LONG CREEK, S.C.
After a day of whitewater rafting on the wild and wooly Chattooga River, this writer with a slight fear of heights and his adventurous wife took on the challenge of ziplining with the Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours located on the historic grounds of the Long Creek Academy and the Wildwater Rafting's Chattooga Adventure Center.
Our very willing canopy rangers, Amy Baulton, and her assistant, Lauren Burrows, were eager to climb back into their full-body harnesses and safety equipment equal to that of OSHA standards immediately following an afternoon thunderstorm just for this pair of Key Westers.
Although she had no experience in this occupation prior to March, Baulton said she had very little fear especially knowing the measures taken to make it safe.
"When I first came up and did it I was a little trepidatious with it but I feel really safe now," she said. "The gear is unbelievable. I feel incredibly safe that helps you have that much fun."
Burrows, 18, who has been a canopy ranger just over a month was a bit apprehensive at first also, but really enjoys the job now.
So with the assurance of our canopy guides and explicit instruction on how to put on the harnesses, we were hoisted up to the first treestand clawing for something solid to grab like a cat without claws descending a tree.
During the first zipline experience, we were required to do a self-rescue and passed with flying colors. After becoming fully acquainted with the safety equipment and more precisely learning how to correctly slow down and stop with each zip the excitement grew as we flew through the lush foliage of white oak and maple tree tops like flying squirrels.
During one extra long zipline run, my wife was yahooing as she flew across the holler much to the delight of Baulton.
This writer felt like George of the Jungle zipping through the trees yelling 'watch out for that tree.'
Midway through the course, we had the opportunity to tiptoe across the suspended z-bridge and lily pads proudly making it to the rest stop without having to do a self-rescue.
Wow, what an experience.
Canopy tours are becoming very popular in the area where Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee join. The Chattooga River Canopy Tours, which opened the first day in March, was conceived by the company chief operating officers, Jack and Becky Wise, and backed by the Greiner family, which owns Wildwater LTD.
"We had a company out of Asheville, N.C., called Cornerstone that came in and developed and built our system," Baulton explained. "The company had engineers that developed the system and a group of arborists that helped map out the course through the trees.
She said training is a major part of becoming a canopy ranger.
"We do a lot of training. We do retraining each week," said Baulton who has been with the company since a week after its inception. "It does not matter how well you know your knots or how well you can belay a person off the course and what to do in an emergency we still practice every week. We're constantly updating and going through what-if drills. We also do training with the course designers every three months."
By the time we did the 10th zipline, a double line across the small lake, we had figured out how to make ourselves fly even faster moving our legs as if we were running. We raced side-by-side to see who could make it to the treestand first, but it all ended too soon.
During our two-hour adventure with Baulton and Burrows, it was not hard to understand why they were so willing to get back in the treetops for just the two of us.
It was nothing like we have ever experienced before. Combine that with the whitewater rafting experience of the Chattooga River and it was a day we will never forget -- definitely at the top of anyone's bucket list.