11/24/2015 Winter 2015 About the Author Andrea Poe’s work has appeared in many publications, including Town & Country, The Washington Post, and National Geographic Traveler. Cheap Thrills By Andrea Poe 11/24/2015 Winter 2015 High Adventure without the High Learning Curve - or the High Price My pulse quickens. My palms sweat. My throat is dry. I glance down from my perch, a narrow platform wrapped around a tree trunk where I am cemented 20 feet above the dirt. I have spent the better part of an hour crawling through wooden boxes, zip-lining between trees, and tiptoeing along metal tightropes. Adventure Parks Learning the Ropes Less than an hour earlier, my eight-year-old daughter and I had bounded up to tackle this ropes course, a complex web of wood, ropes, and metal strung through the treetops at the Adventure Park in Virginia Beach amid five acres of old-growth forest. Like most rope climbing and zip-line courses, this one was quickly accessible. After strapping into a harness heavy with carabiner clips and attending a brisk 15-minute training session, we charted a course through the trees so swiftly that there was no time for my fear of heights to seize me. All-ages Adventure And that’s the beauty of adventure park courses. Anyone aged five and up can try it, making it a perfect gateway to other adventure sports. Unlike so many adrenaline-junkie pursuits where weeks, months, or even years of training are required to safely experience them, the thrill of the ropes course is within easy reach and relatively inexpensive (usually around $100). And thanks to the huge variety of indoor and outdoor adventure parks around the country, you can experience affordable adventure no matter what the season. Photo: iStock.com/Imgorthand Photo: CandyBoxImages/Depositphotos.com Guided Adventure Photo: Arthur Fujisaki/Snapwire.com Toward Transformation According to a recent study conducted by George Washington University and Adventure Travel Trade Association, adventure travel is the fastest-growing segment in the travel industry, with an estimated average yearly growth of 65 percent. “Guided adventure experiences break down the barrier to entry. They’re almost risk-free, but the perceived risk is what makes it so exciting,” explains Subaru Outback owner Dan Moore, an adventure guide who now serves as a consultant to the industry. “These experiences are transformative because they push people out of their comfort zones.” These experiences are transformative because they push people out of their comfort zones. - Dan Moore Photo: vetal1983/Depositphotos.com The Ascent Beckons Guided rock climbing is one of the best ways to pump up the thrill factor for beginners willing to put in a little prep time. People train for years to scale summits on their own, but guided climbs provide weekend warriors the chance to tap into adventure more quickly. Even beginners can ascend a couple thousand vertical feet with the assistance of a guide, who not only helps with the climb, but also can get you to remote locations you couldn’t easily access on your own. Photo: Katrine Gomonova/Snapwire.com Tandem Skydiving (Almost) Free Falling In the case of tandem skydiving, it’s all about overcoming fear and ceding control. The only attribute you need bring is a brave heart. Tandem falls deliver all the high-wire excitement of solo falls with the only differences being that an adrenaline jolt can be yours in less than an hour and the cost is far less (about $200, compared with skydiving solo certification, which can top $1,000). Strapped to the chest of an expert skydiver, who will typically be responsible for pulling your parachute cord, you can focus on the thrill of plummeting 14,000 feet as the earth rushes to meet you. “The best part of tandem skydiving is you don’t have to think about anything, you just go with it,” says Alexis DeLorenzo, a 22-year-old schoolteacher in Maryland. DeLorenzo recently made her first tandem jump at the prompting of her father, who has done several tandem jumps of his own. “It’s pure exhilaration,” she raves. “You just can’t get that perspective from land.” To experience tandem skydiving for yourself, find a location near you. Photo: Katrine Gomonova/Snapwire.com Guided Rockclimbing Photo: iStock.com/noblige Indoor Adventures You can enjoy these easy-access thrills in all seasons of the year. Rope Climbing At 85 feet and five levels, the adventure course at Palisades Climb Adventure in West Nyack, New York, has 75 different challenges. Wonder Works offers six different locations up and down the East Coast. Skydiving You can free fall indoors at iFly with more than a dozen locations around the country. Rock Climbing Indoor rock climbing opportunities abound, with many offering attractions suitable for all skill levels. Try Wild Walls in Spokane, Washington, or Climb On in Homewood, Illinois. Heightening the Adventure While some guided outdoor climbs are geared for absolute beginners, some level of training is generally recommended. Most climbers log time beforehand at indoor gyms learning to work the ropes along a single pitch wall before taking on a rockface. “You definitely have more fun on a guided climb because you feel safe, so you do things that you wouldn’t do if you were just out there with a friend,” says Outback owner Ed Bullock, who regularly climbs with a guide near his home outside Seattle. “With rock climbing, if something goes wrong, it can go very wrong. You want someone with expertise with you.” For him, the adventure is heightened with a guide because he pushes himself harder and farther knowing that his risk is lower. “There’s a lot of technical information you need to remember. Even an experienced rock climber will have a hard time remembering it all without a guide who lives this every day,” Bullock says. Photo: zhukovvvlad/Depositphotos.com The Descent Beckons As for my descent from the ropes course in Virginia, I had no choice but to finally step off the platform. For a brief moment, I soared between two trees, feeling majestic and invincible, until I hit the ground with a thud. My landing wasn’t pretty, but when I met terra firma a wide smile blossomed across my face. I had molted my fear of heights. My daughter and I are already plotting our next ropes-course adventure, vowing that it will be higher, harder, and longer. The challenge is on.