Think of your aspirations and goals in life. Do they involve jumping off very high things and generally “running amok”? If so, Chris “Douggs” McDougall is living your dream, the lucky bastard.
But if that’s not your thing, you still have to hand it to the jovial veteran wingsuit pilot, who is living something of a GoPro fantasy in the Swiss mountains, jumping off very high things indeed in a webbed superhero costume and dubstepping happily from one adrenaline kick to the next.
This particular kick sees him fly through a waterfall, which to this desk-bound critic’s eyes isn’t as impressive as flying through a cave, really, but looks fun and dangerous as hell nonetheless. Anyway, he still has plenty of time to impress us further because he’s going to Mexico next on his world tour to fly through god-knows-what. We will be patiently waiting for the bass to drop on the next video of his exploits.
Contrary to popular belief, Singapore offers more than just skyscrapers and street food. In the last few years, the Asian city-state has transformed itself into a premiere destination for adventure and nature lovers. Singapore doesn’t just have gardens; it is a city within a garden. Plus, its tropical climate makes it the perfect place to indulge in outdoor pursuits year round.
What does this mean for adventure travelers? The unique opportunity to indulge in world-class adventures from the comfort of one of the world’s most well ordered cities. Care to go under the sea? Reef diving is available just 30 minutes off the coast. Looking to be airborne? Try zip-lining on Sentosa Island.
For Singaporeans, active pursuits aren’t just a luxury; they are seen as crucial for a higher quality of life. As a result, the city has invested heavily in outdoor attractions in recent years. Last year saw the opening of Gardens By The Bay, a horticultural theme park with futuristic “supertrees” and conservatories. And this year, the team behind the popular Singapore Zoo and Night Safari will unveil River Safari, Asia’s first river-themed wildlife park featuring recreated habitats from the Yangtze to the Congo to the Mighty Mississippi. Also in 2013, Singapore will host the World Street Food Congress, with celebrity chefs and foodies from around the globe – an adventure of a different variety, but an adventure nonetheless.
Hiking: Westerners tend to view Singapore as more of a concrete jungle than an actual one. But the truth is, Singapore contains miles upon miles of lush greenery, some of which is primary old-growth rainforest. One of the largest patches is in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a .6-square-mile national park that contains 40 percent of Singapore’s flora and fauna. Trails range from easy to moderately difficult, and most can be completed in less than two hours. Or, get a bird’s-eye view of the rainforest from the TreeTop Walk, a 820-foot freestanding suspension bridge connecting the two highest points in the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. Hiking there and back is a moderate to difficult 3.7-mile trek that can be completed in two to three hours. For a less intense hiking experience, try the Rainforest Walking Trail at the Singapore Botanic Gardens, which features 314 species of flora and fauna, 80% of which are rare or endangered. The 0.37-mile walk can easily be completed in 30 to 40 minutes. Admission to all parks is free.
Water Sports: It’s easy to forget that Singapore is an island, with miles of beaches and dozens of water sports up for grabs. The People’s Association Water-Venture is a good place to start, with reasonably priced courses and rentals in water sports like sailing, kayaking, power boating, sea rafting, windsurfing and dragon boating. There are nine outlets throughout the island. For diving enthusiasts, Pulau Hantu boasts bright corals and colorful wildlife, despite being just a 30-minute boat ride from the coast. The Dive Company offers one-day dive trips to Pulau Hantu starting at S$95 (US$76). Or, try something completely different at SKI360, Singapore’s first cable-ski park. This relatively new water sport uses a cable system to pull water skiers and wakeboarders around a man-made lagoon. Ski passes from S$32 (US$25).
Adrenaline Activities: Singapore has no shortage of ways to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping. Thrill seekers flock to the Gmax Reverse Bungy, an attraction on Clarke Quay that propels riders into the sky at speeds of up to 200 km/hr (124 mph). If that’s too tame for you, try the recently opened GX-5 Xtreme Swing, which catapults riders 100 meters across the Singapore River. Each ride costs S$49 (US$39), or you can do both for S$60 (US$48). If you prefer diving downward, try iFly Singapore, a large indoor wind tunnel that simulates the skydiving experience. First-timers can give it a try from S$69 (US$55) for two dives. There’s also the MegaZip Adventure Park, with an aerial rope course, free-fall simulator and some of the most extreme zip lines in Asia. Admission from S$35 (US$28) per person.
