Adventure Travel, Risks and All

Life is not without risks. But for those who hike the extra mile, grip that extra chunk of cliff while rock-climbing, or sail, paddle, or kayak the less traveled waterways of the world, your life of adventure likely teeters on the edge of danger from time to time.

Richard Bangs, adventure travel veteran, award-winning author and filmmaker, and founding partner in small-ground travel company Mountain Travel-Sobek (operating since 1969), writes about the inherent risks in any adventure. He contemplates how far you should go to risk your life in seeking lifetime thrills, and when to consider promptly removing your adrenaline-powered foot from the pedal.

These days, I'm a fairly tame person with spontaneous adventures when life gets too dull or predictable. Adventure travel for me includes river rafting, kayaking, hiking, mountain biking, sailing with wind (as opposed to floating on calm waters, which is also enjoyable with a tall, cool beer in hand).

For adrenaline junkies out there, I say good luck. For occasional adventurers like myself, I also say good luck. The only certainty on any adventure vacation is your decision to go for it. The rest is up to the whims of fate (or the skill of an experienced tour guide, if you're on a guided expedition). How far are you willing to go for an adventure?


Virtual Adventure Travel

A college pal of mine is off on a 3-month African safari and emails a group of us every couple of weeks with stories from the field. While I hover over a keyboard living vicariously through his travels, he's out in the wild with his girlfriend on group tours, then traveling independently as a couple, then meeting up with friends. Basically, he rocks.

Here's what my friend recently did in Namibia, Africa while I surfed the net:

  1. "Fish River Canyon - the oldest, and second largest, canyon in the world"
  2. "...hiking up a huge red dune at sunrise surrounded by miles of the same as far as the eye could see..."
  3. "...visiting a cheetah farm and petting tame cheetahs..."
  4. "...visiting a village of the Himba tribe - one of the few tribes left in Africa living completely in their traditional ways..."
  5. "...visiting Etosha National Park (some animals seen: 2 elephants; 6 lions; 4 or 5 warthogs; tons of giraffes; tons of zebra; tons of wildebeest; tons of antelope; all kinds of birds including a bunch of ostrich, vultures, a stork, a goshawk, some kory bustards - the largest flying bird in Africa, and lots more)."

He surfs, too. But I admire his ability to plan, save money, and pick up and travel adventurously. Don't we all have at least one friend we live vicariously through? The guy or gal who one-ups us on adventure. We plan a multi-day hike while they zip through tree canopies and scuba dive with sharks. The travel bug is everywhere. If you don't have a friend like this, you can easily find a blog that speaks to your adventurous spirit.

Here are travel blog sites to peruse:

However the adventure traveler in you likes to play, TripHub's planning tools can be helpful in organizing a group trip geared around kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, camping, mountain biking, scuba diving, or trekking in places where English is a foreign language.


Campfires and Tents - Best Camping Spots

I ran across Sunset magazine's top camping spots in the western U.S. and couldn't help but drool over the cover photo and idea of escaping the city for s'mores, campfire-cooked grub, and snuggling up in a sleeping bag. Ah, summer. Close enough to smell in the air and start making plans for camping trips.

Sunset's favorites read like the greatest hits of America's western frontier, so I couldn't help but point them out as ideas for group camping trips. Highlights:

Washington: Olympic National Park
1,442 square miles offer a constellation of landscapes no other national park can match

California: Yosemite National Park
Get up close and personal with Yosemite's grandeur at one of 13 park campgrounds

Wyoming: Yellowstone National Park
Discover a world's worth of attractions: geysers, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and some of the best wildlife-watching anywhere

Arizona: Grand Canyon National Park
Absorb the park's immense beauty by spending a night there, beneath the stars

The West's other National Parks
Find great intimacy with the outdoors at Grand Teton, Rocky Mountain, and Zion

Where's your favorite place to camp with friends and family? This is a hit list of the best in the west. But what about the east coast or midwest? I've camped in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley and along the beaches of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Any tips for great campgrounds for outdoor escapes?


Hooked on Mountain Biking

No, not via foot clips. I'm not ready to be clipped to my pedals. Apparently, shocks, wrist pads, sleek biker wear and other cool upgrades flew past me while my mountain bike collected dust.

