Category Archives: Active Travel

Hang on! Top 10 extreme adventures

If you like to push yourself and are a bit of an adrenaline junkie, then online men’s magazine AskMen’s top 10 list of extreme vacations may be just the thing for you.

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1. Go shark-baiting

Only one thing better than experimenting with high-tech vehicles is turning one into a giant fishing lure — with you inside as bait. Stanley Submarines’ custom-built, submersible Idabel ferries you down 1,500 feet below the sea off the coast of Roatan, an island off Honduras. Attached to the sub is live bait designed to lure the seldom seen six-gilled shark. From the depths of the ocean’s blackness, don’t be alarmed when you see this prehistoric specimen — longer than your 13-foot sub — approach one of the sub’s nine 30-inch viewports. You’ll feel Idabel rock back and forth as the gentle ocean giant works to dislodge her baited treats.

2. Dive in an exosuit

Should you ever be called on to repair external surfaces of an orbital space station, you’ll have acquired some of the requisite skills by the end of this Incredible Adventures package. The Russian Space Agency’s Hydrolab is a place real-life astronauts go to simulate weightlessness in a 12 meter-deep neutral buoyancy tank. If you’re a certified diver of the right height and weight, you’re eligible for similar training using the coolest swimwear imaginable: an Orlan space suit fitted with biometric sensors to check health readings as you complete a series of underwater tasks.

3. Go drag racing

Of the many driving experiences you can book while on holiday, we naturally recommend the fastest and most daring: dragster racing. Doug Foley’s Drag Racing School, of Mooresville, North Carolina, arranges this at various tracks around the U.S., for a range of dates. Packages start at $349, not including lunch and trackside photography — a small price to pay for the thrill of crossing 300 feet of track in 10 seconds at over 100 miles per hour.

4. Take a helicopter safari

Because we have never been a fan of ordinary bus tours, we’re throwing in Cox Kings’ new six-day “mountain safari” via a French-manufactured, oxygen-equipped Ecureuil to see eight of Earth’s tallest peaks. Mt. Everest summiteers narrate their experiences as you whiz past the 29,035-foot mountain then later take in the Langtang, Manaslu, Lamjung, and Annapurna ranges and other Nepalese sights. Since the Ecureuil seats only two guests, this is a downright romantic trip, allowing you to score major points with your girlfriend while conveniently involving superslick machinery.

5. Wield the Jaws of Life

Does the end-of-workday beer taste sweeter after you’ve rappelled down three stories of a burning building, inched through smoke-filled darkness, and doused the flames? We bet it does. If you don’t have the good fortune or guts to call this a day’s wage, you can still sample the vocation of fire fighting at one of North America’s finest training schools: Central Florida Fire Academy in Orlando. You’ll use the Jaws of Life to rescue a faux victim from a burning car, test-drive that big, red, shiny truck, and finish the day with a real firehouse dinner (uh, yum?).

6. Bulldoze something

You played with big yellow trucks as a kid; now you can get down and dirty learning to drive actual megaton equipment around a 21-acre construction site in Bradenton, a town between Sarasota and Tampa. This daylong Construction Adventure has you eventually tossing around old tires and bowling balls on the site using a CAT 315 Excavator, CAT 257B Skid Steer Loader or CAT D3 Bulldozer. Hard hat, lunch, souvenir photo, and written evaluation are included (because we all should aspire to be better excavator operators). And not that you’d intentionally linger, but there’s also timely use of a “tricked-out port-o-potty” with a flat-screen TV fitted inside.

Story: Adult sandbox in Las Vegas isn’t for Tonka trucks

7. Go street-luging

If you don’t have five free days or five buddies to take a group stuntcation, you could try the getaway version: a customizable “weekend warrior” deal that gives you a menu of extreme sports and events to choose from in and around Las Vegas. Options range from relatively tame activities like hovercraft, motocross, ATV or Sea-Doo rides, to gimmicky fire-walking, to adventures involving machines that hardly sound street legal (bonus!). One of our favorites is “street luge”: a homemade sled you grab hold of to hurtle down mountain roads at up to 60 miles per hour.