Sentosa Island: This hedonistic resort is a veritable playground for adventure travelers. Whether your poison is extreme segwaying “zorbing” or more traditional pursuits like swimming and lying on the beach, you’ll find it on Sentosa. Visitors can get to the island by foot over the recently opened Sentosa Boardwalk, by cable car or by public transportation. http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en
Gardens By The Bay: Opened last year, this expansive attraction is more a theme park for plant lovers than a simple botanical garden. Indeed, the more futuristic elements of Gardens By The Bay warrant comparisons to the movie “Avatar”: towering 16-story “supertrees,” gravity-defying suspended walkways, a Flower Dome conservatory simulating the Mediterranean and a Cloud Forest conservatory with a 35-meter “mountain” covered in rare vegetation. The outside gardens are open to the public, while entrance to the two conservatories will cost foreign visitors S$28 (US$22). http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg
Pulau Ubin: Singapore’s man-made adventure attractions are certainly impressive, but sometimes they can feel a bit too … “Singapore.” In less-developed Pulau Ubin island, a quick 15-minute bumboat ride from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, the pace is slower and the vegetation more unruly. Once there, you can hike the island’s extensive system of nature trails, rent mountain bikes or just sit on the beach and take a breather from the frenetic energy of the mainland. There’s just enough activity to make for the perfect low-key day trip. http://www.pulauubin.com.sg
Wanderlust: The Wanderlust hotel in Little India is intended for the “madcap voyager.” Designed by Singapore’s top design agencies, Wanderlust’s 29 themed rooms are bright, clean and funky. Adventurers will love sleeping under the faux branches of the whimsical “Tree” suite; as a writer, I’m personally obsessed with the industrial-themed “Typewriter” suite. From S$161 (US$129). http://wanderlusthotel.com 2 Dickson Road, Little India
Siloso Beach Resort: One of the more budget-friendly options on Sentosa Island, Siloso Beach Resort is a beachfront eco-resort surrounded by vegetation, wildlife and the longest spring water landscape pool in Singapore. Splurge on the Glass Loft “Tree House,” with floor-to-ceiling windows that make you feel like you’re in the middle of the jungle – despite the fact that you’re minutes from the madness of Sentosa. From S$180 (US$144). http://www.silosobeachresort.com 51 Imbiah Walk, Sentosa
Celestial Ubin Beach Resort: The only hotel on Pulau Ubin, the newly reopened Celestial Ubin Beach Resort is euphemistically described as “rustic.” In reality, standard rooms are small, dingy and not quite worth the price tag. The real treasures are the villas, which are situated right on the almost-private beach and can sleep up to five people. Standards from S$168 (US$134); villas from S$299 (US$240). http://ubinbeach.celestialresort.com 8V Pulau Ubin
Seasonality: Peak tourist season is from December to June, and budget travelers can find less crowds and lower prices in the off-peak months of July and August. Temperatures are pretty consistent throughout the year, with a daily average of 81 degrees Fahrenheit. Expect cooler temperatures during the Northeast Monsoon season from November to mid-March, with the heaviest rains falling between November and January.
Safety: Singapore is one of the safest cities in Asia, thanks to strict punishment for minor offenses like chewing gum, jaywalking, forgetting to flush a public toilet, walking around your own house naked and even connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot. While some of the laws may seem pretty absurd by Western standards, their result is a country that is incredibly safe and orderly.
Get Around: Singapore’s Changi International Airport is one of the best in the region, if not the world. Transportation options to downtown are plentiful, with a range of public transport, shuttle and taxi services. The best way to get around Singapore is by its extensive public transportation system. Choose between the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), which connects the busiest parts of the island, and the bus system, which covers everywhere else. The fare depends on the distance traveled; be sure to pick up an EZ-Link tap-and-go stored value pass, which works on all forms of public transport. Singapore Public Transport also offers a handy PDF guide for tourists. Metered taxis are a relatively affordable option too; fares start at S$3 (US$2.40) with S$0.22 (US$0.18) charged for every 400 meters thereafter.
