Meaningful & Fun: Cause-Related Family Small Ship Cruising in Alaska

Seattle-based environmental crusader ExploringCircle (http://www.exploringcircle.com/) is a new company that combines a long adventure travel legacy with a strong sense of purpose.  For meaningful family travel this summer they are recommending two small-ship cruise itineraries into the Alaskan wilderness.

But before they travel, families are invited to examine ExploringCircle’s six related environmental causes, choosing one to which to pledge their support. This conversation is vital to the company’s mission.  By talking about, for example, plastic detritus in oceans, young and old alike while on a cruise can wrap their minds around threats to ocean waters and to marine and wildlife. ExploringCircle in turn Pays-it-Forward by donating up to five percent of client fee to the environmental cause chosen.

“Then the fun begins,” says Lori Goodwin, ExploringCircle’s Alaska expert. “On the cruise, naturalist guides spark the curiosity and sense of wonder of kids young and old, with scheduled daily adventures that any age can explore at their own pace and interest.”

“The small ship expedition cruise philosophy of truly immersing people in Alaska’s remote bays and forests is especially meaningful for youngsters, many of whom have never experienced such wild places before,” adds Erin Kirkland, Youth Specialist for the cruise company.

There are two itineraries recommended for families with children ages eight (exceptions may allow for as young as age four) and up. The season is May through August. On each, children and adults will kayak, hike, examine starfish in tidal pools, paddle board, and beachcomb.  Opportunities abound to sight whales, bears, dolphins, sea otters, eagles and all kinds of wildlife close-up from the decks of the vessel or by inflatable launch. Kids enjoy the hot tubs, games, kid-friendly DVDs, and books available onboard. Other children’s activities may include: a Polar bear plunge, field research with on-board equipment, crafts involving nature, wildlife and native culture, cooking opportunities, bridge visits featuring 20 Questions with the Captain and beach bonfires with s’mores.

The two recommended family cruise itineraries are:

Inner Reaches (Eastern or Western Coves) on the 84-passenger M/V Safari Endeavour. This cruise transports guests for eight days exploring Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness and Misty Fjords National Monument taking in the region’s glacial ice, fjords, alpine-to-sea creeks, rainforests and the Tlingit culture. The ocean voyage goes from Juneau to Ketchikan (or reverse). The per person double rate is from $4,295. Cruise dates for 2016 are: May 8-15 and Sept. 18-25. See: http://www.exploringcircle.com/inner-reaches-eastern-coves-5.

Discoverer’s Glaciers Country on the 60-passenger M/V Wilderness Adventurer is an eight day cruise that features an exclusive two-day visit to Glacier Bay National Park accompanied by a Park Ranger. Here families will discover scenic coves and fjords by kayak, paddle board and skiff. Later they hike in Tongass National Forest, watch for whales and wildlife in Frederick Sound and Stephens Passage, and experience Fords Terror Wilderness Area by kayak or skiff. There are also added perks of the Captain’s Choice exploration of remote “not in the guidebook” places. The per person double rate starts at $2,995. Cruise departure dates for 2016 are: Apr 30; May 7, 14, 21, 28; June 4, 11, 18, 25; July 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; Aug. 6, 13, 20, 27; and Sept 3, 10, 17. See: http://www.exploringcircle.com/discoverers-glacier-country-3

On both itineraries children save $500 off regular fares per paying adult. When families select triple occupancy cabins, a special lower rate is applied and this can be combined for further savings with the $500 per child discount.

About the Small Ships
The interior of the 60-passenger M/V Wilderness Adventurer complements the wild places it sails through.  The main lounge evokes the feel of a wilderness lodge or neighborhood pub, with a long bar made from reclaimed Alaskan yellow cedar. The sun deck features roomy space for lounging and the observation deck offers for over-the-top viewing from the bow. The vessel is outfitted with adventure gear including a kayak launching platform, kayaks, paddle boards, skiffs, hiking poles, wet suits and snorkel equipment and yoga mats. The EZ Dock launch platform on the main deck makes getting into the water a cinch. A hydrophone and a bow-mounted underwater camera share the sounds and sights below the surface. The onboard wellness program includes a hot tub, sauna, and fitness equipment.

