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Risky Business Sometimes Can Be the Spice of Life

May 31, 1987|CAROLYN GAINES | Gaines is a Hampton, Conn., free-lance writer. and

I was the baby of the family, always too young to do anything daring. Daring included practically any sport that might be risky, such as ice skating or, to my shame, roller skating.

Compensation came into my life by marriage to a man who likes to go to the edge. And take me with him.

Travel with Tom means pure adventure, be it sailing, skiing or snorkeling; definitely not sitting on a beach. It started many years ago with a journey across southern Argentina and Chile. Most recently we were photographing the faces of Mt. Rushmore from a single-engine plane . . . ours.

He is the pilot. That in itself is hardly classed as derring-do. He is a prudent pilot, and I had never hesitated to go with him, until he suggested a flight to the islands.

Flying ourselves to the Caribbean seemed beyond the safety pale. As always, he convinced me it was possible. So off we went, cautiously wearing life jackets on the watery passages, and keeping an emergency inflatable raft at the ready.

The trip, once out of Florida, took us to the Bahamas first, then on to the obscure Turks & Caicos Islands.From there we flew over the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. Next came the Virgin Islands and then our destination, St. Kitts. From this base we made forays to St. Martin, Montserrat, Nevis and Sint Eustatius. Heading home, we chose other airports for lunch and overnight layovers.

Now I think of how such a trip could be repeated, taking routes to include the Yucatan, Caymans and Jamaica.

Aboard a Bobsled

Sometimes a to-the-edge adventure sneaks in as ordinary tourist fare. Other people go to look at bobsled runs and marvel at the daring of the Olympic competitors. We went to look . . . and stayed to bobsled. Admittedly, there wereprofessionals leading us down those snaky paths. But we had to sign waivers of responsibility and wear crash helmets. Never again.

Our usual roles were reversed when it came to ballooning. I always wanted to try it, even though I expected to be terrified by the proximity of the propane flame that keeps the balloon airborne.

As a birthday surprise, my husband arranged a balloon ride. Our pilot sent up toy balloons to test the wind. Although he announced that it was too windy, he started inflating the balloon. Of course, once it was set, it was still too windy, but off we went. I was enchanted, too euphoric to have a moment of panic.

My husband, along for the ride, still has not recovered. He heard the balloonist's too-fast, too-low monologue along the way, spelling out his concerns that the landing was going to be a problem. The words did not enter my consciousness.

My husband took it all in, especially during the descent, when the balloonist grabbed at tree limbs in an attempt to slow us down. The basket tilted precariously, bringing us sideways to the earth, entangled in the tops of trees. Meanwhile, the flame hovered even closer to the balloon fabric.

The landing would have been rough if a balloonist family had not seen our craft. They hopped into their car and rushed to the cornfield where we would land, giving us able assistance as we hit the ground.

I am ready for more balloon rides, but the pilot in the family doesn't seem to share my enthusiasm for the idea.

Shared the Duties

I tried not to overreact to my childhood deprivation and push my own children into early and spectacular feats of sport. My husband and I shared the duties of getting the too-little ones up the ski tows, bent over into what could have been permanent backaches. The skates appeared on normal schedule, or maybe a mite ahead.

At one point my husband took up sailplaning. He invited me for a ride. I sat behind him, as is usual in a two-seater sailplane. Unfortunately, someone had forgotten to fasten my door securely.

It unlatched after we were in motion, and I sat cowering throughout the flight, sure that the straps holding me to my seat would break, and that somehow I would catapult from the sailplane. It was unlikely. But that was it for me and gliding.

Years later, on a trip to Arizona, we were passing one of the most famous gliding ports in the country, called Estrella for the mountains surrounding it. Surely we would have to stop. Surely, we would have to see if we could get airborne. And surely, there I was, back in a sailplane again. It was a thrilling experience, soaring over desert and mountains, in the company of no one but birds, and all in silence.

One recent year, in planning a trip to Greece, we included a week on a bare-boat charter in the Aegean. Our children, now grown, were beside themselves. We were told we were too old for such an adventure.

Hours of Galley Duty

Admittedly, they knew my sailing knowledge had never progressed much beyond "red right returning." There had been too many hours of galley duty while father and offspring handled sails and tiller.

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