Archive for December, 2009

CONTEST: What’s Your Most Extraordinary Experience?

December 30, 2009

Tandem Skydive

Woohoo! The scariest—and most fun—thing I've ever done.

When someone finds out what I do for a living, the next words out of their mouth are usually “So what’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?”

Take a quick look at my list of extraordinary experiences and you’ll begin to understand why answering that question is virtually impossible.  That said, there are definitely a few adventures that stand out, things I still have incredibly vivid memories of many years later.

Before I reveal what they are, let me take a minute for the audience participation portion of today’s program.  I’d like to know what’s the most unforgettable thing you’ve ever done. Tell me all about it, including what makes it so memorable, in the Comments field below.  Get your stories in by January 5th deadline when I’ll choose three random winners who’ll get a $15 iTunes gift card for their trouble.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something new and exciting to do, a truly extraordinary experience that will blow your socks clean off, here’s a look at a half-dozen of my most unforgettable adventures.  Any of which would go a long way towards making 2010 your most memorable year ever:

Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think back to the night my bandmates and I got to rock out in front of a cheering crowd at the legendary Fillmore Auditorium.

Flying Aboard A B-17

For a guy who grew up watching a TV series about World War II B-17 bomber crews, taking off in the bombadier’s seat of the Sentimental Journey was a dream come true.

Alaskan Brown Bear Flights

I’ve had a number of remarkable wildlife encounters, but being able to get up-close-and-personal with an Alaskan brown bear in the wild was the most memorable by far.

Tandem Skydive

While this was certainly one of the most intimidating things I’ve ever done (both times), it was also the most exhilarating.  Can’t recommend it highly enough.

Traveling Route 66

Driving the 2400-odd miles of the Mother Road from Chicago to Los Angeles is the closest I’ll probably ever come to time travel.

Paragliding Torrey Pines

Get past your natural hesitation about running off a 300-foot cliff and you’ll understand what it’s like to soar like a bird.


All I Want For Christmas

December 23, 2009

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a hard person to buy gifts for (I can just see my wife rolling her eyes when she reads this).  You see, I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t really want or need that much stuff.

Over the last decade or so I’ve come to understand what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said:

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Oh sure, I get caught up in lusting for “the next big thing” same as everybody.  But when that happens, I try to step back and take a hard look at whether I really need this latest gizmo.  And usually I discover I can live quite well without it.

What I can’t do without, however, are opportunities to take full advantage of the second chance I’ve been given, to live my life to the fullest.  Whether that means wrassling with my son on the living room rug (I consider fatherhood to be an adventure unto itself) or jumping out of an airplane.  In other words, I try hard to remember what’s really important.

So, you see, what I really want for Christmas is not more stuff, but more remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures.  Though they’re pretty darn difficult to put a bow on, they are the one thing in the world that I’ve found has any real lasting meaning for me.

Which brings me to my gift to all of you.  I plan on spending the next 12 months digging up more truly extraordinary experiences and sharing them with you here and on the pages of  And though I know not all of them will appeal to everyone, it’s my sincere hope that you’ll find at least a few that will make you say “Man, I’ve always wanted to do that!” and inspire you to live out some long-held dream.

And that, my friends, might just be the greatest gift I could ever get.

5 Affordable Gifts You’ll Never Have To Return

December 17, 2009

In my recent Black Friday Blues post, I suggested a few extraordinary experiences that I thought would make great gifts.  The kind of remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures that I know from personal experience will flat-out blow your giftee away.

After giving it some more thought, however, it occurred to me that some folks might be put off because they automaticaly assume that it must be too expensive.  Something that actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

To prove my point, I’ve put together a list of five extraordinary experiences with price tags under $100.  Add the fact that these gifts will be remembered long after every other present under the tree has been forgotten and they look like downright bargains:

For Speed Freaks:

A ridiculously reasonable entry fee will get your giftee the chance to put the pedal to the metal on the Bonneville Salt Flats in an attempt to earn a permanent place in the land-speed racing record books.

For Big Kids:

If there’s a big kid (um, like me for example) you’re your holiday shopping list, chances are they’ll love the idea of spending the night in their very own treehouse.

For The Athletic:

With the Winter Olympics just around the corner, athletic types can get a taste of one of the events most extreme sports with the public skeleton rides offered at Park City’s Utah Olympic Park.

For Music Lovers:

There is absolutely no better (or more authentic) place to experience the infectious joie de vivre that good Cajun music inspires than the Saturday morning party at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, Louisiana.

For The Outdoorsy:

If you know someone who’s happiest when they get a chance to get up-close-and-personal with the natural world, a wild cave tour of Mammoth Cave should make them downright giddy.

The One Creature Every Animal Lover Must Meet

December 10, 2009

Everyone thinks of Florida as all warm and sunny, all the time.  And while that’s largely true, the nights around the sleepy coastal town of Crystal River can get downright nippy this time of year.  Which is exactly why the next few months are such a great time of year to visit, especially if you’re an animal lover.

You see, those chilly evenings make the many warm springs around King’s Bay a magnet for manatees.  Because sea cows can’t take the cold any better than I can, they return from their daily foraging to spend the night here in waters as clear as any swimming pool.

Which is where my friends at Bird’s Underwater come in.  Owner Bill Oestrich and his crew run three-hour manatee snorkeling tours that let you get some quality face-time—and I’m speaking literally here—with one of the sweetest wild animals you could ever want to meet.

Now, I’m not normally prone to gushing about cute and cuddly animals, but I’ve done this several times now and have found swimming among these remarkable creatures to be one of my all-time favorite extraordinary experiencesRead the story of my first manatee encounter on and you’ll see what I mean.

Experience This!

December 3, 2009

Just read a great interview with one of my heroes, Blue Highways author William Least Heat Moon.  A man responsible for my long-held belief that it’s not the destination but the experience that really matters.  And the more extraordinary that experience the better.

While I’ve collected a fair number of extraordinary experiences both here and on the pages of, I’m well aware there are lots more of these truly remarkable once-in-a-lifetime adventures out there waiting to be discovered.

Which is why I’ve been geeking out on a handful of new adventure travel books.  While all of them tend to focus on destinations rather than experiences to some degree, read between the lines and you’re bound to find a few gems that make you think “Gee, I’ve always wanted to do that!”:

Once In A Lifetime Trips: The World’s 50 Most Extraordinary and Memorable Travel Experiences

by Chris Santella $25, 224 pages, Clarkson Potter Publishers

From an elephant safari in Botswana to a cross country skiing expedition to the North Pole, the experiences in this handsome little book definitely live up to the “extraordinary and memorable” claim in its sub-title.  While a few of the featured adventures border on the ordinary, there are enough cool ideas here to spark a full year’s worth of daydreams.

Off The Tourist Trail: 1,000 Unexpected Travel Alternatives

Foreword by Bill Bryson. $40, 336 pages, DK Eyewitness Travel

I can’t help but like any book that presents dozens of  alternative destinations, events, and activities designed to help you leave the touristy masses far behind.  The end-of-chapter lists of other little-known adventures and the gorgeous photography are just icing on the cake.

Make The Most Of Your Time Here On Earth: 1,000 Ultimate Travel Experiences

$30, 608 pages, Rough Guides

Look, when it comes right down to it, nothing succeeds like excess, and that’s just what this beautifully-done book packed with 1,000 great adventure ideas offers.  If you can’t find at least a dozen cool new experiences to add to your life-list in its 600-plus pages, well, I feel sorry for you.