Story and Photography by Holly Leitner
A long gravel road off Highway H on the north side of Lake Geneva leads you to a log building that appears as though it was plucked from the Northwoods. A feeling of seclusion emerges. Trees envelop. Crowds are gone. The sense of adventure sets in.
Away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, this quiet 100-acre property is in the city’s backyard and it’s the place where birds and people soar through the trees: It’s Lake Geneva Canopy Tours (LGCT).
Zip-lining has become a bucket list item for many in recent years. It’s a great eco-adventure that’s low-impact and generally not too physically demanding. Colleagues, friends and families have discovered their inner Peter Pan as they learn what it’s like to “fly,” if only for a few hours, and secured by only the best safety measures.
MOM AND ME
When assigned this story, I was asked if I wanted someone to go along to share the experience. My first choice was my mom, who has always had a slightly adventurous side. For example, she wants to go tubing again this summer — an activity she thoroughly enjoys. She also repeatedly watches “The Hangover” and once loved watching “Jackass.” Some might say these are both irreverent selections for a middle-age woman, but that’s my mom. She’s got a quick wit and likes to take jabs at people in a fun way.
Yet most days she’s busy taking care of her extended family and spending time as a go-to volunteer in the Geneva Lakes area. This little adventure, I thought, just might be perfect for her.
When I asked her to go, she was thrilled, bragging to all her friends about how she was going zip-lining! The morning I picked her up, she was outfitted with modern-day camo clothes, a fresh water bottle and a big smile.
NO TURNING BACK
After gearing up at LGCT, we climb into the trailer behind “farmer” Taylor’s tractor and make our way to the trailhead. The rocky ride mirrors our nerves as we climb the hill with Lake Como behind us in the distance.
Yet, the relaxed, “get-r-done” attitude of our guides, Wally and Rick, helps to keep us on an even keel — at least for now. Both guides are knowledgeable, clicking and snapping the carabiners to our harnesses and to the zip line which seems second nature to them as if it’s become a function of muscle memory. They seem to feel more comfortable dangling from the trees than standing on the ground. This adds a layer of reassurance to me. It also helps that it is early morning and my coffee hasn’t hit my brain yet, so my nerves are still a little sleepy and not quite picking up that soon I’ll be over 30 feet above the ground.
After going over a few short rules and practices, we step off the platform and fly through the trees. The shorter zip lines are the first challenge and we breeze down them surprisingly no worse for wear.
“Ankles crossed,” the guides say. “Remember to push on the line to slow down and try not to think of anything else.” This is the mantra repeating in my head. Except this is my biggest challenge. As it is for many of us, our always-connected, digital world designed to make life easier has made our minds more pre-occupied. The more we multi-task, the more our brains churn and the harder it is to turn off the “worry and to-do lists center.” But this is the time to ditch the to-do list for the bucket list, or else I might just miss out on the thrill and sights of this amazing experience.
LETTING THE EXPERIENCE TAKE OVER
Now that the two short lines are behind us, we’re on to “Espresso” — aptly named because it’s fast, long and designed to wake you up. That it did, and I finally managed to look around and down at everything I was flying over. A natural smile appeared on my face and stayed. I was ready for more.
We kept soaring above the trees, and then the journey took us to another challenge. We encountered Swiss Family Robinson-style bridges and tree forts, albeit a bit more solidly constructed with chains and cables. Yet trust me, you probably won’t get too comfortable. The 240-foot sky bridge has just enough give to keep you honest.
Since the beginning of our adventure, almost two hours of cell phone-free, checklist-free bliss have lapsed and I’m loving the rush of air as I fly through the treetops. The last ride is a fast one: 45 mph as you descend to earth with Lake Como in the distance. I’ve decided this is one of the best ways to start the day in the Geneva Lakes area.
So, zip-lining may or may not be on your bucket list. You may think you’re too old, too out of shape, too busy, too … whatever. But give it a try. It’s an adventure you’ll never forget.
As for my mom, the experience was a bit more intense than she thought it would be. I’m not sure she’ll try it again, but at least she can brag to her friends that she’s a zip-lining veteran.
- Leave your phone and/or camera at home and let the LGCT guides take the pictures.
- Do your homework. If you are nervous about heights or non-adventurous, sometimes learning about what you’re going to encounter may help calm your nerves.
- Don’t forget the bug spray in the summer!
- Choose the long course. It takes a while to get into the “swing” of things, so give yourself time to really enjoy it.
JUST THE FACTS ABOUT LGCT:
- Acres: 100 Number of Zip Lines: 9 (You can do all nine, or the 4-line tour.)
- Longest Zip Line: 841 FEET
- Highest Speed: 45 MPH
- Number of SkyBridges: 5
- Number of Spiral Stairways: 4
- Number of Platforms: 18
- Longest SkyBridge: 240 FEET
- Height of One-of-a-Kind Double Helix Stairway: 40 FEET
- Duration of Canopy Tour: 2-2 1⁄2 HOURS
- OPEN YEAR-ROUND You can zip-line in the winter as well
ZIP-LINING AND SO MUCH MORE:
IN ADDITION TO ZIP-LINING, LGCT OFFERS:
- High Ropes Course. The property has 16 challenging obstacles at 18-32 feet above the ground. For ages 7 and above.
- Hiking. Over 12 miles of trails.
- Mountain Biking. Single track mountain biking for beginner through expert levels. Trails on the intermediate and expert level routes feature jumps, switchbacks and ladders.
- Team-building Adventures. LGCT will design a program to fit any size team. In addition to zip-line tours, high ropes course, walking and biking trails, the facility includes an indoor meeting space and an outdoor patio with tables, firepits and grills.