Six breathtaking ways to push the envelope this summer
South Bay Accent Magazine
By Karen Kefauver
Remember summer as a kid? Time always flew by quickly before school started again as new and exciting activities filled long, sunny days. Why not recapture that childhood spirit of adventure this summer by ditching your usual seasonal routine and trying something radically different? Skip a barbecue, unplug your laptop and banish your Blackberry. Then use the free time to experience a thrilling outdoor escape.
Whether you soar above rooftops skydiving or paragliding, jump in a whitewater raft for a wet ride, suit up to scuba dive through underwater canyons or experience the thrill of driving a racecar on a banked track, we have what you’re looking for: heart-stopping, blood-pumping, eye-popping adventure. These six California companies promise to make this summer one of your most memorable ever.
Adventures in the sky
1. How high can you go?
Shawn Foust never intended to get hooked on skydiving. It all started with an unusual present from his wife for his 32nd birthday: the chance to plunge from a plane flying at 15,000 feet. On a clear day last November, the Seaside couple took a leap of faith together and they both signed up for training at Adventure Center Skydiving in Hollister.
Foust, a federal agent with the Department of Defense, and his wife, an Air Force captain at Monterey’s Naval Postgraduate School, had never embarked on anything like this, even during their military training.
“We took a day-long class and learned step-by-step on the ground,” says Foust. “The instructors take you through drills in the classroom, simulating what you will do later. We learned about equipment and emergency procedures.” But nothing could have fully prepared Foust for the moment before his first skydive.
“It was louder than I expected, with the 100-plus-miles-an-hour winds roaring. I was nervous. It’s not a natural act to jump out of the plane,” he admits, recalling how he felt as he balanced in the doorway of the plane. “My biggest fear was being alone under the parachute and not being able to successfully land it.” He was surprised by how he felt as he tumbled toward earth. “It does not feel like falling, just like a fan set on high. You get a maximum adrenaline rush for that short period of time.
Foust was ecstatic when his parachute opened 5,500 feet. “I am hooked,” he confesses. As of March, Foust had completed 67 jumps, sometimes doing up to six jumps in one day.
“Skydiving is as dangerous as you make it. If you respect the sport and follow the instructions, you will be just fine,” explains Adventure Center Skydiving owner Tim Sayre. An air traffic controller for 15 years, Sayre started skydiving in 1983 and now has 8,000 jumps under his belt. He purchased the company in 2000.
Sky diving is a confidence-builder for sure,” Sayre notes. “And there is no age limit: we recently had a Bay Area woman who was celebrating her 96th birthday with a tandem skydive.”
2. How far can you go?
If you hear people talking about “soaring along ridges” and “hunting for thermals,” don’t don’t be confused. These folks are most likely discussing paragliding, an increasingly popular air sport.
Paragliding is huge in Europe,” says Jeff Greenbaum, a paragliding instructor and the owner of Air Time San Francisco. Now it is taking off here.” Not to be confused with parasailing or hang-gliding, paragliding uses a non-rigid, parachute-like canopy, under which the pilot is suspended from a harness in a seated position. The paraglider takes off from hills or mountains and relies on air currents and winds to gain altitude.
Last November, after waiting years to try it, Terry Lee finally started taking paragliding lessons with Greenbaum. “At the first launch, I felt a little bit of fear,” says Lee, 43, who works for OSHA in Oakland. “I lost that fear real quick though, because I was busy soaking in all the views. I was thinking, ‘Wow. It doesn’t get any better than this.'”
It generally takes between eight and 15 lessons for one of Greenbaum’s students to learn to fly on his or her own. That time frame may vary due to weather and by how well the student masters basic skills.
“To me, it is very relaxing,” explains Lee. “At the end of a stressful day, you fly off a hill and the only noise is the wind in your ears. You are free, floating, and looking at the mountains, the coast and cruising along slowly—at 15 to 20 miles an hour. To see the sunset from the sky is totally phenomenal.”
