Cyclist, wanderer and co-owner of Bonnechere Caves
Eganville, Ontario – Ottawa Valley
Chris Hinsperger (a.k.a. Caveman Chris) is one of those people who is naturally brimming with seemingly endless energy. In Chris’ case, he seems to have brought that enthusiasm to every adventure he’s encountered in life, from working with youth to operating a tourism destination.
It isn’t hard to imagine Chris as an eager 12-year-old doing odd jobs at Bonnechere Caves, and even less so to imagine him moving on to become a tour guide in his teen years. The Caves obviously seeped into his caveman blood, because decades later, Chris returned to his old stomping ground and purchased Bonnechere Caves.
After only a few minutes in his company Chris’ easy geniality immediately puts you at ease, and it’s clear that he is someone who genuinely likes people. Over the years, Chris has 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.
I have to ask: Why Caveman Chris – how did that nickname get started?
A lot of people just refer to me as Caveman; the Cave is an important part of who I am. And I guess I do sometimes kind of look like a caveman… 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 baggy Speedo swimsuit and jumping in the river. I’ve come up to find there’s people here already and I just 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 just laugh.
That does sound a little caveman-ish! Owning a network of caves isn’t exactly something every kid puts on their career wish list; how did you end up at Bonnechere Caves?
I started working here when I was 12, and Tom and Ruth, the owners, kind of liked me, then I went to college, and got a job working with kids. I came back here when I was 35 and for 15 years I worked summers here at the Caves and the rest of the year I kept working with youth. When I was 50, I decided to throw myself into tourism full time, and went to every team building and networking opportunity I could find. 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 Tourist Association. Friends say to me, “Chris, how do you get involved in all that stuff?” Basically I just show up; most of your success is just showing up.
That’s a great quote, and very true. With all that history, it doesn’t really sound like you ever stop moving, do you?
(laughs) Not really. Being with the staff here keeps me young, I call them “mini-mes” and they keep me abreast of social culture. I like to be up to speed with what’s new out there. Just the other day I learned a new expression the young people are saying: “You good.” It means “You’re okay, you’re good, no worries.”
I’ve never heard that expression before! As the owner of a tourism business that encourages people to come and wander and visit the area, what does wandering mean to you?
We tend to think of wandering as unplanned, and there’s certainly a facet of wandering that is unplanned. But are you wandering if you have a specific itinerary? I’d say yes, but when you have those itineraries, you are often surprised when you get a ‘wow’ moment, when you encounter something new and unexpected, and then the next thing you know you’re off on an adventure you didn’t plan. People tell me that all the time; they’ll have come out this way for a wedding, but then see the sign for Bonnechere Caves, and stopped by before heading home. It’s little things like that, that capture someone’s imagination and attention.
I agree, the ‘wow’ moments are the absolute best. You obviously have a good handle on wandering, so how would you describe your wandering style?
I’m a Freedom Finder. When I wander someplace, I want to see the trails, I like to look at maps, and I pretty much always wander with my favourite wandering partner: my wife. We both have different wandering styles, and there’s lots of different things we like to experience. We’re also both fairly physically active, so we often combine our holidays with something active. We might go skiing during the day, but we also want to absorb some music at night; we’re pretty diverse.
It sounds like you and your wife are expert wanderers! If you both had some time, and the options were limitless, what would a perfect day in Ontario’s Highlands look like?
A perfect day for us would be a comfortable place to sleep, a cycle in Eganville, Barry’s Bay, Wilno, Haliburton, maybe a swim, or a visit to Melissa Bishop Park on Lake Dore. Then something good to eat, and end the day with some music at a local pub or festival. Seven years ago, we went to Haliburton for our 30th anniversary and we did just that.
Only three more years and you’ll be ready for your 40th anniversary adventure! What’s your favourite cycling route in Ontario’s Highlands?
I like to cycle from Eganville to Cormac up the Foymount Hill and back to Eganville by way of the Opeongo Road and McGrath Road.
As an expert wanderer (if you don’t mind me saying), do you have any tips for other wanderers?
I’d have to say to leave room in your itinerary so that if you’re wowed by something you can change your plans. Be flexible.
That’s a great tip! What’s one hidden gem that you’ve discovered in Ontario’s Highlands, but the average visitor might not know about?
I really like the whole recreational geology initiative that we’re a part of, so I’d have to say it’s the little hidden geological gems all across Ontario’s Highlands. There’s the Beryl Pit, near Quadeville, the Fossil Hunt at the Bonnechere Museum in Eganville. You can go also go to the top of Foymount Hill and see the Valley and there’s a geology kiosk up there describing the history.
Those all sound like great learning experiences. If you could only attend one local event or festival in Ontario’s Highlands this year, which one would it be, and why?
I’d have to say the Tour de Bonnechere bike tour. It happens every August, it’s a great cycling event, and the camaraderie of cyclists that happens during cycling events like this is phenomenal. Everyone’s in it together.
That sounds like a fun event! You must know a lot of people in the area from all you’re involved in. Who is one of the quirky and interesting personalities that visitors must meet when they travel here?
Deedee Sanderson is a good friend and one of the locals around here. She owns Madawaska River Rentals, and is all about peace and love and connecting with the earth. She’s a real tourism champion; she sees the big picture. When you talk to her, you’ll see she’s a real character. To her, everything in life has got some humour in it.