There’s nothing wrong with spending your vacation lounging on a white sand beach sipping fruity drinks decorated with little umbrellas. But if travel means stretching your boundaries or going beyond your comfort zone, try one of these six adventures. You don’t have to be a super-athlete or daredevil; all you need is the desire to try something new.
1. Dogsled in Alaska
Standing on a 15-foot blanket of soft snow covering a quarter-mile of hard-packed ice on Norris Glacier, I expected to feel cold. But the sunshine, reflecting off the unending whiteness, made the June day unseasonably warm — so I took my jacket off.
We had taken a helicopter from Juneau, Alaska, to the glacier for the opportunity to mush a dogsled team. As we approached camp, a training ground for the Iditarod race, hundreds of dogs jumped wildly and barked excitedly. They were raring to go.
We stop several times to allow the dogs, who are used to running in subzero temperatures, to pant out the 60-degree heat. Afterward, the dogs settle down and enjoy being petted.
2. Swim with Stingrays in the Cayman Islands
Stingrays are often regarded as “bad guys” in the ocean, so it took courage to book an excursion that involved swimming with these sea creatures in the Cayman Islands. My fears were unfounded.
After crossing over Cayman Ridge, the deepest part of the Caribbean Sea at more than 25,000 feet, the catamaran we were on stopped at a sandbar aptly named Stingray City. The water was 3 to 4 feet deep, just right for cavorting with some of the 2,500 stingrays hanging out there.
Watching graceful southern stingrays glide in their natural habitat was delightful, but the crew encourages guests to stroke each ray on its large fin and nose — being careful not to touch the spine or blowholes behind its eyes. They explain that the barb on the tail is only dangerous if you rub backward on it. While feeding squid to the rays, I made a fist with thumb enclosed, so it wouldn’t get sucked into the ray’s mouth on its underside.
3. Glide in Hawaii
Riding in a glider, floating on air, and absorbing spectacular coastal views while drifting casually toward Earth is the most exciting adventure many people have in Hawaii, says Bill Star, co-owner of The Original Glider Rides, located on Oahu’s North Shore, about 40 miles from Waikiki.
Because a glider has no engine and cannot become airborne on its own, it must be towed into the sky by a host plane. Ever so quietly, when we reached the desired altitude, the tether was dropped and the glider soared on its own.
Waves roll to shore, breaking against the sand and retreating into the ocean. Coral shines beneath the clear azure water. Vegetation appears greener, and from our lofty vantage point we can see blocks of sugar cane fields from Waialua plantation below us. Sunlight casts long shadows over volcanic mountains dotted with horse trails; we can even see our glider’s shadow on the ground.
4. Llama-Trek in New Mexico
If you enjoy hiking but prefer not to tote supplies on your back, try trekking with llamas. You can meet these gangly, and somewhat awkward, pack animals on a “Take a Llama to Lunch” adventure in Carson National Forest in northern New Mexico.
One of the oldest domesticated animals on Earth, llamas are more docile and compliant than horses. They are agile, sure-footed, and social, and are non-threatening, even for children, as they follow a lead quite readily. I learn quickly to stay in front of the llama when walking, not to the side (that invades his personal space).
Our guide, Stuart Wilde, literally skips along the forest path, keeping a watchful eye on his charges — both human and animal — while engaging in conversation about the plants and animals that inhabit the woods. “My desire is to bring people of all ages into fragile environments, so they can appreciate the nature that belongs to all of us,” he says. “The llamas are a means to accomplish this goal.”
5. Have a Hot Air Balloon Ride in Arizona
Taking a sunrise flight means getting up very early, but it’s worth the effort. After arriving at the launch site in a remote field outside Scottsdale, we watch workers inflate the balloon before we climb into the basket. Soon the 12-story-tall apparatus is soaring tranquilly above the prickly brown landscape of the Sonoran Desert.
The captain cracks one joke after another, yet he manages to expertly monitor air currents and the flames that raise the wicker basket more than a mile above Earth.
Although the balloon travels approximately 5 mph, there is little sensation of motion — just a calm, serene feeling enhanced by a slight breeze and cooler temperatures in the upper altitudes.
After about 45 minutes of sublime flight, the balloon lands in a field where the crew serves a traditional champagne breakfast on white-clothed tables — the perfect ending to a thrilling ride.
6. Take a Texas-Sized Zip-Line Adventure
Experience the longest and fastest zip line in Texas at Volente Beach near Austin. Zip across incredible canyons and Lake Travis inlets on five zip lines ranging from 250 feet to more than 2,000 feet long. An automatic braking system leaves your hands free for waving to friends — just be sure to keep the pulley away from your face.
As part of our three-hour tour, we walk uphill to the 20-story-high launch platform and whiz on a screaming half-mile ride. Even better, it’s a dual line, so I race my friend to the end.
Despite the trepidation of some first-timers, ziplining is safe and exciting. You’re outfitted with gloves, helmet, and a harness that’s attached by carabiner to a pulley that is placed on a cable strung between platforms. At the signal from your guide, you push off and zoom along the cable at speeds up to 35 mph.
If you’re truly adventurous, schedule a night excursion where a full moon illuminates the glittering lake during five zips.
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