M/V Safari Endeavour, an 84-passenger expedition vessel with three decks, offers a variety of cabin categories (including connecting cabins) for a range of prices, square footage and bedding arrangements. This is a well-designed ship with excellent public spaces including an observation lounge, library, intimate lounge, cash wine bar, library and outdoor viewing decks and two hot tubs, a sauna, fitness equipment and massage suite. The ship is appointed with adventure equipment: kayaks, paddle boards, inflatable skiffs, hiking poles, yoga mats, snorkel gear and wetsuits, a hydrophone for listening to below-surface sounds and a bow-mounted underwater camera.

“We listen to our guests and use decades of experience to help them realize their travel dreams. In doing so, we fund hope,” Goodwin adds. “Leave No Trace Behind is no longer enough.”

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Can Tourism Help Revive West Virginia’s Coal-Based Economy?

Jimmy Kimmel could have a field day in West Virginia.

The ironies are rampant. Folks in Washington, D.C., pay $20 a pound for ramps; here locals harvest ramps in the hollows – and eat them for free. If you raft, mountain bike and rock climb, you’re a hippie, but not if you fish.

Below this underbelly of comedy the story changes. The extraction industry – think coal — that has carried West Virginia for better or for worse for decades is phasing out. So what’s next? Can tourism help revive West Virginia’s economy?

The tourism industry is a bit of the odd man out in the economic-drivers department in West Virginia. It sits alongside chemical manufacturing, biotech, energy, aerospace development and automotive manufacturing. It’s an understatement to say there’s some work to do to get the tourism numbers big enough to help fill the employment and revenue gaps the coal extraction left behind.

However, there is a small army of folks working hard to build a new long-term economy. The energy comes from a web of state and private concerns working in tandem to enhance economic opportunities through tourism. Efforts come from musicians, artisans and artists, farmers and outdoor adventure centers. Perhaps an unlikely combination of folks, but they are connected and they are passionate. Change is in the air. Meet just a few of the many people leading change and working to save West Virginia’s economy…

“We’re so much more than coal or natural gas,” said Joseph Carlucci with the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority in Beckley, WV. He is quick to add that this region is the empire of river rafting in the eastern United States.

Helping lead the tourism charge is Amy Goodwin who was handled the reins of state tourism in June 2014. She compares restructuring West Virginia’s approach to the tourism industry to remodeling a house.

“We knew from the first week of being on the ground that we have to do some deep dives. We’re not just putting new countertops in the kitchen.  We began taking off all wallpaper, paint and countertops. When Tina and I stood in the empty hallways, we thought, if we are going to start building back, we’re not just throwing up what we think should be done,” Goodwin said.

Her strategy for remodeling focused research and information. Longwoods International, a Toronto-based research company, revealed a $5.1 billion industry in a state of 1.8 million people, of whom 46,000 are dependent on the industry.

More fun for Kimmel. The study showed that West Virginia was the one state in the country without a social media presence.

“We started building a larger digital presence,” Goodwin said. “We had also lost our grasp on branding.” This required change, “good but always hard.” Her department started supporting sectors such as the rafting business in the New River Gorge. “For the first time this year, the white water rafting industry is up.” The same skin-in-the-game strategy has gone into skiing and gaming. New photos and videos are now “by a West Virginian and are of West Virginians themselves engaged in the activities: these are our own skiers, jeep riders and chefs. People don’t want fake; they want real. Our image branding is all real.” And the focus is on experiences – not on things.

This department’s work is supported by a current budget of around $7 million, thanks to the legislature that recently approved one of the largest increases to the tourism budget in a decade.  Building a strong and supportive tourism industry is part of the plan. She said the goal is to hear guests report: “This was the best river but my guide was so great; my chef came out and talked to me; my hotel staff was over and above what everybody should be. They treated me like gold.”

