Month: March 2011

Terminal Velocity, Myth of Icarus and the Human Face

Angelique just wrote a cool post on Wingsuits.  I wrote about this back in 2007 when a guy named Jeb Corliss publicized that he was going to try and land in his wingsuit without a parachute.  The feat still hasn’t been accomplished, but he’s still trying.


Originally posted in Dec 2007

Skydiving has always been at, or near the top, of extreme adventure sports. In 1797, when Andre-Jacques Garnerin jumped out of a hot air balloon with a parachute, adventure seekers from all over the world have sought ways the feel the invigoration of “flying,” even though all it is, is a controlled crash to earth.

The sport must of hit a wall for some folks who didn’t think that merely strapping some canvass to one’s back was hard core enough. In 1998, Jari Kuosma and Robert Pecnik found a unique and intricate design (the person who originally attempted this feat with a similar design died) called a “wingsuit,” and jumped off a 3,000 cliff. They learned from this experience that, although you couldn’t technically fly, the rate of descent dropped from 120 mph to 35 mph. It was a daring and successful attempt, which officially raised the bar on one of the world’s most dangerous sports. Exhibit A:

The wingsuit has officially elevated skydiving and BASE jumping into the stratosphere, but, if you thought buzzing mountain ridges with a thin layer of synthetic material between your arms and legs would be enough to keep adrenaline junkies happy for a while, you’d have to think again. Review the above clip again: the problem for some people is that, after the aforementioned thrill-ride through the mountains, at the end you have to pull out a parachute to land. Although your rate of vertical descent decreases from 120 mph to 35 mph with the wingsuit, your horizontal speed is 75 – 80 mph. Without the parachute, you’d hit the ground so hard that the the last thought going through your head would be your helmet.

Enter Jeb Corliss.

Jeb is trying to be the first human being to jump out of a plane with a winged suit and land, on the earth, without the aid of a parachute. There are others who are attempting this feat as well, but NOT ONE has been as articulate or even close to being as cool as Jeb Corliss. The NY Times recently did a video story on him where, without hesitation, or so much as a stutter in his voice, he explains exactly why he is attempting to do this insane stunt (since the the NY Times is still in the stone age of the Interwebs, I can’t embed it here, so click the link to see the whole video):

People ask me, ‘What’s the point? Why would you do something like that?’ You know, to be honest with you, for me, the wingsuit landing is something people have never done before. And it’s hard, in this day and age, to do something that has never been done before. This will be the first time, that a human being, has reached terminal velocity, and landed–on their face–at over a hundred and ten miles-an-hour, and gotten back up and did it again. That’s a very special thing and, as far as I’m concerned, this is something people have wanted to do since the time of Icarus.

Count me in as one that will be avidly rooting for Jeb to, “reach terminal velocity and land–on his face–at over a hundred and ten miles-an-hour, and get back up to do it again.”


Human Flight in Monterrey, Mexico

Now take this sport to a breathtaking location. Monterrey, Mexico is known as the “city of mountains” and is located at the foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental.  Its majestic mountain peaks attract mountaineers, rock climbers, hikers and Batman:

Wingsuit flying is a a crazy new activity that lets humans soar through the air in a wingsuit, a special jumpsuit designed to shape the human body into an airfoil that gives the flyer lift. It is skydiving and base-jumping on steroids. With forward speeds around 100 mph, I think it’s bound to get any adventure’s adrenaline bumping.

Wingsuit flying, although perhaps a bit too dangerous for my tastes, is another example of the ingenuity of people to push the boundaries of the status quo.  Although, whoever thought, “This skydiving and base-jumping thing: stale.  Need something more intense,” is a twisted person.  The results, however, are awesome.


Discover Hidden Alaska Webinar

Do you want to know more about kayaking the Kenai Fjords or take a glimpse into the core of Denali National Park where brown bears fish for salmon along the river’s bank? Get up close and personal with the wilder side of Alaska through your computer.

Natural Habitat Adventures is hosting a free webinar on Alaska on April 6, 10:00 am PST. Eric Rock, one of the most knowledgeable experts of this region, will be leading the webinar. Register here.


Enriching Your Life With Volunteer Travel

There are all types of vacations that enrich our lives in some way. Adventure excursions give us thrills, challenges and adrenaline rushes. Cultural trips expand our awareness of lifestyles in other cities and countries while beach vacations rejuvenate us with relaxation. But what if there’s a way to combine these types of vacations with helping others? Well there is! It’s called voluntourism.

Volunteering with endangered species, like cheetahs in Namibia, is most appealing to me since I love animals. Working alongside researchers and scientists to help wildlife in need and to give of my time seems more meaningful than to just write a check. I feel I would get much more out of helping endangered species if I immerse myself in their environment and also get a better understanding of their plight. Plus, most of these animals are in exotic locations so I would have the opportunity to explore afterwards.

Besides working with animals there are many other types of volunteer expeditions here in North America and abroad. Companies like Earthwatch and i-to-i also offer opportunities such as building communities, teaching English, care giving, working with children and helping the environment.

This type of traveling is open to everyone from teenagers to retirees with the benefits of going somewhere different, getting immersed in another culture, learning something new, meeting interesting people and making a difference.

