Find your kicks in the Fort
Wren Niedzwiecki is an adventurous soul.
So when her 16th birthday came along last month, it did not surprise anyone when the teen chose to have an outing with her mother and aunts at Zip Timber Lake in Huntington, the home of a very high – and very fast – zip-lining course which takes you through dense woods and over a lake.
“I felt like a kid again,” said Wren’s mother, Robyn Niedzwiecki, about her time on the campground’s Cloud Bridge.
“My sisters and I always enjoyed spending time together and we’re always looking for adventures. Wren is very much like that, too,” she added.
That’s what many of us seek, at least in one form or another. For some of us, it’s falling through the air from a great height, feeling the weightlessness as the ground comes hurtling towards us. For others, it may be just going out and trying something new or learning something we never thought we’d pick up and master.
Adventure-seekers are lucky to be in Fort Wayne.
We may be land-locked, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn how to handle ourselves in the waters of the ocean. We may not have high hills or mountains, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to sail through woods or over lakes on zip lines.
There’s nothing that says we can’t race bikes along dirt tracks or or jump out of planes.
We can do all those things right here.
Adventures in Fort Wayne abound.
Down into the blue
There is a serenity in the water.
It’s hard to explain if you’ve never felt it, but there is a peacefulness below the surface of the ocean. You can even feel it if you’re spearfishing amongst sharks, who will sometimes swim past you and try to snag one of your catches for themselves.
There’s just … a calm. A sense of solitude. Even at night, when you can see some of the more freaky-looking creatures who dwell in our oceans, the ones that might be a little unnerving to some first-timers or those who don’t venture out much when the sun goes down.
“God had to have had a sense of humor,” jokes scuba diver Ken Powell.
Powell got his first taste of the scuba life while in the Navy. Since then, he’s been in oceans and waters all over the world. Now he’s training others in becoming certified divers right here in Fort Wayne – yes, good ol’ landlocked Fort Wayne.
Deep Blue Divers is a one-of-a-kind facility in Indiana.
Formerly owned by Magnavox, the all-purpose dive shop has two 25-foot pools which Powell and his staff use to teach others how to scuba dive. Rescue services throughout the area have also utilized the pools for some training, Powell said.
Many of his customers are those looking to set off on a vacation or honeymoon and yes, there are those looking to cross something off their bucket lists. Powell warns against this approach, though. Scuba diving is not just something you should be learning for the heck of it.
“There has to be a passion,” Powell says.
At Deep Blue Divers, you can be taught every aspect of scuba diving without taking to the oceans. Powell and his staff start beginners out light, teaching them how to breathe under
the water first – it’s harder than it looks for some – while keeping them at shallow depths.
They also teach how to properly swim and glide through the water, and what to do if you run into trouble. Safety is emphasized, for as peaceful as things can be under the water, danger can lurk if a mask gets knocked off or if you surface too rapidly.
Powell also offers trips abroad through his shop and has booked an upcoming excursion to Cuba through locally owned Cuba Scuba – the only company in America which can legally get those of us state-side under the waters surrounding the long restricted Carribbean country.
“It’s good diving, and remote, but what sets it apart is the culture, the people, the architecture, the history,” said Amy Houghton Warren, a managing partner and founder of Cuba Scuba.
A life-long scuba diver herself, Warren wrote a book about scuba diving in Cuba in 2003. She now offers trips to those who want to go under professional research reasons – if you go, you must research to help her update the book.
That’s how these trips are legal.
But outside of the research, there is plenty of time to enjoy the music, the food and, most especially, the cigars.
“I like to dive, I know a little Spanish and I like to drink,” Houghton joked when talking about the formation of the company. “When I graduated college, I knew I’d want to throw up if I had to work in a bank or something. So my dad said to do what I love.”
Now, like Powell, she’s doing what she loves.
All over the world.
The adrenaline hits at the starting gate.
You’re usually sandwiched in between two others. It’s close quarters and you’re geared up from toes to helmet while astride your bike. Then the gate drops. You peddle as fast as you can. Your heart pounds. It feels like it might explode. Elbows hit you as you take a turn.
Then, a hill.
And the air.
Welcome to the world of BMX racing.
