Sure enough, the edge of our atmosphere, the 100-mph barrier in a race boat and the top of the world were all virgin territory a century ago. Today, they are the experiences described in glossy brochures that tout extreme vacations and adventures, at high prices.
Chalk up the popularity of these adrenaline-pumping excursions to a collective midlife crisis of baby boomers armed with enough money and technology to allow them to go where only the world's elite adventurers could go before.
Indeed, if you land in a water hazard on the golf course, the penalty is a stroke or two. Double-fault on the tennis court, you lose a point. But strapped into an open-cockpit race boat, there's the risk of hitting a rogue wave at 100 mph; the boat can flip, at best damaging an expensive piece of machinery--at worst, snuffing out the life of its pilot. Or consider the consequences of losing your bearings while leaping into the cold, thin air of the upper atmosphere from a plane; a simple tangle of a parachute chord can result in paying the ultimate price for thrills.
That said, you can't eliminate risk entirely from adventure, nor would you want to. As Hemingway understood, risk is a big part of the challenge. But you can be smart about it. A 60-mph crash in a passenger car on the freeway will likely do more damage to the human body than a wreck on a track at twice that speed in a specially built race car with its driver wearing a snug helmet and strapped in with a protective five-point seat harness.
That in mind, your odds of death or severe injury on such an adventure are certainly more apparent, if only slightly enhanced; more likely it is the thrill of a lifetime.
Forbes rounded up several great commercial adventures available today, with prices ranging from a few thousand to several thousand dollars. In compiling the list, we sought out diversity (air, land and water) as well as some firsthand experience (I have done eight of the offerings myself). In addition to significant cost, all involve some sort of risk or hardship.
Speed freaks can head out to the Bondurant Racing School in Phoenix, Ariz., to learn to drive an open-wheel Formula car on an asphalt road course full of twists and turns. Alternatively, if you want to test yourself on a straight (but more slippery) surface, try Utah's famous Bonneville Salt Flats. Both venues will get the heart pumping, producing an experience featuring speeds in excess of 120 mph.
If you want to go that fast on water, Super Boat International runs a series of races, like IndyCar, but with high-speed "cigarette" boats. If meandering under the surface is more your thing, diving shipwrecks with New York-based Mad Dog Expeditions (sometimes with man-eating with sharks all around) and "flying" in the ocean in Sub Aviator Systems personal submarines are equally thrilling options.
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