ALL POSTS IN [Outdoors and Adventure]

Photo by Reuters

Can he do it? This coming Sunday, the world will find out as Nik Wallenda attempts his latest daredevil feat: a walk across the Grand Canyon while suspended a stomach-churning 1,500 feet — more than 4 football fields — above the Little Colorado River.

Wallenda is no stranger to mind-boggling stunts. A year ago, this seventh-generation American acrobat made headlines when he successfully walked across Niagara Falls — a total of 1,800 feet — becoming the first person to do so.

Now Wallenda has his eye on the Grand Canyon, without the tether he wore last year (something Wallenda reportedly wasn’t happy about wearing, but which he did in compliance with the Niagara Falls Commission’s stipulations). This go-round, Wallenda’s Grand Canyon walk, on land owned by the Navajo Nation, will occur without a harness, before a live audience (10-second delay notwithstanding). Two wireless point-of-view cameras will also be affixed to Wallenda’s vest.

Don’t think you’d want to duplicate Wallenda’s Grand Canyon walk? You can still score bragging rights with your own dramatic adventure. Take a South Rim mule ride through the Grand Canyon, but plan ahead — trips may be booked 13 months in advance. North Rim mule trips are offered from mid-May to mid-October.

If views of deep chasms and astonishingly old geologic formations spread across 1.2 million acres are all the drama you need, hike the Grand Canyon. Or enjoy the dazzling, dizzying view of the canyon from the Grand Canyon Skywalk, a glass-bridge walkway that offers a 4,000-foot-high view of the canyon’s floor. Come night, crash at one of the 10 best luxe hotels near the Grand Canyon.

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Over the last 2 months I’ve managed a couple of fun vacation runs — a variation of a mileage run that involves actually leaving the airport and exploring a city — to Moscow, Paris and Johannesburg. My trip to Moscow was a weeklong vacation, while my runs to Paris and Johannesburg were just extended weekends. A little crazy, I know, but the experiences and sights were well worth the expense and travel time. And besides, or perhaps most importantly, I earned a LOT of miles, ate caviar and saw elephants.

Total Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM): 29,043
Total Redeemable Miles (RDM): 58,086
Flying Time to/from Moscow: 23h 13m
Flying Time to/from Paris and Johannesburg: 37h 40m

Saint Basil's Cathedral

Photography by Arthur Hsu

This year, I’m hoping to earn 150,000 SkyMiles in order to book a round-trip business-class award ticket to Australia — a ticket that would normally cost approximately $16,000 (yes, you read right). I was inspired to book both of my recent “vacation runs” after I saw posts about cheap tickets on FlyerTalk. Another great site to follow is The Flight Deal, which gathers airfare deals that make the most of your miles and money.

When booking mileage runs, be sure to check your fare class.  Some fare classes don’t earn miles or only earn a reduced number of miles. For my trips, I flew Delta T class and KLM/Air France R class, both of which earn full Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM). Both trips also had a low cost per mile (CPM), which is important for a great mileage run. Typically, you want the CPM to be under 5 cents per mile.

Moscow Cost per Mile: $0.0347
Johannesburg Cost per Mile: $0.0420

A mileage run is a trip solely for earning EQM, so oftentimes you never even leave the airport. But in this case, I turned them into vacations.

My trip to Moscow was the first time I used Global Entry, a Customs and Border Patrol program that expedites the immigration process when returning to America, which I was approved for the week before leaving for Russia. Thanks to this program, it literally takes less than 1 minute to clear customs. If you don’t have it, I recommend you apply since it also includes TSA Pre-Check, which gets you through security quicker and with fewer hassles.

Overall, Moscow is a beautiful city with many activities, but in my experience, it is also very expensive. I stayed at the Hotel National, where Lenin stayed while the Kremlin was under construction. It’s also a Starwood property, with which I have Gold elite status, and so I earned 8,852 SPG points thanks to my stay.

