Saturday, August 18, 2018
Travel

Zip Line novice dares Ocala's 'Canyons'

OCALA — It's a bold move, calling your attraction "the Canyons" in a flat state like Florida. But this strange find, a 94-acre abandoned limestone quarry off an Interstate 75 exit in Ocala, is indeed like a cluster of deep canyons. Rocky cliffs, wide blue lakes and towering trees look untouched since the limestone miners walked away in the 1930s.

What better way to explore this scenic terrain than dangling from a harness and zipping across hundreds of feet of suspended cable lines?

I've been wanting to try zip lining since it became the rage a few years ago. It's not quite as extreme as bungee jumping, yet more adventurous than hiking, and somewhat safer than rock-climbing. Zip lines remind me of those playground "flying foxes" from my childhood, which require jumping from a 10-foot platform and hanging on to a pulley car that rolls along a rope.

Ocala's Canyons Zip Line tours use the same kind of contraption, except strung from more terrifying heights. The $89-per-person tour is almost three hours and has nine lines that cover a mile-long course going from ancient oak to ancient oak and over ponds, pits and canyon-like cliffs.

The course opened in November 2011, and it seemed perfect to company owner Traci Walker. Having worked at other zip line tours and seeing how popular they were, she and her husband Dave "decided we needed our own," she said. The Naples couple searched Florida before settling on the old mining tract, which they are leasing to own. The company that owns the land had a few requests: No mining or digging, and don't mess with its native Florida beauty.

"We wanted to keep it in a nice, natural state," Walker said. The property was a little overgrown when Canyons Zip Line moved in, but other than that, it was ecotourism heaven. When builders came in to hang lines and construct platforms from the trees, they spotted alligators in the ponds and bobcats in the brush, and they became friendly with a barn owl that watched their work.

I went one overcast morning, pulling up to a big red barn marking the entrance. I was grouped with five others, including a man claiming to be an expert hang glider who was terrified of heights.

Others in the group also admitted a fear of heights. What were we doing here?

The two guides who greeted us were 20-something guys who liked to joke around, but we never went anywhere even slightly treacherous without them making sure that our metal hooks were fastened tightly to cable.

The first stop was a short, low line that looked like the playground ones I remember. The practice run ensured that we knew how to stop or slow down, using a gloved hand on the overhead line to brake. At our fastest, we'd be zipping about 45 miles per hour.

We passed the test and took a short hike to the first line, one of the shortest, stretching about half a football field from tree to tree.

A few from my group leaped before me and reached their destination safely, then I stood at the end of the wooden platform as a guide secured me to the pulley car. On shaky legs, I jumped.

By the third line, all of us were laughing and leaping like old pros. Zip lining, for the record, requires almost no physical skills or strength. You can just hang there and do nothing, since you're strapped up to the pulley to stay in place.

The course progressively got higher and more daring, with 100-foot lines spanning sparkling water. We saw swooping hawks and a Kingfisher.

The course never got dull, with fun additions such as a long Indiana Jones-style rope bridge. It ended with a 30-foot rappel to safe ground.

Oddly, the short drop seemed scarier to all of us than flying hundreds of feet above rock pits. At the end, I dropped off my equipment, collected my "diploma" for completing the course and walked away feeling like an accomplished daredevil.

It was the closest thing to a canyon that I'll probably ever see in Florida, and the only one I'll ever see while hanging from a rope.

This story was first published on VISITFLORIDA.com.

Comments
11 things to do on your trip to Central Oregon

11 things to do on your trip to Central Oregon

BEND, Ore.For outdoor recreation, Central Oregon seems to have it all. Snow-capped Mount Bachelor, the scenic Deschutes River, dozens of lakes and waterfalls, and miles and miles of hiking and biking trails offer endless opportunities for active adve...
Published: 08/17/18
Busch Gardens, SeaWorld holding flash sale this week with BOGO admission

Busch Gardens, SeaWorld holding flash sale this week with BOGO admission

Busch Gardens and its sister park SeaWorld are having a flash sale this week that can save you more than $50 on admission tickets, but the offers expire Sunday. Calling it a BOGO Back to School sale, Busch Gardens announced Tuesday you can buy one s...
Published: 08/15/18
Thursday is National Roller Coaster Day. How Busch Gardens and SeaWorld are celebrating

Thursday is National Roller Coaster Day. How Busch Gardens and SeaWorld are celebrating

For thrill junkies, next Thursday is National Roller Coaster Day, and Busch Gardens and SeaWorld are offering some extras for those observant followers of the need for speed.Busch Gardens quickly sold out a two-hour Roller Coaster Insider Tour for $4...
Published: 08/10/18
Long before 'The Meg,' the hunt for megalodon teeth has been on in Florida

Long before 'The Meg,' the hunt for megalodon teeth has been on in Florida

You can find their giant teeth, sometimes worth thousands, in several spots in Florida.
Published: 08/09/18
Kids won’t go to sleep? Have Disney give them a call

Kids won’t go to sleep? Have Disney give them a call

Parents who are struggling to get their kids to sleep after they’re told to may have a new solution.Have Mickey Mouse tell them.Disney is now offering a special through Aug. 31 that will enable parents to call a free bedtime hotline and have Disney’s...
Published: 08/09/18
1980s classic ‘Poltergeist’ added to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights lineup

1980s classic ‘Poltergeist’ added to Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights lineup

They’re here! For the first time, Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights will have a maze inspired by the ’80s horror classic Poltergeist at the hugely popular scare fest opening on select nights at Universal Studios Sept. 14-Nov. 3. Directed by Tobe Ho...
Published: 08/09/18
Cruises are so uncool they're actually cool

Cruises are so uncool they're actually cool

It’s the final day of this seven-night cruise and I am sitting in my moderately messy balcony stateroom aboard the Celebrity Summit finishing the last bites of a room service cheeseburger, bags as yet unpacked for tomorrow morning’s disem...
Published: 08/09/18
Early Halloween treat: Big savings on scares at Busch Gardens, Universal ending soon

Early Halloween treat: Big savings on scares at Busch Gardens, Universal ending soon

TAMPA – You might not want to think about Halloween in August, but you can save money if you do. You can buy $29.99 Howl-O-Scream tickets before Busch Gardens ends the sale at midnight Tuesday. Meanwhile, Universal has an online ticket deal that can ...
Published: 08/03/18
Updated: 08/06/18
History, Hollywood and voodoo all in a New Orleans cemetery

History, Hollywood and voodoo all in a New Orleans cemetery

NEW ORLEANSIf you’ve heard about New Orleans’ famous cemeteries with their above-ground tombs, chances are you’ve heard about the gravesite of the so-called voodoo queen. Her name was Marie Laveau and she is buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. But vi...
Updated one month ago
What local beers and food you’ll find at Busch Gardens’ Bier Fest, opening Aug. 25

What local beers and food you’ll find at Busch Gardens’ Bier Fest, opening Aug. 25

Busch Gardens’ new Oktoberfest-themed festival called Bier Fest will run weekends Aug. 25 through Sept. 16, including Labor Day.Similar in style to the park’s spring Food and Wine Festival, the Bier Fest will feature culinary cabins set up around the...
Updated one month ago