8. Drive a tank

Drive A Tank knows every guy’s secret desire is to crush vehicles with even bigger vehicles. Which is why the Kasota, Minnesota-headquartered extreme adventure operator organizes awesome afternoons, teaching you to navigate two British army tanks — the FV433 Abbot and the FV432 Armored Personnel Carrier — through an obstacle course. Choose the “crush package,” and — hell yeah! — you get to obliterate anything lying in the path of “Larry,” an affectionately named 60-ton Chieftain Main Battle Tank. We hope the victim was a Pinto.

9. Take a stuntcation

You know your Vegas trip is in capable hands when the tour guide is a Hollywood stunt guy who performed the world’s first bungee jump on fire, has coordinated stunts for Sir Richard Branson and Criss Angel, and lists expertise in “high falls, air rams, explosives, heavy weapons, and bullet hits.” Rich Hopkins, founder of Thrillseekers Unlimited, lends you a veritable arsenal of badass gear for adventures in and around the city. During a new five-day, small-group “Stunt Experience Vacation,” safely supervised by Thrillseekers’ SAG-member team, you and up to nine buddies will harness in to try high-falling, stunt-fighting and stunt-driving, and may even be (briefly) set aflame.

10. Fly a MiG over Russia

Sarasota-based extreme tour operator Incredible Adventures has you pulling Gs in a multimillion-dollar MiG-29 — the kind Tom Cruise battled in Top Gun — during a five-day trip to Moscow and nearby Nizhny Novgorod Aircraft building plant Sokol. After alighting in Moscow for sightseeing and a stay at Metropol, the classic hotel looking onto Red Square where Dr. Zhivago was filmed, you travel by train to the military airstrip where the inimitable Russian fighter was born. Then it’s your choice between soaring 70,000 feet to the edge of space or performing 45 gut-punching minutes of aerobatics. Sokol’s MiG pilots, who will accompany you, say to eat breakfast! before flying at Mach speeds, since acids churning on an empty stomach will make you more likely to heave. We think it’s friendly advice.

Reuters has not endorsed this list.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

Volunteers give back to Mount Rainier park

Courtesy of the Miltimores

Jim and Carol Miltimore on the shore of Hidden Lake in 2006 in Mount Rainier National Park.

When Jim and Carol Miltimore approached officials at Mount Rainier National Park about volunteering, they thought the retired couple might spend a sunny afternoon bagging trash.

They had no idea that six years later, the Enumclaw, Wash., couple would log more hours in the pristine park than many native bears.

In six years, Jim, 70, and Carol, 63, have logged more than 12,000 volunteer hours making the 378-square mile park cleaner, more accessible and ever-luscious.

“They are this sweet couple who upon retiring they didn’t want to golf, they wanted to give back to something they really believe in and that’s the national park system,” says Kevin Bacher, volunteer program coordinator for the National Park Service. “They’ll dig ditches, clean restrooms, clear trails and spend hours working in the park library system. There’s nothing they won’t do.”

Imagine the impact on the national deficit if every able-bodied man and women in America contributed on behalf of the federal government the way the Miltimores do for free.

And they consider it their privilege.

“We’re avid hikers and nature lovers and, really, I think we get more out of it than the park does,” says Carol, a retired data analyst. “The scenery is breathtaking. Just yesterday I was up working in a field of wildflowers at 6,400 feet with Mount Rainier in its full glory. It was magnificent.”

Those opportunities abound in our national parks, an institution referred to in a recent Ken Burns PBS documentary as “America’s Best Idea.”

Go to and scroll through the options that let would-be volunteers across the nation select where they want to work, how often they’re available and what level of exertion they’re prepared to dispense.

“We’re friends with a volunteer who saved the park service $500,000 by designing them a bridge,” says Jim, a retired chemist. “People volunteer video services, labor — you name it.”

