The idea of vacation has changed over the years. It used to mean a quiet, relaxing week on some fishing lake kicking back in lawn chairs with Scrabble, lingering cocktail hours, cheap novels and pampered indolence.That’s how the generation of my parents vacated their urban and suburban ruts for a hiatus of studied inactivity. Oh, maybe there was tennis, a swim at the beach, a walk along the shore, but the mission was to consume calories, not to burn them off.Today, vacation seems to have intensified into a week-long “experience.” The goal is not to laze around the cottage, but to break out of the comfort zone. Adventure travel has become de rigueur for a new generation that hopes to pack as much into seven days as the body, mind and spirit will allow.Check out the classifieds in Outside Magazine and you can peruse the many offerings. Bungee jumping in Australia; deep sea fishing off Cuba; rock climbing in the Himalayas; llama trekking in Peru, spelunking in Ecuador …These are active, adventure-filled quests for an otherwise pacified crowd whose free time is spent couched around the TV living other people’s lives. Adventure travel offers a jolt that can stretch a week into a lifetime.My chosen vacations have focused on bike touring, which has taken me to Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Turkey, Greece, Yugoslavia, the Rocky Mountains and the desert Southwest. Sleeping on the ground for weeks at a time, tasting the flavors of foreign foods, listening to the songs of strange tongues, biking through mountains and deserts, this is my form of rejuvenation.Some consider my pedal-powered peregrinations as adventure bicycling, but my sojourns pale when compared to the adventure biking on a website featuring a couple of guys currently touring through Mexico.”At noon on Sunday March 5th, while cycling near the ruins of Palenque, Mexico, four men ran out of the jungle and attempted to attack us near the top of a long uphill climb. A car drove by and they all moved to the side of the road, giving us just enough time to accelerate past them to a downhill section where we distanced ourselves from the scene.”Two miles later, we were attacked again by two men wearing black masks and carrying machetes. They sprinted out of the jungle and were upon us in only a few seconds, making it impossible to escape. We put our hands over our heads as they struck us several times with the blunt sides of their machetes and attempted to tear our pannier bags off the bikes.”While reading this, keep in mind that bike touring is one of the most exposed means of travel. You surrender to the whims of man and nature with total vulnerability.”They were only able to remove two of the bags from Gregg’s bike and over the next minute or so the conflict escalated as their frustration increased. They retreated to the side of the road to dump Gregg’s bags and hide from a passing car. At that point, we turned around and cycled 300 meters to a family’s roadside hut … where several shady characters with hostile looks on their faces appeared out of the jungle …”Palenque is now high on my list as an adventure bicycling destination, a place where the thrill of survival rests upon the mood of highway bandits armed with machetes. Each turn of the pedals would require courage, stamina and an ounce or two of blood.Many parts of the world offer the same experience, thanks in large part to the Bush administration’s astute foreign policy initiatives. Americans have become the cherished targets for recriminations against the First World, and there are few easier targets than bicyclists.So if you’re looking for adventure on two wheels, try a spin through Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala or any of the friendly places where Americans are greeted with open arms. A mere week on the road could become the grand finale of your life.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays when he’s not fending off machetes on his spring tour.
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