1. Foxfire — Hiking the scenic trail to Anna Ruby Falls in Unicoi State Park outside of Helen, Georgia at night with flashlights is fun. But turning off the flashlights and seeing the foxfire twinkle on the banks opposite the river is magic.
Foxfire is a natural phenomenon sometimes visible at night in forests. It’s caused by bioluminescent fungi in special conditions—usually on rotting bark. This particular species emits a bluish-green glow, like glow in the dark toys.
My girls still talk about this adventure over 15 years later.
2. Staying in a Homesteader’s Cabin in Soldotna, Alaska — I took both daughters on a trip of their choice for their 14th birthday anywhere in the United States. A time for Dad and daughter to bond and talk life. And bond we did!
My youngest daughter Lauren chose an adventure trip to Alaska. A new acquaintance from Soldotna hooked us up in an isolated one room homesteader’s cabin for $19. per night. We’re talking grass growing 16 inches high on the roof, loft beds, no electricity or running water and no facilities. Imagine walking to the outhouse at midnight in broad daylight, fighting off mosquitoes the size of airplanes, all the while keeping an eye out for grizzlies. Yep, bonding. And we made a memory that will last forever.
3. Diving In A Glacier Lake — My oldest daughter Paige chose an adventure trip to Montana. I didn’t require the trips be adventure trips—but that is what both chose to do. Yes, Chris and I birthed adrenaline junkies just like us.
Paige chose to backpack in Grizzly country deep in the wilderness of the Beartooth Mountains of Montana. One evening our camping spot was on the banks of a pristine blue-green glacier lake at 11,000 feet in elevation. We had not seen a human being since embarking on the trek. To say we were isolated was an understatement.
We truly felt some of our steps had never been tread by another human being. Heavy snow (at times over six feet or more) makes this virtually unknown trail impassable ten months of the year. Extraordinary beauty and exquisite solitude.
In the frigid chill of the next morning, Paige dared me to dive in the glacier lake. I told her not unless she did it as well. She agreed. Not trusting her, I made her hold hands as we took the jump. Words cannot adequately describe the feeling of that dive. Exhilarating comes to mind. As does lunacy. The photo accompanying this blog is the two of us immediately upon exiting the lake. A memory that will last forever. I still shiver at the thought over fourteen years later.
4. Renting a Jeep for the Day on Frasier Island in Australia — My son-in-law Ben hails from Sydney, Australia and invited me and the girls to visit his family. The land down under is not for the faint of heart. As Bill Bryson states in his book A Sunburned Country, more things can kill you in Australia than anywhere in the world. So of course, we said yes!
Frasier Island is the largest sand island in the world. It is a wild and magical rain forest. Imagine driving a rickety jeep (with the driver’s wheel and gearshift on the wrong side) on narrow winding one-lane sand roads through dense jungle in ruts at times over two feet deep, swimming in a crystal cerulean blue sand bottom freshwater lake (you guessed it—the largest in the world), exploring a shipwreck, jumping out and swimming in a jungle spring like Tarzan (can you say crocs—and I’m not talking shoes), driving full speed on one of the most scenic beaches in the world trying to beat the tide to get safely back home. Yep, that’s Frasier Island.
5. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef — Since we don’t get to Australia everyday, we decided to do everything humanly possible during the three week stay. We stayed with family friends at a “small” 60,000 acre ranch deep in the Outback. And it’s saying something when that experience didn’t make this top ten list.
Upon anticipating visiting one of the seven natural wonders of the world – one that video, photos and websites provide extravagant documentation – you hope it meets expectations. Yes. It. Does.
There is no way to capture the beauty and the breadth of this living and otherworldly paradise. One feels as though you have left the world as we know it and entered the most vivid, colorful, magical, airy, transparent, transcendent world that defies imagination. It is like you have stepped into the shoes (uh, I mean flippers) of Christopher Columbus.
A new world of extraordinary dimension. And you have truly not lived until you snorkel over an underwater cliff that plummets thousands of feet. It will take your breath away. And when you are snorkeling, that is an adventure all its own.
6. Eating Beluga Caviar at Twelve Chimneys on the Border of China and Krygyzstan — Imagine driving through harrowing rocky mountain passes on tiny winding roads climbing for hours and finally coming to a place that is straight out of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Imagine a place where Russian mafioso in huge black Mercedes take their ladies of the evening, soaring mountain peaks in every direction, fires in open pots lining the silk adorned entrance, roaring fires and torches in each private dining room, rooms covered floor to ceiling with huge pelts from wild animals, swarthy waiters adorned in fur hats, a complete roasted horse as the main entree and you will get a small picture of the adventure called Twelve Chimneys.
7. Wine Tasting and Communion in a Million Cubic Ft. Cave — Deep in the heart of Franklin County, Tennessee lies what is said to be the largest cave system in the world. If you can find your way through thirty thousand forested conservancy acres, at the center of this wilderness lies two thousand of the most verdant and private acres you have ever seen. And with a capable guide, one can travel miles down a bumpy four-wheel drive road, and navigate a meandering forest trail to a stunningly beautiful glen, where you will find a hidden cave of mammoth proportions.
If you then also have the physical agility to scramble down through fantastic rock formations, amid bat lairs while immersed in pitch black darkness—in the nether reaches—the only vestige of modern humanity is a table bathed in golden aura set for a king.
And if you can imagine scores of flickering candles, whispering torches, the Holy Eucharist chanted quietly and reverently by an Anglican priest, the succulent taste of fresh bread and the finest wine, recording artist Audrey Assad’s ethereal voice echoing throughout the vast caverns accompanied only by timbres of dripping water—then you see why it was one of the most unique experiences of my life.