Hotel National, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

While in Moscow, I enjoyed the various sites such as Saint Basil’s Cathedral and a day trip outside the city to Troitse-Sergiev Monastery. If you find yourself in Moscow, be sure to explore the metro system — the various stations are truly beautiful, each with a different design. I also enjoyed proper meals, including a 10-course omakase meal at Nobu Moscow. Don’t worry, I also sampled iconic Russian cuisine such as caviar and borscht.

Komsomolskaya Metro Station, Moscow

Photography by Arthur Hsu

My trip to Johannesburg was a much shorter and farther excursion, with a 12-hour layover in Paris and about 37 hours in Johannesburg. With such a short amount of time in Paris, I made my way into the city and used a hop-on/hop-off tour bus to see the major sites before I returned to CDG and grabbed some food and Scotch whisky in the Air France Salon to await my flight to Johannesburg.

Once in Johannesburg, I took the Gautrain, Africa’s first rapid rail system, to the Radisson Blu Gautrain hotel, and shortly after, my guide arrived to take me on a tour of Joburg. I liked the sound of Cashan Private Day Tours, which offered custom city tours, and I was able to book a half-day tour with Penny Cashan. Our first stop — and most surprising and enjoyable element of the tour –  was the Market on Main, which occurs every Sunday at the Arts on Main in the Maboneng Precinct, with great food and various art galleries. I had no idea that Joburg has such a thriving art community.

The next and last day in Joburg, I booked a 1-day safari with Felleng Tours to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. This turned out to be a great experience, since we were able to take the time to find 2 of the Big Five– the white rhino and the African elephant — along with many other amazing animals and sights. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures were low, so the animals weren’t hiding in the shade.

Elephant in Pilanesberg Game Reserve

Photography by Arthur Hsu

Back at O.R. Tambo Airport, I headed to the Air France Salon before deciding to check out other lounges in the airport thanks to my Priority Pass membership, which gives me access to lounges around the world where I do not have elite status. Properly hydrated and nourished, I headed to the gate to catch 2 flights home — just short of 22 hours with a connection in Amsterdam. Now I need to start thinking about my next mileage run.

Watch Mommy Points‘ tips to earn airline elite status.

With some of the highest peaks east of the Rocky Mountains, Beech Mountain Resort has long been one of North Carolina’s most popular places to go skiing. It’s now carving out an identity as a year-round sports destination with a new program that allows mountain bikers to hook their bikes to a high-speed quad chairlift and ride to the top of the mountain’s 5,506-foot summit. From there it’s an adrenaline-pumping ride down a series of trails with rock gardens, jumps, berms and wooded sections. Don’t have a mountain bike? A full line of rentals will be available. The new trails will be open every weekend from June 7 until Sept. 29. After your ride, grab a cold drink and a bite to eat (pizza, burgers, sandwiches, etc.) at the resort’s Beech Tree Bar and Grill.

Elsewhere in tiny Beech Mountain (population: 320), you’ll find the Beech Mountain Adventure Trail Park. This 8-mile network of single track ranges in elevation from 4,700 to 5,400 feet and provides unparalleled mountain vistas and overlooks. The park’s second and third phases are scheduled to open in 2014 and will encompass more than 25 miles of trails. Cycle 4 Life Bike Shop in nearby Banner Elk offers rentals and guided bike trips of the park.

After a day on the trails, reward yourself with some delicious grub at Alpen Restaurant and Bar, which features an open stone fireplace and an outdoor patio and deck where you can enjoy menu items such as burgers, sandwiches, grilled salmon, steaks and pasta dishes. For more casual fare, there’s Famous Brick Oven Pizzeria, which also has wings, sandwiches and salads. Also be sure to stop by Fred’s General Mercantile, an old-school country store that’s famous for having a little of everything, from clothes to outdoor gear, toys, tools, beer and wine. Fred’s also has downstairs deli that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Bed down for the night at The Beech Alpen Inn, which has 24 hotel rooms, some of which have fireplaces and private balconies. Archer’s Mountain Inn has 15 lodge guest rooms that feature panoramic views, rustic décor and wood-burning fireplaces. There’s also Pinnacle Inn Resort, which features one- and two-bedroom condos, as well as an indoor heated pool, Jacuzzi, arcade, sauna and pool table.

