Get Ready for Good Times

Success in adventure travel is not in the packing or buying the latest sports gear; it is in preparing your body and having the proper mindset. Ballou on the trail along the Mendocino Coast stretching with the other riders. Photo courtesy Linda Ballou

Soft adventure travel is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry. People are not content to be carted around in vans; they crave a more hands-on, intimate experience in their travels.

There are about 8,000 American soft adventure travel outfitters who want to satisfy clientele that fit this profile, but don’t be lulled into the attitude that the outfitter will take care of you completely. You still need to keep your wits about you and bring your best energies to the table.

The wilderness is still the wilderness, namely, wild. Guides are simply that, guides. They try to direct you on an ever-changing path to transcending, even transforming epiphanies and soul-stirring moments, but the responsibility of the journey is ultimately yours. Soft adventure does not mean no risk, no threat, no discomfort, but it does promise an avenue to get to places you can’t get to on your own and experiences that excite and expand your universe.

To ensure a happy experience you need to get ready for good times. Start training about a month before your vacation begins. If you’ve missed your day at the gym for the last five years, it’s still not too late to get into shape. Everyone from medical doctors to the homeopathic gurus  tell us that we need to walk every day to keep our bodies healthy. In a couple of weeks of daily walking, you will find your stamina and energy level building.

Add a two- or three-mile nature walk into your regimen once a week. A hundred million Americans are on foot because they want to unplug from the modern world’s pace for a couple of hours. The repetitive action in walking is a form of meditation for your body. You can start out troubled with a disturbing question on your mind, and end up with an answer that simply comes to you as you focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

Add exercises specific to the sport you plan to enjoy on your vacation. If you are going horseback riding, do some deep knee bends and calf stretches. If you’re doing a kayaking or rafting expedition, get your arms and shoulders into the act. Just the basic lifting of hands to the sky about fifty times will strengthen muscles in your back that hold you upright. When you’re ready, strap a five-pound weight band onto your wrists and really give your arms a good workout, during your daily walk.

Stand up straight and hold your stomach in when you walk. Gravity encourages us to slump and curls our spines into stressful postures. The simple act of holding yourself erect is the single most important thing you can do for yourself. It allows your organs to function properly and is a tremendous isometric exercise for your muscles. Balance is important in almost all sports. Your mother told you to stand up straight, and this is one thing she was definitely right about.

Do you dread leaving the cozy confines of your down comforter to sleep outdoors on unforgiving terra firma? Invest in a Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad. Self-inflating, you just unscrew the nozzle and it inflates to a comfortable half-inch mattress. Instead of playing slippery slide all night on a plastic air mattress in a nylon sleeping bag you can get a good rest. This nifty little item slips nicely into a pack and gives just enough support to your back to prevent the “corkscrew” effect that sleeping on the ground can have on your spine.

If, like 80 of the U. S. population, you are a back patient, you should do back exercises daily. Don’t leave your good habits at home. The Therm-a-Rest doubles as the perfect exercise pad. Before crawling out of your toasty sleeping bag do basic knee-to-chest movements to warm up your muscles. While the cook is boiling water for coffee, you can use the first twenty minutes of the day to loosen up aching muscles. Exercise energizes us by sending oxygen and nutrients to our muscles. You’ll feel better and have more endurance. If you pitch your tent away from the group you can slip your pad outside of your tent and do a few stretches in the snappy morning air while you watch the sunrise.

Whether you are a back patient or not, invest in a back brace. You don’t need the black, industrial version you see the clerks at Home Depot wearing. You can get a nice white, much less obtrusive version at any medical supply store. Put it on when the guide says, “This is going to be a bit of a grunt.” In jock language this means you may be bending an effort for several hours that day. Giving your back a little support will allow you to paddle, pedal, or hike much further without getting tired.

Steer clear of alcohol. Make it a part of your training to skip that tumbler of wine you look forward to at the end of the day for a week or two before you leave on your trip. Your body will have a big job adjusting to climate changes without alcohol retarding the process. Tripping through alpine meadows, and sniffing wildflowers is a wonderful holiday, but you may find yourself climbing into high altitudes at a rapid rate. The symptoms of altitude sickness: spike-in-the-brain headache, nausea, and food tasting like tin foil, can be avoided by drinking loads of water and not drinking alcohol.

Over-the-counter Ginkgo Biloba is credited with preventing altitude sickness with the pleasant side effect that it restores memory cells. Diamox, the prescription remedy for altitude sickness, can cause frequent urinating as well as dizziness and lightheadedness during the first few days of use. A half tab is usually enough to head off nausea and aids in the sleeplessness experienced by most people on their first night in high altitude.

Following the scout motto, “Be prepared,” will help ensure a wonderful experience in the great outdoors that you will cherish.


Linda Ballou

Adventure-travel writer, Linda Ballou, shares a host of articles and information about her travel books on her site You will find information about her novels and media offerings at

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