ACE Adventure Resort near the New River Gorge is a private company that experienced growth in its rafting sector in 2015. Business was up nearly 10 percent, reported Heidi Prior, marketing director. She is optimistic that the state’s efforts and resort initiatives will mean more jobs for more people in the near future. ACE for example, employs over 500 people in Fayette County. Tourism is big in the New River Gorge.

“The game here isn’t of thrones but of heads in beds”. Adam Harris is executive producer of Mountain Stage Radio Show out of Charleston, WV, that’s broadcast to 155 National Public Radio stations. The show now approaching its 33rd year hosts 26 live events annually, drawing some 13,000 annually, of whom 25 percent come from outside the state. Economic multipliers indicate, he said, that these visitors spend between $100 and $200 on travel expenses. This is aside from the 400 or so hotel rooms the show books for its guest artists.

“The economic impact of heads in beds the legislature can understand,” Harris said. “This is a cool place to hear great, live music, have a handcrafted meal and shop for local handcrafts.  People today are looking for a well-rounded experience that they discover themselves. Coming to town to raft is just one part of their trip.

The creative economy from open studio weekends to craft beer distribution is intrinsic to the tourism infrastructure, said Alissa Novoselick, executive director of the Tamarack Artisan Foundation in Charleston, WV.

Natalie Roper is executive director of Generation West Virginia focused on creating economic opportunities for young people. This organization views broadband – a fiber optic state highway — as crucial to the remaining 56 percent of West Virginia that lacks high speed internet access.

“Today people won’t set foot out of the door without Wi-Fi. People cannot imagine visiting a place without internet. Even on vacations people need connectivity to stay on top of things,” Roper said. The possibility of the state owning a fiber optic network is under consideration. But private interests don’t want the competition. West Virginia is really understanding the importance of this infrastructure, how broadband impacts everything. It is foundational to the state’s economic potential.”

A marketing specialist for the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, Cindy Martel grew up in Vermont, a state not unlike West Virginia for its scenic beauty, small population and emerging agritourism.  West Virginia has the highest per capita population of farms in the United States and the lowest income per capita. She explained that in 2014 the average farm size in West Virginia was 169 acres. Overall farmland was 3.6 million acres with an estimated 21,300 farms. The average net income of a West Virginia farm was about $2,500; however the number of farm operators reporting net losses (12,629) outnumbers the number of farm operators reporting net gains (8,839).

“We know that our future is with young and new farmers. We need to provide opportunities to make farming sustainable. Agritourism is a way to do that. There’s a wonderful movement afloat. At least half of farm operators are now women,” Martel said. Also there’s been what she called “a huge explosion” in high tunnels, structures like greenhouses that allow off-season production and furthers the goal of winter markets and farm to school efforts. But our biggest challenge is finding people to produce product. Demand isn’t the issue; supply is.” She said the state consumes over $7 billion in food but produces less than $1 billion. “This is a $6 billion economic opportunity.”

Here’s another handout to Kimmel.

The state may want to consider changing a law that doesn’t let diners have a drink with Sunday brunch – before 1 p.m.

Unrivaled Access – New Insider’s Africa Safari Reveals “Rare 5” and More

Creatures in the wild don’t magically appear at a safari guide’s whim. But it certainly looks that way for one company that specializes in safaris that require a high level of wildlife expertise, often seeking rare animals and conducted in non-commercial destinations.

Wild Planet Adventures has spent 25 years honing techniques to observe some of the world’s rarest animals in their native habitats. They make special arrangements for exclusive site access and feature exclusive activities that allow silent approach to animals. They bring together scientific researchers and biologist guides to take advantage of wildlife migrations, seasonal courtship, nesting and peak activity times for up-close encounters in virtually unknown destinations.

