Adventure Travel Fantasy

The latest word in adventure travel: If you've got a fantasy, we'll make it happen

And on the Final Day We'll Swim Naked with Aliens!

Mike Adams is baleful. Hoping to replicate the buzz he got when he shelled out $20,000 to fly a couple of Russian MiGs last year for his 40th birthday ("At five g's, I couldn't move," he says. "It was great"), the Anaheim, California, scrap-metal scion had signed up for an even more improbable adventure, a $32,000 journey in a three-man Mir submersible to the rusting hull of the Titanic. Alas, the trip was recently cancelled following a lawsuit brought by the company with salvage rights to the wreck. "I'm so bummed," sighs Adams. "How am I going to top that?"

How indeed? Adventure travel in the United States — a $200 million business that now accounts for about half of all tourism, according to the Denver-based Adventure Travel Society — has become such a staple of mainstream culture that its average client is a swashbuckling 50-year-old woman. "This is the Peace Corps generation," explains Richard Bangs, founder of adventure travel pioneer Sobek Expeditions (now Mountain Travel-Sobek). "People aren't afraid to get their fingernails dirty." What this all means for discriminating customers like Adams ("I get bored easily," he says flatly), and the increasing number of outfitters competing for his attention, is that there are only two ways to go to find something truly new: more extreme, or more arcane.

"There are a lot of eccentric people out there," says Charlie Gibbs, president of the Costa Mesa, California-based Creative Adventure Club. "And they have a lot of money." Which means that vacation planning has never been so ... entertaining. Gibbs, for instance, packages trips for just about any fantasy, from swimming with wild dugongs in the South Pacific to sleeping in Iban longhouses in Borneo beneath rows of human skulls, the heads of enemies formerly proferred by tribesmen to blushing prospective brides. There's even a semiannual directory, Specialty Travel Index, that lists trips by every conceivable geographic and personal interest, such as kosher tours of Yellowstone and nude whale-watching in Hawaii. Wanna see UFOs? Sign up for Magical Journey's Sojourn with Aliens in the Andes. Like your imaginary friends even more preposterous? Try taking the hallucinogen ayahuasca in Peru under the tutelage of former High Times editor Peter Gorman. Sex? A Sausalito company, InnerQuest Wilderness Adventures, offers tantric outings timed to coincide with meteor showers.

Meanwhile, trips pushing the edges of the adventure envelope are also becoming more prevalent. For instance, next spring a Utah-based outfitter plans to offer a $20,000-per-person descent of Tibet's Tsangpo Gorge, not just the deepest chasm on earth, but also one of the more dangerous. Scuba outfitters such as Costa Rica-based Undersea Hunters now feature "rebreathing" technology that allows divers to venture longer, and deeper, than ever before. Such coveted superlatives — highest, deepest, loneliest — are nice if you can get them, but they're also running dry.

Which brings us to outer space. Several travel firms are already taking reservations for suborbital flights. ("Be Bold, Question Gravity!" burbles one brochure.) There's just one glitch: No spacecraft has yet been designed, tested, or approved by the FAA. Seventeen aerospace firms are currently competing for the honor and a $10 million, privately-financed pot for the company that gets there first. "It's just a matter of time," says Chris Ostendorf, spokesman for Zegrahm Space Voyages, which has optimistically scheduled its first flight — 62 miles straight up, allowing clients to enjoy two and a half precious minutes of weightlessness — for December 2001. The price: $98,000.

Indeed, these days selling risk can be a very lucrative proposition, as evidenced by the niche carved by entrepreneur Mike McDowell. Even though one of his three companies, Adventure Network International, lost three sky divers at the South Pole last year, McDowell continues to book passages farther into the margins, offering both a suborbital trip through his Space Adventures and the aforementioned Titanic expedition — now optimistically being marketed for 1999, pending a ruling this fall — via his Deep Ocean Expeditions.

But how many vacationers will consistently choose risking their necks over a little well-deserved R&R? Some of the newly hatched specialty trips will undoubtedly flop, predicts Bangs. Mountain Travel's basket-weaving-in-Peru and psychic-hot-spots-of-the-world trips "didn't sell very well," he admits. "Gimmicks abound, but what will prove lasting?" he asks. "After all, rafting trips down the Grand Canyon are still selling out every year."