“It’s one of those sports that gets really addictive,” says John Entley, the 42-year-old who runs Fort Wayne BMX – the track which is in the back of Franke Park right beyond the duck pond overlooking the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
Entley came to the sport in the mid-1980s when he was 11 or 12. He raced until he was 16 or 17, then “kind of got out of it,” he said. But then, when his son was about 7 years old, Entley took him out by the BMX track.
“He was hooked,” Entley said.
What is now Fort Wayne BMX originally started in 1978, or thereabouts. The track was located in Foster Park but moved to Rockhill Park in the early 1980s. It came to Franke Park in the mid-1990s, and Entley took charge of it about seven years ago, he said.
“We’re all volunteers,” said Entley of those who maintain the track. “We have kids who race or we just love it so much we just can’t get away from it.”
And there’s a lot to love.
Entley said BMX racing is a sport anyone can do, though it takes experience to really get a grasp on the ins and outs of what happens on a track. “It’s thrilling, exciting and so much fun, but you’ve got to learn timing,” he said. “Some people think it looks really easy – until you try it. It’s one of those sports where what you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.”
When Entley’s son decided to try BMX, Entley himself decided to hop back on the bike like the old days. Only, he was in for a bit of a rude awakening, with a nearly 20 year layoff from his teenage years spent on the dirt.
“It was really bad,” he said. “I spent more time on my butt than I did on my bike. They say it’s like riding a bike, but it’s really not.”
With some practice and renewed experience, though, Entley was soon tearing up the track and found his love of the sport again. His son has since grown out of his BMX days, but Entley has found himself re-invigorated.
“The cool thing is, you’re in competition against the guy next to you, but I’ve never seen another sport where you race as hard as you can, throw elbows in the corners, but at the end of the race you’re shaking hands, giving high fives and everybody is helping everybody,” Entley said.
“I just can’t let it go,” he added.
With the adrenaline rush, the high heart rate as you hit that first turn, and especially that first hill …
Not many can.
Zipping through nature
A wakeup call came in Kentucky.
Jonathan and Olivia Kline were on an anniversary trip in June 2013 and had just gone underground zip-lining through caves at one of Louisville’s hidden gems, Mega Caverns. The next day, they found themselves zip-lining again – only in another spot, flying through trees and forest.
It was almost as if they were zipping through their very own Timber Lake campground in Huntington.
“By the end of the trip, I was calling builders, asking if I could get some super rough prices on stuff,” Jonathan recalls. “By September, we were breaking ground. It was a crazy turnaround.”
Today, Timber Lake is redubbed Zip Timber Lake, and it offers eight canopy zip lines, including a dual side-by-side zip and a 1,000 foot lake zip. There are bridges, an innovative climbing tunnel and a sky hook.
Oh, and if you go you need to try the QuickJump 70-feet free fall.
In a nutshell, Zip Timber Lake has become the area’s own hidden gem for adventure seekers, much like the caves in Louisville. But building a course here was not exactly the easiest thing to do – though it was nobody’s fault.
“The biggest challenge in Northeast Indiana is we just don’t have elevation, the drastic elevation changes other places have,” said Jonathan, who grew up on the property and bought it from his parents when he was 18 years old. “Our total elevation change on our property is
only like 35 feet. We had to do more artificial structures.”
The Klines looked to structure their zip lines to give the maximum amount of jolts to thrillseekers. That was something very important for Jonathan, who is a self-described adrenaline junkie and has been hooked on zip-lining since the couple
first did it in 2010, during a missiontrip
“I like living on the edge,” Jonathan said. “We fell in love with zip-lining back then, but it just wasn’t feasible for us at the time, with liability in the United States.”
Things changed, though, and all the attention put into the course has
paid off. And then some.
Folks of all ages come to the campground every season. There have been little kids to adventurers in their 70s and 80s, looking for a little bit of a good time and to get their kicks amongst friends on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
Some don’t come for the thrill, but to conquer something else entirely.
“A lot of people who are afraid of heights have come here to get over their fears,” Olivia says. “And we have a lot of people who have a bucket list, too. The majority who are nervous about going, they always come back to the office and want to do more.”
How could they not?
It’s hard to describe that first rush when you zip-line. It’s not exactly weightlessness, but there is a sense of flying through the air with nothing around you.
“It’s a feeling of freedom,” Jonathan says.