Learning the Ropes
JULIANNE LESTER is an avowed tree hugger. "From the time I could walk, I was an active child playing in the fields near my home in Wisconsin," she said. "I loved climbing trees, I loved being in the outdoors!"
It's no wonder, then, that when Lester decided to launch a new business on Kauai in 2002, it would be associated with nature. Just Live began operating in 2003 with her at the helm as its founder and president. In 2005, her close friend Nicole Baier joined the company as vice president and co-owner.
According to Lester, Just Live is "a training and adventure company specializing in eco-adventure tours, teen adventure camps, and custom-designed team-building and leadership development programs for groups."
These groups run the gamut, from friends, families and school classes to sports teams, special interest clubs and corporate executives.
Most of the activities take place on Just Live's Outdoor Team-Building Facility and Challenge Course, which sprawls over five acres of magnificent forest bordered by the Halenanaho Reservoir and Grove Farm, which formerly was a sugar plantation owned by the prominent Wilcox family.
Norfolk pines soaring 200 feet high, thick stands of bamboo, and mammoth mango and eucalyptus trees decorate the landscape.
"WE HAVE breathtaking views of Mount Kawaikini, Kauai's tallest mountain; Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on Earth; and the Kahili mountain range all the way to Mount Kalualea," said Lester. "It's one of the most spectacular spots in the islands!"
Although several companies in Hawaii offer zipline excursions, Just Live's tours are the only ones set solely among treetops.
"From your very first takeoff, you're 60 to 80 feet in the air, among the towering pines," Lester said. "You land on large platforms built among the treetops, not on the ground."
The Climb, Zip, Eco-Challenge Tour is three-and-a-half hours of heart-pounding, adrenaline-pumping fun. Geared for those with true grit, it requires participants to first cross Pueo's Path (two ziplines measuring 300 and 400 feet) and to scale the 60-foot Rock Climbing Wall.
They then climb 45 feet into the canopy of Norfolk pines to tackle the Burma Bridge, a 50-foot rope bridge with cable handrails; the Balance Log, a 20-foot beam that's just 3.5 inches in diameter; and the Jungle Vines Traverse, a 70-foot walk on a 3/8-inch galvanized aircraft cable strung between treetops.
These are all intimidating tests, to be sure, but safety is a top priority for Just Live, and it meets or exceeds the design, construction and operations standards established by the challenge course industry.
The cable walk's cable can support over 14,000 pounds or the weight of about 10 horses. To help with the crossing, intrepid participants grasp vines and ropes that hang sporadically along the way.
After they're lowered to the ground, they head back up among treetops in another area for the Leap of Faith off a 40-foot platform.
"They're hooked onto two ropes that catch them," said Lester. "They can get caught instantly if they choose, or we can slack their lines so they can experience a 20-foot free fall before they're caught. Most guests find this to be the biggest adrenaline rush of the tour."
"FEAR FACTOR" TV show, participants must push the envelope to complete the Climb, Zip, Eco-Challenge Tour.
One woman had suffered a miscarriage prior to going on her Kauai vacation. "She went on the tour and later e-mailed us to tell us what a profound effect it had on her," said Lester. "It helped her gain the confidence and courage she needed to move on with her life."
She also remembered an elderly couple who wanted to experience ziplining with their family of nine. They had a difficult time walking, and she initially had doubts they would be able to do the tour.
Before turning them down, Lester discussed the activity with them in great detail.
"After listening to me," she recalled, "the wife said, 'Honey, I'm 84 and my husband is 87. This is the last time we'll be traveling with our family, and we'd like to do this.' They also had a great-granddaughter with them who was autistic."
Lester allowed the three of them to take the tour, and they all thoroughly enjoyed it. Since then, Just Live has accommodated many people who are elderly and/or have special needs.
"Going beyond our perceived limits -- not just physical, but emotional and psychological limits -- is very difficult for most of us," said Lester. "How we handle challenging situations is what defines who we are. Getting out of our comfort zone is key to learning, growing and improving. Just Live doesn't just run tours; we positively affect people's lives."
Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.