2016 marks Wild Planet’s 25th anniversary, and Director Josh Cohen wanted to create a special anniversary trip that would highlight Wild Planet’s wildlife expertise with their most ambitious wildlife experience ever.

“For our 25th anniversary we wanted to offer a very special safari that would thrill both new and experienced wildlife lovers with access to some of the rarest animals in Africa, a safari packed with unprecedented wildlife opportunities such as the ability to spend four hours with mountain gorillas (most permits only allow one hour). This one-of-a-kind 25th Anniversary safari is our new Insider’s Africa: Meerkats, Gorillas, and Africa’s ‘Rare 5

This 12-day safari combines South Africa and Uganda; a convenient grouping since South Africa is often a required stop en-route to Uganda. The trip begins in a remote and non-commercial area of South Africa known as the “Green Kalahari.” This virtually unknown savannah lies south of the better-known Kalahari Desert and features dependable rainfall that supports some of Africa’s rarest animals along with rhinos, zebra and giraffe. The “Green Kalahari” is a prized area to track big cats such as cheetah and black-maned lions (Africa’s largest). But what drew Wild Planet to this little-known destination is an unusual phenomenon; from May to September some of Africa’s rarest nocturnal animals forage during the day instead of night, making it the best place to enjoy close encounters with members of Africa’s “Rare 5”- pangolin, (scaly anteater), aardvark and aardwolf. There are also 2 colonies of habituated meerkats, allowing for exceptionally up-close encounters of one of the world’s most popular and adorable creatures. This is just the kind of specialized wildlife expertise that Wild Planet is known for.

On Day 5 guests depart South Africa for Uganda to enjoy unprecedented access to one of the rarest animals on the planet, the mountain gorilla. Uganda is home to the highest concentrations of primates on earth, and the majestic gorillas are amongst the most coveted of all wildlife encounters. Only 840 mountain gorillas remain, of which at least 60% are in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Here, in typical Wild Planet Adventures’ style, special arrangements allow its guests to spend four times the amount of time that is normally allowed in close contact with mountain gorillas.  This extended viewing time allows travelers to intimately experience the gorilla family as they wake up, hunt, patrol, play, fight, copulate, and breastfeed.

“It took some effort to secure the longer gorilla permit,” said Josh Cohen, Wild Planet Adventures founder (http://www.wildplanetadventures.com/). “We have arranged for an exclusive, unprecedented four-hour, researcher-guided permit which allows us more intimate time spent with the gorillas than any other safari operating today. Travelers will also join researcher teams for a full day Chimpanzee habituation safari and nighttime walking safari in Kibale National Park (home to over 12 species of primates), enjoy safaris for tree-climbing lions and the “Big 5” in Queen Elizabeth National Park and visit the famous “Mountains of the Moon.” The final highlights are the intricate courtship and mating rituals of the stunning Kob antelope, and a colony of adorable banded mongoose, cousins of the meerkats.”

This is an ideal second safari to Africa for travelers who have already seen the Big 5, even though the trip also includes those must-see animals. So it’s a perfect celebration of Wild Planet’s wildlife expertise for their 25th anniversary.

The per person double rate starts at $9,998. Guests fly by private plane from Johannesburg or Cape Town to Tswalu Kalahari, a private, sustainably operated luxury game reserve. On Day 5 guests transfer by plane to Entebbe, Uganda. Both mid-range and upscale accommodation options are available for the Uganda segment. 2016 Departures are May 16, June 26, July 19, Aug. 21, Sept. 17 (11-day trip) and Oct. 11, 2016, and private departures are also available on custom dates. For information visit http://www.wildplanetadventures.com/destinations/?country=south-africa&trip=insiders-africa-meerkats-gorillas-africa-s-rare-5

The Eco Lodge in Baja Guests Rave About but Few Others Have Heard of…

While it may be true that few mainstream adventurous travelers have heard about Las Animas Eco Lodge, an hour’s boat ride south of Bahia de Los Angeles along the Sea of Cortez, all who do come for a visit just can’t seem to stop talking about it.  So much so that this isolated, off-road retreat was just named the #1 Specialty Lodge in all of Northern Baja by the reviewers and editors of TripAdvisor®

Comfortably accommodating on the average only a dozen visitors per week, guests sleep in well-appointed beachside yurts with the sound of the gentle surf lapping a private beach just yards from the door. Here nature takes full stage and it isn’t uncommon to see rays, sea lions and dolphins cavorting just off-shore, or a sea turtle scurrying back to the water after depositing a nest full of eggs.

