This past year marked a BIG birthday for me and my pals. Friends for 30+ years, adds up to a heck of a lot of birthday celebrations. We wanted to do something special and different. Suggestions started flying around. Spa? Fancy restaurant? Nah. I sent them a link for an Eco-Adventure Tour, zip lining and cave exploration…as a joke. One by one, my friends emailed back – everyone was keen to try. Crap. That attempt at humour totally backfired. After a self pep talk, I decided to participate. How scary could it be? So we booked the tour and all the rooms at The Willow Trace Bed & Breakfast* found on the Canadian B & B website.
The Eco-Adventure Tour is a 3 hour guided adventure starting with a walk 60ft in a 200-year-old tree canopy on top of Blue Mountain in Collingwood, Ontario. The website says, “Become one with the birds”, a zip line experience and cave exploration enjoying moss and rare ferns. The tour is ‘eco’ for a many reasons. Every aspect of the adventure strives for minimal negative impact on the environment. The tourism takes place in an undisturbed natural setting and incorporates both natural and cultural heritage.
We left Toronto early Saturday morning, had a quick lunch in downtown Collingwood and hopped in the car ready for our adventure. We turned in the driveway and parked under a giant cable that runs down the mountain. “Wait a minute…isn’t it supposed to be a 300ft zip line?” I stuttered. “Oh, you must have missed the BIG zip line video straight down the mountain,” they informed me. I kicked myself for skimming the website.
We signed our life away with waivers and legal forms, were weighed (that was fun) and outfitted with hard hats, harnesses and cables. We gathered in a circle, met our energetic guides and introduced ourselves to the group. What an interesting bunch…there were 6 women celebrating 50th birthdays, a few men and a grandmother spending a special day with her 16-year-old granddaughter.
Once we met Grandma, I relaxed a bit. If a 68-year-old woman could do it, surely I could too. We began with a short hike over a 410ft suspension bridge. The view of Georgian Bay was stunning. Next, we boarded a tractor and drove up and into the forest chatting with the other participants. After picking a ‘buddy’, we had a lesson and test on how to hook/unhook ourselves safely from one cable to another. As we stared up the 40 ft ladder that lead to a tiny platform in the trees, Del and Niki said they did not remember the tree top part being so high off the ground. Seems I was not the only one that skimmed through the website.
The treetop walk is a series of 10 suspension bridges of 10-inch wide planks. We tied on to overhead cables and held steel wire on each side to stabilize. The weight and movement of others made the planks swing and bounce. It was hard to balance. After about the fifth bridge I started to unclench and enjoy the incredible view.
If you are wondering about safety, Niki grilled our guide about every possible safety concern she could think of. No one has ever died or been injured on the tour. The guides train for all potential problems and yes, they constantly inspect the planks and wires for strength. The staff were fun, patient and knowledgeable about the history, geology and ecology of the area.
What a great feeling after crossing the last suspension bridge. High fives all around. How do we get down? Well, we clip onto another line, walk down a small ladder hanging 80 ft off the ground and jump. 300 ft in seconds. Oddly enough, Del and Niki who found the treetop walk challenging, had no problem with the zip lines. I was a nervous Nellie for pretty much all of it. Karen and Carm, the two fearless wonders breezed through every activity.
Next, we hiked down into the caves. They were mossy, cold, slippery and beautiful. Their history is spiritual but also dark. The native people who migrated to the area, the Petun, called the caves the Village of the Souls and The Sacred Rock. When the Iroquois attacked Huron and Petun tribe in 1648-49 villagers lured their enemies into the caves, easily barricaded the narrow entrance/exit and then killed with arrows from above. It was easy to imagine how it took place once down in the narrow cavern.
A short walk to the zip line meant the tour was almost over. Almost. 1000ft down the mountain in 20 seconds. We gathered on the platform and the staff locked the chain link door behind – for safety. (gulp) The view of the valley was spectacular. A crowd of tourists gathered on the other side of the fence to watch us take the plunge. We received two final pieces of advice. (1) The more frightened you are the sooner you should go and (2) For an extra thrill, you can tilt back and flip upside down to the bottom. “O.k…Who would like to go first?” I felt the fence press into my back.
Grandma was one of the first to volunteer. She re-enacted the “Nestea” commercial. Walked down the ladder hanging over the gorge, turned around to face us, put her arms up fell backward into the air. It was brilliant. Her granddaughter chose to flip upside down. Clearly, she inherited her Grandma’s daredevil gene. With every keener’s turn, my fear kicked into a higher gear. I asked to go next. I walked down the ladder shaking like crazy, said a few choice words and jumped. My friends cheered. Once unhooked at the bottom I found a comfortable deck chair and watched my brave friends fly down the mountain – so amazing. It was an unbelievable day.
The rest of the weekend was spent recovering, laughing, eating, drinking and recounting different parts of our adventure. We were all thrilled with our Eco-adventure Tour and ourselves. It was a perfect weekend celebrating our friendship and life. All five of us would recommend it to anyone looking for a challenge, a beautiful nature experience and a story you can brag about for years to come.
Now we are discussing our next big birthday. Someone suggested bungee jumping but they were totally kidding…I think.
*The Willow Trace B & B was an excellent place to stay. Clean, quiet, good location and luxurious. The owners were gracious and excellent cooks! We would visit again.