ROCKBRIDGE, Ohio — Sometimes life requires a leap of faith.
Last weekend in the Hocking Hills area of southeast Ohio, strangers from Medina, Cleveland and Gallipolis, Ohio, as well as Point Pleasant, W.Va., gathered together to take that leap of faith by completing a zip line tour offered by Canopy Tours — a tour designed for first-time zippers as well as the most experienced zip line enthusiasts. The experience is described as a treetop adventure where “nature lover” meets “thrill seeker.” The tour lasts between two and one-half hours and three hours — time spent zipping across cables suspended high above the Hocking Hills forest.
Before the tour began, the group of eight strangers met their guides, CJ Olp of Mentor, Ohio, and Ethan Nye of Logan, Ohio. These two guides would literally be in charge of providing life lines and secrets about the forest. Olp and Nye gave each person a tutorial on what to do, and more importantly, what not to do when ziplining. The guides kept it simple, safe and injected a little humor. As Olp put it, when he waved his hand in the air to a zipper coming in for a landing, this meant to slow down, not to wave back. Later, Julieann Eckel of Canopy Tours would state safety has always been and will continue to be their number one priority with all guides going through a one-week, 50-hour training course to even become a guide. The guides then do additional training every two weeks.
After the tutorial, the group of strangers piled into an off-road vehicle and bounced along a dirt path which wound like a staircase up the back of the hillside to the first zip, affectionately known as the “bunny zip.” The “bunny zip” is the equivalent to the “bunny hill” on the ski slopes to get newbies acquainted with their surroundings. After some advice for the newbies, Olp leaped from the tree’s platform and zipped to the landing for the “bunny zip” in the distance. One by one, Nye would send zipper after zipper to Olp who waved them on to the platform, immediately clipping them to a new cable to secure them into what amounted to a tree house with a spectacular view.
Gradually the zips go higher and deeper into the woods. It seems with each zip, those on the tour start to realize a confidence which affords them the knowledge they can step off the ledge of the their latest tree house and know they (and the specially designed harnesses and hooks) will catch themselves no matter what — a powerful but unexpected lesson for those willing to receive it. There are times the foliage is so lush and the zip line so long, a zip liner can’t see their destination as they fly through the air, they can only know it’s coming and have faith in their arrival. In fact, “Leap of Faith” is one of the aptly named zips where zip liners are encourage to leap off the edge and enjoy the ride. The longest zip is Flight 572 which is 572 feet long.
Each ride takes the zip liner to a new destination with Olp pointing out where they’ve landed — one time it’s a beech tree, the next it’s a sycamore. In fact, the landing in the sycamore tree is 75 feet off the ground, the highest point those on the tour will reach.
The zip liners’ feet seldom touch the ground, though when that happens it’s often after traversing five adventure bridges straight out of an Indiana Jones movie minus the bad guys (unless you count a friend suddenly and purposefully rocking the adventure bridge). Not to worry, Olp and Nye have clipped every person on to a safety line. The longest adventure bridge on the canopy tour is about 100 feet long and provides a view of the Hocking Hills forest seldom seen. As the tour progresses, Olp talks about the diversity of the ecosystem in Hocking Hills, comparing it only to the rainforest.
When the last zip arrives, Olp says it’s affectionately named “Eden” because when the course was being constructed in the middle of winter, the contractors spotted patches of green foliage unexpectedly growing in the woods below the “Eden” zip. Construction on the course started in winter 2007 and was completed by February 2008. Also, the entire course was built with the idea of minimizing the impact on the forest. According to Eckel, when the company built the platforms in the trees they were built on ledgers around the trees which enables the trees to grow. She said all the construction material was carried to the tree locations versus bringing them in on a truck, so as not to disturb the land. She also added that all the zip lines are gravity feed, therefore not requiring any energy to use the course.
The course/tour ends along the Hocking River with a snack and another trip on the off-road vehicle back to where the adventure began. Here, everyone on the tour receives a certificate of completion, and many feel this is a prime opportunity to try the SuperZip. What is the SuperZip? It’s a quarter-mile-long zip line that can reach speeds up to 50 mph. Zippers are launched from an 85-foot tower and dive down into the forest, through a tree canopy after which the bottom drops out at the end of a rock cliff. Then, the zipper swoops down in the middle of the Hocking River while in a “super hero” flying position — Superman (or Superwoman) finally comes home to roost on a special landing. Canopy Tours calls it the “wildest zip line on the planet.” Oh yeah, and there’s a 200-foot-long adventure bridge to conquer for the SuperZip.
The reputation of the Hocking Hills Canopy Tour and SuperZip has grown past southeastern Ohio, in fact the tour was voted by USA Today as the number one attraction in Ohio for 2008, and in 2011, the Discovery Channel listed the SuperZip at number three out of the 10 best in the world.
“Hocking Hills Canopy Tours was the first true canopy/zip line tour in the Midwest,” Eckel said.
Hocking Hills Canopy Tours is open from late March to November with kids zipping for half price Tuesday-Thursday. There’s also a group discount. The tour is designed for use by participants of average mobility and strength and who are in reasonably good health. Minimum age to zip is 10 years old.
Call 1-740-385-9477 or go to hockinghillscanopytours.com or zipohio.com for more information.