to several sources including Zip Line Rider.

That’s when I learned a dark secret. Companies that provided these services were marketeers as much as entertainers. They wanted to find creative ways to attract riders to their often remote, sometimes nearly inaccessible locations. There were plenty of financial incentives to exaggerate their achievements. Who was going to be able to pull out a tape measure and test their claims? These competitors also seemed to be locked in a protracted arms race to construct the longest ride. One company would grab the title only to have another eclipse its achievement a few months later, except the original group that previously held the crown would continue to claim it anyway. I did uncover what I believed were some of the longer Zip Lines on the planet bearing in mind the caveat of inflated superlatives. Actual results, and of course future results, will vary.

ZipRider®, Parque De Aventura, Copper Canyon, México

The longest Zip Line uncovered during my investigation pointed towards Parque De Aventura within Barrancas del Cobre (Copper Canyon) in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It was operated by ZipRider®, a company with locations in several parts of the world. The total length claimed at Copper Canyon extended to 2,515 metres (8,350 feet). Most people arrive at Parque De Aventura by train using the Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacífico, better known as the Chepe for its abbreviation CHP. The "El Divisadero" station (map) unloaded passengers directly on the canyon rim at Parque De Aventura.

Copper Canyon would be an amazing place to visit even on its own and it did attract a lot of tourists who were not there for Zip Lining. The canyon was larger than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, and even deeper in places.

Flying in the Sky; Rocca Massima, Italy

Originally I though Italy’s Flying in the Sky facility might have been the longest Zip Line available until I came across Copper Canyon, so let’s call it the longest in Europe instead (at least for today). It was nearly as long at an impressive 2,213 m (7,260 ft). However it was considerably faster with a top speed of 140 kph (87 mph) vs. 105 kph (65 mph). This was probably because Flying in the Sky harnessed people vertically rather than in a sitting position. Riders screamed down the slope of Monte S. Angelo near the community of Rocca Massima (map), southeast of Rome.

The Italian websites didn’t translate well. From what I could gather, several local citizens and entrepreneurs banded together to find a way to attract visitors, especially younger ones, to come to their rural enclave. A Zip Line seemed to be a natural fit.

The Eye of the Jaguar; Urubamba Valley, Perú

Easy come, easy go. The Eye of the Jaguar in Perú was once the consensus longest Zip Line (map). However while impressive at 2,130 m (6,990 ft), it continued to tumble down the list as new facilities opened in other parts of the world. Maybe it’s safe to call it the longest Zip Line in South America. It flies across the Urubamba Valley (Sacred Valley). There would be many reasons to visit the area in addition to simply seeking thrills. This was where the ancient Inca Empire held its firmest control. Their capital city Cusco was located nearby as was the renowned Machu Picchu.

ZipRider®, Icy Strait Point, Alaska, USA

The longest ride I found in the United States was another facility operated by ZipRider®. This one was located at Icy Strait Point, Alaska, just outside of Hoonah. It was an obscure spot on Chichagof Island about fifty miles from Juneau (map). That would seem to be an odd choice for a playground until one considered its placement along the Inside Passage, a popular route for summertime cruise ships. That was their prime audience, too. Their website noted that the facility opened only on days when ships landed at Hoonah. Those not booking admission through a cruise line would be accommodated only on a space-available basis, at the back of the line behind all of the cruise ship passengers.

This was another sit-down line. Perhaps that was why Icy Strait, while an imposing 1,675 m (5,495 ft) in length had a top speed of "only" 105 kph (65 mph). On the other hand, it featured six side-by-side lines so an entire family of cruisers could experience the thrills all at the same time.

Flying Fox; Taihape, New Zealand

I gave an honorable mention to Flying Fox Zipline at Mokai Gravity Canyon (map), in New Zealand. It wasn’t the longest by any stretch, reaching only 1,200 m (3,939 ft). However it was the fastest example that I found. It hit top speeds reputed to be around 160 kph (100 mph)! When one considers that terminal velocity for a human — the top speed of a person in a free fall — was something like 200 kmh (120 mph), the speed of Flying Fox seemed astounding. I can’t imagine Zip Lines getting much faster although I’m willing to bet someone will try.