Rock and Roil

Heeding the call of Oregon's Clatsop Spit

 

The point in Oregon where the mighty Columbia River meets the great Pacific Ocean bears the surprisingly unarresting name of Clatsop Spit. The spit doesn't look like much — yawning acres of storm-blasted dunes facing far more dramatic Cape Disappointment on the Washington side of the river. From the observation deck of Fort Stevens State Park, your eye is drawn to the six-mile-long rock jetty, to smashing surf dotted by seals, and to mammoth container ships gliding gingerly over the treacherous Columbia Bar.

During my first few trips here, I didn't linger at Clatsop Spit. But something kept calling me back. I wanted to walk out to the extreme tip of land where, in Raymond Carver's phrase, water comes together with other water.

On a recent raw fall day I returned to complete the pilgrimage, following a faint trail in the lee of the jetty. Waves thundered and spurts of seawater kicked up over the boulders. As I waded across an icy ankle-deep estuary to reach the headlands, huge clouds piled in an operatic sky. Perfect Northwest weather, in other words, and I moved briskly toward the point. Or what seems to be the point: a navigational marker a mile off, from which I hoped to be able to resolve all conflicting elements — river and ocean, Washington and Oregon, sky and water, bridge and town.

When I reached the marker, however, it offered no such clarity. Nothing heralds the spot where river stops and ocean starts, where one state ends and another begins. The beach keeps curving. Undemarcated, the waters roil grayly together at Clatsop Spit.

To make your own peregrination, start at Fort Stevens State Park, takeoff point of the 46-mile Oregon Coast hiking trail, which shoots south past Haystack Rock and other marquee beach attractions. The park offers a range of camping options, from hike-in sites for $4.25 to five-person canvas yurts (with heat, electricity, and water) for $29; call 800-452-5687. Ten miles east on U.S. 101 in the fishing-cum-quaint-tourist town of Astoria, soak up local lore at the extensive Columbia River Maritime Museum (503-325-2323).

 





Three Stallion Inn

Randolph, Vermont

 

It's no surprise that Randolph is fast becoming the Moab of New England. The white-steepled hamlet, surrounded by 360 acres of Green Mountain National Forest and 265 mapped miles of logging roads and winding singletrack, boasts the Northeast's largest network of mountain-bike trails. The hub for local fat-tire fanatics is the Three Stallion Inn, an 18th-century Victorian farmhouse-turned-country lodge with 25 miles of trail in the backyard and hosting rights to the four-year-old New England Mountain Biking Festival. When the maples turn fiery red and summer crowds begin to dwindle in October, it's the perfect time to book a room and spend the weekend pedaling the leaf-strewn trails.

At the Inn: Fuel up on a breakfast of banana-bread French toast. Then head across the dewy field for a few warm-up loops on the NORBA-sanctioned, six-mile Race Trail.

Out the Front Door: Advanced riders with workhorse quads should tackle the 22.5-mile Mount Cushman Ridge Loop. Climbing steeply out of downtown Randolph to the 2,750-foot summit, the trail then snakes along a wooded ridgetop. Also starting from town are the 9.3-mile Maple Ridge Sheep Farm Loop and the 12-mile Mud Pond Loop, both patchworks of dirt roads, singletrack, and pavement.

Getting There: The Three Stallion Inn is two miles off I-89, a two-hour drive from Boston and five from New York.

Staying There: Fall rates range from $81 to $112. Call 800-424-5358. At nearby Bicycle Express (802-728-5568), rentals cost $20 per day.

 

 





Bulletins

Dive 'n Carve
Wiggle into your wetsuit, grab a clip-on knife, and get ready to eviscerate innocent gourds at the Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest in Florence, Oregon, on October 25. Festivities begin with a graceful dry-land fin sprint; then certified divers wrestle persistently buoyant pumpkins to the depths of Woahink Lake and begin carving, with prizes for scariest jack-o'-lantern. Entry fee is $10. Call 800-789-3483 for details.

Singletrack Skinny
Why should skiers and surfers have all the fun? Now dirtheads, too, can compulsively check current conditions on the Web's first singletrack-status site. The just-launched Southeast Trail Report (www.milestonepress.com) gives weekly updates on mud quotient, closings, and crowds at trails throughout the southeastern United States.

Euro-Dash
Jet-setting the Continent just got easier, now that Russia, England, Ireland, Germany, and Denmark have joined the new EurAir Pass system. (Think EurRail, but with 737s.) Available for purchase in North America only, the $90 one-way tickets (you must buy at least three) are good between 60 cities in 21 European countries. Call 888-387-2479 or visit www.eurairpass.com.

More Travel

Holiday Subscription Sale! Save 79% and Get a Free Gift!

Subscribe
Pinterest Icon