Five trekking options for adventurers with bad backs

trekking with bad backIf you’ve got a bad back or neck–and many of us do–it can make certain aspects of travel challenging, especially if you’re otherwise healthy and active. Perhaps the most frustrating issue for adventure travelers such as myself is being limited to day hikes, unless there are overnight options that don’t involve humping a 50-pound-plus backpack into the wilderness.

I suffered a moderately severe back injury in 1994, which has been exacerbated over the years by my recreational/occupational pursuits and being a general spaz (a fall on ice led to months of physical therapy). While I travel with a 35-pound backpack, it’s always for relatively short distances. When it comes to trekking, I know my limit is about 10 pounds, in a daypack.

Yet I love few things more than backpacking and trekking. Over the years, I’ve found ways to circumvent my back issues, and in the process, have taken some truly mind-blowing trips (as well as excelled, physically). There are those who consider it cheating if you don’t carry your own gear, but I’m willing to bet they haven’t experienced the joys of a herniated disc, whiplash, or spinal stenosis. Ignore the naysayers, and look into these rewarding options. Happy trails!

Note: I don’t want to underplay the importance of being physically fit and well-conditioned for a trek. You need to be able to walk long distances, on often steep, difficult terrain at very high altitude (depending upon itinerary). Any reputable company will provide you with an outline on conditioning for your adventure. Please be honest (with yourself, and them) about your abilities.

Use a porter
Outfitters in many locales, such as the Inca Trail, the Himalayas, or Kilimanjaro rely on porters to haul gear; you’re responsible for your daypack (which may include weather-related gear). The altitude presents enough of a challenge for the average trekker, and porters are usually indigenous peoples who are genetically adapted to their harsh environment. There’s a reason Sherpas always accompany climbers on Everest and why the Quechua porters of the Andes are capable of sprinting uphill for miles, barefoot, with 100-pound loads on their backs.

%Gallery-125080%trekking with bad backThe first time I did a trip with porters, I was bothered by what I saw as a social injustice. But my Peruvian guide from Bio Bio Expeditions explained that there are strict guidelines in place (this may depend upon region, so please check with your outfitter or the local permitting office) about maximum weight loads. By employing the local people, porters receive a steady paycheck, supplemented by monetary tips from trekkers (please don’t overlook this; it’s part of their livelihood, and believe me, they earn it), and donated clothing items that go to their families.

Pack trips
While long days in the saddle can wreak havoc on tenderfoot thighs and butts, pack trips are the ideal way for the physically-compromised or older folks to explore remote wilderness regions, often at high altitude (day hikes are usually included during downtime; be sure to ask). Alternatively, if your back (or you) demand a bit more comfort at night, you can descend on muleback into the depths of the Grand Canyon, and stay in one of the Phantom Ranch’s rustic but comfy cabins; note that these trips book out at least a year in advance.

Bonus: Many outfitters now focus on food, so rest assured you won’t be eating freeze-dried beef Stroganoff. Other outfitters will teach you packing skills, such as how to tie a diamond-hitch and load a pack mule, or focus on fly-fishing, photography, or personalized trips, so look for the company that best suits your needs and interests. Tip: There’s no unified national packers association. Your best bet, says Dave Dohnel of California’s (very excellent) Frontier Pack Train, is to “ask for references–I always tell potential clients to call the regional office of the Forest Service. They’re the stewards of the land, so they’ll give you an unbiased opinion.” Also be sure to do some online research on the companies you’re considering.
trekking with bad back
Llama/goat packing
Having a furry friend haul your gear as you walk alongside is becoming more popular in the States. Llamas, of course, have been used as pack animals for hundreds of years in the Andes. They’re tough, have excellent footing, and are cute as the dickens, but they’re also tempermental. If you’d prefer to trek with an animal you can really bond with, goats are ideal, as they’re more dog-like and enjoy interacting with people.

There are only a handful of goat packers in the U.S. at this time, but it’s grown in popularity since it was pioneered in the 1980’s by former Forest Service employee John Mionczynski. A large goat can carry up to a quarter of its body weight with a pack frame, and their small hooves and grazing habits make them a lower impact option than horses or mules. The North American Packgoat Association (NAPgA) is for those who want to start packing with their own goats, but it’s still a great resource.

Destinations for both llama and goatpacking include the Rockies, Pacific Northwest, and Southwestern U.S.. There’s also the Pack Llama Festival in Silverton, Colorado, held September 22-25.

Day treks from a base camp
Many outfitters offer combination trips that enable experienced trekkers or climbers and beginners to travel together. Seattle-based Mountain Madness, historically a “hardcore” mountaineering outfitter, now offers a “Trek or Climb Program” that allows partners or families to enjoy the same trip–each participant has the option to climb or trek only, or a combo of the two–and reunite at a new base camp each night. For those with no experience wanting to get a “taste of climbing but not commit to it 100%,” this offers a great compromise. All trips include porters, so you only need to carry your daypack (they’ll even hire a porter to do that, if you’d like). Other companies, like Seattle’s Alpine Ascents, will hire porters to carry your gear on their international trips if you’re unable (they suggest you be able to handle a 50-pound pack).
trekking with bad back
For my first mountaineering attempt, I did a Mountain Madness trip to Ecuador’s Cotopaxi, the world’s highest active volcano (19,347 feet). Because we had to spend the night at a refugio located just above 15,000 feet in the acclimatization zone, it meant I only required a day pack for the ascent (which was unfortunately thwarted at 17,000 feet due to avalanche danger). But the point is, you can have the best of both worlds, bad back or not. And I still had a great time and felt I’d made a massive achievement.

Specialty trips
Mountain Madness also offers a Mt. Baker “Slow Boat” beginner summit climb in the Cascades (FYI, a lot of outfitters are based in Seattle, an outdoor industry Mecca). This is a four-day trek–usually, it’s done in three–created specifically for those who need a little more time for whatever reason (you still need to be able to carry 35 pounds). Ask outfitters what options they offer if you have limitations; many companies will create personalized itineraries for two or more clients.

Have back problems and a trek or outfitter you want to rave about? Let us know!

[Photo credits: pack train, Flickr user Mouldy17; all other photos, Laurel Miller]

Yoga: Postures to Help Relieve Back Pain

Celebrate National Day of the American Cowboy

American cowboyYes, Virginia, there are cowboys. And thanks to the efforts of American Cowboy magazine, the tough, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth men and women who make your juicy T-bone possible are getting their own day of recognition. I’m not talking about your wannabe, Keith Urban-listening, jacked-up pick-up driving, tight jeans-wearing, soft-handed yahoos. I’m referring to the real deal: people who work the land for a living, and actually know how to ride a horse, throw a lariat, and mend a fence.

The National Day of the American Cowboy, held this year on July 23rd, was founded by the magazine in 2004 to “preserve, protect, and promote our Western heritage.”

Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to American Cowboy, but not just because I grew up on a ranch and immersed in the Western lifestyle. It’s because I spent my formative years around ranchers, wranglers, packers, and rodeo folk that I have the respect I do for these people, and have dedicated myself to helping preserve their way of life. I may not agree with industrial livestock production and certain ecological aspects (which don’t pertain to all ranchers, anyway) but I can separate that from the need to feed millions–if not billions–of people, and the respect cowboys and ranchers have for the land, their animals, and their heritage.

Few people are more invested in preserving open space than cowboys. Their livelihood depends upon it. And without a deep investment in the welfare of their livestock they can’t make ends meet. So this year, think about thanking our cowboys by joining a local event (click here for listings). Or put on Sons of the Pioneers, fire up the barbecue, and offer a toast with a bottle of Coors or shot of Jack.

[Photo credit: Flickr user mharrsch]

The 10 greatest sports venues

greatest sports

With The Masters starting today, the NCAA championship behind us and the Major League Baseball season just around the corner, lots of people are traveling to see their favorite teams, events, and players this week. Some of the most historic sporting venues in the world are easy to reach and boast loads of history. Here are the ten greatest sports venues and how to reach each one.

Fenway Park (above)
The oldest major league stadium has more character than most. It opened in 1912, and has been packing in fans ever since. The Red Sox have sold out every home game for over 600 games and counting – a major league record. Fenway is a legendary place that every sports fan needs to visit at least once. And since they have won two World Series in the last decade, I do not even need to mention the pesky curse.

Getting there and tickets: Located in Boston, Fenway Park is right off the Mass Turnpike in the heart of the city. Take the green line on the T to Kenmore station to reach the ballpark. Tickets can be purchased here. Since games are always sold out, it is easy to just pick scalp your tickets or grab a pair off of craigslist, ebay, or stubhub.

greatest sports

Lambeau Field
Opened in 1957 as City Stadium, the home of the Green Bay Packers was renamed after Curly Lambeau in 1965. The Super Bowl Champion Packers have one of the most loyal fan bases of all NFL franchises, and season tickets have been sold out since 1960. The stadium is a classic in football design, and Green Bay is one of the smallest markets to host a professional sports team.