- Sam Boykin

On the season finale of Trip Flip, Bret surprises Californians David and Mike with the ultimate, all-expenses-paid dream vacation to the Windy City of Chicago.

In this amazing, tailor-made guys’ getaway, David and Mike see a side of Chicago that most people will never have the opportunity to experience. Bert kicks the trip off with an introduction to the latest craze in water sports: Flyboarding on Lake Michigan. After propelling themselves 20 feet into the air using high-powered water jet streams, it’s on to the edgier side of Chicago to see the gangster hotspots of the ‘20s and ‘30s on a mobster tour. And that’s just the first part of day 1!

To find out what other exciting adventures David and Mike were lucky enough to experience, tune in for an all-new episode, tonight at 8|7c.

Plus, don’t miss these exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos from our Chicago Trip Flip.

Few things in life are free, particularly when it comes to leisure. But this summer travelers interested in outdoors and adventure can enjoy one of the most popular outdoor activities while taking part in a weeklong celebration of a fun sport free of charge.

This coming weekend marks the start of National Fishing & Boating Week (NFBW). Across the country, state agencies will roll out free fishing days in which no license is required to fish in area lakes, streams and rivers. Also on tap will be special events such as fishing derbies and boating shows, and plenty of kid-focused events.

And with 90% of Americans living within an hour of navigable water, enjoying these events and fishing in general is easy and accessible. It is also affordable, with the average-annual license going for around $15. Best of all, these funds go toward conservation and sustainability efforts such as fish stocking and habitat management.

As we hit the lull between Memorial Day and July 4, this is an ideal way to enjoy summer weather and perhaps do something different. Folks can visit TakeMeFishing.org to plan their NFBW adventure, as well as access how-to-fish and where-to-fish information.

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Chattahoochee River

Rush hour is about to take on a whole new meaning in Columbus, GA, as city officials demolish 2 old dams and release a 2.5-mile section of the mighty Chattahoochee River. Deemed River City Rush, the world’s longest urban whitewater course will open May 25 and will roar through the heart of downtown Columbus, creating a hub for outdoor adventure. The “Hooch” is open to kayakers and canoeists year round, but the biggest thrills are to be had during the summer.

As folks in Atlanta (located about 2 hours to the north) crank up their air conditioners, the 430-mile Chattahoochee, which is controlled by hydroelectric dams, will intensify from a Class II-III base flow to intense Class V rapids, says Sutton Bacon, CEO of Nantahala Outdoor Center, which will be the exclusive outfitter at the whitewater course. Bacon says NOC plans to build a full adventure center at the river, offering everything from rafting, kayak instruction, standup paddleboarding and mountain bike rentals.

After a day of paddling, hike or bike (Trek and Specialized bike rentals are available at Ride on Bikes) along Riverwalk, a 20-mile linear park that hugs the banks of the Chattahoochee River. Or, explore an 11-mile pathway that follows former rail lines that weave through Columbus past several city parks.

Other great downtown destinations include the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, where you can catch a Broadway show or concert. Or, explore the National Civil War Naval Museum, which features 19th-century military vessels, uniforms, equipment and weapons. Located across the street from the Naval Museum is International Market Place, where you’ll find everything from classic cars and antiques to kitchenware. It’s most famously home to the Lunchbox Museum, a must-see destination for lovers of kitsch and pop culture that houses one of the country’s largest collections of lunchboxes, many dating back to the early 1950s.

When your stomach starts to rumble, refuel with some authentic Southern fare at Country’s Barbecue. This family-owned restaurant opened in 1975 and is legendary for its ribs, made-from-scratch Brunswick stew, lemon pie, and, of course, barbecue, which is cooked fresh over hickory and oak. There are 3 Columbus locations, including one in a former downtown bus station. Also not to be missed are the famous chilidogs at Dinglewood Pharmacy, located in the historic district along the southern edge of downtown. Established in 1918, it’s the city’s oldest eating establishment. Or, grab a seat at the copper-topped bar and enjoy delicious pizza and locally brewed beer at Cannon Brewpub, a popular hangout among locals that is filled with funky wood and metal sculptures.

For convenient accommodations during your stay, the 177-room Columbus Marriott, built around a restored 1861 cotton mill, is in the heart of downtown Columbus within walking distance to River City Rush as well as museums and performing art centers. For something more intimate, the Rothschild-Pound House is a cozy bed and breakfast 2 blocks from the river. Its suites and cottages feature Jacuzzi tubs, antiques, fireplaces and beautiful hardwood floors.

- Sam Boykin

Photography by Clint Johnston

The Philippines is home to over 7,000 islands with picturesque beaches and turquoise seas, which is why the rice terraces of Batad — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — are often forgotten. The terraces are a stunning scene to behold, sculpted like giant staircases from the mountains of Ifugao. Sadly, they have begun to deteriorate due to climate and abandonment. So make the trek now to Batad before the world loses another wonder. I chose to travel there by Jeepney, the local transportation found all over the islands.

My Jeepney was an old military vehicle, leftover in the Philippines by the US army during World War II. The hulking beast had been converted into a passenger bus —  like thousands of others — each jeep uniquely festooned in a colorful and loud fashion. I climbed to the roof of the vehicle when I realized there was no room down below. I gripped firmly on a support bar and swung my legs over the side where they dangled freely.

The road to Batad begins in Manila with a 9-hour overnight bus to Banaue. While Batad is not a long journey from Banaue, it can be a difficult one. Washed out bridges, landslides and neglected roads are just the beginning. Riding on the roof of  a Jeepney may be common practice for a local, but it is a thrilling experience for a foreigner.

Upon reaching the entrance to the village of Batad, a 45-minute descent winds to the center of town. There are no roads that lead to the quiet village of 1,500 people, which means that walking is the only mode of transportation. There are limited guesthouses in Batad, however many villagers will welcome you into their home, cook for you, and share a glass of traditional rice wine.

Trekking around Batad is a challenge worthy of any traveler. The 2,000-year-old terraces require careful navigation and balance. With paths only wide enough for one person  and steep drops of 10 or more feet in some places, I needed to watch my step. But there is no greater reward than reaching the promontory overlooking the magnificent terraces carved from the mountains of Ifugao.

Don’t overlook the road to Batad. The journey from Manila is long but the 8th wonder of the world awaits. The homestays, people, and culture will embrace you. Make the trek so you can call the rice terraces your home, if only for a few days.

Photography by Clint Johnston

Is your bike collecting more dust than dirt these days? Now is the perfect time to take it for a spin since it’s National Bike Month. From the best cities for cycling to bike-friendly hotels, here are ways to get your wheels rolling this month.

See a City By Bike

Avid cyclist and adventure traveler Ryan Van Duzer shares with us his top 10 US cities for cycling, from Boulder, CO, to Austin, TX.  With 300 days of sunshine and a picturesque mountain backdrop, biking in Boulder is at the top of Van Duzer’s list. You won’t be able to tell if that Rocky Mountain high is from the altitude or the endorphin rush after a ride here. Quirky Austin makes Van Duzer’s list for its unique Bike Zoo, where you can see a pedal-powered 80-foot rattlesnake, and the 6-mile-long Lance Armstrong bikeway, which opened in 2009 and runs through this Texas capital city. (You can see the rest of his picks here.)

Stay at a Bike-Friendly Hotel

Kimpton Hotels is celebrating National Bike Month with its national “Bike Like a Local” program. Travelers staying in Kimpton Hotels in cities like Chicago, San Francisco or New York can take advantage of complimentary bike rentals and bike promotions during May.

If you’re a cycling history buff, pedal back into Alexandria, Virginia’s history with the Civil War Bike Tour package at Monaco Alexandria. This Kimpton Hotel is offering complimentary bikes for guests to explore the Alexandria Civil War Defenses of Washington Bike Trail. Take in the history while getting a workout stopping at historic sites throughout Alexandria like Fort Ward and Alexandria National Cemetery.