Farthest Inland Port

On March 20, 2014 · 5 Comments

I’ve discussed the port at Duluth, Minnesota before and even created a travel page for it. I was particularly fascinated with the bit of trivia that Duluth was a significant seaport even though it was located 2,342 miles (3,770 kilometres) from its eventual outlet to the Atlantic Ocean.

Port of Duluth
My Own Photo

The Duluth Seaway Port Authority described itself as "the largest, farthest-inland freshwater port." Maybe that was the case and maybe that was hyperbole. Claims are cheap. Either way I though I should check into this a little further and see what other candidates might exist. I discovered a very useful website in the process, the World Port Source, which provided interactive maps by inland waterway.

Like all my geo-oddity searches, I establish some ground rules. I was looking for a port, most importantly. That was far different than the longest navigable river. Anyone could take a canoe farther upstream. I was looking for recognized port facilities that supported commercial shipping. That was also different than the farthest point upriver negotiable by an oceangoing deep-draft ship. One simply won’t be able to get a large oil tanker hundreds of miles upstream. So those were the general parameters.

Duluth, Minnesota, USA

Duluth would be tough to beat. It definitely held the record for North America. Canada did well also with the Port of Thunder Bay — like Duluth, on Lake Superior — although Duluth was at the farthest extreme of the lake so that increased its distance from the Atlantic.

Port of Lewiston, Idaho, USA

The Port of Lewiston, Idaho was the farthest U.S. inland port from the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia and Snake Rivers, some 465 river miles (750 km) upstream. It also had the distinction of being the only port city in the state of Idaho, which was an interesting bit of trivia worth filing away and retrieving at a strategic time. Maybe I’ll use that one on my wife some day just to watch her eyes roll.

For the Mississippi River watershed and the Gulf of Mexico though, the farthest inland port was either Minneapolis or St. Paul. The Port of Minneapolis might not exist anymore because city officials were eager to get rid of it as recently as 2012. That would hand the honor over to the nearby Port of St. Paul about 1,670 miles (2,690 km) upriver from the Gulf.

I then turned to the aforementioned World Port Source to examine additional extremities outside of North America.

Amazon River – Iquitos, Peru

Port of Iquitos, Peru

The vastness of the Amazon River truly amazed me. Notice the placement of Iquitos, Peru, and specifically how far west it fell on the South American continent. Ponder for a moment that the waterway it sits upon drains to the east.

Belèn, Iquitos. Stilted burrow by Stefe on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

The Port of Iquitos, Peru can be accessed after traveling upriver some 2,300 miles (3,700 km) which put it in the same ballpark as Duluth. One location might be slightly farther inland than the other, or not, although either way they were essentially analogous for practical purposes. World Port Source noted:

The Port of Iquitos became important to the country in the late 19th Century with the rubber boom. The Port of Iquitos is the biggest city in Peru’s rainforest and the capital of the large Department of Loreto. Many think that the Port of Iquitos is the biggest city in the world that roads do not reach. In 2005, almost 154 thousand people lived in the Port of Iquitos

"The biggest city in the world that roads do not reach!" — more fascinating trivia. Is someone writing these down?

Yangtze River – Yibin, Sichuan, China

Yibin, Sichuan, China

Once again, ponder the distance the Yangtze River penetrates inland to the Port of Yibin. It was hard for me to find an exact figure on the river miles between Yibin and the East China Sea. By extrapolation it seemed to be about 1,750 miles (2,800 km).

huge cities, huge rivers by joan vila on flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Certainly one could travel much farther upriver although Yibin seemed to be the final commercial port, and it’s become quite active. I found a recent article in SeaNews that described how train locomotives made in Sichuan were being shipped internationally from the Yibin port. The article also said that as of January 2014, "Cargo vessels of 1,000 tonnes can sail between the port and the sea year round."

I didn’t have time to consider every possibility for farthest inland port. Additional candidates could include the Port of Tver, Russia on the Volga River system or the Port of Kelheim, Germany on the Danube River system. Still it satisfied my curiosity. It confirmed that freighters could sail mighty far inland on multiple continents.

I Call Bull Shark

On September 3, 2013 · 1 Comments

What a glorious day for boating on the tidal Potomac River around Mason Neck, south of Fort Belvior. A friend asked it we’d like to join him and his family for a day on the water and of course I couldn’t turn down such a generous offer.

