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Zippity do da 

Imagine you’re standing at the edge of a hill more than 150 feet high, sprawling vineyards to your left, oaks in every direction, red-tailed hawks wheeling at eye-level, and you’re about to step off the edge and fly into the landscape courtesy of the Renegade. The 1,300-foot ride is a thrill, more along the vein of the hawk’s comfortable glide than a rollercoaster’s jarring trajectory.

- RIDE THE RENEGADE :  Despite its formidable appearance, the Renegade is a smooth ride. -  - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • RIDE THE RENEGADE : Despite its formidable appearance, the Renegade is a smooth ride.

Margarita Adventures offers San Luis Obispo County residents something fantastically new: the opportunity to zipline in their own backyard. Until September, would-be zipliners were forced to trek to Northern California, or possibly Costa Rica or Hawaii—not bad trips, to be sure, but Santa Margarita’s quintessentially Californian landscape is well-suited to the experience. For $99, you can ride the Renegade, along with three slightly shorter lines called the Woodlander, the Hilltopper, and the Archway. And they’ll throw in a wine tasting at Ancient Peaks afterward.

Located on Santa Margarita Ranch via a brief trek past hills of Cabernet and Merlot grapes still ripening on the vine, Margarita Adventures is owned by a trio of developers: Rob Rossi, Karl Wittstrom, and Doug Filipponi. Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, VP of sales and marketing at Ancient Peaks Winery—and Karl’s daughter—said it was largely her father’s appetite for adventure that inspired them to begin work on the ziplines slightly less than a year ago.

With 14,000 acres to play with, there were dozens of possible locations for a line—all with sweeping views and a parade of wildlife including bears, bobcats, wild pigs, and turkeys likely to wander by at any moment. Taking the slope of each hill into account, as well as the line’s accessibility by the tour van, they decided to start with just four lines—with the tantalizing possibility of future additions—carefully spaced so the conclusion of one ride is mere yards from the thrilling start of another.

“The ziplines are pretty minimal impact on nature,” Wittstrom-Higgins added. “It’s really a couple tires and a big stake in the ground.”

She’s not exaggerating. Unlike an amusement park where cartoonish spires are visible for miles, you don’t really notice the lines until you’re strapped into one. In lieu of entry gates and ticket stiles with employees who frisk your pockets and empty your purse, there are mild-mannered cattle and oak trees you can almost brush with the bottom of your feet as you fly above them.

“The ride is very much an experience of the landscape,” said Blake Rowan, who helped coordinate the entire set-up and now guides tours. Since Margarita Adventures opened in mid-September, Rowan estimates they’ve had 100 to 150 guests, each with a unique reaction to the experience.

“You get a group of about 10 and you get a good mix [of reactions]. Some people scream,” he said. “Occasionally you’ll get an obscenity out of someone, and that’s when you know they’ve had a good ride.”

And Wittstrom-Higgins admits that she’s seen a few people back out when faced with the Renegade. Opting out there means missing out on the Woodlander as well. At 800 feet, it feels faster than the Renegade, probably because of the perspective afforded by the native blue and white oak trees beneath your feet, Rowan points out. It also means missing out on the Hilltopper, where you can get a running head start that will send you flying into the brake, safe and sound but also exhilarated. And for the finale—the Archway—maybe we’ll just leave that to the imagination.

If you have any concerns, you should certainly consult your physician beforehand, but really, Margarita Adventures has already eliminated a major concern of ziplining: the long drive to another county or flight to another country. And if you’ve already ziplined your way through the world’s most exotic locales, consider the potential of 3,000 feet of blurred Californian landscape.

Santa Margarita Adventures offers tours Friday through Sunday, departing at 8 and 11 a.m. or 1 and 4 p.m. The tour typically lasts around two hours, and the weight limit for participants is between 60 and 275 pounds. For more information, visit or call 438-3120.

Managing Editor Ashley Schwellenbach compiled this week’s Strokes and Plugs. Send your business news to

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