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Books to Go

Pushing the Envelope on Adventure Travel

April 12, 1998|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TRAVELS ALONG THE EDGE: 40 Ultimate Adventures for the Modern Nomad--From Crossing the Sahara to Bicycling Through Vietnam by David Nolan (Vintage Departures, $14, paperback).

Exploring the term "adventure" is a timely pursuit in this age when almost anyone can bumble along on an intricately organized trip, shepherded and protected by professionals who will happily assure them that what they're experiencing is "adventure travel"--even as they spoon-feed them caviar and massage their feet.

To Nolan, "a true adventure, in addition to being exhilarating and inspiring, should also make you tired, nervous, disoriented, a little scared." His own definition, he says, is this: "It's not really an adventure unless, at some point during the trip I say to myself, 'What the [obscenity] am I doing here?' "

For this book, however, Nolan has compromised, aiming his 40 suggested trips at aspiring adventurers with "limited time and a low threshold for logistical hassle." In other words, this is an introduction to the spectrum of trips available through commercial outfitters.

With that in mind, Nolan has come up with a 1-to-5 rating scale. In the category of "physical challenge," for instance, "1" means "couch potatoes welcome" (example: horseback riding in Arizona's Monument Valley) whereas "5" means "if you have to ask, you probably can't do it" (climbing Mt. Everest). On the "mental challenge" chart, "1" means "virtually all the comforts of home" (a lodge-to-lodge mountain biking trip through Dominica's rain forests) and "5" means "you could die out there" (crossing Patagonia's continental icecap).

In the case of those trips he hasn't experienced, Nolan condenses and retells other adventurers' tales. Either way, his storytelling is superb, making what might have been a gimmicky catalog a valuable guide and an entertaining source of motivation.

Quick trips

HAWAII'S BEST SPOOKY TALES: True Local Spine-Tinglers collected by Rick Carroll (The Bess Press, $11.95, paperback).

Hawaiian Kahuna (something like shamans, apparently) still converse with rocks. In kapu (sacred places), bulldozers may fly. Or at least those are the tales told throughout Polynesia, where the oral poetic tradition thrives. In this collection, 35 writers--children and pros alike--tell supposedly true stories.

BAJA CAMPING: The Complete Guide to More Than 6,300 Campsites from the Border to Cabo San Lucas, Including 1,000 Miles of Beaches by Fred and Gloria Jones (Foghorn Press, $14.95, paperback).

Where to find ice. How to pull cactus thorns. How to free a vehicle stuck in the sand. All the tricks of Baja travel are here, along with detailed descriptions of lots and lots of campgrounds.

Books to Go appears the second and fourth week of every month.

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