Acting park superintendent Randy King says park volunteers enjoy a spiritual connection to the land that borders on the mystical.

“It’s just a great way for people to give back,” King says. “Volunteers form a deep connection to the land.”

The Miltimores spend as many as six days and nights a week at the park, sometimes sleeping in cabins they helped construct.

Such devotion is not without sacrifice.

“We can’t have pets and our garden is on its own,” Carol says. “But here at the park we get to see plenty of ground squirrels, marmots, mountain goats and bears. Just last week a big bear charged Jim.”

Jim says it was just a “bluff charge,” something a bear does half-heartedly to try and make itself look superior.

“He wasn’t serious,” he says. “If he was, I’d have been lunch.”

Or maybe the bear simply sensed that the Miltimores are part of Mount Rainier National Park.

More on Overhead Bin

Chris Rodell is a Latrobe, Pa., contributor who blogs at 


Bicyclists decry speed limits on Golden Gate

Plans to put the brakes on bicyclists riding across the Golden Gate Bridge has cycling enthusiasts crying foul in this urban center of two-wheeled activism.

Hundreds of commuters, residents and tourists ride the bridge’s stately span each day, and occasionally there is a smash-up when bikers run into one another or collide with tourists drinking in the views. Still, the city was taken by surprise this week when bridge officials proposed speed limits as a way to reduce the accident rate on San Francisco’s signature landmark.

The initial plan would hit riders with a $100 fine if they don’t slow to 5 mph around the bridge’s iron towers, or 10 mph along the bulk of the 1.2-mile span. There is currently no speed limit, and authorities say some riders have been clocked going more than 20 mph.

But after groups of pedallers raised sharp critiques, the bridge’s board of directors decided to postpone a vote on the limits to allow public debate.

    1. Image: Some of 1.5 million bats move through the sky near downtown Austin


      Austin goes batty for Bat Fest

      Austin celebrates the 7th Annual Bat Fest on Saturday with live music and a celebratory viewing of the city’s 1.5 million resident Mexican free-tailed bats as they head out for their evening meal.

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“Five miles per hour is definitely slower than I would ever go,” said Uri Friedman, a manager at Pedal Revolution, a non-profit bike shop near the hip cafes of San Francisco’s Mission District. “This just kind of penalizes someone who knows how to ride their bike. As it is already, having to navigate through the tourists as you’re trying to get out of town on a ride makes for a potentially frustrating experience.”

On Saturday, as busloads of German, Mexican and Korean tourists snapped photos using the verdant Marin County hills as a backdrop, Frances Denner was recovering from a near wreck on her rental bicycle. Pausing for a minute to admire the sailboats and surfers dotting the bay below, she said she thought speed limits sounded wise.

“This person wearing full bike gear came around me and I wasn’t expecting it. It was a little scary,” said Denner, who was visiting from Janesville, Wis. “I think having a speed limit would be a good thing.”

Story: Growing number of bike cafés gear up to serve cyclists

Speed a factor in bike crashes

A committee of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District recommended the limits after commissioning consultants to do a cycling safety study.

According to the Berkeley-based firm Alta Planning + Design, there were 165 bicycle crashes from 2000 to 2009, and speed was cited as a factor in 39 percent of those accidents. Over that same time period, there were 235 reported vehicle incidents, including anything from a fender-bender to a more serious collision, said bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie.

Several cycling activists questioned how many wrecks involved tourists on rental bikes, and said it was misguided to craft a safety policy to address speed if that was not a problem in a majority of the accidents.

“There is poor visibility, and there are surfaces on the bridge that when the fogs rolls in can get really slippery or can catch a cyclist’s tire,” said Kim Baenisch, executive director of the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, which opposes the limits. “To be ticketed for going 11 mph because you have some tailwind behind you seems really unreasonable. We don’t want to see limits that are going to discourage any type of cyclists from using the bridge.”

