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Adventure Travel at Age 56By Bill Callahan, ALA Adventure Travel Specialist
I came to Austin-Lehman seven months ago with 30 years of sales experience and a lifelong love of travel. It was the “adventure” department that was new to me. I’m a pretty active guy – I’ve skied the Alps, surfed in Hawaii and golfed in Jamaica. But as I prepared for my ALA adventures, I began to worry, questioning just how “active” I really was. I realized, for example, that I hadn’t biked since I was a kid, and that it had been 15 years since I’d paddled down a river in a raft. And the thought of “zip-lining” (coming from a man with a fear of heights) was, well, downright scary.
Trip 1: Costa Rica Multisport
In April, ALA owner Dan Austin called me into his office and asked me to go to Costa Rica. My heard leapt with anticipation and a few months later I embarked on an 8-day trip – my first official “active” vacation.
My adventure began with a day of rafting on the Pacuare River, famous, I might add, for it’s class IV rapids. My exhilarating down-river jaunt was a far cry from the passive float down the lower Colorado I experienced in 1994. But, thanks to the confidence and expertise of my guides, I loved every minute of it.
My second (and biggest) challenge was zip lining – a daredevil activity that was invented in Costa Rica. It involves strapping yourself into a harness that’s hooked to a heavy steel cable strung between trees or mountain peaks, and “zipping” through the rainforest canopy – or, for the bravest at heart – from mountaintop to mountaintop. I’m not a fan of heights – never have been. But I trusted that I was in good hands and decided to give it a shot.
My first zip line experience was through the treetops – and, to my surprise, I didn’t bat an eyelash. Sailing from tree to tree with a bird’s eye view of the rainforest ranks up there as one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done in my life.
The day before my departure, I had the chance to try “zipping” between mountaintops in Arenal, along a line strung 55 stories high. I have to admit, just the idea of it scared me stiff. But after a reassuring “you can do it” from my guides, a few deep breaths and a “here goes!” it was smooth sailing and I was genuinely sad when it was over.
Trips 2 & 3: Biking in Europe
In May, Dan helped fit me on a Cannondale bike. It had been years since I’d ridden but the minute I saddled up I remembered how much I enjoyed it. I began biking to work and in June I added a weekly spin on “The Laurel Loop,” a 26-mile course in Billings that includes a couple of good hills.
In July, Dan called me into his office again. This time he asked if I’d like to go to Europe! After conferencing in European Operations Manager Ron Van Dijk, we selected two trips: Lake Constance to Alsace (a Level 3 – moderate) and Brittany/Normandy Coast (a Level 2 – easy to moderate).
In August I flew to Zurich where I was met by my guides, Sjoerd and Desiree. I breezed through customs and immigration and soon we were on the highway to Konstanz, Germany, where the yellow ALA van was waved across the border without a second look.
The next day I woke up to temperatures in the high 90s – it was the hottest it had been in Europe in four years. I was nervous, to say the least. Pedaling an average of 32 miles a day in cool weather was one thing, but in a heat wave? There was no turning back. I was fitted to my Cannondate H1000 and we were off.
I took it easy at first. Amazingly, the moment I’d begin to feel thirsty, Sjoerd or Desiree would appear with a bottle of water or juice. I was also comforted by the fact that if at any point I wanted to take a break, the ALA van would be there to give me a lift. Within hours, I forgot about the heat, and focused instead on the beautiful scenery.
We crossed the border between Switzerland and Germany six times that first week and by Wednesday I was pedaling like a pro. With some newly learned “shifting” tips, I found I could keep up easily with the group, even on the long, steep hills. On one particular hill, Desiree rode up next to me and quipped, “You’ve come a long way, Bill! I don’t think you’d have tackled this hill as easily on Sunday.”
I felt a surge of pride at the compliment and recalled the anxiety I’d endured before leaving for Europe. It seemed silly, thinking back on it. I smiled the rest of the way up that hill, realizing I should never have doubted myself.
In the end, after three weeks of ALA travel, I’m happy to say I learned what I’d set out to learn: that YES, a 56-year-old ex-semi-pro football player/radio newsman/sales guy CAN, in fact, enjoy a week of adventure travel. I was able to ride a bike 32 miles a day through a heat wave, zip-line 55-stories high from mountain top to mountain top and white water raft one of the world’s top five rivers. I survived, and I had a blast doing it. So if you’re thinking about an adventure tour and wondering as I did back in May if your definition of “active” will cut it, I say go for it! As the old adage goes, “If I can do it, so can you!”