If you are looking for something a little more hands on than sending a contribution in the mail, voluntourism is an adventurous outlet. If you have a week, two weeks or longer to give, then maybe this is for you. Enrich your life and expand your horizons all while helping others.


Midnight in the Garden of Yak and Yeti

I sat in the peaceful garden of the Yak and Yeti Hotel, which was one of a handful of oases in an otherwise and chronically chaotic, Kathmandu. I had a good-tired going on; a tiredness that normally comes from a full day of progress, adventure, activity or hard work resulting in something resembling accomplishment. However, in this case, all I had done was show up on time to the airport, hand over my passport, pass through security without being molested, get on the plane when they announced “Now boarding: rows 35-50,” sit in my assigned seat, turn my electronics on-and-off (when appropriate) and repeat these steps for the next two connections in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Although the very nature of this exercise is routine and monotonous, it was, nonetheless, one step in the telos: getting up and down from Mount Everest – Advanced Base Camp.

How does one prepare oneself mentally for something they’ve never experience before?  I’ve never been to the Himalayas, nor have I even been above 14,000 ft.  How can anything from my past even remotely relate to this? Sitting in that garden with my notebook and pen, I strained to find something that could be considered an idea, but instead, I just watched the crows eat the peanuts left on the table next to me.

Not giving in so easily, I tried to find an idea: I’d been to the Sierras, but although they are incredibly beautiful and technically challenging, I can often climb to the top of them during the summer in shorts and t-shirt and then return home without missing a day of work. 14,500 feet is nothing to brush off, but as Jules from Pulp Fiction said, 21,500 feet in the Himalayas “ain’t the same &^$@in’ ballpark, it ain’t &^$@in’ the same league, it ain’t even the same &^$@in’ sport.” Although he was talking about foot-massages, it was still a bullseye in its application to me.

My mental abilities, which were clouded with dissociated uncertainty, needed an aid–the garden’s server, came to rescue and gave me my healing tonic. Everest beer is enormous and a very tasty Ale; the label slapped to it shows Tenzing Norgay high atop Everest as photographic proof of Sir Edmund Hillary and himself becoming the first humans to stand on the summit of the highest peak in the world.

Tenzing Norgay is Nepal’s greatest hero and instills them with tremendous pride, but in a different way than that of Neil Armstrong to Americans. Tenzing was able to sustain a rock star like status that is more Michael Jordan-like. However, although commercialism in Nepal hardly exists, I thought it was unique that the only item I saw which used their national icon’s image to move some product was a gigantic bottle of beer.

Everest Beer

And I thought that was cool.

You know who else was cool? This guy to my left: the garden’s server, Bishnu (even though he might have stolen my chin while I took this picture). I introduced myself to him earlier and asked him about his family. Then, when things slowed down, he lingered a little longer. He showed me a picture of his family and told me about how proud he was of his teenage daughter who had done so well in school, that she was able to take her studies to Australia for a few months–although, he deeply misses their time they spend together around the dinner table every night.

“Life is good, sir,” he passionately said, “It is great to be alive, here in Nepal, which I think is the best.”

I smiled and couldn’t think of anything to say that wouldn’t diminish what he had just told me. Normally, I say something smartass, but he was way too genuine and he wasn’t finished:

“There are no bad days, sir. Life is too good to have a bad day.”

It is odd coming to a country where people have so little and guys like Bishnu, who serve Westerners all day that probably make more in a week than he’d make in a lifetime (except for start-up guys), continue to smile from the inside-out. Not a care in the world; not because they’re ignorant of the sufferings in this world, but because they’ve suffered greatly and have overcome it not materially, but mentally and spiritually.

Everyday for the rest of my stay at the Yak and Yeti Hotel, I went downstairs for another Everest beer just so I could hear about how good life was. I’d need to bottle some of that and bring it with me into the unknown–still, I was a little uneasy.


National Park Week is Coming!

Winter is slowly tapering off and according to the calendar Spring is officially here. The U.S. National Parks Service is giving everyone the incentive to get outside and visit our 394 beautiful national parks by offering free admission from April 16-24.

If you’ve been meaning to check out the hot springs and bison in Yellowstone, go hiking in the Great Smokey Mountains, or try your hand at rock climbing in Zion, then now is the time to plan a visit and get some fresh air.

Chose one or two parks and go explore our country’s unique wilderness.


We Have All Got Baggage

No one set of luggage can cover every type of trip. Some trips have weight restrictions while others have size restrictions. Wheeled luggage does not belong in a place that has no pavement. I have luggage for adventure trips, luggage for luxury trips, weekend luggage and overnight luggage.

When it comes to adventure luggage whether mine sits on the back of a yak or on the back of a safari truck, it has to be durable. The one bag in my collection that I found to be best in this category is the Safari Beanos Bag by Red Oxx MFG, Inc. It is constructed extremely well and can take plenty of abuse. There are more compartments than I can fill and my favorite feature is the rubber shoulder strap that makes carrying this bag easy on my shoulders. Who hasn’t had the dreaded shoulder strap imprint from a nylon strap? I like it so much that I have started using it for weekend trips as well. I recommend checking out this line of luggage for your next adventure into the wild.