Greenbaum agrees. “When you are flying, you feel like a bird. You can feel the pressure of the wind on the wing and it feels like an extension of yourself. It is quite magical,” he says. For those who want to experience paragliding with minimal time investment, a tandem flight is the way to go. “Anyone can do it,” according to Greenbaum. However, he strongly encourages students to learn how to fly on their own. It took Lee about eight lessons to master the skies. So far, the highlight of his paragliding adventures was a recent trip to Big Sur, where he had a 40-minute flight and plenty of time coasting about the ocean, soaring to 3,200 feet.
Land lover adventures
3. How fast can you go?
Spend a long weekend in Napa and you might visit some wineries, relax at a spa and shop at some boutiques. Or, if that sounds a bit prosaic, why not learn to drive one of the fastest cars on earth?
That’s what Cathy Sivori did to celebrate her 39th birthday last December. At the Jim Russell Racing School, which is located at the Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Sivori signed up for the Half Day Jim Russell Test Drive and learned how to drive a Formula Mitsubishi racecar, which can reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour.
“I knew that these cars are set up to go really fast,” said Sivori, who was nervous before the start of her test drive. A fan of NASCAR racing and a frequent visitor to Sears Point, she had never sat in a racecar. After reviewing the basics, including shifting, braking, the clutch and the gas, the instructors explained the layout of the track and how to take corners. With instructors on the track to monitor her. Sivori climbed into the car to check out Infineon’s technical and challenging road course, which includes 13 turns and 150 feet of elevation.
“One of the hardest parts for me was not giving the car enough gas before cornering,” said Sivori. “I was afraid the car’s back end would slide out.” However, by the end of the class, Sivori reached the maximum speed allowed for that test drive: 80 miles an hour in fourth gear.
“The half-day program is an opportunity for someone who’s always wanted to drive a race car to experience the Formula Mitsubishi,” said Del Leutbecher, director of sales and business development at the racing school. Leutbecher estimated that 80 percent of a student’s time is spent in the car and on the track.
Opened 49 years ago in Britain by racer Jim Russell, the school, which has a second location in France, specializes in open wheel racing, which is even more popular in Europe than in the U.S. “It felt like flying. It was a big thrill for me,” Sivori says, mentioning that she plans to return to the school for more training “I recommend anyone try it just once. You never know what you are going to like!’
4. How low can you go?
“People come from all over the world to see this park,” says Carey Goldstein, a naturalist who manages Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park, the U.S. Park System’s second oldest park. “For a cave of its size, the number of formations and the variety is pretty hard to beat. The colors are very vivid. It is a living cave—water flows through year-round, making the bands of blue, white and gray marble shiny.”
To explore Crystal Cave, the park offers Visitors two types of tours: the regular walking tour and the Wild Cave Tour.
“What makes the Wild Cave Tour special is that you get to see parts of the cave that you would not see on a normal tour,” explains Goldstein, noting that the expedition size is limited to six people at a time. “There are no lights at all except the ones you wear—we provide coveralls, plus a hard hat that looks like a miner helmet with lights. You crawl on your stomach deep into the cave.” If a guest becomes claustrophobic and needs to leave the tour, he says the cave exit is not far away.
“Crystal Cave is absolutely wonderful,” says spelunker “Big Bill” Roberts. A veteran of show caves on walking tours, he had never done off-trail caving until he went on the Crystal Cave Wild Cave Tour in the spring of 2000. “Everything is dripping, sparkling and pristine,” he notes. “You can tour several large chambers, 30-to 40-foot rooms, and see every type of formation in caves—sculpted marble, beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. As you go deeper in the cave, you go through dry, sandy, twisty, interconnecting passages before you work your way down to big boulders and finally water and mud. You also have to go through the ‘rat-hole’— a passage through the rock that is about a 6-foot tube that is just big enough to squiggle through.”
During the Wild Cave Tour, which
spans from four to six hours, a visitor will also see crystal clear lakes and may spot one of nine species of bat, as well as salamanders and spiders that dwell in the dark interior. The temperature remains a constant 49 degrees F. “That trip changed my life,” says Roberts. Now a caving guide himself who goes on 15 caving trips a season, Big Bill assures his clients that if he can squeeze his 6-foot-2-inch, 230-pound frame into a narrow underground passageway, they can too.