By the way, this is the same cave where we do the optional wine tasting and communion for 48 Hours of Solitude.
8. Enjoying a Once-In-A-Lifetime Opportunity to Explore the Very Private Cumberland Island — Off the coast of South Georgia lies a virtually unknown island paradise that retains the beauty of first creation. Originary, primitive and feral.
To read a vivid albeit sensual description of my transcendent time there, pick up a copy of Sex, Lies & Religion and read the introduction.
Imagine exploring uninhabited pristine beaches for miles and miles as feral horses roam and alligators skitter through the ocean surf, turn-of-the-century abandoned mansions built by the Carnegies and Rockefellers, a tiny dilapidated primitive church where JFK, Jr was married, a glistening freshwater lake that only a handful of people have ever set eyes upon, indescribable sunsets, and century old paths winding through virgin water oaks draped with spanish moss interspersed with palmettos the size of a house.
It’s as though you suddenly become Adam and have returned to the Garden of Eden free to fully enjoy the majesty and glory of creation at its most pimal.
9. Climbing the Buran Tower at the lost city of Balasagyn on Marco Polo’s Silk Road in Central Asia — Talk about a lost city, when I asked the local guide to take a short side trip to Balasagyn and the Buran Tower, he had no idea what I was talking about. The entire experience that followed was surreal.
As I guided the sweat-drenched and exhausted group of fellow travelers out of the way, no one, including my youngest daughter, really understood why I wanted so badly to seek it out.
You see, my guide book told me the city ceased to exist in the 13th–14th centuries but its main landmark, the “well-known” Buran Tower still strikes visitors with its monumentalism today. Located in the eastern part of the central ruins of ancient Balasagyn, it is the oldest tower in Central Asia, erected in the 11th century. The ELEVENTH century. When was the last time you climbed something that was built in the eleventh century?
After paying .35 cents for an entrance ticket from a disinterested “guard,” we walked up the rugged path, over a hill and the tower came into view. There was no one there. No one. The tower was decorated with ornament made of burnt brick and consists of the foundation, the podium, the basement and the minaret trunk. The original height of the minaret was 40 meters, but now it rises only 24 meters—the rest destroyed by an earthquake.
We quickly realized we stood in the middle of an unguarded (seemingly abandoned) archaeological dig. We could not believe it. One of the most amazing adventures of our lives, and no one in the country even knows (or cares) it is there. We explored carefully, touching grave stones that dated before Christ. It was the oldest thing on earth any of us have ever touched.
Before we could climb the tower (there was no guide, no warning signs, no one to protect it from vandalism) we had to gain the courage to clamber through a huge swarm of angry stinging wasps. The winding and claustrophobic steps were definitely not designed for ambient light or the modern sized person.
Once on top, the view was stunning. The panorama of the ancient city appeared before our eyes, and it was as if we had traveled ten centuries back in time. I imagined Marco Polo leading his weary and colorful caravan down the road for a much-needed rest. As we climbed back down to the future, everyone was eerily quiet, immersed in their thoughts. The rarest of moments had passed.
10. Alone With the Grizzlies In The Wilderness of Kodiak Island, Alaska With Just a Tent and a Raft — Imagine hopping aboard a circa 1940’s DeHavilland Beaver bush plane in Kodiak, Alaska—flying for an hour, landing on a wilderness lake, the pilot throwing out your raft and gear, grinning and waving as he leaves with the words, “I’ll pick you up in a week on the beach at the Gulf of Alaska at the end of the Uganik River—be there or else! And oh yeah, take care of yourself, be safe, and camp anywhere there is no bear scat.”
Ha ha. I have heard tell of the hair at the back of your neck standing on end—suffice it to say it stood for the entire trip. I cannot adequately describe the feeling as the plane circled above, dipped his wings, and sailed off into the sunset. Quiet. Eerie, deep, and desolate quiet. Like I have never heard before or since.
Hundreds of miles deep in the wild and rugged Alaskan wilderness with only a tent, a raft and ninety pounds of gear.
Have you by chance watched the documentary Grizzly Man?
The moment the plane left I moved down a notch on the food chain. From predator to prey. I could literally feel the bears watching me. Brown bears that is. The Kodiak sub-species of the brown bear rivals the polar bear as the largest member of the bear family and as the largest land-based predator in the world. At their feeding peak, an adult male can weigh 1500 pounds and stand ten feet tall when fully upright on its hind legs.
You haven’t really lived until you need to go pee in the night and you zip open the tent to see one of these monstrosities standing and feeding ten yards away. There was no peeing for me that night. I was scared peeless. I had a 16 gauge gun with 3 1/2 inch slugs and it may as well have been a straw with a spit-wad.
The Kodiak brown bears are faster than the fastest human being, climb trees faster than a human being, swim faster than a human being, they are five times the size of a large human, and are very, very smart. They are the ultimate killing machines. They have been known to track moose in packs using a grid-like system. You can’t curl up in a ball and hope they don’t eat you, pepper spray will not deter them in the least, and contrary to urban legend they can and will run zig-zag.
No other human beings. The entire week. But oh, the silver salmon were running and they were everywhere! Imagine filleting a salmon just caught, grilling it, and eating it by one of the most scenic and pristine rivers in the world—all the while watching bald eagles fly overhead, as a the sound of a waterfall serenades you.
It was the wildest and most unique experience of my life. And I’m so glad I did it. Once.
So, what wild adventure do you dream of trying?