One might think access to such an off-the-grid ecolodge destination might take hours (or even days) of arduous travel time. Not so. The lodge, owned and operated by Baja AirVentures (http://www.bajaairventures.com/), maintains a private fleet of modern aircraft to fly guests from San Diego, CA, to the sleepy fishing village of Bahia de Los Angles (population 500). After the two hour flight, boats shuttle guests another hour south to Las Animas Lodge situated on a private, turquoise cove rimmed by a mile-long crescent white sand beach.

The self-sustaining, solar-powered retreat offers eight well-appointed beachside yurts with in-room solar shower and composting toilet, twin and king-size beds with comforters and high thread-count linens, and covered patios with hammocks. Lodging is built around a large centrally located palapa with a spacious covered deck which serves as kitchen, central dining area, cantina bar, and communal lounging and game area featuring a new state-of-the-art satellite system with fairly dependable Internet and phone connection.

Las Animas is a year-round, mosquito-free (and Zika-free) destination ideally suited for anyone seeking total immersion in nature and a desert to sea environment. Dubbed the “Galapagos of Mexico” by writer John Steinbeck, this section of the Sea of Cortez offers the highest concentration of whales and rare seabirds in Baja. Each season brings something different to see and do. Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the highlights to expect:

Winter – Perfect time for whale watching both in the Sea of Cortez and in nature’s whale nursery “Ojos de Libre” on the Pacific coast. Baja Airventures’ “Best of Baja” offers air-supported whale encounters on two coasts. This is also a great time for desert hiking, sea kayaking and sailing.

Spring – This is the season for rare and exotic bird watching. Located a short boat ride away is Isla Raza, Mexico’s very first bird sanctuary, established in 1964. This is the best place on Earth to view the Elegant Tern (over 90% of the world’s population breed and nest here). Over 55,000 nests are typical on this small protected island where vast populations of Caspian Terns and ‘Watch Listed’ Heermann’s Gulls also reside. In all, over 170 species of sea birds populate the area. Families on spring break also are popular visitors at this time of year.

Summer – Sea breezes and occasional summer showers keep temperatures enjoyable during this season which is known for snorkeling, kayaking, sailing and its salt water sport fishing. The Midriff Islands region where Las Animas is situated is considered to be a world class angling location. You can expect to see leopard group and spotted gulf, cabrilla, yellowtail, bay bass, halibut, corvina, white sea bass, barracuda, skipjack, roosterfish, giant squid and dorado.

Fall – From August into November the main attraction is snorkeling with the Whale Sharks that congregate annually to feast on algae, plankton and krill. Swimming alongside these 40-foot docile creatures as they slowly feed can be a life-changing experience. This time of year water temperatures hover between an inviting 80F – 82F. Whale watching, swimming with sea lions and hiking also take place.

All-inclusive rates for eco lodge stays start at $2,295 per person, double (plus tax) for a six day/five night stay. Price includes double occupancy yurt accommodations, roundtrip air carriage from San Diego, naturalist guided outings, boat transportation, healthy homemade meals, beverages (including beer and margaritas) and optional free activities such as kayaking, snorkeling, whale watching, swimming, fishing, sailing and hiking.

For more information on year-round activities and tours, reservations or questions, call 1.800.221.9283 or visit: http://www.bajaairventures.com/.

New Cultural Bike Tours of Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia

Slowing life down on a bicycle has long been a vacation option in the States as well as in Europe. Now the pioneer of self-guided cycling vacations, Pure Adventures (http://pure-adventures.com/), says the time is right to consider bicycle vacations exploring culture and countryside in Southeast Asia.

“Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia are very affordable and accessible to cyclists,” says Loren Siekman, founder/owner. “Our knowledgeable bilingual, in-country guides help us arrange bike rentals, unique lodging, ride itineraries and local cultural experiences found nowhere else. All the new tours feel like self-guided trips but include a guide and support vehicle for every ride to enjoy two-wheeled explorations of brand-new worlds.”

Pure Adventures announces hand-crafted cultural immersions that are unique to this company and to the regions explored. Because these are not pre-set group tours, guests determine their own departure dates and are possible with just two participants. The trips can also be customized based on cultural and culinary interests.

Rates include lodging (upgrades available for an additional cost), all breakfasts, some lunches and dinners, luggage transfers from hotel to hotel, bikes and gear, sightseeing tickets, briefings, guides, support vehicles, airport transfers, and more. Inclusions vary by itinerary.  They will even help manage tourist visas!

Myanmar – Cycling Discovery of Old Burma: Marco Polo called Myanmar (Burma) “The Golden Land.” From Mandalay to Yangon (Rangoon), guests pedal up to 55 kilometers daily over nine days, along the way discovering the secrets of gold leaf that embellishes statuary and temples and the secrets of gold that are the kindness and generosity of the people of this long-neglected country. Short flights, including by hot air balloon, reveal the temple fields of Old Bagan, the ancient capital of the Burmese empire. Village life comes into focus while pedaling by carts pulled by oxen, or climbing to an extinct volcano, Mt. Popa, home of macaque monkeys and nats (spirits), or exploring a wine making venture and traditional silk weaving techniques of the Inthar people near Lake Inle. The pastoral world fades in Yangon (Rangoon), a bustling city that mixes up the stupas of ancient and modern Burma with British colonial architecture and modern edifices. Here is the country’s holiest shrine, Shwedagon Pagoda, a golden stupa covered with 60 tons of pure gold. This trip, available from October through April, is priced from $1,287 per person, double. See: http://pure-adventures.com/show-tour/173/Myanmar+Cycling+Discovery+of+Old+Burma

Vietnam – Central Coast Highlights Bicycle Tour: In Vietnam, guests biking some 45 kilometers daily over eight days explore south from Hanoi along the Central Coast, passing through cultures spanning more than 1000 years and bisecting daily village life. Travelers may opt to swim and kayak on Halong Bay, where some 1,900 islands and islets create a marine landscape of limestone pillars. At Hue, the former royal capital, monuments, tombs and pagodas reveal a vanished feudal empire. In a region rarely visited by tourists, guests cycle around Hoi An Town, following small paths linking rarely-visited villages, rice fields, shrimp ponds and coconut palms. Privately hosted meals and carefully selected lodgings enhance this carefully textured journey. Available year-round, this trip is priced from $1,972 per person double. See: http://pure-adventures.com/show-tour/171/Vietnam+Central+Coast+Highlights+Bicycle+Tour

Thailand – Chiang Mai Cycling and Culture 7N Tour: Thailand unfolds while biking on average 45 kilometers daily over eight days. In Bangkok guests lodge overlooking the Chao Phraya River and pedal seldom-visited neighborhoods rife with open air markets and tea shops. A flight north to Chiang Mai reveals Doi Saket and the Lost City of Wiang Kum Kam, once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Guests have the fun of overnighting at a resort with treehouse accommodations. A morning cycle along Sri Lanna National Park secures a boat ride and transfers into kayaks, and perhaps a swim. This adventure is available from $1,250 per person double. See: http://pure-adventures.com/show-tour/170/Thailand+Chiang+Mai+Cycling+and+Culture+7N+Tour