I mountain biked on off-pavement trails with friends and saw other groups on the trail doing the same. It's been years since I've been on a bike or off-road trekked. In talking to one of my trail pals about biking tours, biking trips, and the mountain biking world (he's much more advanced than I am), I realized this is a whole new world of exploring for me. I've biked before, but not like this.

Of course, like usual, I'm late. I got into Pearl Jam after the grunge era had died, so it's no surprise that I'm "discovering" the joys of off-road mountain biking long after most others have. It's never too late to tackle a new adventure, right?

Weaving through trees on a trail of soil, bare roots, and other forms of earth, my rigid bike frame left my wrists a wee bit jarred this weekend. But the thrill of zipping around corners, splattering mud, and enjoying this with good friends was exhilarating. I'm hooked.

Here are ideas for mountain biking travel with groups:

1. Mix camping and mountain biking. Mountain biking is a great way to justify sitting by the fire or campsite the remainder of the vacation. Plus, camping already brings you to the great outdoors; might as well pedal through more of it.

2. Family reunions are great for visiting with family, eating way too much potato salad, and sometimes can be daunting. Perhaps organize a group of adventure-minded family members together to rent bikes for a few hours.

3. Plan a mountain biking excursion with friends. Gas prices keep rising. You can road trip to an area then keep exploring (without the petroleum price tag) by bike.

4. Book an escorted bike tour through Tuscany, the French countryside, or anywhere else with gentle slopes, lush scenery, and flavorful food when stopping for breaks.

5. Join a mountain biking club such as Washington-based Backcountry Bicycle Trail Club to meet others that share your passion for pedal power, puddle jumping, hill climbing (ahem, or pushing your bike up steeper hills, like I do), and go on group biking adventures this summer.

Sound like fun but a hassle to plan and organize? TripHub can help simplify the trip planning process by giving you tools to organize RSVPs, money matters, and ability to discuss hotel room options, for example.

I'd love to hear of any other mountain biking clubs or quality tours (or any other ways to incorporate mountain biking into a vacation). What did I miss?


Adventurous Women Tours

Are you a woman of adventure? Love traveling to remote areas, stepping off the beaten path, but prefer the comfort of a group for safety and comaraderie?

Women-owned tour operators such as Adventurous Wench might just be for you. This company offers escorted, small group tours tailored to women's adventure cravings. The company seems to have a solid mission of putting private tours together around the world (from Costa Rica to Tuscany and Sedona to Patagonia) where women can relax while experiencing new cultures and invigorating activities. Adventurous Wench, saucy name and all, arranges everything from lodging and meals to activities; plus, they customize trips for groups of 5 or more.

If you're looking for an escorted group tour or planning a group vacation and incorporating tours into the mix, you can use TripHub's planning tools to coordinate the trip, gather RSVPs, organize money matters, even book other components of the trip that escorted tour operators may not arrange such as airfare, airport transportation, extended stays, etc.


Endangered National Park Rangers?

The federal government recently directed all national parks to cut 20% from their budgets to focus on "core operations." Aren't they already underfinanced? Trimming 20% from existing tight budgets would mean potentially closing visitors' centers, cutting back on trail maintenance, habitat and species protection services, slowing maintenance of natural and historical monuments and sites, reducing staff, or other (non-core?) services. The current administration contends that volunteers and increased efficiency will pick up the slack where park rangers, staffers, or services have been in the past.

Hmm. I understand the basics of the 80/20 rule: focus on that which drive(s) 80% of the revenue (usually 20% of your time or products). However, at a time when many political issues divide Americans, wouldn't it make sense to leave our national treasures alone, especially since summer vacation is just on the horizon?

Summer is prime vacation season for thousands of school kids, families, college students, teachers, and others. Groups travel together to visit U.S. national parks because of their accessibility, natural and historical rare beauty, sunny, warm weather June through August, and outdoor activities from camping and hiking to swimming and boating and more.

Many journalists, environmental organizations (such as Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility), newspapers, and bloggers are writing about the national park budget woes. It's a hot topic because parks are so fundamental to the American landscape, history, and culture.

The National Parks Traveler points out a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial calling for an "end to ritual neglect" of national parks. Here's a quote:

"[National Park] Superintendents are running out of tricks, and visitors will eventually notice. Beyond basic services, long-term needs are ignored. Some parks cannot catalog or restore precious artifacts. Most cannot preserve habitat. Invasive species are taking over. The Park Service is putting on an inexplicable happy face.

