I’ve found the newest way to explore the Hill Country: flying from tree to tree.
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FORTY FEET ABOVE THE CHIGGERS AND POISON IVY. Moving faster than the mosquitoes. Flying without wings or motors or fear, taunting the water moccasin fishing in the creek far below, pretty certain he can’t climb trees.
Now, this is the way to explore the Hill Country. Sure, we’ve got wee versions of steel-cable-and-roller-trolley zip lines scattered in backyards and at team building facilities across the state. And monkey researchers and tourists have been whizzing through far-flung rainforests for years. But why didn’t someone think of zip line canopy tours in Texas before? Why didn’t I? As I watched group after group—six to a party at $60 a person—gather on the starting platform and soar off, disappearing into the greenery at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours, in Spicewood, suddenly Velcro lost its top ranking as idea-I-wish-I’d-had. I tried to tame my envy with thoughts of the liability insurance payments that the visionary owners, David and Amy Beilharz, must have to cough up each year.
Besides, I didn’t want to haul a load of jealousy up into the trees with me. It would only slow me down. For despite the nature around me that I meant to note in Thoreau-like detail, I have to confess that when I was zipping, I was entirely focused on optimum velocity, striking the “luge air pose”—arms straight out, legs forward, toes pointed—for as long as my lousy abs could stand it. Between spurts on the course’s six zip lines, as I waited on the treetop platforms for the rest of my group to alight, I did pause to admire the precision drill work of ladder-backed woodpeckers, the fern whiskers on a limestone cliff, a rock squirrel with a coat like a hyena’s, and, most of all, the grand cypress trees, the Texas version of mighty redwoods and the main supports in this high-flying venture. Even a speed freak can’t ignore the nobility of the largest tree we perched on, hundreds of years old and at least 85 feet tall, with a girth like Mama Cass’s. I stroked her furry trunk; then, like Peter Pan under the influence of too much fairy dust, I was off again.
But before you mistake me for some carefree daredevil, maybe I should mention that all us zippers (zippists?) were outfitted in helmets, work gloves, and sturdy—if horrifically unflattering—seat harnesses of nylon webbing that enable anyone over ten years old and under 250 pounds to play, noodle arms or not. And we were secured with safety lines—lines, as in two—so that at no time, not even on the platforms when transferring from one cable to another or hop-walking across the minimalist rope bridges, was anyone untethered. Before we even took to the course, our sixsome was coached at ground school, i.e., a cable no more than five feet high. We learned where to put our hands (never in front of the little pulley thingy, called the zip trolley, that glides along the cable) and how to slow down (as if!). Best of all, we could wallow in the bubble-headed freedom that comes with abdicating responsibility; all clipping on and off of safety lines and trolleys would be handled by staffers Amalea and Travis, who were everything you’d want in aerial escorts: capable, handsome, genuinely enthusiastic, and uninfected by that coma-inducing rote-speak that’s epidemic in guides and docents.
The flight was over after an hour. Or a day. Or fifteen seconds. I’m really not sure, because as soon as I landed on terra firma, unhitched my gear, and rearranged my flab, I was struck with amnesia—not the identity-erasing soap opera brand but the kind that follows on the heels of vivid dreams and adrenaline-charged adventures, blurring details but not the big-picture sensations. What a clever marketing technique. I mean, now I can come back again and again and again. And, of course, I’m not jealous.
Cypress Valley Canopy Tours offers a ninety-minute zip line course, as well as a more intensive “challenge” course, and, provided you’re not a sleepwalker, overnight accommodations in Lofthaven, a treetop tent. 1223 Paleface Ranch Road, 512-264-8880, cypressvalleycanopytours.com.
WHILE YOU’RE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD:
It’s a violation of the Texas constitution to be this close to Krause Springs and not stop by to bob in the emerald pool beneath mammoth cypress (830-693-4181, texasoutside.com/kraussprings.htm). Next, grab some pork ribs off the pit at Opie’s Barbecue (at the intersection of Texas Highway 71 West and Spur 191, 830-693-8660) and a bottle of Cabernet Claret from Spicewood Vineyards, an end-of-the- road winery (830-693-5328, spicewoodvine yards.com), then hole up for the night at the secluded Chanticleer cabin, a vintage log cutie, complete with a neighboring screened pavilion with a stone fireplace, all on 26 acres that gently slope down to Lake Travis (830-693-4269, chanticleerlogcabin.com).