Baumgartner’s initial inclusion on this list follows his epic skydive from the edge of space last October. The world breathlessly watched on as the 43-year-old rode a specially designed helium balloon to the edge of space, then popped open the hatch and stepped off into nothingness. At that point he was more than 127,000 feet above the Earth’s surface and far higher than any other skydiver had gone before.
During his descent, Baumgartner managed to set several new world’s records, including becoming the first person to break the sound barrier without the use of an aircraft. During his free fall, Felix reached speeds in excess of 844 miles per hour or Mach 1.25. He officially jumped from his balloon at an altitude of 24.2 miles, which is of course a record height as well. He even experienced 25 seconds of weightlessness on the way down, before pulling his ripcord and slowly completing his descent back to Earth.
While Baumgartner was clearly the most well known Adventurer of the Year candidate amongst the general public he still faced stiff competition from a number of outdoor personalities. For instance, ultrarunner Lizzy Hawker isn’t exactly a household name, but she is an absolute legend amongst endurance athletes. Hawker won her fifth Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc trail race, which is grueling 103-mile run through the Alps. Similarly, kayaker Steve Fisher is one of the best paddlers in the world and last year he managed to run the biggest rapids on the planet on the Congo River. Those feats didn’t receive nearly the amount of attention that Baumgartner’s did, but they are impressive nonetheless.
To read Felix’s thoughts on winning this honor, what role adventure has played in his life and much more, check out the Nat Geo interview with the man himself.
[Photo Credit: Red Bull Stratos/Red Bull Content Pool]
As our front line of airport security, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is charged with providing effective and efficient operation of America’s transportation systems. That’s a big job that involves a whole lot more than the highly visible airport security checkpoints travelers most often associate them with. But most often it is when those airport security checks go awry that the TSA makes the news and last week was no exception.
Three-year-old Lucy Forck suffers from Spina bifida, a developmental disorder, and was on her way to a magical Disney World dream vacation when selected for secondary screening at the Lambert- St. Louis’ International Airport. Targeted for the extra security measure because she was in a wheelchair, the scene did not turn out well. The TSA employees were caught on film taking the child’s stuffed animal, as parents objected all the way. The viral video prompted an apology.
“TSA regrets inaccurate guidance was provided to this family during screening and offers its apology,” TSA says on its website.
Understood – a tough situation indeed. TSA agents are charged with making judgment calls all day and with the sheer volume of people screened, things like this are bound to happen in the process of protecting us from harm. I think we all get that and surely want to fly safely.
What many travelers don’t get are situations where embarrassment, if not invasion of privacy issues, could have been avoided. Some, like Lucy’s parents, are more vocal than others too.
On just about the opposite end of the humanity scale from 3-year-old girls are professional skydivers.They’re a salty bunch that speak a language peppered with words little Lucy would get her mouth washed out with soap for uttering and I would probably not get published here for writing. Still, as a group, skydivers are also a very close-knit community of uber safety-conscious sportspeople who live life on the edge. That’s probably because what they do involves jumping out of a perfectly good airplane, over and over again, so safety is of premier importance.
The February issue of Blue Skies, a monthly print magazine about skydiving, BASE jumping, paragliding, wingsuiting and other forms of human-powered flying has a story detailing what pro skydiver and pilot Dean Ricci calls the “TSA Two-Step.”
Ricci describes what skydivers commonly experience every time they go through a TSA checkpoint with their “rig,” a container that carries their parachute, a backup parachute and what is called a CYPRES device. Technically an Automatic Activation Device (AAD), CYPRES is a brand name, an acronym for Cybernetic Parachute Release System and an important safety feature, which automatically deploys the parachute at a pre-set altitude should something go wrong in free fall.
Few skydivers turn their rig in to airlines as checked luggage, preferring to keep the $5000+ equipment, which fits in a commercial airliner’s overhead storage with them at all times, for a couple reasons. First, since humans don’t actually fly, this is the equipment that has a great deal to do with if they live or die. Understandably, they don’t want it tossed around like luggage. Also, the value of the equipment usually exceeds the maximum airlines will pay for lost items.
