I Survived Zip Lining Through the Rain Forest, Sort Of: How I Came to Create the Best Scar Cure Ever

A few days ago I was talking to a colleague about scars and the best way to get rid of them. I told him that I always use a lotion I created out of desperate need a few years ago, which I still swear by. It’s basically coconut oil, aloe vera, A & E, and a few other natural products in generous amounts all thrown together in a jar. Shake it up and apply 2-3 times a day. It works like magic – I’ve yet to run across a scar it can’t handle, including the previously giant one on the back of my arm from a zip lining incident that I managed to bring home as a lovely Costa Rican souvenir. Thanks to that lotion you’d never know my arm once housed a massively infected 3rd degree burn.

Before I launch into the story of how I almost lost my arm in Costa Rica, a spoiler alert: I’m not giving you the name of the company that’s responsible for my near-amputation experience. Not because I signed a nondisclosure agreement with them, but because I truly believe it was an accident (albeit a negligent one) and also I can’t remember the name of the company anyway. It was three years ago – I barely remember the names of the towns we stayed in, never mind the companies we used for our random adventures.

That said, it’s probably wise to do research on the adventure companies you’re using prior to signing over your life and careening through the air hundreds of feet above the rain forest, especially if you’re in a foreign land and the directions are being given to you in a language you only kind of grasp (si, hace mucho calor – pura vida!). But don’t let this tale turn you off of visiting Costa Rica, because it was one of my favorite places to explore and I’d relive the entire trip again in a heartbeat.

Depending on the destination, I sometimes have very specific things I want to do while traveling. Dog sled in Iceland, bone fish in Belize, levitate above the mountains in Machu Picchu, dine with giraffes in Nairobi, eat noodles out of a box while singing, “One Night in Bangkok” in Thailand – you get the drift. For Costa Rica, the goal was to zip line through the rain forest and luckily my travel companions, Heather and Crystal, were more than happy to indulge me.

We booked the zip line tour through one of the hotels we stayed in, a beautiful resort filled with bright green lizards and tall exotic birds that casually slinked around the property. A van picked us up at the hotel entrance early in the morning and took us to a building down the road where we grabbed helmets, listened to a brief safety meeting, and piled into another van that took us deep into the rain forest.

Our zip line tour consisted of 7 runs, one of which was an entire kilometer long and another that sent us soaring over a waterfall. It was amazing: my adrenaline was pumping to the point where I couldn’t stop dancing around with a perma-grin plastered across my face and my only issue was that we weren’t allowed cameras and so I missed taking pictures of all the poisonous dart frogs. I was having an excellent time and could have kept at it forever. And then the 6th run happened.

Both Heather and Crystal had gone ahead of me for this line and truthfully, I don’t remember watching either of them take their turns. What I do remember is looking up right before I went and realizing that there had been a shift change and the guys who had been helping us out throughout all of our other runs had been replaced with different guys. I thought it was strange, but since I was on round 6 by this time I wasn’t concerned. I simply took off down the run like the last five times, loving every second of it. Until I got about halfway down the run and realized there wasn’t anyone standing at the end, minus my girlfriend Heather – who looked a bit surprised, which I only vaguely registered in the moment. I thought they had said they would throw out the brake for us on this particular run, but by then I was coming in fast and decided to start the braking myself because a head-on collision with a wooden post at 50 mph seemed unnecessary. Just as I reached back and started applying my hand brake, one of the new guys appeared, took one look at my incoming speed, and whipped the emergency brake towards me. He then promptly walked away without a backwards glance.

Technically called the emergency arrest device (EAD), this braking system was designed to be the backup when the primary brake on a zip line doesn’t perform. Or in this case, when the employee shift change occurs in mid-run and no one is paying attention to the blonde girl coming into the base at supersonic speed. This company’s EAD was basically a big plastic cylinder designed to stop riders on impact and would have worked just fine if not for three factors: I was coming in way too fast, I was already almost at the base by the time they activated the thing, and I had already started braking myself, which at that speed caused my body to start turning.

Unfortunately, I managed to turn right into the cylinder with the arm that was already up in the air (bare flesh exposed) and attempting to brake, which caused my arm to get pinched between the EAD and steel cable as I came to a dead halt. That sounds more painful than it actually was: in reality, my arm went completely numb and all I felt was deep, hard  pressure and a pulling sensation. I knew that I had jacked up my arm, but just not to what extent. I closed my eyes, said a little prayer that there wasn’t a chunk missing out of the back of my arm, and took myself off of the line while Heather raced towards me, looking somewhere between confused and concerned.

“Oh my God, are you ok?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Listen, I’m going to turn around and I want you to look at the back of my arm. I already know it’s bad, but just tell me one thing: is it at least still there?”

“Uh, oh no. Tash. Yeah, it’s still there, but uh…oh dear…”

We managed to hail down one of the employees, who took one look at my arm, did a lot of swearing (how do you say, “bloody ‘ell, please don’t sue us” in Spanish?) and insisted on riding tandem with me for the last run so he could then cart me off and throw around iodine and band-aids.

In the end, my arm suffered a severe pinch, which created the most spectacular bruise you’ve ever seen that took over my entire limb, and a 3rd degree burn. I spent the remainder of our trip answering “holy crap, what in the hell happened to you?!” questions from total strangers, avoiding the pools, fighting an infection, oozing green goo on bed sheets all across Costa Rica (you’re welcome for that tasty visual), and eventually ended up back in the States with a massive scar and an odd dent.

Which brings me back to my miraculous scar cure: I had two doctors, a nurse, a pharmacist, and every one of my friends and family members tell me there was no way I was getting rid of that scar. Naturally, that made me determined to prove them all wrong and so I invented my now infamous lotion. The stuff worked so well my niece still tells people I’m a chemist. In fact, thanks to that lotion I don’t have any evidence that the accident occurred at all, minus a trace of the dent, which is a bit of a letdown because who doesn’t like a good “how’d you get that scar” story?