Simone, from Toscana
Adventure Team, picked us up at 8:40 in the morning outside the ancient walls
of Lucca, Italy, a medieval city in Tuscany and we rolled through hills covered in an
array of greenery.
Forty-five minutes later we arrived at our starting point. Within an hour sixteen young twenty-something Italians joined us, ready to go adventuring. Canyoning is a popular activity all over the world.
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The definition of canyoning, or “canyoneering” as it is known in the United States, is an adventure sport combining rock climbing, bouldering, with hiking, cliff jumping, rappelling, sliding down natural slides, and challenging swimming. Canyoning requires physical strength, daring, appropriate gear, trust, and maybe a bit of insanity.
I don’t know who designed the wetsuit, but whoever fashioned it did not have a woman’s body in mind.
I for one am not the
same width from the bottom of my legs to my butt. The suit however, is intended
for someone who is. Now, picture yourself standing in the sun in 90-degree
weather, struggling to slither into a second skin that’s not formed the way
your body is. It was an act of shear will and strength to achieve success.
Brittney and I watched one lovely young Italian couple work together on this canyoning endeavor. The young man shimmied into his suit with no trouble. His petite, yet shapely, girlfriend was another story.
She tugged the suit up to the middle of her thighs and there the trouble began. She jumped and pulled, yanked and jerked, but the suit wouldn’t go higher. The butt portion of the suit was still 6-10 inches too low.
The obliging boyfriend attempted to assist his woman. He grabbed the butt portion of the wetsuit and tried to shake her into it, until all her parts were in the appropriate sections of the suit.
It was hysterical to watch and the young woman’s laughter echoed through the canyon. Eventually, everyone was zipped into their suits.
Simone assured me that, “Putting on the wetsuit was the hardest part of the day.”
We headed to the drop-off point, donned our helmets and the remaining gear, and headed down into the canyon.
The rocks varied in
size. Some were small - others were two to five feet in diameter. Climbing
required balance, and my creaking knees made it over and down most rocks with
The twenty-five foot canyoning drop was looming and required going under a huge overhanging rock to descend down the crevice.
Simone instructed us how to rappel ourselves down. He offered to manage the rope, but said I should try it myself. “You can do it, Tracy.” Okay, I thought, I can do this.
I contemplated the fact that my memory isn’t what is used to be. What if I forget something important that he told me to do - or not to do - during the instructions?
I buried the initial panic that welled up inside me. Simone handed me the rope and said, “Smile for the camera.”
His final words before letting go were, “Uw, don’t let go of the rope.”
Simple, yes, remember, yes, don’t let go of the rope, remember, don’t let go of the rope. These words reverberated through my head for the next four minutes while I hung precariously from the cliff.
I gripped the rope with one hand, let it slide through the other while descending downward toward the smallest pool of water I’ve ever seen.
My body temperature dropped from a sweltering 90 degrees, into the icy cold water. It took my breath away! But this canyoning accomplishment was exhilarating.
This initial rappel was followed by several water slides with plummets into pools of ice water, five additional repelling experiences, exhausting climbs over rocks of all sizes, swimming, and finally a jump from another precipice.
After two kilometers of Canyoning, my body was depleted of any remaining energy. Canyoning requires the use of every part of your body.
You must use your mind to pay attention, your legs, arms, feet and
hands to avoid slipping or falling, and your butt to slide.
For two and a half hours our group worked its way down the canyon to the starting point. We peeled off our second skins, often with the assistance of someone else, and traveled to a local trattoria to share an authentic Italian lunch.
Italians are known to prepare some great food. Antipasto is the first course of a traditional meal. The antipasto generally consists of small bite-sized snacks to be eaten at the beginning of the meal.
This tiny trattoria delivered fifteen different types of antipasto on huge platters. Simone invited others to join us for a total of twenty-four Italians, and two Americans, Brittney and I.
The trays were placed at varying sections of the table and they just kept coming. Arancini, rice balls stuffed with cheese, bruschetta, potato tarts, Italian meats and cheeses, stuffed zucchini blossoms and more.
After we had our fill, the pasta arrived! Fresh spaghetti cooked al dente, gently tossed with a light homemade tomato sauce and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano.
Wine, beer, sodas and water were served. The lunch ended with espresso and the bill was 13 Euros each, which is the equivalent today of about $14.75 per person.
I found the people and events of this canyoning day fascinating - an invigorating experience both as a challenge and as a cultural event.
When you want to challenge yourself, overcome your fears, and give your body a beating, I highly recommend joining Simone for a trip canyoning near Lucca, Italy. It’s a rush!
--Story and photos by Tracy Beard
Tracy Beard is a freelance writer specializing in travel, non-profits, alternative medicine, and direct response copywriting. As the founder and past president of an international children’s non-profit, Tracy traveled extensively, empathized with people in need, learned the importance of good health, and raised funds writing exceptional direct response copy. Her thirteen years of experience writing in various genres has added to her expertise. She is a member of AWAI (American Writers and Artists Inc.) and ITWPA (International Travel Writers and Photographers Alliance).
If you enjoyed this story, CLICK HERE to read Tracy's story about how she took her friend Laura, a woman with a disability yet a desire for new adventures, on an adventurous outdoor vacation.