Zip-Lining Across Canyons
I shot out through the trees, the buzz of metal on metal ringing in my ear, when all of a sudden the ground beneath gave way and I found myself flying across a water- filled canyon. “WOOHOO!” My shout reverberated against sheer gray limestone rock walls. This was amazing! Best birthday ever!
It so happened that our last day of summer coincided with my birthday, and I wanted to have a final hurrah before we all buckled down to a more scheduled lifestyle. My sister had given us tickets to the Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours at Christmas and their expiration dates were looming close. So despite the rain- uh severe thunderstorm weather, I said a quick prayer for fine weather and made our family reservations for this zip line experience in Ocala (central Florida).
“We might be zip lining in the rain,” I cautioned the kids. (I pictured us hanging from line like wet dogs, actually) But they were up for one final summer adventure. So on my birthday, we headed down I-75 to the little red and white wooden barn by exit 358.Dark clouds had already begun to form around the horizon when we signed the liability waivers and met our guides: David and Slade. We received a quick intro to the equipment we would be using and slipped into our harnesses, our guides sizing us up for the task at hand. Did we have what it takes to zip through the sky at amazing rates of speed or would we break down in fright and chicken out on them?
There were seven of us in the group and we donned helmets and gloves and hopped our ride out into the wilderness where the former limestone mining pits had been reclaimed by nature. We stopped by a short line attached to two trees. It reminded me of my laundry lines at home. There we had Zip 101 safety lessons and a trial zip, braking and what to do if you get stuck out on a line. I confess, instead of holding my glove over the line to brake, I instinctively grabbed the line to stop -a big no-no, according to David, as that move could dislocate a shoulder on the big lines. I started a mantra in my head: flat hand, flat hand.
Our real training began on the bunny lines: short zip lines through the trees. The first was a no braking line, meaning we didn’t have to stop ourselves. The second we had to test our braking ability (flat-hand, flat hand). We also traversed our first rope bridge. We had done rope bridges before at Rock City in Chattanooga when the kids were little (no fear there), and the shorter zip line at the NOC Adventure Park in the Nantahala Gorge ( our youngest was too light to do the bigger lines back then) but after the bunny lines at the Canyons, we were in new territory.
I was in awe soaring out across the canyon on the Break Out line (it breaks out from the trees and over the canyon), zipping to a platform on the other side. We all waited for the entire group to zip across before ascending even higher to the longest zip ever. The wind had started to pick up by this time, dark clouds threatening rain, and the next line across the canyon dipped low towards the green water below. I wondered if there were gators, and then shook myself- this was Florida. That was water. Of course there were gators! We were zip lining over gators.( Just last week I checked out the zip lining at St. Augustine’s Alligator Farm and told myself: no way would I ever zip line over gators!) I wasn’t the only person thinking it, as one of the kids in our group pointed to something moving fast in the water below and asked: “Is that an alligator?” It was a duck. I decided not to voice the ‘This is Florida, of course there are gators’ bit. The zip line looked daunting enough.
David told us that we had to go fast on this line to make it to the other side. That meant drawing legs to the chest like a cannon-ball dive for optimum speed. And that line went up and down- like a wave- I didn’t see it while I was zipping, heck I was too busy checking out the cool scenery around the canyon, but I saw the photos afterwards. The big zip was INCREDIBLE! Flying without the airplane or having to flap your wings! Soaring through the air above the water and across the canyon. No fear. It was scarier merging onto I-75 traffic than zipping the canyon. This was total freedom. I told my friends later that on my birthday, old age tried to catch me but fell over the cliff while I soared onward!
We traversed a second rope bridge, this high up, across the canyon. It reminded me of the Indiana Jones bridge over the gator pit in The Temple of Doom, but there were no evil Thuggees to battle here. We sailed a final zip line, this one letting you run off the cliff and run back on the other side and rappelled back to the ground. After my own rappelling mishap on the mountain climbing adventure in Greece, I was secretly glad that this was a hands free, safe rappel and I needn’t worry about running out of rope! Our son rappeled upside down!
“I’ve zip lined in Hawaii before,” a man in our group told me, ” but this is far better than that was!”
I was sorry there were no more lines to zip but it was getting late and the rain that had held off during our adventure began to fall. We returned to base, and gave back the harnesses, helmets and very handy gloves.
“My hands smell like feet,” my daughter said. Yes, indeed, the leather work gloves left us with a foot-odor stench that only a kid who doesn’t wear socks when they should knows all too well. They stank. We headed back to the car, still smelling of the wind in our hair, foot odor hands and probably sweaty arm pits too, but tired, happy and smelly after this birthday/ last day of summer adventure. Coolest birthday pressie ever! Thanks, Sis!
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours is located at 8045 NW Gainesville Rd, Ocala, Florida 34475 . It is really close to I-75 exit 358.
- You can go online to check out their different tours at www.ZiptheCanyons.com
- They highly recommend making reservations and request you come 20 minutes early to fill out the liability wavers and to pee (no toilets en route!)
- They did have water stations along the route-with ice cold water, so no need to bring your own on the tour.
- There’s a short 1.5 hour Zip line tour and a longer 2.5 hour tour. We took the longer tour.
- You must wear closed toe shoes and tie long hair back.
- They have picnic tables by the barn with a view of one of the canyons, if you bring your lunch or have someone no participating in the adventure.
- The gift shop in the barn sells cold drinks, t-shirts and photos of your adventure.
All photos in this story were taken by the folks at The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours.
More stories in the area:
- Scott Springs: Ocala’s Secret Grotto
- Exploring Juniper Springs
- Spring Hunting on the Silver River
- Adventures at Rainbow Springs State Park
- 10 Reasons You Should Be Taking Your Kids Kayaking