Adventure Cycling

Invisible to most drivers, there is a 26,000-mile network of long-distance bicycle trails criss-crossing the US. These mapped and designated routes offer travelers researched paths with plenty of information on nearest bike shops, profiles of difficulty, and indicated sleeping possibilities. It all started with Bikecentennial’s 1976 TransAm route, the first to cross the continental US, connecting Oregon and Virginia. Thousands still use this route, now overseen by the non-profit Adventure Cycling.

I once rode a bike across America using my own route (more adventure) but I have followed long sections of other Adventure Cycling routes. Their materials are well-worth the price; you will however have lots of companions — which many enjoy.

Adventure Cycling puts out a pretty good magazine for bicycle long-distance touring (a place to solicit travel companions), runs bike tours, has a decent catalog of touring paraphernalia, and continually pioneers new routes. The newest: the world’s longest mountain bike trail, runs 2,500 miles along the Continental Divide from Canada to Mexico. For that kind of amazingly rugged off-the-road trip (which only a few have completed in full), their maps (waterproof) and guides are essential.

— KK

Adventure Cycling Association

Adventure Cyclist Magazine
9 issues
included in $40 membership to Adventure Cycling Association

Maps, Books, and Gear for the Adventure Cyclist


Eccentric America

Think different. More than just a list of weird kitschy roadside attractions, this enjoyable guidebook points you to odd festivals, off-beat environments, outsider art, bizarre endeavors and eccentric people in all 50 states. You can have a real adventure in the US by seeking out any of the 900 wacky national treasures covered in this fantastic guide. I found a whole bunch of incredible “never forget” destinations this way. May your travels be as creative as you are. (Someone please make an Eccentric Europe, or Mexico, Japan, etc.)

Alternatively, you can go to the website Roadside America. It’s not as complete, not as easy to browse, and not as eccentric (more of what you expect in roadside attractions), but it is free. Furthermore, it relies on tips from readers, so it is improving fast.

-- KK  

Roadside America

Eccentric America, 2nd Edition
Jan Friedman
2004, 336 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Led by a group alarmed by the increasing presence of surveillance cameras, the Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tours cover most Manhattan neighborhoods, meeting Sundays, rain or shine, for the one-and-a-half-hour tours. The leaders, known as the Surveillance Camera Players, share a great deal of history on the subject as well as pointing out the technological capacities of the various types of cameras.

Surveillance Camera Outdoor Walking Tours (SCOWT) meet on Sundays at 2.00pm sharp in various neighborhoods. Check the website for details. Free.


The Mega-sore-ass dinosaur machine crossing the Eel River and traveling to Ferndale in the Annual World Championship, Great Arcata to Ferndale Cross-Country Kinetic Sculpture Race*

Sofas, chairs and bathtubs take to the slopes at Big Mountain Resort’s annual Furniture Races in Whitefish [MT]. All manner of furniture (very loosely defined) is firmly attached to skis, towed to the top of the slope, and then raced full-throttle down to the bottom. Competitors are judged by speed, ability to stop reasonably close to the finish line and on style. Winner gets a new piece of furniture.

Furniture Races, held annually in April in Whitefish, MT. Contact Big Mountain Ski and Summer Resort, PO Box 1400, Whitefish, MT 59937; 800 8582900.



Talk about off the wall – you’ll be literally bouncing off padded ones at Flyaway Indoor Skydiving. Flapping around like a bird stuck in a silo, you’ll ‘fly’ in a vertical wind tunnel with updraft speeds up to 115mph. But first you need to attend flight school. Here you learn how to position your body for maximum uplift; practice the ‘tuck and roll’, which is how you exit the updraft safely; and learn the communication hand-signals. Then you’ll watch a lawyerly video explaining all the ways you could get hurt or killed (no-one ever has been); and sign your life away on the liability release form.

After that, it’s into your flight suit, knee and elbow pads, helmet, ear plugs and goggles. Then it’s into the wind tunnel with up to four of your soon-to-be best friends. Since your body isn’t likely to agree with your decision to leap into a void, your flight suit has handles so your trainer can pull you into and out of the maelstrom. The tunnel itself is a giant, padded, cylindrical tube with a turbine engine mounted into the floor.