Boating on the Potomac River
Boating on the Potomac River by

We spent most of the afternoon on the river until nearly sunset, a perfect way to end meteorological summer in the Northern Hemisphere. The kids got one final opportunity for outdoor fun, a little swimming and a some tubing to end their summer break from school. Parents got time to relax on Labor Day weekend even if we didn’t get the whole summer off.

I didn’t let the possibility of Bull Sharks ruin my day either, even if Bull Sharks travel into freshwater. As Shark Savers explained,

Bull sharks are unusual because they can adapt readily to fresh water because they can adapt their process of osmogregulation. The kidneys of bull sharks, (and to a lesser extent several other types of sharks) can be gradually adjusted to suit the salinity of the water they are in… This adaptation allows bull sharks to live entirely in estuaries or freshwater.

They also have a fearsome reputation as unpredictable predators that are particularly aggressive towards humans. Still, one shouldn’t have to worry about a Bull Shark swimming from the Atlantic Ocean into the Chesapeake Bay and up the Potomac River, almost all the way to Washington, DC, right?

Buzz’s Marina

Two Bull Sharks measuring 8 feet (2.4 metres) each had been pulled from the Potomac just a couple of weeks earlier and delivered to nearby Buzz’s Marina, attracting plenty of local news coverage. It even caught the attention of National Geographic, "Bull Shark Catch in Maryland Highlights Nearness of Species to Shore."

They’re baaaaack! Not that they were ever gone; they’ve just kept a low profile. Two eight-foot, 220-pound bull sharks were caught in Maryland near Point Lookout, where the Chesapeake Bay and Potomac River meet… it’s important to note that shark attacks are rare; there have been no reports of shark attacks in the Chesapeake Bay despite the fact that at least 12 sharks occur there.

It’s significant to note that while attacks are rare, they are not completely unknown to the area. The Bay Journal referenced an early colonial account: "One letter documented a pretty incontrovertible case of a fatal shark attack on a man swimming in the Potomac" in the 1640’s. One fatality in nearly 400 years? I liked my odds.

That made me wonder though, exactly how far could a Bull Shark travel upstream in freshwater?

Alton, Illinois

Uncountable sources referenced an incident from 1937. Supposedly two commercial fisherman, Herbert Cope and Dudge Collins, caught a Bull Shark near Alton, Illinois on the Mississippi River. That would mean the shark had to swim about 1,150 river miles (1,850 km) upstream from the Mississippi "Head of Passes." A grainy black-and-white photograph of the alleged capture can be seen commonly on the Intertubes although I could not locate a single contemporary record of that encounter. It seemed like it might be plausible, however I remained skeptical absent confirmation.

Even more extreme, there were accounts from 2006 of Bull Sharks caught much farther up the Mississippi watershed, at Lake Pepin in Wisconsin and Minnehaha Creek in Minnesota. This would place the distance at closer to 1,750 miles (2,800 km) upstream through freshwater. None of these accounts came from credible news sources or scientific journals. They all seem to reference one another in an endless loop. Here’s the kicker: the website that seemed to have sparked it all included a disclaimer at the bottom of the page in tiny print, "Any resemblance in the above story to actual fact may be coincidental and could be disregarded, depending on your mood. April Fools!" It was a joke that people have been reporting as fact ever since.

Another rumor, an outright hoax, was debunked in May 2013. Television station WTHI in Terre Haute, Indiana reported No Shark in the Wabash River. "Indiana Department of Natural Resources officials say a report that a bull shark has been found in the Wabash River is just another fish tale."

Santa Rosa de Yavari, Peru

Given that track record, what should one think of even more remarkable claims from the Amazon watershed? The common refrain is that Bull Sharks "have been found 2,500 miles (4,000 km) up the Amazon River in Perú." That would place the closest location at the Brazil-Columbia-Perú tripoint, the area known as Tres Fronteras in Spanish and Três Fronteiras in Portuguese. A lot of people live there where the Colombian port at Leticia,the Brazilian city of Tabatinga and the Peruvian settlement of Santa Rosa de Yavari all come together, with a combined population of 100,000. One would think there should be at least a sign of news coverage if a Bull Shark had been captured. And yet, I could not find any conclusive evidence, just another round of endless repetition of a remarkable claim.

I never did verify the true freshwater range of Bull Sharks, although I suspect the answer would probably be in the hundreds of miles rather than thousands.

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