How to Carry Travel Gear on a Motorbike

There’s something about a great road trip that can make us feel truly free. A motorbike road trip, however, can really take the euphoric feelings of freedom to a whole new level. Feel the rush as you explore new terrain and take to the open road on your bike. Whether you’re going away for a More »

How to Survive While Driving in Exhausting Heat

Long and hot summer days are a perfect time for adventures, and your car is definitely in want of a cool drive. You’ve bought new summer tyres, planned your itinerary in details, and packed your belonging…but you still aren’t ready enough to hit the road. Travelling by car in a trying heat requires much more More »

The Best Outdoor Adventures in California

Although states like Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Montana and Florida are hailed for their wide array of outdoor adventures, the massive state of California also has plenty to offer nature lovers.   From pristine mountain lakes and flourishing redwood forests to sunny beaches and sandy desert dunes, these are the best spots for outdoor exploration in More »

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Post office closures would make long hikes harder

Hiking the nearly 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail already is grueling, and the U.S. Postal Service may make it even tougher. A plan to close rural post offices could shutter several outposts long used by hikers to receive food and gear as they walk the trail from Georgia to Maine.

Closing the post offices in Fontana Dam, N.C.; Glencliff, N.H.; and Caratunk, Maine, would leave hikers without an easy way to get food and switch out equipment at critical points during their treks, which usually take between four and six months. Those key locations and some others near the trail are being reviewed for closure, though no final decision has been made.

“I’m trying to do this without spending much money. Getting supplied at the post office is a big part of that. It’s like a lifeline,” said Mike Healy, a 26-year-old Chicago resident who is hiking the trail with friends.

In mid-March, he tore into a package mailed to the western North Carolina post office before he headed into the Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

“The night before we reached Fontana, four of us split a small box of dried cereal because that was all the food we had left,” Healy said in a phone interview from Maine. “We were glad to know we’d be able to get our package the following day.”

More than 3,600 local offices, branches and stations could be on the chopping block as the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service considers closing 1 in 10 of its retail outlets to save money. Each place will be studied, and people served by the location will be able to make a case for keeping it open.

About 3 million people spend time on the trail every year and some 2,000 set out to “thru-hike” — or complete the trek in one season, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Most travel north from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

The threat of closures along the Appalachian Trail is mirrored in the West for thousands who traverse sections of the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail, which runs from Mexico to Canada. At least three rural post offices along the route are being considered for closure in California and Washington, including the last stop before Canada: Stehekin, Wash. The wilderness community reachable only by boat, floatplane or on foot.

Backpackers would have to carry many more pounds of food between stops, which would make the trip more difficult and less enjoyable, said Heather Tilert, a 28-year-old from New York who hiked the trail last year.

The Appalachian Trail hikers typically walk or hitchhike into nearby towns for supplies every week or so, and many are on tight budgets. In some spots, discount stores provide the ramen noodles and peanut butter used to replace the thousands of calories hikers burn each day. But in others, stores are harder to find and hikers ship supplies in advance to post offices that will hold the packages for them.

Also common is the use of “bounce boxes” filled with extra food, batteries or books, which hikers mail to themselves between the 121 post offices near the trail.



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At the Fontana Dam office, the last resupply stop before the Smokeys, employee Brenda Williams said it’s not unusual for her to give out 30 to 40 packages daily during peak hiking season. It’s the busiest time of year for the post office in the town of about 30 full-time residents.

“Our post office is a little bitty thing with two teller windows,” she said.

In Caratunk, hikers can pick up parcels at the post office less than half a mile from the trail. If that site closes, the nearest post office will be 7½ miles up the road in West Forks, but that one’s also slated for possible closure. The next-nearest is about 15 miles away.

Hikers toting walking sticks and lugging packs stream in and out of the post office during the hiking season, said Liz Caruso, a Caratunk selectwoman. Last year, 374 packages were mailed to the post office for hikers.

“They’re always sitting outside the post office,” Caruso said. “When you go into the post offices, the shelves are full of boxes for hikers.”

The same holds at the post office in Glencliff, N.H., which is used by hundreds of hikers each year to receive food and heavier clothing as the seasons change from summer to autumn in the colder northern states, said William Reilly, the caretaker at the nearby Hikers Welcome Hostel.

“The most important thing for them is this is the last post office before the White Mountains, and they need their cold-weather gear,” Reilly said.

On Thursday in Caratunk, Madelyn Hoagland-Hanson said hikers were signing a petition at a hostel in New Hampshire aimed at keeping the Glencliff post office open.

“It’s a shame that the local post offices are closing,” said the Philadelphia resident who has adopted the nickname “Trail Mix” on her trek from Connecticut to Mount Katahdin.

Thru-hiker Greg Brown, of Pleasantville, N.Y, said the towns along the trail in Maine are spaced far apart.

“I don’t think there’s much in the way of a grocery store. Otherwise you’re going to have to carry everything you need from Stratton to Monson, which is like 80 miles,” he said.

___

Canfield reported from Portland, Maine. Shannon Dininny in Yakima, Wash., and Harry Weber in Odd, W.Va., contributed to this report.

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

Toronto’s EdgeWalk offers sky-high thrills

NBC’s Jenna Wolfe ventures to Canada’s EdgeWalk for an adrenaline rush on the 116 floor of Toronto’s CN Tower.

Live Poll

Would you brave the EdgeWalk?

Now here’s a cutting-edge attraction.

Overhead Bin first wrote about Toronto’s EdgeWalk, which opened Monday, back in May.

This death-defying thrill is definitely not for the faint of heart.

For $175 Canadian dollars, you, too, can strap yourself into a harness to walk “hands free” atop the 5-foot-wide ledge on the CN Tower, which rises 1,168 feet in the sky.