Cambodia – Siem Reap & Angkor Watt Cycling: This is a five (or three)-day stand-alone tour or it can be combined as an add-on with another cycling vacation in Southeast Asia. Guests bike from 25 to 65 kilometers daily. After touring the temples of Angkor Wat, guests bike into the countryside where children practice English on visitors. One stop is at a floating village; another stop is the Roluos Group, a series of Pre-Angkor temples; and yet another stop is at the ancient ruins of Beng Melea, undiscovered and untouched for centuries and only recently accessible to the public. This tour is available year-round. The per person double rate is from $393. See: http://pure-adventures.com/show-tour/172/Cambodia+Siem+Reap+&+Angkor+Wat+Cycling

Seikman notes that these new biking programs, along with new self-guided walking tours in Japan, round out Pure Adventures’ calendar that now offers bicycle vacations year-round somewhere in the world.

For more information on all of Pure Adventures guided, self-guided and supported, self-directed tours, call: 800-960-2221 or 480-905-1235, Email: info@pure-adventures.com, or visit online: http://pure-adventures.com.

Bold New Company – Chasing Epic – Reinvents Mountain Bike Vacations

Steve Mokan is looking to change the way mountain bikers experience the best trails in the Western US.  The result is the recent launch of his new mountain bike tour company, Chasing Epic (http://chasingepicmtb.com/), which aims to raise the bar and set new standards in the mountain biking world. The focus is to offer intermediate and experienced riders fully all-inclusive, locally guided mountain bike trips where those in-the-know most want to bike — the American West – and when everybody has the time – over long weekends. Guests just need to be reasonably experienced and pack a helmet, shoes and appetite for epic single track adventure.

Mokan, a long-time Colorado mountain biker and a veteran of the adventure sports world, has worked with adventure travel companies, outdoor gear manufacturers, and ski resorts across the West as a professional photographer with his other venture, Switchback Photography.  Over a 10-year commercial journey he saw a glaring hole in the present mountain bike adventure travel industry.

“Participants on most mountain biking adventures today are being asked to bring too much to the table before the fun even begins,” he says. “Without proper guidance and advice it can be daunting in busy professional and family schedules to follow a checklist of pre-trip preparation, specialized gear and shipment of your own bike (or choosing from a fleet of rentals) before getting on a trail.”

He says Chasing Epic fills that gap and provides a better overall experience for people who love to ride “by anticipating guest needs then partnering with the biggest names in the bike industry to put together the most all-inclusive and rewarding mountain bike vacations in today’s marketplace.  With our trips, we take care of absolutely everything- all you have to do is show up and ride!”

Chasing Epic’s adventures include inn and hotel lodging (never camping), hearty meals, high-end demo bikes (an all-carbon demo bike fleet includes Ibis Mojo HD3s, Ibis Ripley LS 29ers, and Niner Jet 9 29ers), local guides conversant with the terrain, customized eight-week pre-trip training programs, best-in-class ride nutrition, shuttles and lift tickets, gratuities and a dedicated on-site trip leader to help control gear mashers and share the stories and laughs with a group of like-minded riders.

The destinations for these adventures are, in Colorado; Crested Butte, Durango, Fruita and Telluride, in Arizona; Sedona, and in Utah; Park City and St. George.

Unlike traditional point-A-to-point-B mountain bike tour companies, Chasing Epic stays in a single town in each destination and dedicates itineraries to daily rides that cover a variety of the most epic singletrack trails (known and unknown) in each area.

“This is possible by working with local guides who have been riding and building trails in these destinations for decades.  Each itinerary is unique, you’ll never ride the same set of trails twice with us. We also make sure we’re hitting these locations at the best time of the year: the Desert Southwest in the spring, Crested Butte and Park City in July (wildflowers), and the mountain towns in the fall for the changing aspens,” he underscores.
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On pre-set scheduled trips the per person rates are $950 for three days and $1,250 for four days, regardless of location. For private, exclusive customized trips the per person rate is $1,150 for three days and $1,450 for four days based on a group of six or more.