Flyaway Indoor Skydiving, 200 Convention Center Dr, Las Vegas, NV 89109; 702 731 4768 or 877 545 8093. Open seven days a week. Hours are seasonal; phone for current times.


The Indiana Shoe Tree has been featured in newspapers, and on television and radio, for most of the 35 years in which it has been collecting thousands of pairs of shoes and other footwear. Originally local folks shoed it just for fun, but now that it’s famous, people come from all over to tie their old laces together, then hurl their old shoes up into the white oak tree. Some people put their name and date on the soles before tossing them skyward. In winter you can truly see just how many shoes reside in the tree since there is no foliage to hide its contents.

Indiana Shoe Tree, located along County-1, 6 miles south of Milltown, IN. Contact Maxine Archibald, Maxine’s Market, 402 W Main St, Milltown, IN 47145; 812 633 4251


Thirty thousand people show up to hunt rattlesnakes and then eat them at the annual Sweetwater Jaycee’s Rattlesnake Round-up and Cook-off. In the 40 years since the event was organized as a way to control the deadly snake population, more than 220,000 tons of rattlesnakes have ended up deep fried, barbecued, or otherwise recycled into less-threatening form. There are demonstrations of snake-handling, snake-milking and a Miss Snake Charmer Queen contest. The squeamish might want to sit this one out.

Rattlesnake Round-up and Cook-off, held annually in March in Sweetwater, TX. Contact: Rattlesnake Roundup, PO Box 416, Sweetwater, TX 79556; 915 235 5488 or 915 235 8938.



North Carolina is home to the world’s largest chest of drawers



The Kaatskill Kaleidoscope is the world’s largest, built inside a converted grain silo by member of the Brewster Society, a group of kaleidoscope craftsmen. To see the show, you lean back against padded boards equipped with new supports, then enjoy 15 minutes of inventive sound and imagery.

Kaatskill Kaleidoscope, Catskill Corners, Mt Tremper, Ulster County, NY; 914 688 5300. Open Sun-Thu 10.00am-5.00pm, Fri-Sat 10.00am-7.00pm.

Access All Areas


They call it “urban exploration.” Cruising through abandoned factories, tunnels, sewage systems, bridges, and even “live” structures still in use. Why? Because they are beautiful, mysterious, exciting, and not open to everyone. Others simply enjoy “abandonments, decay and industrial mayhem.”

This book is packed solid with great practical advice on how to explore this unexplored realm. Every page has something I didn’t know about gaining access, staying safe, and discovering new paths in the urban wilds. While this activity is generally considered illegal, the respect for the buildings, and the owners, nurtured in this guide is impressive.

There’s a related DVD in the same spirit which contains no advice at all. Rather it’s an ode to urban archeology and the love of forgotten buildings.

— KK

Access All Areas: A User’s Guide to the Art of Urban Exploration
2005, 242 pages
Available from Amazon

Echoes of Forgotten Places
Produced by Scribble Media
2005, 63 min.
$9 (used), DVD
Available from Amazon


Still from Echoes of Forgotten Places

Sample book excerpts:

Sometimes you’ll want to head through a room, hallway or stairwell that’s off-limits and monitored by a camera. In many cases the best way past such a camera is to calmly walk past the camera. Certainly, this will work more often than snipping the wires, cycling the video feed or any other elaborate spy stunts.



Directions left by past tunnelers can be quite useful, though they should be taken with a grain of salt. People make mistakes.


While I’m a big advocate of properly researching a place to get the inside scoop on how to act like you’re supposed to be there, sometimes it’s also necessary, or at least fun, to fly by the seat of your pants. In such cases, you may suddenly find yourself questioned by someone, or needing to speak with someone in order to get through a particular barrier, without having any real idea what might be a plausible reason for you to be there.

In such a case, I recommend just stalling for a time and letting the person you’re talking to supply your excuse for you. People hate uncomfortable silences and confusing situations and will often rush to supply the information they’re looking for themselves. Good stalling phrases include: “I hope you can help me”; “I’m not sure exactly what the procedure is here”; “Do I need to show you some ID?”; “I didn’t even know I was going to have to speak to anyone about this” or something of that sort. After you say one of these lines, wait for a response. People generally want to believe that the people around them are rational, so they’ll more or less tell you the most rational reason they can conceive of for your presence — “Are you here for the class?”; “You must be looking for Mark”; “Are you one of today’s volunteers?”; “I guess you’re looking for the way to the observation level”; etc. You don’t have to come up with a good reason — you just have to agree to the one they devise for you. Once you perfect the skill of stalling without seeming like you’re stalling, this will work for you quite often.