Think we’ll stay closer to the ground.

How about you?

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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.

What’s behind all the deaths at Yosemite?

There has been a noticeable spike in deaths this year at Yosemite National Park in California.  NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

Yosemite National Park is known for its natural beauty, but sometimes that beauty can be deadly. 

A record 14 people have died at the park so far this year.

The latest was 26-year-old Hayley LaFlamme of San Ramon, Calif., who fell 600 feet to her death Sunday while descending Yosemite’s Half Dome.

LaFlamme’s death comes just two weeks after  three hikers plunged over a Yosemite waterfall. They are presumed dead, although their bodies are believed to be trapped under rocks and have not yet been recovered.

 Thanks to a record winter snowfall, Yosemite’s iconic waterfalls, streams and rivers are flowing at levels more typical of June than early August − which makes for spectacular sights such as moonbows but also creates treacherous conditions.  

Park Ranger Scott Geidman tells TODAY that there’s no particular reason for the spike in deaths but warns that Yosemite can be dangerous when park visitors push boundaries.

“We make it as clear as we can that this is a dangerous area,” Geidman said, but park officials can’t be everywhere. “Ultimately it’s up to the park visitor to make good decisions.”

That includes heeding warning signs, monitoring weather conditions and being aware that granite rocks can be very slick when wet.

Yosemite attracted nearly 4 milllion visitors last year.

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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.

Yosemite seeks to remove cabins in rockfall zone

Since an avalanche of boulders smashed part of Yosemite National Park’s Curry Village in 2008 and sent school children running for their lives, the historic wooden cabins have been frozen in time behind a temporary barricade.



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Now park officials are seeking permission to remove the century-old lodging and a few other historic homes to keep visitors from trespassing to view the structures, which are slowly deteriorating because of the elements, vandals and nesting animals.

“It’s become an attractive nuisance,” said park spokesman Scott Gediman. “If there’s a fence there and some reason to go over there they will.”




Story: Where are the people of color in national parks?

An environmental assessment released Tuesday calls the area a “major risk to public health and safety for visitors, as well as park employees who patrol the site.”

The environmental review of 72 buildings in an area below the sheer granite face of Glacier Point recommends removing the cabins, salvaging the materials and allowing the area to return to its natural state.

Other options under review include keeping some of the most historic structures maintained and in place until they can be moved elsewhere, or keeping just those that represent different architectural styles. Both plans would still expose park employees to danger.

Moving the oldest cabins to other locations raises other issues by creating landscapes that are historically inaccurate, Gediman said.



Slideshow: National spectacles (on this page)

What to do with this large chunk of the popular Yosemite lodging area has been an issue since October 2008, when the equivalent of 570 dump-truck loads of rock hit 17 cabins where youngsters on a field trip were staying. Nobody was seriously injured, but it was the second rock avalanche of that year, and a reminder that the beautiful Yosemite is still a wild and sometimes dangerous place.

An Associated Press investigation found subsequently that park officials had known about the potential danger for years. Park officials eventually declared one-third of the popular family campground beneath Glacier Point a “rockfall hazard zone” and fenced it off.

Since 2008 the rows of charming 1920s-era wooden cabins nestled amid boulders, incense cedar and black oak have been awaiting their fate as prescribed by the National Historic Preservation Act.

What’s behind all the deaths at Yosemite?

The public can weigh in on the environmental assessment report through Sept. 9.

Rockfall is the single biggest natural phenomenon shaping Yosemite’s dramatic, glacier-carved granite walls such as the iconic El Capitan and Half Dome.

Since 1999, 20 of the structures at Curry Village have been directly hit by boulders, and many more have been damaged by flying rocks. In August 2009 more than 300 guests at the park’s majestic Ahwahnee Hotel were evacuated after tumbling boulders from the 1,600-foot Royal Arches formation landed in the parking lot. Dust from the avalanche temporarily obscured views of Half Dome.

Since 1857, at least 535 rockfalls in Yosemite Valley have killed 14 people and injured 62, more than at any other national park. Yosemite Valley is easily the most collapse-prone place in a park that receives over 4 million visitors a year.

Determining the future of the section of Curry Village that is in the rockfall zone has been tedious compared with the loss of nearly 300 tent cabins during the floods of 1997. Those cabins were not considered historic, so park officials demolished them.

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

Taking a break in Baghdad

Writer Paula Froelich discusses her article in Playboy’s September issue that recounts her improbable 9-day tourist trip to post-Saddam Iraq this past May.

Would you take a vacation to Iraq?

Paula Froelich did. And she wrote about her experience for the September issue of Playboy.

“It’s kind of ironic. If you’re outside of the Green Zone in the unfortunately named Red Zone, you’re actually safer,” Froelich told TODAY’s Natalie Morales.

Live Poll

What are your thoughts on taking a break in Baghdad?

“I think a lot of people just think of Baghdad as kind of a cesspool, a war zone. They don’t understand why you should go there,” Froelich said. “When actually, Iraq is the cradle of civilization.”

The U.S. State Department warns Americans against all but essential travel to Iraq, saying “civilian air and road travel within Iraq remains dangerous” and ongoing security concerns include “kidnapping and terrorist violence.”

But that doesn’t stop some people from venturing off the beaten path. In June, msnbc.com Travel wrote about “anti-tourists,” travelers who are drawn to risky destinations.

Even Froelich said Kirkut was “pretty dangerous” and that bombs went off less than an hour after her tour group passed through one day.

But despite the warnings, Froelich said her group had good security and she would urge travelers to visit the country.

“I would recommend a heck of a lot of patience, because 159 checkpoints in one day is a little tiring,” Froelich said.

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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter.