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Vacation Challenged? Try a Tour Akin to a Triathlon

Adventure: Companies are offering exhausting holiday packages that pack in rafting, hiking, biking and--if you're up for it--much more.

May 04, 1997|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES TRAVEL WRITER

Apparently, it's not enough for some people to bicycle until they bleed, or hike until they cramp, or paddle until they wilt. What these people want, and you may be one of them, is the chance to bike and hike and paddle and bleed and cramp and wilt all in the same week. If possible, on the same day. Life is short, after all.

"The public wants to cram as much into that few days [of vacation] as they can," says Jerry Mallett, president of the Adventure Travel Society in Englewood, Colo. "They want to go back and say, 'I did a river trip, and then a horseback ride, and then we biked back to the base camp.' "

Richard Weiss, president of Mountain Travel-Sobek, says he has noticed the same trend, and he agrees that "for some people, there's a sense of value" in compressing more activity into less time.

And so a new sub-specialty has been born among operators of adventure tours: the multiple-sport adventure.

Salt Lake City-based Holiday River Expeditions (tel. [800] 624-6323; Web site http://www.bikeraft.com) was founded as a river-rafting company in 1966, but this year it changed its name to Holiday Expeditions. Why? To allow for the increasing number of off-river adventures in its catalog.

When the company began offering "combo trips" in 1992, co-owner John Wood recalls, the only combination was biking and rafting, and only 25 to 50 customers signed up.

"But now biking has grabbed hold much more," says Wood. "And so we're able to let our rafting customers know about it, and a high percentage of them are also mountain bikers and interested in seeing that side of it . . . . When you see a wilderness area from two different points of view, that makes an experience much more full."

Since 1992, the company has added several more bike-raft trips; a typical itinerary features two days of mountain-biking near Moab, Utah, then two days rafting in nearby Westwater Canyon. It has also developed four- and seven-day ranch-river trips that let travelers spend a few days on horseback, then slip into rafts on the waters of the Green or Colorado rivers. Wood estimates that the combination trips drew about 250 customers last year and are likely to surpass 300 this year. (The cost of the company's seven-day bike-raft trips, including meals and excluding air fare, is $1,025 to $1,112 per person, double occupancy.)

Mallett, who expects steady growth in combination adventure trips, suggests that the river-rafting industry has been "pushing the trend" of multiple-sport trips. But the river people have plenty of company.

Banff-based Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH) Heli-Hiking (tel. [800] 661-0252), founded as a heli-skiing company in 1965, expanded to include hiking in 1978, and in recent years has added climbing, canoeing and biking. Three years ago, the company introduced a mountain "hike, bike and paddle" trip around the Gothics Lodge in Alberta province. Since then, marketing and reservations manager Marty von Neudegg reports that the trip has expanded from a single yearly departure (about 40 people) to six per year, including about 250 travelers. (The cost for the four-day trip is $1,391 per adult, double occupancy, including meals, lodging and activities but excluding transportation to Banff.)

Backroads (tel. [800] 462-2848; http://www.backroads.com), an 18-year-old Berkeley-based company best known for its bicycle tours, this year for the first time devoted an entire catalog to "multi-sport adventures," featuring 19 different trips, most in North and South America, including hiking, biking, rafting, kayaking and skiing (downhill and cross-country) and snow-shoeing. (A six-day hike-bike-kayak trip to Maui, including luxury lodgings and meals, excluding air fare, is priced at $2,595 per person, double occupancy.)

Response? Backroads president Tom Hale says the multi-sport offerings have become "far and away our most popular trips." The company reports waiting lists for most of its eight walking-biking trips to the Yucatan and for most of its 11 bike-hike-kayak adventures to Baja California. Even before the company's catalog went out in October, the spokeswoman says, two hike-bike-catamaran trips to Ecuador sold out, strictly on the strength of mailings to past customers.

"There are just more and more active people out there," says Hale, and many of them want to combine a familiar activity with "a taste" of a new sport.

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