In most cases, your focus shouldn’t be on defeating motion detectors, but on spotting them and avoiding them. If you constantly keep an eye out for motion detectors at all times and in all locations, you’ll gradually get a sense of where they’re installed, and learn that you have to be especially careful near doorways, roof hatches, outside exits, the tops and bottoms of stairwells and similar locations. And you’ll get familiar with the slightly more out-of-the-way routes that can be used to avoid them.


Many explorers go out of their way to visit abandoned buildings during the day, both to avoid potential problems with flashlights and camera flashes at night and also because buildings tend to look and photograph a lot better in natural light. As an additional bonus, exploring during daylight hours makes you less likely to step into a hole you didn’t notice. The main advantage of exploring at night is that darkness, when properly used, can provide a good deal of concealment while you’re trying to get into a building, or while you’re climbing about on its roof. Exploring an abandoned building at night can also be very pleasantly creepy.



Ventilation shafts really can be used to move from room to room, and in large ones crawling on your knees and elbows is not normally a necessity.


When we visit abandoned buildings, our senses are so heightened by the idea of having earned a glimpse of something unique and forbidden that we intensely savour the splendour and wonder of the place. But cities are full of beautiful, neglected, charming and authentic places and these aren’t all inside abandoned buildings — not by a long shot. Some of the city’s most surprising and impressive places are courthouses, theatres, libraries, museums, stadia, office buildings, hospitals, transit stations and similar buildings that are still more or less open for business. Just about any interesting old building is worth a look and so are a lot of newer ones. Go in and find their secrets. Climb every ladder. Open every door. Summit every rooftop, etc.


In my experience, the absolute optimal time for infiltrating an office tower or similar place of business is between 4pm and 6pm on a Friday night. Between 4pm and 6pm, all the employees are taking off, but the cleaning crews and evening security patrol haven’t yet been around. And Friday afternoon is by far the most laid back time at virtually any business.


Crossover floors, whatever their signs may warn, should be unlocked in compliance with fire codes. They’re good routes out of stairwells.


Looking unsuspicious is a big part of using elevators for exploration. If you’re on the ground floor and you want to go down, or it you’re near the top of the building and you want to go up, it may be in your best interest to push the wrong button, just in case a guard or employee joins you. You can change your mind and your direction once the elevator arrives, providing it’s empty. If you’re sharing an elevator with others, if you worry that others might get on part way through your ride or if you simply worry that you’re looking suspicious, you may want to send out similar miscues about what floors you’re visiting when you hop onto the elevator. If you seek the roof of a 50-story building, hit 36. If you have the elevator to yourself when you arrive at 36, hit 47, and walk up from there. (If you look and feel confident, you needn’t take these sort of precautions — these tips apply only when you feel out of place or out of your league.)


Sahara Overland

The Sahara is a desert as large as the United States filled with emptiness, ancient cultures, and natural wonders. America has its own recreational deserts in the west, but for Africa and Europe, the Sahara is where you go to test yourself. This book, now in its second edition, has emerged as THE source for getting into the deep Sahara and back, alive and in good spirits. It is uncommonly thorough and immensely practical. It covers the kinds of vehicles and supplies you need, runs along possible itineraries and dangers, and anticipates most of the questions you might have. No stone is left unanswered. The book is a brick — a great big fat bible stuffed with precious overland Sahara lore, hard won by hundreds of trips and mistakes of others. There are not many travel books (or destinations) quite like this one. (more…)

-- KK  

Sahara Overland: A Route and Planning Guide
Chris Scott
2005, 688 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

A final word about guides: you need them, but do not rely on them. They will tell you that lots of things are impossible. That generally means that they cannot be bothered to do them. They tend to be highly conservative people, who resent being diverted from their usual routes and routines. Do not trust their navigation. If you leave your compass and GPS at home because you are in the hands of a local, you are being very foolish. Try to use guides who have been recommended to you by previous expeditions. And (of course) on no account pay them everything up front.

