I am flying through the air with nary a care, just a glance ahead to the zipline monitor to see if he is motioning for me to brake. I put my feet out in front and extend them to the platform. The eagle has landed.
On the full zipline tour at The Canyons in Ocala , Fla., conveniently located a five-minute drive from I-75, I am accompanied by a Lebanese family from Detroit, who is wrapping up their Florida vacation before heading home for the start of school. The three boys, who range in age from about 10 to 12, are excited. One is excited enough to emit piercing shrieks throughout the nine-station adventure, perhaps Tarzan’s cousin incarnate.
After having been outfitted with safety equipment including gloves and a helmet, and trying a 12-foot high zipline that allows visitors to hover just above the ground as we demonstrate we can zipline safely, it is time for my group to head to the bigger leagues in the peaceful forest. The boys jockey for position and joke with each other and our leaders, Richard and Matt, as we make our way to progressively longer and higher ziplines. The boys’ youngest brother was too young to participate. The rules say one must be a minimum of 10 years of age and weigh between 70 and 270 pounds.
To begin the full tour, the trolley stopped at a scenic view and Richard, who has worked for the Canyons for four years since inception, told us a brief history of The Canyons. It went something like this: A limestone quarry abandoned in 1929 in central Florida provided an opportunity for one alert family. Traci Walker’s family was in the construction business in Naples when the financial and mortgage crisis in the 2000s made it a stagnant and difficult business. So, the family started looking for other options. They uncovered a unique property in Marion County, and bought it from the John Rudnianyn. It is about 100 acres of white limestone cliffs and hollow quarries filled with water creating peaceful vistas of blue sky, green-blue water, white rock “walls” and huge towering trees such as live oak and laurel oak, and the less lofty – but no less scenic – sabal palmetto.
In operation for four years now, The Canyons is a smoothly operating company which never rests on its laurels. It instigated a head-first zipline experience and night zipping, for example, in addition to its two zipline excursions, a one-and-a half hour tour called ”the express” and the two-and-a-half-hour tour called “the full.” The shorter one offers five different zips and one rope bridge crossing and is $59; the full offers 9 different zips, two rope bridges and is $96. “Full zippers” even rappel down about 25 feet from the last zipline platform providing a final thrill and another new experience.
One of the longest ziplines on the full tour is 1,100 feet long, strung entirely above water, with a speed of around 45 mph depending on one’s size and form. Reportedly, an alligator or two lurks below, but on our still afternoon, nothing but our reflections could be seen rippling the water. Additionally, a barred owl has been sighted near one of the ziplines, which emits a “who-cooks-for-you” call.
If you want to conquer the longest, highest and fastest zipline in the state, sign up for the single flight “super zip.” It is 1,600 feet long, 165 feet off the ground and participants can zoom around 55 miles per hour. It costs $30, or $20 when added to any tour.
The Canyons’ full tours run every 20 minutes from 8:40 a.m. until 5 p.m. Express tours are offered at various times throughout the week. Special accommodations can be made for larger groups and Bobby Walker will assist in this process. Call 352-351-9477 or email Bobby@zipthecanyons.com.
A few procedural notes include: Closed-toed shoes are required. A participant agreement form must be signed. Children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult and a parent or legal guardian must sign a “participant agreement for minor” form. The minor must be able to participate independently of the adult. No one under the influence of alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription drugs that limit ability will be allowed to participate in the tour. Long hair should be tied back in a low pony tail (close to the neck); hanging jewelry should be avoided. Guests must be in reasonably good health, able to endure short ground hikes, several sets of stairs and maneuver themselves along the cable.
For more information, visit www.zipthecanyons.com. To see my 2013 story about ziplining and horseback riding at The Canyons, along with a slide show, see atombash.com/article/florida-s-fastest-highest-and-longest-zi…