To make going through checkpoints a smooth process and to avoid panic among other air travelers (imagine if others in line saw TSA agents visually inspecting a parachute then allowing that passenger to board the plane) skydivers carry a CYPRES card, which explains what is inside the container:
To Airport Security Personnel:
On the reverse you see two X-rays (a=view from above, b=side view) of a complete parachute, containing a CYPRES parachute emergency opening system. CYPRES is a Life Saving Device for Skydivers. Depending on the parachute container the X-ray on your screen may vary. All its components (e.g. measuring technique, electronics, battery, loop cutter, control unit, plugs, cables, casing) as well as the complete system contain parts and materials that are approved by U.S. DOT and other agencies world-wide, and are not subject to any transport regulations.
Still, under x-ray inspection, the delicate AAD instrument looks quite suspicious – so suspicious that the TSA and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have special rules allowing the container to pass through inspection if it looks somewhat like on the CYPRES card being carried by its owner.
Apparently though, not all TSA inspectors have been trained on how to handle such matters.
Because passing through security is almost always a problem, Ricci brings along a copy of TSA guidelines as they pertain to skydiving equipment to at least point TSA agents in the right direction when going through security.
Nonetheless, after a 20 minute discussion with TSA personnel about the matter, Ricci was allowed to leave his AAD and emergency parachute untouched but instructed to remove his main parachute from its container which totally covered the secondary screening area, well within sight of other air travelers.
“The crowd was mixed between being amused and nervous to see what was clearly a parachute lying on the ground as they prepared to fly away,” says Ricci, describing a situation that could have been avoided then adding, perhaps more importantly “and the TSA staff were at a complete loss.”
At a time when stories are flying around the Internet and through the news media of potential government cutbacks, causing there to be fewer TSA agents on hand, backing up lines and making their operation more difficult, Ricci believes TSA staff should be selected more carefully and have better training.
“Stop putting some pimple-faced kid who barely managed to get his GED in a blue shirt and letting him pretend he’s the boss,” suggests Ricci, defining a more effective option as “give me an intelligent soldier type. Healthy, well-kept and carrying a gun, who can show respect to me and everyone else.”
Ricci, a pilot and tandem skydiving instructor with over 8,000 jumps to his credit, is quite serious about his views on the TSA, safety and our security. He notes that his experience is not unique and has a lesson for little Lucy’s parents of what she might have in store for future travels, although they might wait until she is a bit older to fill in the details.
Ricci tells the story of Barry Williams, another professional skydiving instructor who had surgery as a child to repair a genetic abnormality. Today he is fine but still has a great deal of metal in his pelvic area.
“Barry carries with him not only a diagram of exactly what the screeners are detecting, but documentation from the surgeon detailing exactly what he had done, yet without fail TSA never listens.”
Ricci saw first-hand how Williams presented the documentation as he approached the screener, showed the agent that he had nothing in his pockets then stepped though the metal detector which, as he said it would, sounded an alarm.
A second time through, the alarm went off again, as it did when instructed to go through a third time as well. But Williams knew the drill and was more than ready for the one-on-one wand and pat down search in a bigger than normal way.
“As they escorted Barry into the secondary screening area, he signaled to me that I should pay attention,” says Ricci, noting a distinct jiggle in the basketball shorts that Williams wore that day. “First I noticed Barry’s face. It was beginning to look like the face Meg Ryan made in When Harry Met Sally when she started having the fake orgasm in the restaurant.”
Apparently able to salute TSA agents on command, Williams had been doing it for years because “no matter how hard he tried to explain to the TSA what the issue was, they always asked the same stupid questions, without any independent intelligent thought.”
That’s a long way from the ordeal Lucy and her parents went through but carries a similar lesson that the TSA sums up very nicely on its website, in its own words:
“We are committed to maintaining the security of the traveling public and strive to treat all passengers with dignity and respect. While no pat-down was performed, we will address specific concerns with our workforce.”
We hope so.
In case you missed it, here is video of Lucy’s experience. Video of William’s experience is not available.
Some of the best things we run across just don’t need a whole lot of words.
This stunning video compilation is one of those.
Awesome X: Sense Of Life is a compilation of over 30 adventure videos from Germany’s EdisProduction. The stunning effort is a whirlwind of visuals and locales. The production company offers this caption to accompany the video: “Sense of Life – my fresh 5-minutes compilation capturing awesome and stunning videos introduced with a wonderful Song: Band of Horses – The Funeral.”