Video: San Francisco city guide (on this page)

The Golden Gate, which was the largest suspension bridge in the world when completed in 1937, has been considered one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th century. Riding its narrow paths requires a keen sense of how to navigate the gusty winds, fog and storms that blow through the gate and into the San Francisco Bay.

‘Enjoying the view’

Scott Klimo, who bicycle commutes from his home in Marin County to his office San Francisco’s financial district, said he and his fellow commuters know how to ride at safe speeds because they do it every day, even if most lack speedometers. In his 10 years bicycle commuting, he has seen one accident, he added.

“It’s not that the tourists are bad people, but riding a bike safely isn’t their first priority. It’s enjoying the view,” he said. “A little bit better education or orientation from the bicycle rental companies would be a far more effective safety measure than imposing some sort of random speed limit on all of us.”

Bridge officials will have to balance a host of competing considerations as they consider future safety proposals. Space is one. This summer, bridge authorities plan to close the bridge’s west side, which serves as an afternoon bike lane, to complete a long-needed seismic retrofit.

Tourism is another. In 2009, more than 15 million people visited the city, pumping nearly $8 billion into its economy, according to the city’s Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Slideshow: City by the Bay (on this page)

Bicycle ridership and the clout of local cycle advocacy organizations are also growing. According to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, ridership has increased by 58 percent since 2006.

The bridge and its adjacent coastal parklands also often play host to organized bicycle tours and festivals of all stripes. Saturday, a group of Tibet supporters held a ride from the city’s downtown to the Golden Gate to highlight the missing Panchen Lama. Even the once-monthly Critical Mass bicycling movement has on occasion barnstormed its way through Friday rush-hour traffic all the way to the bridge.

“Local riders and bicycle commuters need to recognize that part of their commute is an international tourist destination,” said Nina Barker, a visitor from Charlottesville, Va., who was preparing for her first bridge ride Saturday afternoon. “Why can’t they just make two lanes: one for commuters and one for all the people who come to visit this beautiful place?”

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Travel plans for runners: Where’s the next race?

It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and I’m in pain in New Orleans. Not morning-after-a-night-in-the-French Quarter type of pain, but knee pain.

Together with 15,000 other runners, I’m winding through streets that have been closed for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon and Half Marathon. And like 70 percent of the others, I’ve traveled here from out of town to do so.

Runners have always traveled to race. The Boston Marathon has attracted international participants for more than a century. In recent years, however, the concept of destination running “didn’t just evolve, it exploded,” said Robert Pozo, president of Continental Event and Sports Management Group.

Story: On your mark, get set, go! See new sights on a race vacation

    1. Image: Some of 1.5 million bats move through the sky near downtown Austin


      Austin goes batty for Bat Fest

      Austin celebrates the 7th Annual Bat Fest on Saturday with live music and a celebratory viewing of the city’s 1.5 million resident Mexican free-tailed bats as they head out for their evening meal.

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The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and Half Marathon is the oldest of the series races. Started in 1998 in San Diego, it has events in 19 U.S. cities this year, and will expand to Madrid next year. True to the series name, these runs are as much a party as a competition. Bands play every few blocks, though I largely ignore them, listening instead to the voice in my head telling me to run through the pain.

A new series, the women-only Diva’s Half Marathon, was launched last October on New York’s Long Island. That first race attracted participants from all 50 states, said Pozo, the organizer. This year, races have been added in Honolulu, Vail, Colo., and Puerto Rico.

Disney hosts a variety of events at both Disney World and Disneyland, and Royal Caribbean hosted a 5K race for cruise ship passengers on the island of St. Maarten last December.

There’s even a Seven Continents Club, boasting more than 300 members who have run marathons in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and Antarctica, according to Marathon Tours Travel of Boston.

So why do runners travel so much?

Some go to the fast courses hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon or a personal best. I travel for the variety, and came to New Orleans to run the half-marathon and sightsee with my family for four days. It gets boring running hundreds of miles in the same area.

