I’ve blogged before about the influence of my family on my passion for fitness and adventure: hiking half dome, running 50Ks, and the joyous experience of running the Boston Marathon with my dad. It will come as little surprise, then, that when my family gets together, we don’t just sit around. Last weekend, we were swinging through the trees in the Texas Hill Country out west of my home in Austin. Cypress Valley Canopy Tours runs zipline and rope-bridge eco-tours for folks who want to hang out high above the ground.
Our afternoon of adventure has been a long time coming…. In 2001, my parents had a trip planned to go to Costa Rica and do some ziplining on some of their well-known courses. My mother, however, was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the trip was cancelled so she could undergo treatment. Although my mother has been cancer-free for more than seven years now, my parents never rescheduled their trip. I heard about Cypress Valley Canopy Tours last summer, and I decided that I wanted to treat my mom to her ziplining adventure even if I couldn’t send her to Costa Rica. I bought her a Canopy Tour gift certificate for her birthday last November. When my older brother, K, called to find out what “we” had given our mother for her birthday, I told him what “we” did. He then said his wife, H, had been wanting to do that, too. Fortunately for me, H’s birthday is just a week after my mom’s….so she got the same gift.
The ziplining season ends in November and doesn’t start up again until March or April, so we had a few months to coordinate our schedules and get everyone down from Dallas for a weekend. With all the anticipation of the fun, my dad and brother decided they wanted to come along with us, too. (My acrophobic husband was perfectly happy to stay home and entertain all of the children.) There we were, a group of five ready to go swing in the trees.
Truth be told, ziplining doesn’t require much in the way of fitness. It certainly requires the ability to follow a very few significant rules. It also requires well-developed gross motor skills. Because of this combination, kids under 10 are not permitted. For us big kids, though, there is a short ground school lesson after getting suited up into harnesses. The two guides per group led us through the basics of ziplining: hand position, braking, and self-rescue. After each doing a short test zip on a wire about seven feet from the ground, we were off into the trees! Because my mom and her wish to zip was the instigator of the adventure, she got to go first. Wheeeeee!
The ziplines run between platforms built on cypress trees ranging from 200-600 years old. Also included in the tour are several wood-plank rope bridges. We were given the key advice to look straight ahead and feel for the planks rather than look down as we crossed the bridges. We’ll done, family!
As we rested on the platforms, the guides quizzed us and gave us information about local flora and fauna. As a group of real Texans and outdoor enthusiasts, we knew many of the facts already. But the information and banter from the guides added to the enjoyment of the event.
The longest zipline is 360 feet, which is the distance of a football field endzone to endzone. Nicknamed “The Screamer”, we were challenged to let out a bellowing scream and try to make it last the entire length of the zip. This would be easier to do if there weren’t so much distractingly gorgeous scenery as you glide along.
For those of you who are thinking: “This sounds like fun, but I am WAY SCARED of heights,” let me assure you that at no time are you off the ground unhooked from safety guidewires. Even standing on a platform 100 feet in the air, you can look up into the 600 foot cypress tree supporting you and see how truly safe you are in the trees.
I wholeheartedly recommend Cypress Valley Canopy Tours for a fun, active, family event that is good for people of a variety of ages and ability levels. It was an unqualified hit among my family, and we were already talking about coming back and trying the Challenge Course before we even finished our first tour.
Zip-e-di-do, Yee ha!