Canyoning is an adventure sport combining rock climbing and bouldering with hiking, cliff jumping, rappelling, sliding down natural slides, and challenging swimming. Read on for an outdoor adventure while canyoning near Lucca, Italy.
Some might say I am mad. Mad as in crazy to go canyoning twice in my life. The first time was part of a girls’ trip. My daughter Brittney was fifteen, and of course, I was much younger myself. We booked a tour with Toscana Adventure Team that leads people canyoning near Lucca, Italy. Brittney, her friend Miranda, her mom Carol and I had a fantastic time with Simone, our guide.
Canyoning in Lucca, Italy
The definition of canyoning, or “canyoneering” as it is known in the United States, is an adventure sport combining rock climbing and bouldering with hiking, cliff jumping, rappelling, sliding down natural slides, and challenging swimming. Canyoning requires physical strength, daring, appropriate gear, trust, and in my opinion, a wee bit of insanity.
The First Round
Only the four of us were with Simone the first time we went. It was a private excursion and a fabulous trip. The girls had a blast jumping, climbing, and swimming. The steep rock slide was definitely the highlight of this journey.
The Second Time Around Canyoning Near Lucca, Italy
Years later, Brittney and I returned to Lucca, Italy, and I found myself signed up to go canyoning again. Some might think I was crazy. Maybe I was. After closing in on 50 and passing it by a few years, I wondered why I paid good money to participate in this madness again.
We met Simone once again. He picked us up at 8:40 am just outside the ancient walls of Lucca, Italy, a medieval city in Tuscany, and we rolled through the countryside toward another canyoning area. Less than an hour later, we reached our destination. Not long after we stopped and exited the van, sixteen twenty-something-year-old Italians joined us. Canyoning is a popular sport around the globe.
We were each handed a wetsuit, helmet, ropes with an eight ring and carabiners, and a harness for our canyoning adventure.
I am not sure who designed the original wetsuit, but the ones distributed to us in Italy were not constructed with a woman’s body in mind; somehow, all the curves were missing. My thighs, butt, hips, and waist are not created equal and are definitely not the same width. Now, picture yourself standing in the sun in 90-degree weather, struggling to slither into a second skin with completely different contours than your own body. It was an act of sheer will, determination, and brute strength to melt into this rubber wetsuit, and the struggle did not just belong to me.
Brittney and I watched a lovely young Italian couple work together to prepare for this canyoning expedition. The tall, handsome, and well-carved young man shimmied into his suit with no problem. His petite yet shapely girlfriend was another story.
She tugged on the suit and got her tiny frame in up to about the middle of her thighs, and there is where the trouble began. She jumped, pulled, yanked, and jerked, but the suit would not cooperate or go any higher. The rear section of the suit was still 6-10 inches too low.
The heroic boyfriend came to the rescue. He grabbed the butt portion of the wetsuit and attempted to shake her into it. He lifted her off the ground and repeatedly shook her until her body parts were in the appropriate sections of the wetsuit.
It was hysterical to watch, and the young woman’s laughter echoed throughout the canyon. After the laughter died down, we all zipped up our suits and turned to listen to our guide.
I was exhausted and sweating after finally getting all of my appendages into the suit. Simone reassured me and said, “Putting on the wetsuit is the hardest part of the day.”
On Our Way
We drove to the drop-off point, put on our helmets and remaining gear, and headed into the canyon.
The boulders varied in size. Some were small, and others ranged between two and five feet in diameter. Climbing required balance, and my creaking knees made it over and down most rocks without a problem.
We didn’t have to hike for long before arriving at the water and doing our first rappelling exercise. The twenty-five-foot drop was looming before me, and it required going under a vast overhanging rock and a descent straight down through a crevice.
No Backing Out Now
Simone gave the group instructions on how to rappel down. He offered to manage the rope but suggested that I give it a try myself first. He said, “You can do it, Tracy.” Okay, I thought, I can do this. But moments later, as he repeated several instructions to me, I remembered that my memory wasn’t what it used to be. What if I forget something vitally important? This activity was dangerous, and it was not the time or place for mistakes. My heart began to race, and my palms got sweaty.
I buried the panic that welled up within me. I looked up at Simone, and as I took the rope from his hand, he said, “Smile for the camera.”
Simone handed me the rope, and as I turned to face this exciting challenge, he said, “Hey, don’t let go of the rope.”
Simple—right? Remember—right? Don’t let go of the rope, don’t let go of the rope. These words reverberated through my head for the next four minutes while I hung precariously off the side of the cliff.
I gripped the rope with one hand, let it slide through the other, and descended toward the smallest pool of water I have ever seen.
One meter from the water’s surface, I let go and plunged quickly into the icy water. I sunk at least five feet into the deep dark abyss. My body temperature, which I’m sure was over 100 degrees in the last few moments, immediately dropped when I hit the frigid pool. It took my breath away! But I wasn’t dead. I succeeded in the first canyoning exercise, and it was exhilarating. You see, when we went years before, Simone handled all the ropes. We just held on for dear life and let go when he instructed. This time, I was in charge of my fate.
Throughout our adventure, we encountered numerous water slides, where we plummeted into different pools of icy water. We completed our journey with five more repelling experiences, exhausting climbs over rocks of all sizes, tons of swimming, and a giant leap off of another precipice.
Canyoning requires you to use every muscle in your body. You must always remain alert to your surroundings, keep tabs on all body parts to avoid slipping or falling, and be willing to slide on your butt into the unknown. After two kilometers of canyoning, my body was completely exhausted.
For two and a half hours, our group traversed its way down the canyon back to our starting point. After we returned to the vans, we peeled off our second skins, often requiring the assistance of another person, and drove to a local trattoria to share an authentic Italian lunch where we reminisced about the trials and tribulations of our adventure.
Time to Relax
Italy is well known for its incredible food, and this trattoria did not disappoint. We began with large platters containing fifteen different types of antipasto. Simone recognized friends at the trattoria and asked them to join us. Our long table sat 24 Italians and Brittney and me. The conversation was lively, loud, and in Italian. The new friends sitting closest to us chatted a little in English.
As the meal went on, the trays 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 of the first course, the pasta arrived. Fresh spaghetti cooked al dente and gently tossed with a light homemade tomato sauce. A healthy portion of Parmigiano Reggiano finished the dish. The wine, beer, and sodas flowed, and lunch ended with espressos all around.
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Is Three Times Too Many?
Brittney and I enjoyed this canyoning adventure as much as the first one. It was an invigorating adventure and a challenge for my mind, body, and soul. It was also a great way to meet new people and savor different cultural interactions. The next time you plan an exciting outdoor adventure, or a trip to Italy, let Wander With Wonder be your inspiration.