39. Going All In
Even when cash is tight, we need to check out from the world every now and then—and spare no expense doing it. At least I do. I'm a great advocate of the well-timed splurge. It's not only necessary; it's good therapy. By making money no object, we sign a contract with ourselves to stop sweating the small stuff. As Ray Charles put it, "If you wanna have a ball, you gotta go out and spend some cash." For me, the best way to exercise this profligate impulse is to recharge in an outlandishly fine hotel. Once, after covering a weeklong ultramarathon in the broiling Sahara, I booked one blissful night in Marrakesh's legendary La Mamounia, where Churchill wrote his memoirs. No regrets. In the Amalfi Coast town of Ravello, my wife and I blew our kids' college nest egg to stay just a few nights in a 12th-century palazzo with a restaurant headed by two-star Michelin chefs. No regrets. But the best splurge I ever had was last spring, at a magical place called Verana (verana.com), on a jungle hill 30 miles south of Puerto Vallarta. Created by two European set designers/builders, Verana is a triumph of primitive-chic minimalism crafted entirely by hand and maintained entirely by hoof. (Everything in this roadless paradise has to be hauled up by burros, including your luggage—but not you.) The total aesthetic manages to be both ragged and clean-lined, sumptuous and spare. There's a fabulous library, a spring-fed pool, a gourmet restaurant with a dead-serious tequila collection, and eight stylish suites open to the thrumming jungle. Call it flip-flop luxe. I found the place so inviting, so calming, so effortlessly in tune with nature, it actually repaired my soul. Of course, the bill was astronomical. But...no regrets.
38. A Great Survival Story
Like this one, from conservation biologist Greg Rasmussen: "One moment I was flying my ultralight low over the Zimbabwe savanna, tracking a rhino. The next, I was falling from the sky. Turbulence sent me into a fatal wing stall. I remember screaming as the trees and rocks rushed upward. The crash knocked me out. I came to with petrol gushing onto my face. I lay sprawled on the hot earth, knowing from my years working as a biologist in Africa that I was in terrible trouble. I knew I had to get out. My legs had been smashed to jelly, so I dragged myself from the wreckage. I realized later that my pelvis and both femurs were broken. I had no food or water, my radio was shattered, and I was 70 miles from the nearest road. Even worse, I had crashed far from my planned route, where rescuers would look. I watched two vultures land on a nearby mopane tree and thought, Bugger off, I'm not ready for you yet. Blood began to pool in my ankles, so I spent over two hours taking my boots off, lest I get gangrene. The temperature soared. I had to get out of the sun, and I could hear my bones crack as I crawled under my plane's wing. I sat straining to hear the drone of a rescue aircraft but, instead, heard footsteps: a stalking lioness. She edged closer until she crouched just two meters away. I knew my only weapon was surprise, so I grabbed an aluminum strut and banged it fiercely on the wreckage. It worked. Nightfall provided a break from the heat. But now I had a new worry—hyenas. We call them "bone crushers"; their jaws can pulverize bone like it's balsa wood. I fought to stay alert. Toward dawn, I heard the unmistakable stilted gait of hunting hyenas. They must have smelled my blood. I scared them off by beating on the plane. In the morning came the sound of an aircraft overhead. I waved the strut, hoping the reflection would signal the pilot, but the plane disappeared, and I began to lose heart. I didn't hear the Land Rover approach or the sound of running footsteps until they were almost on top of me. I opened my eyes, saw three people, felt a hand on my back, and heard a voice say, 'It's all right now.' "
--As told to John Moir
37. Slightly Risky Spots
You don't want to cross the borders into Iran or North Korea, but sometimes you can find paradise in places other folks don't want to go to. Like Kiwayu, offthe coast of Kenya, a tiny island with incredible beaches and two rustically elegant "camps": Munira Island Camp (mikescampkiwayu.com) and, just across the bay, the Kiwayu Safari Village (kiwayu.com). Somalia is just 20 some miles away, and you can sometimes see warships off the coast.
36. Unpopular Ranges
Five beautiful, off-the-radar mountain playgrounds you should check out: the Trinity Alps, in California; the Ochoco Mountains, in Oregon; the Purcells, in British Columbia; the Black Hills, in South Dakota; and the Jemez Mountains, in New Mexico.
35. Victorinox's Infantry
Classic, uncluttered, self-winds, and can take a beating. If you own only one watch...$495; swissarmy.com