Zipping among the treetops of Hocking Hills

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 Messenger photo by Whitney Wilson Coy
 The Hocking Hills Canopy Tour allows participants to "zip" through the treetops using a series of cables. The canopy tour, located 40 miles southeast of Columbus, is the first of its kind in the Midwest.

As gas prices continue to soar, people are beginning to look closer to home for adventure destinations.

One of the newest places in central Ohio for warm-weather fun is the Hocking Hills Canopy Tour, located just 40 miles south-east of Columbus, in Rockbridge, Ohio.

Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to try out this new tourist attraction, which is unlike anything else you’ll find in Ohio.

This three-hour tour takes thrill seekers and nature lovers on an exhilarating "flight" through the treetops in the beautiful Hocking Hills as they glide across a network of cables suspended high in the air.

The adventure begins when you are introduced to the web of nylon straps and metal clasps that make up your safety harness. Knowing that these straps will soon be the only thing keeping you from falling 70-feet to the ground does little to ease the pressure of getting strapped in correctly. But fear not, newbies, your instructors do check your work.

Once your harness is secure and your helmet’s on tight, you move on to "Ground School." This is where you perform your first "zip," with the help of your fearless leaders.

At the highest point of this "baby zip," your feet are about three feet off the ground, yet something about it still sent a shiver down my spine. I think, while watching the instructors tell me the proper way to  jump from the platform and then brake without face-planting into a tree, the reality of what I was about to do had begun to sink in.

Once you’ve all been dubbed "Ground School grads," it’s time for the real adventure to begin. You and your group of eight to ten people board a golf cart-turned-off-road-vehicle and head into the woods. Five bumpy minutes later, you are standing face to face with your first platform.

The course is made up of a series of 10 ziplines and four skybridges. The instructors, apparently under the impression that we were unimpressed, were quick to explain that the first two "bunny run" zips are lower and shorter than the rest of the course, sort of a warm-up before the real thing.

I kept it to myself that I was already ready to throw-up, bunny run or not.

One by one, each "zipper" was double clipped (you are clipped from here on out) onto the half-inch steel cable and told to "have fun" before jumping off a steel platform constructed 40 feet up the trunk of a tree.

By the time my turn rolled around, I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to do this any more, but it was a pretty far walk back to the car. After a moment’s hesitation, I took a leap of faith (literally) and 10 seconds later was standing on the next platform, having nearly collided with the second instructor, Marissa (the breaks take a few times to master).

I’ll admit, though, the fear was all for nothing. By the end of the second zip, I had the brakes down pat and the whole thing seemed pretty old hat. The third zipline, which was supposed to be the first real thriller, was, in deed, higher and faster than the first two, yet not quite as high and as fast as I expected. The highest zipline is about 70 feet off the ground. The fact that I actually felt comfortable on the zipline, however, eliminated any fears and let me just enjoy the ride.

Although there are 10 ziplines in all, you only spend a total of about three minutes actually zipping. The longest zipline takes an estimated 24 seconds to cross.

The largest part of the tour is not spent flying through the air, but standing on platforms, waiting for the rest of your group. This is when you get in your sightseeing.

Having grown up southeast of Columbus, I’ve spent a lot of time in various parts of Hocking Hills, but never have I had a chance to view it from this vantage point.

Standing in the treetops, the woods are a whole different world. The instructors are knowledgeable about area plants and animals, and are quick to point out interesting things to see.

One downfall, however, is that while you do zip over spectacular views such as the Hocking River, caves and cliffs, you have about one second to take it all in before it "zips" by and is gone forever, or at least until you come back for another tour.

To wrap up the big adventure, zippers repel from the last platform back down to ground level. No one warned me about this part, and though it turned out to be pretty easy, it scared me more than anything else that day.

The cost of $75 per person seems a little steep to me, but it seems to be justified, at least in part, by the fact that this is an experience you can get almost nowhere else – especially around here.

According to one instructor, the Hocking Hills Canopy Tour is the first of it’s kind in the Midwest and one of few in the United States, with the only others situated in Texas, Hawaii and Alaska. A canopy tour is currently under construction in California.

To make the adventure a little more wallet-friendly to families, kids between the ages of 10-15 fly for free (one child per paying adult).

The Hocking Hills Canopy Tours are open through October during daylight hours and operate seven days a week. To make a reservation or for more information, call 740-385-9477 or log on to hockinghillscanopytours.com.

Whitney Wilson Coy is editor of the Westside Messenger.

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