An old adage advises that you should never camp in a oued because flash floods from distant rains could rip through your camp causing havoc. Some sources have even claimed that ‘more people have drowned in the Sahara than died of thirst’ – about as likely as more people dying of thirst than drowning at sea, or freezing to death in the Antarctic. In Morocco, where run-off from the Atlas can be frequent, steep and fast, this warning is valid in certain seasons but in the deep Sahara, oueds often offer some welcome tree shade or vegetated wind breaks, as well as soft sand rather than gravel. Obviously if there are dark clouds in the sky keep to the high ground wherever you are, but dangerous flash floods are only a real danger in mountain areas, and by the time they get to the plain they’re all but spent.

People get nervous about carrying a wad of money abroad but good old-fashioned cash is a readily changeable and local currency is what talks loudest in the Sahara. Unless you expect to be visiting large cities or capitals, travellers’ cheques are of little use. Despite what you’re told, the promise of speedy replacement of stolen cheques requires a phone call – itself a rather tall order in most of the Sahara. Don’t rely on cashing travellers’ cheques in the Sahara.

It may look drastic, but the only way is to drag this car down to more level ground where it can be pulled back onto its wheels. Within an hour it was running just as before.

Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Back Door

An award in heaven should be given to those authors who update their good books every year until they are great books. Rick Steves’s guidebook on intelligent travel in Europe has been around decades, but it gets better with each yearly edition. That’s because for the past twenty years Steves has spent 130 days each year exploring new and re-exploring odd corners of the continent. From this wealth of experience he delivers not only the best guide to Europe, but the best general guide to smart traveling anywhere. I spent a decade full-time traveling myself, and these days I go to Europe once a month; this book has directed me to many specific towns or regions that retain distinctive cultures, places which would otherwise have taken me years of visits to find. Among the techniques Steves offers is a sort of laser traveling (head directly from the airport to the quintessential regions, skip the rest) which only works because he knows where to send you. There are a thousand hard-earned tips on cheap travel, on getting comfortable with a different way of doing things, and, bless his soul, he updates the darn thing every year with the latest prices. I consume travel books by the barrelful, including Lonely Planets, Rough Guides, and so on; this is the one to study, the one you want to re-read. It’s not about London and Paris; it is not a guidebook. It’s about how to make jokes in beginners’ Italian, or attend a wedding on a Greek island. With Steves’s guidance you can finally do that inexpensive grand tour of Europe you’ve always meant to do, or, better, bestow a roundtrip ticket and this book to a recent graduate and it’ll be as good an education as they’ve had.

Here is my review of Rick’s DVD crash course on European Budget Travel.

-- KK  

Rick Steves’ Europe Through the Backdoor 2013
Rick Steves
2013, 828 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you came to see. Europe is a cultural carnival, and time after time, you’ll find that its best acts are free and the best seats are the cheap ones.

Travel is addicting. It can make you a happier American, as well as a citizen of the world. Our Earth is home to nearly 6 billion equally important people. It’s humbling to travel and find that people don’t envy Americans. Europeans like us, but with all due respect, they wouldn’t trade passports.


Extroverts have more fun. If you see four cute men on a bench, ask them to scoot over.


The Big Sleep: Arrive 30 minutes before your train leaves. Walk most of the length of the train but not to the last car. Choose a car that is going where you want to go, and find an empty compartment. Pull two seats out to make a bed, close the curtains, turn out the lights, and pretend you are sound asleep. It’s amazing. At 21:00, everyone on that train is snoring away! The first 30 people to get on that car have room to sleep. Number 31 will go into any car with the lights on and people sitting up. The most convincing “sleepers” will be the last to be “woken up.” (The real champs put a hand down their pants and smile peacefully.)

Museum Strategies
Eavesdrop. If you are especially interested in one piece of art, spend half an hour studying it and listening to each passing tour guide tell his or her story about David or the Mona Lisa or whatever. They each do their own research and come up with different information to share. Much of it is true. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of tour freeloading. Just don’t’ stand in the front and ask a lot of questions.

For $20, you can rent a couchette (bunk bed) on your overnight train. Top bunks give you a bit more room and safety – but BYOB.

Tips on Creative Communication
Be melodramatic. Exaggerate the local accent. In France, communicate more effectively (and have more fun) by sounding like Maurice Chevalier or Inspector Clouseau. The locals won’t be insulted; they’ll be impressed. Use whatever French you know. But even English, spoken with a sexy French accent, makes more sense to the French ear. In Italy, be melodramatic, exuberant, and wave those hands. Go ahead, try it: Mama mia! No. Do it again. MAMA MIA! You’ve got to be uninhibited. Self consciousness kills communication.

Desperate Telephone Communication

Let me illustrate with a hypothetical telephone conversation. I’m calling a hotel in Barcelona from a phone booth in the train station. I just arrived, read my guidebook’s list of budget accommodations, and I like Pedro’s Hotel. Here’s what happens:

Pedro answers, “Hotel Pedro, grabdaboodogalaysk.”
I ask, “Hotel Pedro?” (Question marks are created melodically.)
He affirms, already a bit impatient, “Si, Hotel Pedro.”
I ask, “Habla Eng-leesh?”
He says, “No, dees ess Ehspain.” (Actually, he probably would speak a little English or would say “moment” and get someone who did. But we’ll make this particularly challenging. Not only does he not speak English — he doesn’t want to… for patriotic reasons.)

Remembering not to overcommunicate, you don’t need to tell him you’re a tourist looking for a bed. Who else calls a hotel speaking in a foreign language? Also, you can assume he’s got a room available. If he’s full, he’s very busy and he’d say “complete” or “”no hotel” and hang up. If he’s still talking to you, he wants your business. Now you must communicate just a few things, like how many beds you need and who you are.

I say, “OK.” (OK is international for, “Roger, prepare for the next transmission.”) “Two people” –he doesn’t understand. I get fancy, “Dos people” — he still doesn’t get it. Internationalize, “Dos pehr-son” — no comprende. “Dos hombre” — nope. Digging deep into my bag of international linguistic tricks, I say, “Dos Yankees.”
“OK!” He understands, you want beds for two Americans. He says, “Si,” and I say, “Very good” or “Muy bueno.”
Now I need to tell him who I am. I say, “My name Ricardo (Ree-KAR-do).” In Italy I say, “My name Luigi.” Your name really doesn’t matter; you’re communicating just a password so you can identify yourself when you walk through the door. Say anything to be understood.
He says, “OK.”
You repeat slowly, “Hotel, dos Yankees, Ricardo, coming pronto, OK?”
He says, “OK.”
You say, “Gracias, ciao!”
Twenty minutes later you walk up to the reception desk, and Pedro greets you with a robust, “Eh, Ricardo!”


One carry-on-size bag?? Here’s exactly what I traveled with for two months (photo taken in a Copenhagen hotel room).

Wild Hot Springs

A natural hot spring is not interesting until collected into a hot pool. Hot pools on private land inevitably evolve into hot spas. These can be great in themselves: The Japanese built a robust empire around hot spas, and even in the US, natural spas can be wonderful. But there is nothing like soaking your butt in a natural hot spring bubbling out of the ground in the midst of absolutely-nowhere, surrounded by tufts of green, rock, and drop-dead beauty, and — most of the time — no one else.

By some cosmic gift, most of the hot springs in the US pop up within the publicly owned vastness of the West, thereby guaranteeing the continuation of several hundred recreational hot springs and hot pools that retain their undeveloped wildness. This is me, above, at Spencer’s Hot Springs, Nevada. Water temp, about 104. Or below, me, my wife and some friends in Crowley Hot Springs (also known as Wild Willie’s), California. Yes, it was a lovely as it looks.

How do you get there? These books will tell you.

The two US-oriented ones here are the best of a very small bunch. They are great updated editions based on the early guides of the late Jayson Loam, who is credited with popularizing rustic hot springs. The Southwest book somewhat counter-intuitively includes California, Nevada down to Texas, while the Northwest volume includes Oregon, Wyoming up to Alaska. Hot Springs of Western Canada (2nd Edition) covers about a hundred springs in Canada, but the better ones are included in the aforementioned Hot Springs & Hot Pools of the Northwest; good enough for most folks.

