Vroom! Boom! Blast off! 7 Extreme Travel Adventures
(Photo: Bill Fink)
When the kayaker screams, I know I’ve mastered the jetpack controls. Flying 25 feet above the peaceful waters of Newport Bay, my pack is blasting 17 gallons of water per second behind me as I climb, circle, then dive at startled vacationers floating below me.
Rather than take a quiet walk along the beach, or do some yoga-paddleboarding my adventure with Jetpack America in Newport Beach, California, involved taking the controls of a 200-horsepower, water-fueled exo-skeleton tethered by a thick 30-foot hose to a floating power unit. Reaching speeds up to 30 mph on this 25-minute $259 flight, I dipped and dived over, under, and even jogged on top of the water. An instructor on a nearby boat with a remote kill switch kept me from making a fatal wrong turn into shore.
To me, this is real adventure travel, not what passes for “adventure travel” these days—getting wrapped like a sack of potatoes into a harness for the “extreme” activity of a bungie-jump, zip line, or rollercoaster.
Hold still and keep your hands at your side? Sorry, that’s not adventure. That’s a couch potato getting tossed around like a bondage victim.
With YouTube videos and reality shows like the "Amazing Race" showing how regular people can perform hard-core travel stunts, there’s been a rise in this kind of finger-on-the-trigger, hands-on-the-wheel kind of experience. In fact, the Adventure Travel Trade Association cites a 62% annual increase in “hard” vs. “soft” adventure travel over the past three years.
In that spirit, here are six more of my favorite thrill drives—not to be confused with “thrill rides”—where you can actually take the controls.
Dream Racing - Las Vegas
“Brake! Brake! Shift! Goooooooo!” Above the primal roar of a 512-horsepower engine, my co-pilot shouts instructions into the headset as I rip around turns at 130 mph on the Vegas Motor Speedway in a Ferrari F430GT. I’m strapped in with a six-point seatbelt, suited up in a fireproof jumpsuit (complete with head-sleeve and helmet), and my hands are firmly on the controls as I push my limits of reaction time and fear.
(Photo: Bill Fink)
Dream Racing is the real "Amazing Race," offering thrill seekers the chance to do laps in a Le Mans-winning Ferrari and a variety of other “supercars” at the NASCAR-hosting track complex, with rates starting at $189 for a five-lap session. Assisted by professional race car drivers who lead simulator sessions and sit beside you while driving, the experience is at once exhilarating and humbling. The rush from handling a high-performance race car is tempered with the knowledge that I’m nowhere near reaching its top speed of 200 mph.