“This isn’t a ride – it’s a mental challenge”, says Tony Mehri, my Forever Florida guide/instructor who is attaching a carabiner to the front of my body harness. I’m standing on a cantilevered wooden platform jutting out from a 70-foot tower that rises above the soaring pine trees you see everywhere in Florida’s interior. I’m also doing my best not to look down at the ground where another guide has jokingly carved ‘Splat’ in the dirt with his foot. “You just have to walk forward and step right off.” Tony continues. I can’t explain why but something about this ex-military man’s reassuring confidence makes me want to follow his instructions, show him that his faith in me isn’t misplaced and that yes, I can walk this plank into thin air. But the primitive part of my brain that is focused on keeping me alive is telling me that he – and I – are both nuts. And the analytical part of my brain knows that if I wait any longer, or think about it any more, I’ll get even deeper inside my head and back out completely.
Focusing on the pulley that my line is attached to – and trusting that it will stop me from free-falling to my death, I take the plunge.
It’s ungainly and completely lacking in any technique, but my drop is a success, and a second later I’m laughing and grinning from ear to ear, feet safely planted back on Terra Firma.
Tony was right – the Panther Pounce was a challenge, and I had overcome it.
Thrills Await at Forever Florida
You might think that with a challenge like the Panther Pounce, Forever Florida is some kind of grownup boot camp designed to get me to ‘woman-up’ and face my fears. I will admit that something like the Pounce certainly pushed me waaay outside my comfort zone, but this place is really all about adventure and fun – therapy just happens to be a happy by-product. In fact, the first thing that got me excited about visiting Forever Florida certainly wasn’t the idea of walking a 7-story-high plank, but rather its unique ride that combines two of my favourite things: roller coasters and zip lines: the Rattlesnake Zip Line Roller Coaster.
The only ride of its kind in the States, the Rattlesnake suspends you in a zip line harness, and then flings you through the treetops on an overhead track that dips and curves like a roller coaster, with enough G-Force to give you that familiar free-fall feeling in your stomach while you race through the pines, feet dangling in the air. In other words, if a zip line and a roller coaster had a baby, this would be it. And it’s a blast!
But even this ‘ride’ turned out to have a therapeutic effect similar to my own Pounce experience: our group of riders happened to include a family from Britain whose 9-year old daughter had seen the video of the Rattlesnake on line, and like me, was really excited to try it out. But when faced with the decision to actually let fly in real life, the young girl’s understandable fear threatened to overcome her.
What followed next was amazing – as this 9 year-old voiced out loud the kind of inner dialogue we all have when faced with difficult decisions, alternately crying and then encouraging herself to push through her fear. At the end of this struggle, she resolutely told herself “You’ve got this!” and buckled up. All of us, not just her parents, found ourselves becoming a unified support group for her, congratulating her on her courage, and high-fiving her after her successful ride.
I could understand why many businesses come here as part of a team-building exercise.
Team Up for the Racing Zip Line
The Rattlesnake and the Pounce were the first two adventures included in Forever Florida’s 3-Pack of Thrills, so having successfully conquered the first two, we all moved onto the final ‘apparatus’. Called the Peregrine Plunge, this final thrill consists of a dual zip line that allows you to race against a partner along two parallel 1300 foot wires. Starting from a 70-foot tower that gives you a birds-eye view of the landscape (hence the name), two riders soar down the length of the zip trying to arrive first at the finish platform at the far end of the clearing.
After the first two challenges, this final one felt like child’s play, and I actually took a running start to get as much speed as possible before launching myself off the edge of the tower. (The first part of the Plunge was actually the most exciting, because as Liz, my racing partner and I, got near the end of the run, we had slowed down so much that our race-to-the-finish was a little anti-climactic.) Nonetheless, as we all walked back to shed our harnesses and helmets, we couldn’t help but feel like bad-ass commandos!
Get Your Cowboy – or Cowgirl On
Although our group only got to try their 3-Pack of Thrills, Forever Florida has much more to offer than just adrenaline-boosting experiences. Most of the 4700 acres are part of the Allen Broussard Conservancy, whose mission it is to protect and preserve Florida’s native wilderness, and give visitors a chance to see some of this unspoiled country. But they also keep some of Florida’s ranching traditions alive here on their working ranch, the Crescent J, that raises and sells grass-fed beef and breeding stock, and has one of the largest herds of Santa Cruz horses (a rare breed from California). And if you want to saddle up on one of Florida’s famous ‘Cracker’ horses, there are any number of horseback adventures from trail rides to overnight camping excursions. There’s even a Rawhide Roundup and Cowboy For A Day package if you’re tempted to relive scenes from the City Slickers movie!
Adventures for All
Whether you’re looking for a boost of adrenaline, the chance to get closer to nature, or even a horseback experience that brings out your inner cowpoke, there’s an adventure for everyone at Forever Florida. And who knows, you might even find yourself stepping outside your comfort zone – and off a plank – and giving yourself an experience you’ll remember forever, too.Special thanks to Experience Kissimmee, who hosted me on my Forever Florida adventure (and to my fellow guests, without whose encouragement I would never have ‘Pounced’!) And thanks to Forever Florida for the photos, since I was busy hanging on for dear life! For more information on everything Forever Florida offers, visit their website.