Each guide lists over a hundred hot springs, including the many developed ones (some extremely built up). You’ll have to sort through to find the more primitive and rustic ones. For each spring there’s at least one photo, a description, and street directions if they are developed. In the past the great challenge posed by wild springs was finding them; many quests to reach a fabled hot spot were abandoned by the mapless. Happily that test is now easy to pass if you have a GPS unit. These guides provide GPS coordinates (yeah!) for most of the rustic sites.

There used to be an occasional periodical called the Hot Spring Gazette, which kept up on which springs dried up, or were closed down, and what ones newly opened, etc. While they have a website, as far as I can determine they haven’t had an issue in 5 years. Your best guide to the latest news in primitive hot baths (other than spring-wise friends) is this website:
Soak Net. Second best is Hot Spring Enthusiast.

Lastly, the truly hot-spring obsessed will quote from the legendary Thermal Springs List of the United States. It is nothing more, nor less, than a comprehensive database of ALL known hot springs in the US. Decades ago, a yellowing print-out of this government publication was a badge of true hot-spring aficionado. These days this database is maintained by by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is available online. Diehard hot-water freaks use the list to hunt for little-visited hot springs, but be forewarned. Most of these springs are but trickles of warm water and not bathable. Furthermore, this database contains only the temperature, flow, and latitude/longitude coordinates of the springs, which won’t help the casual user in either finding it, or deciding whether it will be worth the trip. For most mortals, the guide books above offer more enjoyable springs than you’ll ever get to.

Thermal Springs List of the United States (database search)

Thermal Springs List of the United States (map interface).

Happy soaking!

— KK

Hot Springs and Hot Pools of the Southwest
Marjorie Gersh-Young
2011, 264 pages
Available from Amazon

Hot Springs & Hot Pools of the Northwest
Jayson Loam’s Original Guide
Marjorie Gersh-Young
2008, 235 pages
$18 from Amazon

Sample excerpts:

Common Sense and Safety Tips

It’s Hot: Always, always check the temperature of the water before entering. Even if you have been to a spring several times, conditions affecting water flow and temperature change constantly.

It’s Smelly or Not: Structures built over hot springs often prevent natural gasses from escaping. These can often build up and cause you to become dizzy and pass out. Be extremely cautious about staying within structures for any length of time.

Heads Up: Because many forms of bacteria and other organisms live in hot water, it is recommended by many that you do not put your head in the water.

The Gangs All Here: This is where consideration for other soakers comes in. If you arrive at a full pool, ask how long they plan on staying; or ask if you may join them. If you’re the first person there, invite others to join you. You’d be amazed at the interesting people you meet. If people are waiting for you to get out before they get in, determine a reasonable length of time, and leave when agreed upon. Take a walk, watch the sky, read a book, and return later.


Kennedy Hot Spring / Undeveloped / 35 C (?) (95 F)

A 9 km (5.5 mi.) hike on an excellent trail leads to a very nice pool deep in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. This is one of the more popular hikes in the North Cascades and is well worth the effort. May through October are the best months for this trip.

The unusual soaking box at Kennedy is about 2 m (6 ft.) deep and is fed from the bottom.
— Hot Springs of Western Canada

Hot Springs of Western Canada
A Complete Guide
Glenn Woodsworth
1999, 288 pages



Rails-to-Trails (or rail trails) are roads without cars. They are where railways go when they die. Bicycles love them.

Every year 2,000 miles of railways in the US are abandoned. So far, about half of the 300,000 miles railways built by 1916 (the railroad peak) have been taken out of service. Some 13,000 of those miles have been repurposed into bike/hike trails.

Why they’re great: 1) You get paths with flat to gentle slopes, 2) no cars, 3) no strip development, and 4) often passing through small towns. These wide, sculpted, relaxing paths are perfect for hiking, horseback, cross-country skiing, skates and particularly bicycles. While most of the rails-to-trails are less than 5 miles long, there are 10 in the country stretching over 100 miles and at least one that is 225 continuous miles. These longer trails are a big hit — easy, civilized bicycle tours: gentle rides without having to compete with cars. As far as I am concerned, riding bicycles on rail trails is the way to go.