Then there’s the demographic of runners. At the Diva’s run, nearly 40 percent of the participants were ages 30 to 39 — working years when people are more likely to have disposable income.

“Running has not been affected by the recession,” Pozo said, noting all a runner needs is a pair of shoes. While people may feel that going to a spa or a fancy resort is extravagant these days, going somewhere to run doesn’t have that same connotation.

“It’s taking that vacation and not calling it a vacation,” Pozo said. “And ya, I’m going to lay by the pool and I’m going to be there for four or five days.”

To add to the good feelings, many of the events double as charity fundraisers. The Mardi Gras run, for instance, raised money for the American Cancer Society.

The race organizers lure us to different cities by offering special medals to those participating in multiple events. Elizabeth Williams, 28, visiting from Scranton, Pa., to run her second half-marathon, is planning three others this year in Kentucky, Missouri and California.

She said the fact that the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series gives out fancy medals “for running more than one of their races just amps the experience up for me.”

“I won’t ever win a race. I don’t expect to even place well in my age group — but it’s nice to feel like you won something after all the hard work, sacrifice and grit that it took to get here.”

About 15,000 people ran at least two Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons or half-marathons last year in order to receive the “Rock Encore” medal, while more than 250 received “Rock Legend” medals for competing in seven or more races in 2010, said Dan Cruz, a spokesman for organizer Competitor Group.

As I shuffled through New Orleans, all I wanted was to finish that one race. I was moved by the cheering crowd, and felt I would let them — and me — down if I failed. One group served king cake, but I was too focused to stop.

My last race was different. At the Royal Victoria Half Marathon in Victoria, British Columbia, my running was easy. I sampled the beer and biscotti and enjoyed the scenery.

But not in New Orleans. The only sight I wanted to see was the finish line. Finally, there it was. My 10-year-old daughter, alarmed by my limping, dashed out from among the spectators to help me across the finish line. My 13.1 miles were complete.

Knowing I’d be tired after the run, we spent the afternoon on a van tour through the Garden District, a cemetery and the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina.

Heading to breakfast Monday at Cafe du Monde, walking through the French Quarter, it was easy to spot the many runners. We moved tentatively, nursing sore muscles or blisters.

Sitting outdoors sipping coffee and eating a beignet, I noticed the people at the adjacent table were wearing marathon shirts. With that common bond, we started to chat, and I learned that Cliff Phillips, 44, of Marietta, Ga., has run five full marathons from San Diego to New York City.

“At the end of the day my marathons have become an education for my kids and an adventure for my family — all while I keep myself in shape,” he explained.

Phillips is a travel agent specializing in helping runners book their trips. Race organizers offer “official hotels” with discounted pricing, but Phillips offers alternatives.

Yellowstone East Entrance opens for season Friday

The East Entrance to Yellowstone National Park opens to automobiles at 8 a.m. on Friday.

    1. Image: Some of 1.5 million bats move through the sky near downtown Austin


      Austin goes batty for Bat Fest

      Austin celebrates the 7th Annual Bat Fest on Saturday with live music and a celebratory viewing of the city’s 1.5 million resident Mexican free-tailed bats as they head out for their evening meal.

    2. This sucks! Vampire-themed cruise planned for Alaska

    3. 10 gorgeous pools you won’t believe are public

    4. 17th person dies at Yosemite National Park

    5. Flight attendants train for cabin pressures

But the park warns that visitors should allow extra travel time if traveling to the Old Faithful area from the east side of the park. Many roads in the park are still closed because of snow.

Story: Webcam catches tourists walking on Old Faithful

The road from the park’s North and West Entrances to Madison, Canyon and Old Faithful opened back on April 15.

But roads from Lake south to West Thumb, Grant Village and the South Entrance aren’t scheduled to open until May 13.

Slideshow: National spectacles (on this page)

And Craig Pass, which connects the east side of the Grand Loop Road to Old Faithful, remains closed until at least May 13 due to heavy snowfall.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.