This November, when most people in the United States will be sorting out how to carve a turkey, adrenaline junkies from around the world will descend on Moab, Utah — with very different Thanksgiving plans. Instead of baking pumpkin pie, they’ll be prancing across deep canyons on wobbly lines, hundreds of feet off the ground.
From November 19th to 23rd, 2018, the annual GGBY event will bring together slackliners from around the world for workshops, campfires, and the main focus, highlining — or, better said, ultra-highlining. (GGBY stands for Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah; but beyond the fact that turkeys gobble, the name’s origins are murky.)
“We’re expecting a lot more people this year,” Dan Walsh, president of GGBY organizer Slackline US, told Matador. As a result, Slackline is putting even more energy into education, the environment, and safety, he said.
A big reason for the surge in interest was last year’s “spacenet wedding,” a marriage ceremony held atop a web of cables 400 feet above the ground. A video of the event quickly went viral, attracting over a million views.
The spacenet was set up in part by pro-slackliner Andy Lewis, who, along with others, helped rig the event’s highlines and re-bolted older ones. The extra attention was because last year, on its 10th anniversary, GGBY became an “official” event for the first time, registered with the Bureau of Land Management.
“We did it to continue the spirit of the festival, because it’s a big part of our community, to go to the next level… and to be responsive to the environmental impact,” said Walsh.
Slackline US and the GGBY organizing committee created teams focused on parking, waste management, and health, among other issues. The gathering even has insurance — albeit only for spectators, not participants.
Their hard work paid off. In a statement to Matador Network, Jennifer Jones, the Moab Bureau of Land Management assistant field manager for recreation, said that Slackline US’ “proactive efforts resulted in noticeable improvements in reducing impacts to vegetation and soils in the area, and addressing issues like sanitation, parking, and dispersed camping impacts.”
This year, paid shuttle drivers will bring in event-goers in from parking lots, while more porta-potties and groover toilets will be at the campsites. GGBY is also accepting applications to volunteer in various areas. Part of the ticket price — $40 for one day, with the five-day pass going for $150 — will go into paying for the additional amenities.
In addition to yoga, GGBY will have classes for beginner slackliners every day of the event. Of the many more lines — and a much bigger spacenet — stretched across the canyon, two will have double-rope systems. That’s so newbies can feel more confident stepping into the air for the first time. As always, everyone will be required to wear a harness and have someone check their knots before they venture out.
It’s unclear just how many folks were at last year’s gathering. Slackline US counted 265 attendees, while the Bureau of Land Management estimated 450 participants. But Walsh says Slackline is working closely with the BLM.
“Last year the BLM rangers came out every day to check on things. We had great conversations,” said Walsh. “We’re working on them coming out this year and giving a workshop on the history and ecosystem of the area.”
Walsh even wants the BLM rangers to guide a trail walk of the Fruit Bowl area, to give slackliners a better sense of the landscape and inspire them to be more environmentally aware. Walsh says this is part of Slackline US’ mission of “empowering individuals and communities with a sense of adventure and respect for each other and the environment.”
For its part, the BLM intends to keep working with the GGBY organizers. “Last year we were so pleased that Slackline US stepped forward. They did a good job in promoting environmentally responsible recreation,” said Lisa Bryant, the BLM’s Canyon Country district spokesperson, in a conversation with Matador Network. “As in previous years, BLM employees will be present to help promote responsible recreation, monitor the event, and answer questions.”
It’s a good thing that Slackline US has done a great job so far and that the BLM is there to help. Given the huge impression made by the spacenet wedding video, this year you can expect a lot more slackliners, both expert and novice, seeking to walk across the sky.