By: Jennifer Renaud
I was in Jamaica the first time that I ever went ziplining. I’d been sent there on video assignment to shoot bikini models on the beach (yes I know – my job sucks), which somehow detoured into sailing through the canopy with fifty thousand dollars worth of camera gear strapped to my chest. It was an awesome experience, but having to see it through a viewfinder made it a bit too distracting to allow me to take in the moment. Fast-forward a year or so and I again found myself zipping through the treetops, but this time over Canadian Shield and the glistening lakes at Aventure LaFleche, with the wind in my face and not a sound but the faint whizzzzzzzzz of the harness buzzing over my head.
Despite the zombie-sounding name, LaFleche Park in Quebec’s Val-des-Monts (about a half-hour drive from Ottawa) is an unbelievably picturesque destination for adrenaline junkies. Tucked into the Gatineaus, the park itself boasts classic Canadian wilderness: trees as far as the eye can see, the smell of pine needles thick in the air, and nearby campgrounds which post handy how-to guides for keeping food away from bears. My fellow zippers that day were my very own trash-talking, noogie-inducing siblings and my sister’s fiancé; one very afraid-of-heights-but-game-for-a-challenge David.
First off, we hiked/scrambled up the steep hill at the trailhead – a challenge which I am inclined to believe is part of a hazing ritual to see if you’ll make it safely through the rest of the course. It was then that we were told that the aerial course is self-run, meaning that while the guide walks you from station to station, YOU are in charge of clipping-in to the safety lines as you move from tree to tree. The thought was a little shocking at first, until I remembered that while I may not have had any training in safety rigging, I do have the most vested interest in making sure that I don’t careen head-first from thirty feet up in the canopy. In truth, we were also required to successfully complete ground-level training just before Ropes Course 1 so by the time we hit the trees, I felt secure in my harness – the capable master of my own destiny.
The next three hours were a sweaty blur of elevated ropes courses, suspension bridges and various aerial obstacles – all of which we climbed up, over and around in order to get to the zip lines that take you from course to course. And what an amazing feeling to stand on the platform and see the line disappear ahead of you into the trees, and to just step out… into thin air. It was almost as fun just to see my siblings make the jump and hear them hollering all the way to the next platform.
It was an afternoon of laughing and making memories that we still talk about to this day. The ropes courses were a great exercise in balance and strategy; the ziplines were scenic and long enough to enjoy the ride. If you find yourself in Ottawa for a few days and are looking for a fantastic day trip, I highly recommend taking to the trees. It’s not particularly expensive and I promise that you won’t be able to wipe the smile from your face for a long time. All of us gave it the Renaud Sibling stamp of approval – even David, who despite winning the award that day for Most Unconvincing Nonchalance, went ahead and married into our crazy adventure-seeking family anyway.