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Trail Mixing

By Dennis Lewon - January 1st, 2000

Reprinted from Escape Magazine April 1999

Can't decide between rafting, biking or camel riding on your next adventure? Who says you need to?

Kathy Singleton took one look at her itinerary for a three-week trip in New Zealand, and her eyes popped out of her head. The 46-year-old Colorado resident had unwittingly signed up for a multisport adventure outing and discovered that her trip's menu of activities read more like the scorecard for an adventure race than a vacation: trekking, mountain biking, sea kayaking, whitewater rafting and horseback riding, with a little caving and glissading thrown in for good measure. "I love the outdoors," Singleton recalls thinking, "but I'm no triathlete."

A week after returning home, Singleton now laughs at her pre-trip jitters. "It was an amazing experience. So much variety. I still can't believe how much we did, and we never felt rushed." Not only did Singleton and friends enjoy all the sports their Active New Zealand tour promised, but they even started creating a few of their own. "We were kayaking in Milford Sound when a pod of dolphins showed up," says Singleton. "We started riding the wake." Dolphin surfing became a bonus activity during this eventful swing through New Zealand.

Multisport trips, which combine several activities into one action-packed tour, are the latest phenomenon in adventure travel. It's the answer for anyone who wants to squeeze every ounce of experience and electrolytes out of their vacation. If numbers are any indication, it's the right answer, too. Multisport journeys have become one of the fastest growing segments of the industry. At Backroads, the adventure giant, multisport departures increased by 60% in 1998 - and the company has since added 12 more of the trips to its new catalog.

What's the appeal? Variety, for starters. With the help of a precision timetable, a slew of high-tech gear and expert leaders (and maybe an extra cup of coffee every morning), a multisport adventure delivers far more diversity in a short amount of time than, say, a typical trekking or biking tour. As in Singleton's case, a three-week trip can become a smorgasbord of once-in-a-life-time activities. "One day I was rafting down the Clarence River; the next day I was pedaling through a flock of sheep in the mountains and galloping on horseback down a secluded beach," she says. "I couldn't have done half the things we did if I'd planned it myself."

The smorgasbord approach multiplies trip highlights for any given destination. On a Backroads Wyoming outing, for instance, travelers are treated to a taste of the best road and mountain biking, river rafting and hiking in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. And the logistics of getting all these pieces together are out of your hands. "It's more complex from a gear and scheduling perspective, but it's well worth it," says Backroads guide Christopher White. "I love leading the Yellowstone trip because it's so exciting for everyone. We get to do the best of everything for a week."

For most travelers, it's the only way to take their favorite sports on the road without the hassle of schlepping gear all over the world. "We do a lot of biking, rafting and hiking at home," says Rob McAlister, who decided to take his family on a trip to Belize, "so we definitely wanted an active trip." They got one. On a nine-day tour with Slickrock Adventures, the McAlisters went biking through a tropical rainforest, hiking to Mayan ruins, rafting a Class IV river, paddling an underground stream and sea kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving along the world's second largest barrier reef. McAlister could have added windsurfing to the list, but he opted for a training session on a hammock instead.

If this all sounds like a trip for Type AAA personalities only, as the McAlisters learned in Belize, smart operators schedule enough hammock time (or an equivalent) so that travelers won't need a vacation when the vacation ends. "We never had to get up at four a.m. or finish late at night," says McAlister. "Everything was set up so it was easy to go from one activity to the next."

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