Getting there and tickets: Fly into Austin Straubel International Airport in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Home game tickets for the Super Bowl champion Packers are hard to come by. There is currently 86,000 individuals on the Green Bay Packers season tickets waiting list. The best bet for a coveted spot at Lambeau is though stubhub.com.


greatest sports

Old Trafford
The home of Manchester United was built in 1910. Known colloquially as the “theatre of dreams,” the famed football stadium houses the most successful club in English football history. Man U is one of the most, if not the most, popular sporting franchise in the world. From the far flung islands of Indonesia to rural villages in Russia, the Man U brand is a recurring staple.

Getting there and tickets: Old Trafford is located in Machester, England which can be reached by plane or train. From London, Virgin Trains can get you to Manchester quick for about 23.50 GBP. Tickets are fairly easy to come by for routine matches, though exceptional match-ups and Champions League games may require purchase on the secondary market.

greatest sports

Wrigley Field
The home of the Chicago Cubs since 1916, this den of futility has never seen a world series victory. In 1916, President Taft’s epically mustachioed son sold the team and the new owners moved to the location known today as Wrigley Field. With their last world series victory in 1908, they possess the longest championship drought in major league baseball. Perhaps, 2011 will be the year. This old field is famous for its ivy draped outfield walls and old-school hand-turned scoreboard.

Getting there and tickets: Located in Chicago, take the L train to the red line stop of Addison just a block from Wrigley. Tickets can be purchased here.

greatest sports

Wimbledon
Wimbledon houses one of the four tennis Grand Slam events, The Chamionships, Wimbledon. It is widely considered to be the most prestigious of all tennis tournaments. Since 1877, royalty and commoners have piled into the small court at the All England Club to watch the best ladies and gentlemen of the tennis world trade swings. With a strict dress code and a tradition of strawberries and cream consumption, it is a very high brow affair. While Wimbledon has roughly 20 courts, the two most storied are Centre Court and No. 1 Court.

Getting there and tickets: The tournament begins each year on the first Monday falling between June 20 and 26. For tickets, you must apply by public ballot or marry into royalty. To get there, fly to London and take the tube to Wimbledon or Southfields on the District Line.

greatest sports

Masters at Augusta
The Masters at Augusta in Georgia is the pinnacle of professional golf. The only men’s major to take place at the same location each year, The Masters has been inviting the best golfers in the world since the tournament began in 1934. The tournament is also extremely rich in tradition. The winner of the tournament is fitted for the “green jacket” and chooses the meal served at the Champions’ Dinner for the following year. The Champions’ dinner is an ultra-exclusive event reserved for past winners of the tournament. After his win in 1997, a twenty-two year old Tiger Woods chose cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, french fries, and milk shakes for the illustrious Champions’ dinner.

Getting there and tickets: The event takes place during the first week of April with the first round beginning on Thursday. Augusta Regional Airport is serviced by Delta, or one can drive from Atlanta or Charlotte to Augusta in under three hours. Since The Masters quit selling tickets to the public in 1972, it has become one of the most difficult sporting events to attend. Ticket brokers do sell tickets, and prices range from $1,500 to north of $10,000. Ticket Scalping is legal in Georgia (outside of 1500 feet from the venue), so you can also show up and hope for the best. Practice tickets are available to the general public.

greatest sports

Madison Square Garden
MSG is home to the New York Knicks basketball team and the New York Rangers hockey team. The earliest incarnation of Madison Square opened in 1879 and played host to boxing matches and an exhibition of Jumbo the elephant – whose name and popularity linguistically gave birth to the term jumbo. Three versions later, MSG opened the doors to its current form in 1968. It is the third busiest arena in the world in terms of ticket sales. Some significant events in Madison Square history include “The Fight of the Century” with Ali versus Frazier as well as Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to JFK.

Getting there and tickets: Madison Square Garden is located in Manhattan at 8th Ave and 33rd St. Tickets can be purchased here.

greatest sports

Cameron Indoor
In the land of college hoops, Cameron Indoor is the church of basketball under the ministry of Coach Krzyzewski. Built over 70 years ago, it is a humble structure with an occupancy of less than 10,000. What it lacks for in size it makes up for in energy. The Cameron Crazies, students that sometimes paint their entire bodies blue, have made this one of the loudest stadiums in the world with a recorded decibel level of 121.3 – louder than a jackhammer. The Duke Blue Devils that call Cameron home have won four national championships and have made the Final Four a total of fifteen times.

