Adventure Travel and New Coke

April 14, 2006

by Wiley Davis

Adventure is the buzzword these days. People no longer go on vacations, instead they spend their money on lavish, guided jaunts into the wilds of places like Antarctica, or the rain forests of Costa Rica. Adventure travel is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry in this country and it show no signs of slowing down. There is however, a darker side to all of this premeditated adventure business.As Americans we have come to expect a certain level of safety and comfort in our daily lives. We live in a society that cries foul if our coffee is served too hot, if our cars tip over too easily, or if we have to go without cable television for more than an hour. Many of you are probably old enough to remember one particularly nasty crisis of national proportion back in the eighties… the horror brought on by New Coke. Protest rallies were thrown, picket lines formed, and the Coca Cola Bottling Company was brought to its knees and forced to pay retribution for its horrible crime against humanity by re-releasing Coca Cola Classic. I bring this up not to rekindle any buried emotional trauma, but to illustrate how cushioned our society has become. While other countries experience bouts of genocide and famine, we have to endure the hardship of unfamiliar beverages.

It comes as no real surprise then, that these adventure travel companies go to great lengths to ensure that every member on their tour receives the care and attention they deserve as Americans. Flat tires are dutifully repaired by good-natured guides and meals are prepared by gourmet cooks. As a nation, we have lost our adventurous spirit.  Judging by the ads in the back of magazines like Outside, adventure is an “elegantly appointed Tundra Buggy” or a “four star staff to cater to your needs”. These advertisements of course, are wrong.

Adventure is a willingness to court the unexpected. Adventure can be as mundane as driving to work on an empty tank of gas, never knowing if or when you’ll become stalled out in the middle of the freeway. It can be as daring as riding motorcycles to South America or summiting an unclimbed peak. The constant element is the unexpected. Unfortunately, the unexpected is exactly what most of the adventure tour companies are trying to eliminate.

A recent article in USA Today stated that Americans want the thrill of adventure, without the hardships and dangers usually associated with that kind of travel. In a side-bar to said article, was a dispatch on the state of fashion. Abercrombie & Fitch has released a line of clothing that comes with grass and dirt stains built in. Don’t worry about maintaining that “active healthy look” either, company representatives claim that unlike “real” grass stains, theirs won’t wash out. Whew! Now I don’t have to worry. Now we can all have the luxury of going on adventures that won’t cause us to worry, sweat, perform, or work, and our clothes can be tailored to look as if we have.

Here’s what I would like to see. I would like to see people who can fix there own flat tires, cook their own meals and stitch up their own wounds. People who can come back from an adventure feeling a little more capable as human beings. By embracing the unexpected, and rolling with it, we enable ourselves to rise to the occasion and use our ingenuity and humor to overcome hardships. To me, the best trips are the ones where halfway through, you wish you had never come. Afterward, these trips are the ones that make you feel alive. When the sour worry of doubt makes an exit, it leaves behind a solid feeling of strength and accomplishment that no premeditated tour can provide, no matter how good its French Crepes are.

I want to see people heading off for Mexico in cars of questionable reliability. I want to see people drive for no reason to places with funny names like Why, Arizona. I want to see people striking up conversations with total strangers in coffee shops and elevators. All of these are adventures.

Adventure travel shouldn’t be a term for a growth industry, it should be a way of life that demonstrates our best qualities as human beings: ingenuity and a desire to learn. I for one feel like heading off to who knows where on a motorcycle with bald tires, in search of scalding coffee and that dusty six-pack of New Coke stashed in some two-bit gas station alongside a highway devoid of reflective striping. Now that’s adventure.

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