As an average digitally connected, white-color working stiff tooling around Manhattan, I don’t confront many unknowable risks. I recently spilled a latte on my keyboard, and there’s always the (relatively remote) chance of random violence, getting hit by a bike messenger, or having scaffolding fall on you.
Like Clark Kent, jumping into a phone booth though, there are moments in my otherwise staid career as a travel writer when chances of encountering bad luck surge. I’m not an adventure travel writer, but I am an adventurous traveler, always willing to jump into new situations. I will pretty much try anything once, with the knowledge that the experience may enhance the story and provide unique trip-planning information to my readers.
This has lead to a number of incredibly risky adventures, the vast majority of which have not harmed me but have instead actually helped me push through personal-growth boundaries. It all started on my first foreign trip at age 18. On my own at a bar in Rouen, I met a group of French locals who invited me to a ‘nearby’ party. Two hours of dark, winding roads later, there I was at an ancient, remote house partying in the wee hours, with no idea where I was or whether this group was even trustworthy. I’m a little startled thinking about it, but at the time, it was exhilarating.
Since then, I’ve experienced more than a handful of pulse-quickening experiences in the name of research.
• Inching 100 feet along a tiny ledge above a sheer 500-foot drop, then rappelling down a 250-feet cliff face in British Columbia;
• Mountain biking (quickly) down a mountain in Austria;
• A gut-busting stunt biplane ride outside of Portland, Oregon;
• Jumping off a mountain and tandem paragliding off Mt. Alyeska in Girdwood, Alaska;
• Encountering a family of brown bears just outside my cabin in a remote part of the Alaskan wilderness;
• Crossing a rickety wood-slat suspension bridge 300 feet about a raging river near Vancouver;
• Taking a locals’ bus for 24 hours during torrential downpours in Guatemala’s guerilla country (back in the day), which was boarded by young, armed insurgents who took my passport (eventually giving it back); and finally
• Sliding down an alpine rollercoaster in Park City, Utah.
I include this innocuous-sounding ride last because, surprisingly, this was the adventure that finally sidelined me at least for a while. My leg slipped out and hit a fence along the side at 40 MPH shredding at least two ligaments in my right knee.
But given all the risks I’ve taken for my research — despite the blown-out knee — I’m still ahead. I think the best travel writing is borne of an open spirit of adventure and risk taking. With each risk I’ve taken, my writing feels more alive, as do I.