Wet & wild adventures
5. How deep can you go?
A visitor walking along Fisherman’s Wharf can easily spot sea otters, sea lions and seals frolicking in the Monterey Bay, but unless you scuba dive under the water’s surface, you will miss the world that unfolds within the marine sanctuary.
“Divers come from around the world to experience our enormous biodiversity,” explains Scott Cooper, the general manager and course director at Monterey Bay Dive Center. “We live in a dynamic area with deep water access, as well as a magnificent kelp forest. It’s a great place to go play.”
Cooper, who has been diving for 20 years, says diving in the kelp “is like walking through an underwater forest. The feeling is three-dimensional when you are in the kelp.” A professional instructor for the past decade, he notes, “No matter where you look, things are happening around you. Not just on the ground or on a wall of the reef.”
David Davis, 48, of Santa Clara, had snorkeled in Hawaii, but until last fall, he had only dreamed of scuba diving. Then, he and his son, Christopher Davis, 18, got certified at Any Water in San Jose (www. anywater.com).
His scuba experiences are in complete sync with Cooper’s descriptions of underwater adventures in the Monterey area. “Diving in Monterey Bay is unbelievable, agrees Davis, a lieutenant with the Sunnyvale Public Safety Dept. “I never realize,: how much life there is down there. We saw seals, sea lions, crabs and sunfish. I had no idea there are so many types of starfish an.; in so many colors…red, orange, yellow and also some with 12 or 15 arms.”
While the Monterey Bay water temperature averages between 48 and 56 degree “once you put on a wetsuit, it’s very comfortable,” says Davis. “Neither my son r I had a problem and we were anticipating it being very cold.”
According to Cooper, “The nice thing about scuba is that it is an easy sport. It is just like a nature walk underwater. Comfort with water helps, but anyone can come here and enjoy this.” For beginners, the shop’s Discover Scuba Diving program teaches basic diving skills, like how to operate the equipment and how to clear water out of the mask. Perhaps best of all, divers in Monterey Bay don’t need to use a boat to get out—instead, they can walk straight into the water and will see the diverse marine life immediately.
6. How raging can you go?
Before her first whitewater raft trip on the upper Cache Creek River in Northern California, Rachanee Sporl worried that her boat would flip and she would hit her head on a rock. “I was a little nervous,” confesses Sporl, 40, a Santa Cruz County resident who claims she is not the “adventurous type.” While her worst fears did
not materialize, her raft did indeed flip over—multiple times.
“The churning whitewater was totally out of control at times,” says her husband, Dan Sporl. “But the guides told us what to do when your boat capsizes: keep your feet up.”
The Sporls had so much fun on that excursion with Whitewater Adventures (www.whitewater-adv.com) that for their second whitewater raft trip, the couple invited four other family members to join them on an overnight weekend excursion on the upper Cache, two hours north of San Francisco.
Their “Go Whitewater” adventure began on a Saturday morning with an hour-long shuttle ride up the gorge, which provided gorgeous views of the Calusa Mountains and glimpses of the river. After they arrived at the Cache Creek River, the guides gave an onshore briefing on rafting, reviewing the different levels of rapids, which are grouped in classes one through six. They learned that Class 1 is flat water, 2 is beginner whitewater, 3 is much more intense with rocks and obstacles, 4 is advanced whitewater and 5 is the expert level.
“A Class 6 is unrunnable. It is a oneway trip that you probably won’t come back from,” explains Miles Miltner, who runs whitewater raft trips on the Truckee River, out of Lake Tahoe, with his company, Tahoe Whitewater Tours. With many river outings focusing on Class 3 rapids, “the excitement of the trip comes from the boat being tossed by the water, maneuvering around rocks and getting splashed. It is like a roller coaster ride at times,” says Miltner, whose trips range from a half-day to two-day excursions.
“We jumped in and started paddling away,” recalls Rachanee Sporl. “We started in a calm spot, then turned a bend and saw little ripples, then rocks, then all of a sudden it was the whitewater rapids! I was a little scared, but the adrenaline just carries you through,” she says. “What made it fun for me is that the river changes, so it is always new and different.” The Sporls are planning another family whitewater raft trip for this summer.
