Archive for July, 2008

Little Boat, Big World

July 27, 2008

I may not be a sailor, but I do know an extraordinary experience when I see one.  And I think it’s safe to say 16-year-old Zac Sunderland is having one right now.

Given the fact that he’s been raised on and around boats since the day he was born, it’s not really all that surprising that young Zac daydreamed about becoming the youngest person ever to sail around the world solo.  What is remarkable is that he’s found a way to make that childhood dream a reality.

Zac left Marina Del Ray, California in mid-June in a 36-foot  sailboat he bought with money he’d saved from doing odd jobs.  At last report, he was somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, headed for tiny specks of land 2,000 miles west of Hawaii known as the Marshall Islands.  So far he’s dodged tropical storms, flying fish, and huge freighters on this first leg of his adventure, with another 12-18 months to go.

To learn more about this exceptional young guy, check out this report from National Public Radio. You can also track Zac’s progress at his website and read more about his adventures in his regular blog posts.  Bon Voyage Zac!


Feed Me!

July 24, 2008

If you’re on the road this summer, you’ll inevitably face the dilemma of where to eat.  And while I understand the temptation to take the easy way out and pull into the first national chain restaurant or fast food place you see, allow me to suggest a much tastier alternative.

The folks at have made it their mission to discover the country’s best places to stuff your face, from great barbecue joints and bakeries to authentic diners and drive-ins.   The kind of informal, inexpensive eateries that locals love but few travelers ever discover.

The website’s database of more than 1,200 restaurant reviews is searchable by state, city, type of food, or all the above.  On our cross-country trip along Route 66 a few years back, we used the Roadfood book as our bibleof good eating and its recommendations never once steered us wrong. 

So please, take my advice: Don’t travel halfway across the country and eat the same mass-produced food you could eat at home.  Check out (or buy the book) and have yourself a truly extraordinary eating experience!


To The Bat Cave!

July 22, 2008

With all the hype surrounding the new Batman flick, The Dark Knight, I thought some folks might be interested in seeing the real deal up-close-and-personal (tights and cape optional).

One of the most extraordinary bat experiences I’ve ever had takes place from March through October at New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  Each night at sunset, more than 400,000 Brazillian freetail bats fly out of the cave’s mouth in a spectacle that’s been delighting visitors for decades.  The bats, which weigh less than an ounce, then spend “the dark night” foraging over a range of as much as 36 miles, eating several tons of insects in the process before returning to the cave at daybreak. 

To learn more about bats (the planet’s only flying mammals—sorry Batman) and other local bat happenings including a great video of millions of bats leaving Texas’ Bracken Cave, check out the website of Bat Conservation International.  

Movie Mania

July 20, 2008

This is the summer my 10-year-old son discovered both the Indiana Jones and Harry Potter film franchises.  And, not surprisingly, he’s crazy about them.  Which got me to thinking about how fans of both series can have an extraordinary experience of their own following in their movie heroes’ footsteps.

Let’s start with the newest Indy epic Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.   While it’s unlikely you’ll experience the same degree of peril as our fedora-wearing hero (which is a good thing), Seattle-based Wildland Adventures eight-day Undiscovered Belize Adventure  tours will take you to the ancient Mayan ruins of Lubaantun,  Belize where the famous Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull—a.k.a. ”The Skull of Doom” that inspired the movie—was discovered in 1926.   When you’re not exploring the remnants of lost civilizations, the trips offer the chance to snorkel Belize’s pristine barrier reef, swim into a cave to view an underground waterfall, visit an organic cacao plantation for a taste of locally-made chocolate, and more.

For fans eagerly awaiting the release of the next Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Colorado Springs-based HP Fan Trips  offers a variety of tours and events designed to immerse you into the young wizard’s world.  High points of their offerings include the chance to ride in the same Hogwarts Express train cars used in the movies, feast at Hogwarts-style evening banquets, attend wizardry classes, and spend the night in dorm rooms in an actual 14th-century English castle. 

Another Way-Cool Camp

July 15, 2008

The problem with learning about history is that it’s all-too often reduced to an abstract notion that’s hard for kids to identify with.  Well, let me tell you that I’ve just come back from a remarkable camp program at Petersburg, Virginia’s 430-acre Pamplin Historical Park that transforms the history of the Civil War into a truly extraordinary experience.

The park itself is a pretty phenomenal place, dedicated to preserving the site of the Siege of Petersburg, a nine-month struggle that led directly to General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  The park’s centerpiece, the 25,000-square-foot National Museum of the Civil War Soldier, is absolutely state-of-the-art to the extent that it makes the interpretive centers at other battlefields I’ve visited look quaint by comparison.

What’s really cool here though is the park’s Civil War Adventure Camp program that’s offered from May through October.  Unlike the many Civil War reenactments that take place around the country, the program supplies everything you need to experience the life of a Confederate or Union soldier, from period-correct uniforms to walled-tent accommodations to some pretty tasty grub (with the possible exception of the hardtack biscuits).  High points include the chance to fire reproductions of a Civil War black-powder rifle and a 150-pound “portable” mortar.  I can tell you from first-hand experience that this part of the program is an absolute BLAST!


Affordable Adventures: Part 3

July 14, 2008

For the previous two installments in this three-part series, I’ve stuck to the $100 limit I set out in my first post. 

