You never know your limits until you test them. From ziplining with guns to free falling off a 7-meter platform, the Stunt Ranch will show you what you’re capable of.
It's a beautiful morning for a drive on Fitzhugh Road toward the Hill Country. I've been on this road numerous times for both gorgeous drives and scenic bike rides en route to Pedernales Falls, Fredericksburg and, of course, Jester King Brewery. I've noticed this one particular place hundreds of times and have always thought to myself, “I wonder what crazy stuff goes on back here?”
On a random Thursday morning in September, this picturesque drive just south of Austin finally brings me to this place of intrigue, the Stunt Ranch, where I finally get to find out what goes on across these vast acres decorated across the landscape with cars, rope swings, a gazebo and other hidden treasures that the eye can't see from the road.
I showed up early with a few other nervous members of the Austin Fit Magazine staff and waited for the sun to begin its rise over the horizon. A few minutes later, a truck pulled up and we were greeted with a hearty smile, a handshake and a couple of Nerf Semi-Automatic Dart guns.
“Let the fun begin,” said owner and founder Steve Wolf. “There's fit and then there's stunt fit,” he said. “Let's go get stunt fit!”
Gulp. What did I get myself into now?
Fitness and fun is an understatement for what we experienced that day at the Stunt Ranch. Wolf and his staff are dynamic, knowledgeable and energetic. Talking to Wolf is like spending time with a cross between Evel Knievel, Bill Nye the Science Guy, and a 10-year-old boy. He is equal parts brilliant and fascinating. Clearly, this is a man who has found his passion in life. It's a passion, not just for blowing things up (which is pretty cool indeed), but an extensive knowledge of chemistry, science, film, pyrotechnics and fitness; all of which comes together in one exciting package at the Stunt Ranch.
In fact, that's why he opened the Stunt Ranch eight years ago on this 25-acre property he found just off U.S. 290 on Fitzhugh Road.
“I was ready to be off the road for a while and, as a science teacher and stunt coordinator, this was the perfect opportunity to give kids and adults a hands-on, captivating science experience mixed with adventure.”
There's definitely no shortage of adventure for kids of all ages at the Stunt Ranch, which is why it's becoming a popular choice for everything from school science field trips, corporate team building events, bachelor parties and even weddings!
We started the morning feeling trepidatious and timid as Wolf and stuntman Zach Gossett positioned us just in front of an old burned-out truck, threw some smoke grenades for effect, and said, “You may feel a little heat when it explodes.”
Standing in front of an exploding car and having your photo taken like a scene from “The Terminator” is one heck of an ice breaker, literally. We definitely felt the heat on the back of our necks and went from, “What are we doing here?” to “That was so freaking awesome!” in one shout of “Fire in the Hole…and..Action!”
“Anyone can be a super hero,” chuckled Wolf after seeing our exasperated post-explosion faces. He's right. After that, we were ready to take on just about anything.
A little car bomb certainly got our hearts racing, but it was the rope swing course that challenged us physically and mentally. Here's where fit meets stunt fit. This obstacle course was made up of tight ropes, climbing walls and tires, and our goal was to complete the course in as little time as possible. Think trapeze artist meets “American Ninja Warrior”. Every childhood gym class fear arose in all of us, but instead of feeling super-intimidated by the process, we all felt energized and excited to cheer for each other.
This course was a true test of cardiovascular strength, endurance and adrenaline. We weren't more than two feet off the ground at any given time, but we were working our bodies in ways that challenged us both physically and mentally through balance, coordination and defiance of gravity. This was science, fitness and team camaraderie at its finest.
Herein lies the magic of being on the Stunt Ranch. It may have taken me almost 10 minutes to finish the course (as opposed to the sub-2 minute effort of a teammate), but I was just as proud when I hit the finish line and high-fived others while breathing harder than after finishing a fast 5K run. It wasn't about time as much as it was having control of my own body and figuring out what muscle groups to engage in order to keep moving forward when every shaking cable was urging me to fall.
Now that we were pumped with adrenaline and endorphins, it was time to hit the zipline for some more action hero adventure. Nerf guns were passed out to each of us as we took aim at our “nemesis” who was coasting in the air above us. Each of us took turns experiencing the science behind the pulley system, the fitness behind holding yourself steady, and the pure fun of gliding across the sky shooting squishy darts like a child on an endless fantasy backyard adventure.
In fact, “backyard adventure” was a thought I had all morning when we talked about the numerous activities they can create and host. “We want people to get out of their comfort zone and stop being afraid to play,” Wolf said.
His favorite quote to hear? “I never thought I could do that.” Well, he heard it over and over again as we headed to our final adventure of the morning: the high fall airbag.
Just when I thought I couldn't do anything else, Wolf issued our final challenge. “You know when movies show scenes of people jumping out of buildings? Well, it's your turn to experience what that is all about.”
You want me to jump from a platform and land on my back on an airbag? I've made it this far, and I'm not stopping now.
Needless to say, I wasn't the only one feeling nervous, but we went from jumping off the lowest platform to plunging from the highest tower with flames behind us in a matter of minutes. It's amazing what happens to your life and confidence if you just make that initial leap. That final obstacle taught us so much more than just fitness and science. It taught us about life and allowing yourself to simply let go and stop being afraid of adventure.
“While the impact of the airbag is negligible,” said Wolf, “the impact on your life is immeasurable.”
There's no doubt and, thanks to the Stunt Ranch, I have a whole new appreciation for fearless fitness. It's not about who can go farthest or fastest. It's all about who has the most courage to take the first step into the unknown. Try something new. Grab some friends or co-workers and spend the day laughing and jumping into adventures you never thought possible.
Don't be afraid to do whatever it takes to break out of your comfort zone and head to your next phase. You never know what super hero action adventure awaits…no cape required.