Trip Coach: October 28, 2008
Gregory Witt, author of "Ultimate Adventures: A Rough Guide to Adventure Travel," answered your questions on adventure travel.
Gregory Witt: Adventure travel has been a lifelong pursuit for me; one which I love sharing with others, both as a guide and author. Outdoor adventure offers authentic and personally rewarding travel experiences. You'll come face to face with the power of nature, be thrust into unfamiliar environments, and may even leave your comfort zone far behind. But you'll come back richer, stronger, and wiser. So let's start with some questions.
Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Witt, I'm a birder. But I've never gotten to see a toucan in the wild. Any advice about sea kayaking, maybe in Iceland? And how to make this within the reach of a middle-school teacher (income)?! Many thanks!
Gregory Witt: I've long enjoyed and have been mildly interested in birdwatching. Then I went to Costa Rica—BAM—I was hooked—an instant birder! It happens easily in a country with so many exciting tropical species. There are scarlet macaws, trogons, the resplendent quetzal; and with six species of toucans you're almost guaranteed to see one—I saw many in just a few days. In addition to being beautiful and easy to spot, they really have quite a personality and are fun to watch. Costa Rica really is affordable (once the airfare is paid for) and it's easy to travel independently, go to the various national parks and reserves (Carara for macaws, Monteverde for the quetzal, etc), hire a guide at the park entrance and discover an wonderful world of wildlife.
Sea kayaking in Iceland is available in Reykjavik on a self-guided rental basis and there are also some excellent guides that can take you up the western coast to Breiafjordur Bay. In addition to Viking history, you'll have some great marine life viewing, including waterbirds like terns, gulls, auks and skuas. Land costs in Iceland are more than Costa Rica, but you can still do it independently and affordably. You may also have an advantage on airfare, since Icelandair often features some attractive packages from JFK.
Denver, Colo.: Is it at all possible to have a girlfriend getaway that counts as adventure travel? What might be some trips that would be good for me and my friend (early 30s) for trying this? We need some adventure! It'd be bonding!
Gregory Witt: I can't imagine anything more bonding that traveling together and exploring common interests, especially in places and activities that engage the mind, body and spirit. Adventure travel doesn't need to be extreme or expensive. For ultimate bonding, try exploring something that's new where you have to depend on each other—for example, whitewater rafting or backpacking. Make sure it's not so far out of your comfort zone that you don't enjoy it.
Los Angeles, Calif.: I'm in a travel rut. I read Outside, I watch the Travel Channel, I want to climb, I want to paddle wild rivers, but I just don't get off my candy ass. How can I get motivated?
Gregory Witt: Start small; start local. Hook up with an outdoor club that has regular outings and different types of activities. The social component is a powerful motivator. Learning a new skill is also a great motivator. For example, just a couple hour from LA your have arguably the greatest rock climbing destination in the world at Joshua Tree, where there is a rock climbing school that offers classes and fun group instructions. The Kern River, is also nearby, and one of the best places in the world to learn whitwater kayaking. Go for it. Adventure is not a spectator sport.
Washington, D.C.: You must wear out your boots pretty fast. What is your recommendation to a weekend warrior who'd like to do some modest hiking in stable, supportive, comfortable boots-- how to pick a pair of boots, etc. I'd like to hike the Shenandoah...
Gregory Witt: I walk hundreds of miles each year on local trails in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. Then I take off in July and August to guide in the Alps for my company (Alpenwild.com) where I'll typically do a couple hundred miles on the Haute Route and in the Jungfrau.
I wear out my hiking shoes faster than I wear out my car tires. Still, the key is comfort—and since every foot is different, no one brand will work for everyone. I have a wide foot with a high arch and instep so I also add an arch support to my shoe. In terms of shoe components like a Vibram sole because it's sturdy and has some "gription" on rock surfaces. I also like an EVA midsole. I wear a low-cut shoe on any trail surface, but many people prefer a mid-cut boot for the added ankle support—it's a matter of personal preference and your call.
And don't forget the socks. I find a good wool sock with a bit of synthetic in the blend add a lot to the cushioning, breathability, and comfort of any shoe.