Now I’m going to stretch that budget just a bit to feature a couple of extraordinary experiences that are, in my opinion, well worth the few extra bucks you’ll spend:

  • Paragliding Torrey Pines:  Running off the top of a 300-foot cliff suspended by nothing but a handful of thin nylon lines attached to a giant kite may sound intimidating at first.  But make an effort to get past your fear and you’ll discover this is absolutely the closest you will ever come to flying like a bird.  To my way of thinking it’s a bargain at $140.
  • Famous Fat Dave:  Finding a world-famous restaurant in New York City is easy, but to find the really great neighborhood places only the locals know about you’re going to need Famous Fat Dave.  This part-time cab driver and full-time gourmand’s Five-Borough Eating Tours are nothing short of the tastiest hours you’ll ever spend on four wheels.  Bring three friends along and it ends up being just $100 per person, including all the grub you can shove in your pie-hole!
  • Wild Cave Tour:  Millions of visitors tromp through Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave each year, but only a handful will ever have the up-close-and-personal—and quite extraordinary—experience you’ll find waiting for you on the National Park Service’s six-hour Wild Cave Tour.  Less than fifty bucks gets you a caving helmet, headlamp, kneepads and all the crawling and climbing you could ever want as you explore rarely-visited sections of the world’s longest cave system.



Off To The Races!

July 13, 2008

Horse-racing’s Triple Crown may have been something of a let-down this year.  But no matter, as I’ve found a couple of other critter-racing events so extraordinary they’ll make you forget all about that $2 bet you lost on sure-thing Big Brown at last month’s Belmont Stakes.

Just Ducky!  Experience the pageantry of thoroughbred duck racing at the 29th Annual Great American Duck Race.  This weekend festival takes place August 22-24 in Deming, NM with festivities that include the legendary Tournament of Ducks parade and the crowning of the Duck Queen and her court.  As if that weren’t enough excitement, there’s also a green chile cookoff, a mass ascenion of hot air balloons, a tortilla toss, a good old-fashioned carnival, and live entertainment.

One Hump or Two?  You can watch both fur and feathers fly at the 49th Annual Virginia City International Camel Races the weekend of September 5-7.  In addition to the camel and ostrich races—ornery beasts which make for the funniest form of competition you will ever witness—this historic Nevada mining town’s off-the-wall fall festival includes a turn-of-the-century mining camp, petting zoo, and evening dances. To get a feel for the action, check out the video here: .




Affordable Adventures: Part 2

July 12, 2008

Call me a tightwad, but I tend to look at things in terms of “bang for the buck.”  Which means I get kind of excited when I discover a truly extraordinary experience that’s absolutely free!

 Yes, I know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  But while you may have to invest in a couple of tanks of gas and a motel room or two, I think you’ll find that the fun-per-dollar quotient of these three all-American adventures is off the charts:

  •  Woodward Dream Cruise:  Every August, Detroit hosts this 12-hour automotive spectacle that attracts more than 1.5 million people and 40,000 custom and classic cars.  Simply put, it’s the coolest car event you’ve probably never heard of. 
  •  Drive Route 66:  While you may not have the time or money to drive all 2,400-odd miles of John Steinbeck’s Mother Road like I did a few years ago, there are several choice sections of Route 66 that lend themselves to a great long weekend’s drive.  Check them out here
  •  Fred’s Lounge:  This nondescript brick building in the tiny town of Grand Mamou, Louisiana is famous for being the place where Cajun culture was reborn more than a half-century ago.  What really makes Fred’s remarkable however, is the fact that the Saturday morning party there is absolutely the most fun you can have before noon.

Next Time:  In The Air, On The Streets, and Underground


Travel-Size Me!

July 11, 2008

Now that the airlines are charging to check even the first piece of luggage, I think it’s a safe bet that more people will be schlepping carry-on bags through airport security checkpoints than ever before.

If you’re new to this whole carry-on suitcase drill, you should know that you’re going to need to pack travel-sized versions of all your usual personal-care products to comply with the TSA’s new rules on traveling with liquids and gels (for details on the new policy click here). 

Ultimately, this downsizing isn’t really a big deal once you get used to it.  But I can tell you from personal experience that finding travel-size versions of your favorite brands of toothpaste, deodorant, and the like at your neighborhood supermarket or drugstore can be tough.

Enter the folks at, an extraordinary online retailer that specializes in supplying these pint-sized products.  They carry an absolutely staggering array of good things in small packages, from personal-hygiene products and over-the-counter medicines to snacks and travel games. 

I spent some time tooling around the website this morning and counted more than two dozen different varieties of toothpaste alone.  Which made me realize that I couldn’t possibly convey the depth and breadth of their offerings in just a few words.  Fortunately for me, you can see for yourself by clicking here.



Affordable Adventures: Part 1

July 10, 2008

If you’re feeling like you need to take out a second mortgage to buy groceries or fill your car’s gas tank, let me first say that I feel your pain. 

But just because skyrocketing prices for food and fuel are putting a strain on the family budget, don’t automatically assume you can’t afford to go out and have yourself a truly extraordinary experience. 

To prove my point, here’s the first of a three-part post featuring nine thoroughly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures, all of which can be had for about $100:

 Surfing Lessons:  Four decades after the endless summer sun set on the Beach Boys first hit, American surf culture is hotter than ever (if you don’t believe me, check out the kid in the Quicksilver board shorts 1,000 miles from the nearest ocean).  Find out what all the buzz is about with group surfing lessons that start at a mere $65. 

 Swimming With Manatees:  Trust me, a face-to-face encounter with one of these gentle giants is by far the coolest inter-species experience you will ever have.  The best part is that, even with gear rental and a DVD video of your experience, you’ll still get change back from your c-note.

 Sail Aboard Stars & Stripes:  America’s Cup yachts are the Ferraris of the sailboat world.  Now you can cruise the scenic waters of San Diego Bay aboard Dennis Conner’s world-famous Stars & Stripes for a mere $99.

Next Time:  Three Uniquely American Experiences