At the Hotel Palomar in Phoenix, guests can explore Downtown Phoenix’s must-see spots on the hotel’s complimentary bikes. Guests can also pick up the hotel’s pocket-sized maps of Phoenix, themed for “foodies, artsy types, style lovers and mental flossers.” Each themed map highlights the best spots in the city to eat and drink and what to see and do  — all with a bike rack conveniently nearby.

Borrow a Bike for Few Hours

Don’t have a bike? That’s no excuse! Bike-sharing programs are popping up all over the county — from Washington, DC to Long Beach, CA. The much-anticipated bike share program in NYC opened for registration just last month, and had over 5,000 people sign up within 30 hours. On Memorial Day, the NYC bike share program officially opens, making it country’s largest bike share program with over 6,000 bikes and 330 stations. Another popular bike share program is Washington DC’s Capital Bikeshare, which has over 1,800 bikes at over 200 stations across the metropolitan area. Whether you are a tourist or a local, borrowing a bike in these bustling cities helps you avoid traffic frustrations and parking meltdowns … and burn calories while you’re at it.

 

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Bert heads to Costa Mesa, CA, in an attempt to find one couple crazy enough to let him take the reigns on their vacation and flip their trip into an all-expenses-paid adventure to the Colorado Rocky Mountains.

Jennifer and Paul happen to be that lucky couple, and without knowing what’s in store, they’re in for the surprise of a lifetime. Have you ever been to an indoor/outdoor extreme sports training center? Well, if you’ve never been to Copper Mountain, CO, then your answer is no. That’s because Jen and Paul are going to Woodward at Copper, the world’s only facility of that nature, to do some indoor skiing.

From paragliding off Lookout Mountain and soaring high above Golden, CO, to working out at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Bert has planned quite an amazing trip for our Rocky Mountain adrenaline junkies.

To find about more about Jennifer and Paul’s amazing trip to Colorado, tune in for an all-new episode, tonight at 8|7c.

Plus, check out these exclusive, sneak peek, behind-the-scenes photos from tonight’s episode.

All aboard! Next stop … the sunny shores of South Beach. By saying “yes” to Trip Flip host Bert Kreischer, Austin, TX, locals Nathan and Shannon have agreed to let him take the lead on an all-expenses-paid trip to Miami, with no idea of what’s in store for them. They certainly will not be disappointed.

How would you like to be given a tour of the city by one of the most successful music producers of all time — and husband of famed singer Gloria Estefan — 19-time Grammy award winner, Emilio Estefan? What about partaking in a drag race and drift at the Countyline Dragway, skimboarding in crystal-clear waters or getting turned into sand mermaids by sculpture artist, Victor Leong?

An amazing trip so far, right?

The third day of Shannon and Nathan’s Miami adventure starts at dawn, when Bert gets ready to reveal his biggest surprise of the season. Bert takes the couple to the Port of Miami by speedboat, where he informs them that they’ll also be going on an amazing, 6-day Carnival cruise to the Bahamas.

Bert and the lucky couple aren’t the only ones who got to enjoy the amenities of the Carnival cruise. Trip Flip’s senior producer John tells Travel Channel, “Our crew — who has traveled quite a bit and seen a few things — were so impressed with our VIP treatment, especially getting on and off the ship.  We felt like royalty.”

“Sometimes Trip Flip can be very spontaneous,” John adds. “The ship’s staff, crew and guests couldn’t have been nicer and more accommodating.”

Nate and Shannon are quick to take full advantage of all the onboard amenities, such as the top-level sky challenge course, and the on-ship water park, Waterworks. After riding the 300-foot corkscrew slide, it’s finally time to relax, so Bert arranges an appointment at the ship’s spa for an intimate couple’s massage.  And that’s just day 1 of their cruise!

Bert enjoys himself quite a bit, as well, with senior producer John telling us, “Whenever Bert shows up poolside, the party seems to arrive with him.”

To find out more about Nate and Shannon’s amazing Miami trip and personalized Carnival cruise, tune in tonight at 8|7c.

Plus, don’t forget to check out these exclusive, behind-the-scenes photos from this amazing Miami Trip Flip.

Want to take your own Carnival Breeze adventure? Go to Carnival.com to start planning your next vacation!

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