Let ‘er rip!
Summer Adventures: Who, What & Where
Adventure Center Skydiving
55 Mercury Drive
Located at the Hollister Airport, just north of town, Adventure Center Skydiving offers a variety of skydiving jump options, including tandem, solo and group jumps. Instruction and First Simple Tandem Skydive soar to 10,000 feet, with 20-30 seconds of freefall, (Monday-Friday only) and costs $149. Instruction and First King Air Tandem Skydive rises to 15,000 feet, with 60 seconds of freefall, for $189. California’s Highest Tandem Jump reaches18,000 feet, includes 90 seconds of freefall (includes oxygen), and costs $249. Skydive students must be at least 18 years old.
Air Time San Francisco
456 Mariners Island Blvd.
#212 (door code 040)
San Mateo, CA 94404
(650) NET-WIND / (650) 638-9463
Jeff Greenbaum of Airtime of San Francisco teaches paragliding lessons and paragliding tandem flights. The paragliding sessions are held at a variety of sites in the San Francisco Bay Area, including San Mateo and Santa Clara, as well as mountain trips to sites within 3 to 4 hours of the Bay Area. A tandem paragliding experience includes extensive training and provides a chance to steer the paraglider during the tandem flight. Tandem prices vary: one person on the weekend, $189 for a 20-30 minute flight, $250 for an hour flight; midweek the prices are $169 to $220.
Crystal Cave Wild Tours
Sequoia National Park
47050 Generals Highway
Three Rivers, CA
Park info: 559/565-3341
Wild Cave Tour: 559/565-4251
The Sequoia Field Institute, a division of the Sequoia Natural History Association, offers Wild Cave Tours July 7, 9,14,16, 21, 23, 28, 30 and August 4, 6,11,13. Reservations are first-come, first served. The 4-6-hour tour includes two guides per group. Safety equipment, headlamp, gloves and kneepads are provided. Limited to 6 people per tour, minimum age is 16. Cost is $119 per person.
Jim Russell Racing Schools
Infineon Raceway, Sonoma, CA
Owned by Speedway Motor-sports, Inc., the school is located at the intersection of Highways 37 and 121. The Half Day Jim Russell Test Drive includes classroom instruction followed by driving on the track in the Mitsubishi Formula racecar. The course features the challenging road course, discovering the “racing line,” learning the correct gear selection, proper apex and exit of each corner and mastering the heel and toe downshifting and racecar control. Classes are offered monthly May through December (except June). Equipment and coaching from seasoned instructors are provided. Half-Day Test Drive is $549. Dates vary for the 1-day Formula Racecar Experience, which costs $995.
Monterey Bay Dive Center (MBDC)
225 Cannery Row Monterey, CA
800/60-SCUBA or 831/656-0454 www.montereyscubadiving.com
Scuba and snorkeling tours and classes are guided by certified instructors. Tours generally start at MBDC and can depart at any requested time. The best daytime dive conditions are between 7-10 a.m. Prices for dives are based on the number of people participating and the number of dives requested. For entry-level scuba training and certification, students complete their classroom and pool training in one weekend, and finish their open water training and skill tests the following weekend in Monterey Bay. Classroom and pool training is held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The introductory PADI Open Water Diver certification program costs $325 per person.
Tahoe Whitewater Tours
303 Alpine Meadows Rd.
Tahoe City, CA
800/442-7238 or 530/581-2441 www.gowhitewater.com
Rafting and kayaking trips on rivers including the American, Truckee and Carson begin at Tahoe Whitewater’s boathouse in Tahoe City (Hwy 89). Trips are offered daily mid-May through late September. Boats accommodate 4-6 people. The guides are graduates of an intensive guide school and are certified in First Aid and CPR. Equipment provided. Children must be ages 7-12, age 13 and up for high adventure trip. Prices vary: Full day whitewater trips: $90/children – $110/adults; 1/2 day whitewater trips: $65/ adults, $55/kids; 1/2-day kayak: $45/person; $125/person for High Adventure Class IV-V whitewater rapids.
Karen Kefauver is a freelance writer based in Santa Cruz. She can be contacted at [email protected]