On the premise that “the less you suffer on the climbs, the more you’ll enjoy the descents,” Mokan has engaged coaching platform companies Training Peaks and Through the Wall Training to customize individualized training programs (valued at up to $400) for eight weeks prior to departure.

He emphasizes that these trips aren’t for touring and sightseeing. “At Chasing Epic, we pride ourselves on putting together itineraries of only the best trail systems in each location, and we don’t waste time with sightseeing rides. You’ll be on singletrack from start to finish.”

For reservations and information please visit http://chasingepicmtb.com/ or email steve@chasingepicmtb.com or telephone 303.949.3933.

Sage Advice from the Experts – How to Choose an Arctic Cruise

The Arctic is on many bucket lists thanks to polar bears and Northern Lights. But what else may travelers anticipate on a cruise in the Arctic Circle? And what questions should they ask when booking a cruise on the Arctic Ocean, the world’s smallest and shallowest ocean that is fringed by eight countries?

Todd Smith, small ship cruise expert and founder of AdventureSmith Explorations, (http://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/) discusses the variables of itineraries and small ships plying this region, home to four million people living in the shadow of Viking conquests and explorers. His sage advice, “How to Choose Your Arctic Cruise”, shares what he calls “an incredible range of conditions” in the May through September Arctic summer. These conditions help to determine itineraries and therefore passenger experiences.

For example, early season (late May through early July) polar bears on ice floes are prevalent. In July and August ice is more disbursed, allowing land access and explorations of nutrient-rich waters favored by whales. September nights bring the magnificent aurora borealis.

The experiences guests seek may also determine the ship they choose. AdventureSmith Explorations‘ fleet of expedition ships cruising to the Arctic carry 78 to 148 guests and are specially outfitted to travel in polar waters. They are all fairly similar in terms of ice class and amenities. For more intimate explorations, this company also recommends a fleet of vessels carrying just 16 to 20 guests that offer the same close-up exploration as larger expedition ships but also provide access to shallow harbors and small islands.

The length of a cruise and the price also come into play, said Smith. Following is a handful of specials for 2016 Arctic cruises.

The 11-day Home of Vikings cruise is aboard the 116-guest Sea Spirit. The per person double rate is from $4,995; however for bookings on a May 20, 2016, departure two guests sharing the same cabin may travel for the price of one. This specific tour through fjords in the High Arctic begins in Iceland and explores South and West Greenland in search of whales and other arctic wildlife. Guests explore the town of Nanortalik at the mouth of beautiful Tasermiut Fjord surrounded by steep mountains that flank an intricate fjord system. They soak in geothermal waters watching the icebergs pass by in Uunartoq. And they visit the enchanting West Greenlandic tiny settlements of Qaqortoq, Hvalsey Qassiarsuk. Paamiut, Nuuk, Itteliq and Sisimiut to discover Viking history and witness urban arctic living amongst the colorful homes. Sea kayaking along this rugged coastline is a favorite pastime on this adventure. See: https://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/home-of-vikings-greenland-iceland-arctic-small-ship-expedition

Polar guests will save up to 25 percent with an Early Booking Discount for designated Arctic cruises in 2016; up to 25 percent on premium cabins and 15 percent on non-premium cabins aboard select Sea Adventurer and Ocean Nova 2016 departures booked by April 15, 2016. Triple and Quad cabins are excluded. This discount cannot be combined with other offers and is subject to availability. Excluded are the following departures: June 12 Spitsbergen Explorer, July 4 Spitsbergen Circumnavigation and August 15 Three Arctic Islands. See: http://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/special-offers?dest=1187

Guests save 15 percent on AdventureSmith’s Realm of the Polar Bear on departures between June 13 and Aug. 10, 2016 if booked by March 1, 2016. See: http://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/realm-of-the-polar-bear

For information on all of AdventureSmith’s small ship cruises, itineraries, availability and 2016-2017 reservations, Phone: 800-728-2875 toll-free or visit http://www.adventuresmithexplorations.com/.