"The most endangered species in many of America's national parks today is the park ranger."

Question: Should we place national park rangers on the endangered species list? The largest amount of protective measures possible come to a species' rescue when placed on the endangered species list. Preservation efforts immediately get underway for the species and surrounding habitat. Protective laws are comprehensive and powerful. So powerful, in fact, that they can return a species back to thriving health.

If we want to maintain national parks complete with garbage service, restrooms, drinking water, maintained trails, flora, and fauna, and interpretive tours, perhaps we should get rangers listed.

Comments? Agree (partially)? Disagree (partially)? I'm curious how others feel about this topic.


Why Are National Parks Ideal for Group Travel?

I worked at a national park one summer during college. It was the only travel-related "offline" job I've ever held, but gave me insights into the types of people visiting national parks and why these American treasures are still ranked high for so many summer vacations.

National parks are ideal for group travel.

  1. Open space and natural resource bounty create a wide range of activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, river rafting, swimming (often all in the same park).
  2. Families flock to parks and the parks welcome them with family-friendly passes that offer discounts.
  3. Inexpensive or free entry fees are helpful for budgeting the family, girls mountain retreat, guys rugged adventure, or other group trip.
  4. National parks offer a way for people to connect with nature and loved (or liked) ones all at once. Getting away from the noise of everyday or city living to the quiet beauty of a natural park is a real way to reconnect with others.
  5. Plus, there are a range of accommodation options nearby or within the national parks: hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, resorts, campgrounds, and RV lots.

Whether it's a family reunion, wedding, classmate or friend reunion that brings you together, national parks are some of the most popular places to share vacation experiences.

When growing up, I can remember driving through a national park with my family and (at a very young age) asking my parents, "Why are there so many trees? Where are all the buildings?" Silly me. As an adult, I find myself increasingly posing the opposite question, "Why are so many trees being replaced with buildings?" At least national parks are protected (for now) and still offer respite from the urban jungles and sprawling suburbs that many of us live in.


Exploring National Parks

Summer's approaching and thousands of families will go on road trips or fly to visit national parks. Groups of friends will do adventure weekends filled with hiking and backcountry camping to rejuvenate and breathe in raw earthly beauty.

Here's a sampling of national parks to whet your appetite for summer exploring:

Acadia National Park, Maine
A rugged, rocky island replete with wildlife and stunning views all around and plenty to keep the kids (or the kid) in you busy.

Arches National Park, Utah
Here, over two thousand sandstone rock formations stand proudly, boasting the world record for greatest density of natural land arches... great for planning a group hiking vacation.

Badlands National Park, South Dakota
Badlands is really a misnomer for "bad-ass lands." With 244,000 acres of sharply eroded buttes, pinnacles and spires set against a backdrop of the largest, protected mixed grass prairie in the U.S., this is prime terrain for family or friend road trips (or motorcycling).

Biscayne National Park, Florida
The family or group of college pals can explore this Florida Keys underwater gem of ship wrecks (some listed as National Historic Sites) and wiggly, colorful marine life.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
This park has wide open desert-esque spaces with stunning geological formations; ideal for hiking, backpacking, and contemplating life. Perfect for an adventure group trip.

Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska
Featuring North America's highest mountain, 20,320-foot tall Mount McKinley (reason enough to go), this park is chock-full of glaciers, wildlife, and mountaineers.

Everglades National Park, Florida
Alligators and crocodiles and flamingoes - all reasons for families to travel to Florida, take a side trip at a family reunion or others to visit the area. While much of this park suffered damage during hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, repair efforts are underway and most of the park is open.

Glacier National Park, Montana
Big sky yields big smiles with mountain peaks and ranges, glistening rivers and lakes and miles of forests. Glacier preserves over 1,000,000 acres of forests, alpine meadows, and lakes - clearly great for group hikes.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii
On the Big Island of Hawaii, this park offers numerous hiking trails and campsites in its wilderness and a rare chance to get up close to some of the world's most mysterious and active volcanoes. Great day trip for destination wedding guests or spring or summer breaks.

Clearly, this is the front end of the national park ABCs, but the remaining parks are equally as enticing. Explore for yourself and find the national park that best matches your group's need or desire for activities, adventure, sights, places to stay, and budget considerations.