Getting there and tickets: Fly or drive to Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina. Tickets can be bought on stubhub. Undergraduate students camp out in Krzyzewskiville for tickets – a temporary squatter settlement of tents near Cameron.

greatest sports

St. Andrews
The oldest golf course in the world is the old course at St. Andrews in Scotland. According to the mainstream, the Scots invented the game of golf. The earliest records of golf is a law put forth by James II decreeing that all playing of the sport in Scotland be halted in 1457. He felt it interfered with archery practice. Today the course is one of several locations used for the British Open – most recently used in 2010 for the men’s tournament.

Getting there and tickets: The nearest airport is Edinburgh, which can be reached by several European discount carriers. London to Edinburgh on easyjet costs about 25 GBP. From Edinburgh, car or bus is the best option. For rail travelers, one can reach St. Andrews by taking the train from London to Edinburgh and then from Edinburgh to Leuchars about 10km from St. Andrews.

Churchill Downs
Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Churchill Downs hosts the annual Kentucky Derby. The event has come to personify an embodiment of the South that includes Mint Juleps and gigantic hats. Churchill Downs has hosted the race since 1875, making it one of America’s oldest sporting traditions. Speaking of tradition, a strange one has emerged in the hard partying infield of the Churchill Downs – porta potty running. Brave entrants run the length of a row of portable toilets while other spectators heave various projectiles at them (above).

Getting there and tickets: Louisville is serviced by many airlines and tickets to the Kentucky Derby can be purchased here. For 2011, the Kentucky Derby takes place on May 7. Regular races run from Thursday to Sunday from late April to early July.

Touring Dallas Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl XLV Media Day

cowboys stadium

Super Bowl XLV. It was most certainly one for the record books. Well over 100,000 people flowed into Cowboys Stadium in the heart of North Texas to watch two of the NFL’s most storied teams do battle. The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers put on an amazing spectacle, and I was able to take part in one small way. I made my way into Arlington for Super Bowl Media Day — a frenzied event that saw over 1,000 credentialed media crowd the field for their chance to interview their favorite players and coaches. Two of the league’s most historic teams, both on the field of the newest, most awe-inspiring stadium in the NFL. It was a spectacular scene, and a journey I won’t ever forget. The good news for you is that even though the Super Bowl is over, Cowboys Stadium remains open for business.

How so, you ask? The team has set up a program for tourists, locals and curious fans alike to actually take a tour of the new Cowboys Stadium. Tours are given seven days a week, with two primary options for entry. Of course, a general tour won’t involve speaking to players of the Packers or Steelers, but it will involve a thorough walkthrough of the NFL’s most astounding and technologically advanced venue. Read on to catch a glimpse of what you’ll see should you make the trip down (or up!).

%Gallery-116470%Aside from the fact that players were on the field and more willing than ever to sign an autograph rather than answer yet another question directly related to sports, a normal Cowboys Stadium tour isn’t too different than a Super Bowl Media Day tour. I was granted access to a special side entrance as well as a rear conference room, a look at the technology that powers the stadium (more on that angle here and here) and field-level access to the players, but other than that, my experience would pretty much mimic yours.

cowboys stadium

My first suggestion would be to splurge on the VIP Tour. If you make the trip over to Arlington, it’s worth the $10 per person upcharge to get a legitimate VIP experience. This runs $27.50 for adults (or $20 per person with a group of 20+ people), or $22.50 for children and seniors. The cheaper self-guided tour lacks the insider knowledge that the VIP Tour provides, giving you full access to the Pro Shop, field, locker rooms, Miller Lite Club and the post-game interview room. There are Tour Guides stations in each area to answer your questions, but the VIP Tour goes above and beyond. With that, you’ll begin at the Main club and then tour a private suite, the radio / print media press boxes, the Cotton Bowl offices, the Dr. Pepper Star Bar and the Ford Motor Company Fountain.

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Following those stops, a guide will take you down to the event level where you’ll see all of the stops on the Self-Guided Tours. Afterwards, you’ll end the tour in the Pro Shop where you’ll get a complimentary 6- x 8-inch photo to remember the experience. Like I said, the $10 upcharge seems justified.

cowboys stadium

As for my experience? It was outstanding. The 72- x 160-foot Mitsubishi Electric HD display hanging from the roof is truly a sight that has to be seen to be believed. It’s an expansive place — the roof can be opened up if the weather is nice, and it’s very obvious just how new this place is. Being able to get on the field holds even more meaning now that the Packers and Steelers have christened it with a Super Bowl, and for fans of the NFL (or sports in general), it’s a breathtaking experience. You really can’t judge just how huge the place is until you’re there. I kept wishing that I could actually return for a game after being on the field with legendary players, and there’s no doubt that this tour will get you hooked and hoping to come back for more. There looks to be hardly a bad seat in the house, and from a tech perspective, there’s plenty to appreciate. Over 800 wireless routers are there to provide reliable internet access through games (for those who like to tweet or upload images / videos of the action), and there have been improvements made in wireless cellphone coverage for similar reasons.

