Through some twists and turns in life, I've become an adventure traveler—or perhaps I should say an adventure-ish traveler. I haven't entirely shed the vertigo that years ago made me want to conjure up a helicopter to take me down from that enormous pyramid in Chichén Itzá, nor have I lost sight of my own limitations, which are many and were in evidence from the beginning. Do what you will with this information, but I was not the first pick for my elementary school softball or volleyball teams; I believe I was chosen as a color-war team mascot at summer camp—Little Lulu, remember her?—not in recognition of my adorableness but, rather, as a way of sidelining me from the games.
So you can imagine my sense of satisfaction when I was hiking at 14,000 feet in the Andes during New Year's week in Chile with my family, as well as braving the sand and wind to mountain bike through the salt flats in the Atacama Desert. I am pleased to say that I was even able to keep my vertigo in check while walking some highly technical trails along gullies and sheer rock faces. It feels good to conquer your fears, especially if you're someone who began her adventure-travel life wiping out on a boulder- and rock-strewn mountain bike trail in Telluride, Colorado, appropriately called the Boomerang Trail. It was only due to the intervention of a woman I met at the bottom—and I hope she's a T+L subscriber and a reader of this page, so she'll know how grateful I continue to be—that I do not have a fearsome scar on the side of my face. She was a doctor and applied herself to identifying an extraordinary plastic surgeon, specializing in "facial microsurgery," who stitched the wound at a hospital in Denver.
All this is by way of introduction to our cover story—"50 Great American Adventures"—with ideas ranging from motor-powered parachuting to kayaking in San Francisco Bay toan Audubon Society tour of Yellowstone National Park. Not to worry, though: there's something in the issue for everyone—including travelers who are more adventure-ish than high-impact in their approach—such as fox-trotting with cruise-ship escort Tom Goodale, whom we accompany on the Silver Wind, or dropping in on Thailand's newest outpost of luxury, the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai, with editor-at-large Peter Jon Lindberg. For those who share my enthusiasm for travel in Eastern Europe, we offer access to that most traditional and aristocratic of Polish cities, Kraków, in an account by Peter S. Green, and lovers of Italy—who isn't?—will find T+L correspondent Valerie Waterhouse's insider report on the Valtellina, her home base in the Italian Alps. You don't always have to go far to find adventure. A gentler Boomerang Trail may be just outside your front door.