By STEPHEN REGENOLD
Published: December 19, 2007
From caves in Quintana Roo, Mexico, to the Nevada desert, to a 14,000-foot volcano in California, 2007 proved to be a year of high adventure for the Gear Junkie. Avalanches, mountain climbs, whitewater, crocodiles and even errant gunfire, were all part of the fun. The following 10 destinations are my top picks, including bike, ski, foot and boat adventures, from Vermont’s Green Mountains to the Great Plains of North Dakota, from the wild to the absolute weird.
1. Ski Utah Interconnect Tour, Wasatch Mountain Range
In one epic ski day on Utah’s Interconnect Tour you travel about 25 miles through the Wasatch Mountains, carving more than 15,000 vertical feet of turns on the slopes and adjacent backcountry at Deer Valley, Park City Mountain Resort, Brighton, Solitude, Alta Ski Area and Snowbird Resort. A daylong guided trip, the Interconnect Tour follows a circuitous route of in-bounds ski trails and steep backcountry runs. Chairlift rides are combined with out-of-bounds traverses to connect the resorts that sprawl through this part of the Wasatch Range. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/utahs-epic-ride-skiing-six-resorts-in-one-day)
2. Subterranean Cenote Swimming, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Southwest of the town of Valladolid, on the way to the Maya ruins at Chichén Itzá, the abyss of Cenote Dzitnup is an archetype of the unique karst geology ubiquitous on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, where water-filled sinkholes called cenotes were literal wellsprings of a civilization. My trip to dive a half-dozen cenotes last winter was an eye-opening and mystical experience. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/subterranean-snooping-on-the-yucatan-peninsula)
3. Mount Shasta, Calif.
Can you say crap storm? My attempt to climb the 14,162-foot stratovolcano of Mount Shasta last May was killed by winds that reached an estimated 80mph where we camped. Indeed, my photographer friend T.C. Worley and I were nearly blown off the mountain. A large avalanche slid less than a quarter-mile from our camp. Our tent survived, though other climbers’ shelters did not: poles snapped, nylon ripped, some tents literally blew away, gear flying down the mountainside. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/new-york-times-the-mount-shasta-story ; Link to audio slideshow: http://www.nytimes.com/packages/html/travel/20070615_SHASTA_FEATURE/blocker.html)
4. Velodrome Track Racing, Blaine, Minn.
“My bike has no brakes and just one gear. But I’m pedaling with all I’ve got, tucked and spinning, breathing hard. Hands clenched on drop bars. Wheels humming. Thighs screaming. Knuckles literally white.” Thus starts a story I wrote on track-bike racing at the NSC Velodrome in Blaine, Minn., a 250-meter oval of weathered afzelia wood. The velodrome’s banks are pitched at 43 degrees, which creates long, sweeping curves impossible to complete without speed. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/velodrome-track-bike-racing ; Link to video: http://thegearjunkie.com/videos?vidID=8)
5. Area 51 & the Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada
Definitely my weirdest adventure of the year. In March I drove north from Las Vegas in search of the Extraterrestrial Highway—a.k.a. Nevada State Route 375—and Alien Country, where more UFOs are sighted than at any other place on the planet. I snooped on the edge of Area 51 with Joerg Arnu, a 45-year-old software developer from Las Vegas who keeps a trailer parked on some land in the hardscrabble town of Rachel. Mr. Arnu, a native of Germany, files a Freedom of Information Act petition each year to procure dates and times of major military testing periods. “That’s when all the action happens,” he said. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/the-extraterrestrial-highway)
6. Kayaking Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, Mexico
For this journey into Mexico’s 1.3-million acre Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a park in eastern Quintana Roo, I paddled into the “million spindly legs of a mangrove swamp” in search of vine-covered ruins, dropped jewels, crocodiles, and other Indiana-Jones-esque adventures. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/kayaking-in-the-land-of-the-maya)
7. Extreme North Dakota Adventure Race
For the second year in a row, the humble state of North Dakota makes my list. This year’s sojourn to the land of wheat and corn was for the state’s first-ever adventure race, the 12-hour Extreme North Dakota Adventure Race. The race included trail running, mountain biking, canoeing, orienteering and “mystery challenges.” Plus, my teammate and I actually got shot at, bullets whizzing by our heads, during the event. . . (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/12-hour-ar-262-miles)
8. Rogaine, Chequamegon National Forest, Wis.
Rogaining, an Australian offshoot of orienteering invented in the 1970s, puts teams of two to four people on a choose-your-own-adventure course in wilderness dotted with flags. It’s one of my favorite sports, and for this year I ran a rogaine in the Chequamegon National Forest of northwest Wisconsin. My team took 2nd place! (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/rogaine)
9. Natural Waterslides of Vermont
On assignment for New York Times last August, I journeyed to Vermont’s Green Mountains in search of natural waterslides, which are essentially whitewater chutes navigable on your rear end. They flank rivers and streams in places like Vermont, where old hills with bedrock-bottom creeks can create perfect sliding. (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/new-york-times-natural-ater-slides)
10. Midwest Extreme: Mount Bohemia, Mich.
Mount Bohemia is a tiny ski area on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where chutes, cornices and cliffs exist on a 1,465-foot hill overlooking Lake Superior. The tiny, two-chairlift ski hill is an anomaly in its region, where short runs, manmade snow and icy groomed slopes are the norm. But at Bohemia, there are gladed tree runs and 71 named trails, none of which are groomed. Black diamonds dot the trail map. Deep blanketing snow—up to 300 inches in some seasons—covers boulders, streambeds, fallen trees and outcroppings of rock. A sign at the entrance to the resort reads “Warning: NO BEGINNERS ALLOWED.” (Link to story: http://thegearjunkie.com/new-york-times-michigans-extreme-anomaly)
(Stephen Regenold writes The Gear Junkie column for eight U.S. newspapers; see www.THEGEARJUNKIE.com for video gear reviews, a daily blog, and an archive of Regenold’s work.)