You never know what to expect from a chat with Bonnechere Caves owner, Chris Hinsperger (a.k.a. Caveman Chris). A lover of the outdoors and all its bounty, Chris is full of humour and adventure, and happy to share it with anyone who happens within his sphere of influence.
In fact, if you happen to wander by the caves just before opening, you might catch a glimpse of Chris emerging from the depths of the Ottawa River after his morning dip, a ritual he says can often surprise the unsuspecting visitor.
“I’ve been caught here at the caves at 8:30 in the morning when I think I have the place to myself, and I’m wearing my old Speedo swimsuit and jumping in the river,” Chris said. “I’ve come up to find there’s people here already and I explain I’m having my morning celebration of the river, I’m going to go put some clothes on now. Most of the time people laugh.”
After only a few minutes in his company, Chris’ easy geniality puts you at ease, and it’s clear that he is someone who genuinely likes people. Over the years, he’s let his passion for cycling, tourism and making connections with people of all ages lead him from one adventure to another, and he shows no sign of stopping anytime soon.
The area around the caves, and including the river, are well known to Chris. Chris has been involved in one way or another at Bonnechere Caves since he was an eager 12-year-old doing odd jobs, before moving on to become a tour guide in his teen years.
The caves are steeped in his caveman blood so much that it was decades later that Chris returned to his old stomping ground and purchased Bonnechere Caves. Chris explained after spending his childhood working at the caves, he came back when he was 35 and worked summers there. At 50, he decided to throw himself into tourism full time.
“Now I live 10 kilometres down the road and bike to work every day. I’m also the coordinator of the Bonnechere Cycling Group in Eganville, and President of the Ottawa Valley Tourism Association,” Chris explained.
“Friends say to me, ‘Chris, how do you get involved in all that stuff?’ Basically I just show up; most of your success is showing up.”
Chris is a big believer in tourism, especially having seen the impact tourism can have on a one-of-a-kind gem like the Bonnechere Caves, which has been welcoming people from all over the world for more than 55 years. The caves are more than a geological resource, they are also a local landmark and attraction that serves as a centrepiece for the area.
It’s from this location that Chris does his own wandering, by bike or by foot (and sometimes by ski).
“When I wander somewhere, I want to see the trails, and the maps, and the caves are the perfect place to use as your launchpad for the area,” Chris said. “One of my favourite cycle routes is to go from Eganville to Cormac up the Foymount Hill and back to Eganville by way of Opeongo Road and McGrath Road.”
Not one to stay put, Chris is an expert at wandering, and explains that his concept of wandering is an unplanned adventure, but that it’s okay to have an itinerary, too. Plan ahead, but be flexible, are his words to live by.
“When you have an itinerary you are often surprised with a ‘wow’ moment, when you encounter something new and unexpected, and then the next thing you know you’re on an unplanned adventure,” Chris said. “You need to leave room in your itinerary so that if you’re wowed by something you can change plans.”
The Bonnechere Caves are one of Ontario’s natural geological wonders, but Chris also loves the other geological hidden gems out there in Ontario’s Highlands, like Beryl Pit near Quadeville or the Fossil Hunt at the Bonnechere Museum in Eganville.
These are all pretty cool, but for Chris, the Bonnechere Caves will always be home.