cowboys stadium

During my tour, I also learned of things to come from Cowboys CIO Pete Walsh and systems architects from CDW. The organization is hoping to tie a good deal of technology into future events. Things like iPhone apps for ordering food (and potentially having it delivered to your seat based on GPS), real-time statistics and on-demand replays on your phone or tablet. These guys are gunning for “the ultimate fan experience,” and it shows. They’ve got the perfect venue to provide that, and if you’re halfway through a cross-country road trip, why not make a day to tour the NFL’s most technologically advanced stadium? Have a look at my tour in the images throughout to get a feel for what you’d get to see, and then head here to book a time and day that fits your schedule.

Tips for Packers fans going to the Super Bowl

packers superbowlIt’s been a long, hard road, but the Packers have finally bested their rivals to the south and made it into the Super Bowl. Congratulations. Now it’s time to pack up the queso dip, send the kids to their grandparents and make your way down to Dallas for the showdown.

Texas! The very word brings a tidal wave of emotions. It’s a whole new ball game down there – different food, different politics and different ways of getting business done. Without the right proper guidance and a hand full of travel savvy, the gentle northerner can be eaten alive in Texas. And that’s why we’ve put together this handy guide for surviving Dallas as a Packer.

Get there
Packers fans are scattered throughout the Midwest, but chances are, a long trip south is store for most of them. The cheapest way, of course, is to drive. Provided the weather stays stable throughout the heartland, it can take between 17 and 21 hours to get from Wisconsin down to Dallas – and that’s without bathroom breaks or a stop to see the inlaws.

Public transportation is filling up fast, so if you’re even considering taking a train, bus or airplane you need to book your tickets NOW. Passage by Greyhound is possible from Green Bay or Milwaukee for a shocking $311 round trip, and as coaches fill up that price is only going to wander higher.A slightly less expensive and more comfortable passage can be made on Amtrak, where $270 can get one a round trip connecting through Chicago from Green Bay or $224 buys a ticket from Milwaukee.

The fastest and least economical way would be to fly, though prices for those tickets are already pushing past the $325 range from Green Bay. Milwaukee, on the other hand, is boasting fares in the upper $400’s. And if you want to leave on Monday, the day after the game? That’ll be over $800. Our suggestion for that route is to choose an alternative departure airport (Chicago’s O’Hare and Minneapolis are a stone’s throw away from Wisconsin) or fly on an alternate date. Through you might miss a few extra days of work by returning Wednesday morning you’ll save a ton on airfare.

Eat there
Comfort food is a prominent theme in Midwestern cooking and Texas is takes no departure. The obvious choice for sweet southern cooking lies in barbecue, and there are a host of possible around the city that nearly guarantee a delicious experience. D Magazine has a great roundup of barbecue joints in the city and in a pinch you can always check Kevin’s Barebecue Joints for an allstar list of restaurants.

Need something closer to home? Check out Scardello (3511 Oak Lawn Avenue), the top local cheese shop, where lo and behold, one of the featured cheeses this month is a Wisconsin favorite by the name of Rush Creek Reserve.

Still, no visit to Dallas would be complete without a trip to one of the most popular restaurants in the city, and that means tex-mex. Two of our favorite twitteratti, @flyingphotog and @meridethlmckee, suggest Chuy‘s (4544 McKinney Avenue) and Uncle Julio’s (multiple locations) for local favorites.

Alternatively, Victor Tango’s (3001 N. Henderson) serves up a fine dish of urban bar fare, and their kitchen even stays open late for the partiers.

Stay there
At this point in the game there aren’t a ton of free rooms to spare in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and whatever’s remaining is starting to skyrocket in price. Our favorite hotels in the city, The Joule and the Ritz-Carlton are booked solid, though sister properties, (Marriott, 3300 Championship Parkway and Aloft, 122 E. John Carpenter Freeway) still have some availability.

Frugal travelers will probably have the best luck in finding workable accommodations. There are a half-dozen Motel 6‘s in the DFW area, each available for less then seventy bucks a night, and above that, a full range of Econo-Lodges with some moderate ability.

The NYLO Dallas (1001 West Royal Lane) also still has some rooms remaining.

Weather highs have been ranging from the 50’s to the 60’s so if you’ve got an adventurous streak about you there are a startling number of campgrounds and RV parks circling the city. Texasoutside has a great database of parks.

[Flickr image via Phil Roeder]