The rails to trails movement began in the mid-west, where most of the abandoned railways were. It has now spread to every state. There are about 1,300 rails-to-trails in the US, with another 1,000 in progress. Backpackers have a network of fabulously signed and maintained long-distance footpath trails; we now have the beginnings of a network of long-distance dedicated bikepaths.

Behind most of this work is the very effective non-profit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. They publish a magazine, newsletter, and a directory of known rail trails in the US, entitled 1000 Great Rail Trails. It’s a bare bones listing with no traveling information; but it is where you go to browse where rail trails exist in particular states. The same info, in slightly less useful search-mode is available on their supplemental website, TrailLink, which includes a list of the 10 longest rail trails, and introductory orientations to most rail trails.

For utilitarian logistical details, the Conservancy publishes 8 region-specific books. I’ve been using the California one, Rails-to-Trails: California. It covers about 60 rail trails in the state, including several in my own area that I was not aware of.

-- KK  

Rails-to-Trails: California
by Ron Quinn
2000, 256 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

World Heritage Sites

I’ve slowly clued into the fact that there is a network of “World Heritage” monuments, sites, and natural parks throughout the world–places that are deemed unique enough, or endangered enough, to deserve funding by UNESCO. A cultural site can be a monument, a group of buildings, or an entire city. But to be granted a World Heritage designation, it must “represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; or bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared.”

I like to think of these creations as the Best of Civilization.

Almost every country has at least one site, and sometimes many. Some places are justifiably famous, but many are mysteriously overlooked. Heritage sites are always among the most interesting destinations to visit in any country, well worth going out of your way to see. The sites range from ruins like the famous Inca Machu Picchu, to the less known ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, India, to preserved towns like Visby, Sweden, to unspoiled wilderness areas like the Galapagos Islands. In total UNESCO lists 788 sites in 100 countries, which also include about 150 natural sites, deemed “areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance” or outstanding bio-diversity.

In my travels I’ve learned to seek them out.

— KK

For a full list, and criteria, see World Heritage List.

BULGARIA (Year added to list)

1979 Boyana Church
1979 Madara Rider
1979 Rock-hewn Churches of Ivanovo
1979 Thracian Tomb of Kazanlak
1983 Ancient City of Nessebar
1983 Srebarna Nature Reserve
1983 Pirin National Park
1983 Rila Monastery
1985 Thracian Tomb of Sveshtari

Old City of Lijiang, China. A trading town in the highlands of southwestern China. A World Heritage site.


African Adventure Atlas

The vastness of Africa is vastly rural. Driving a car or van is the best way to get around. But African road maps are as scarce and inadequate as the mostly unpaved roads themselves. This heavy, oversized, and humungous 336-page atlas (definitely not backpackable) contains the best — and sometimes only — road maps for the entire continent.

Crafted by the cartographic gnomes at National Geographic, this set of maps is meant to be more of an adventure guide. It succeeds as both. These maps indicate the exact information you need while on the road: known ferry crossings, known border posts, known park entrances, local airfields, ruins, mileage markers, as well as the major African towns and national parks interiors. I can’t think of any other maps anywhere else in the developing world that provide this kind of vital information ahead of time. And to top it off, this full-color atlas concludes with 80 good itineraries (with maps!) for creative explorations on the continent. It’s a remarkable achievement; I wish there was one for Asia and South America as well.

-- KK [recommended by Stephen Balbach]  

African Adventure Atlas
National Geographic
2003, 336 pages
$6 (used)

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

Rick Steves’ Travel Skills

I rely on Rick Steves’ masterly command of travel minutia to guide me in Europe. The guy spends 3 months traveling there *every* year updating his advice in his expanding line of eponymous books. Rick has the drill down perfectly, and possess a real gift for teaching what he knows. Yet as great as his books are, the very best way to get educated in how to travel Europe with ease and grace is to watch his short course in Travel Skills on DVD or tape. He does great video: quick, dense, informative, easy. I am a hardened veteran traveller and I picked up some handy tips I didn’t know. If you are just starting out to Europe, I can’t recommend this enough.


-- KK  

Rick Steves’ European Travel Skills and Specials DVD

Available from Amazon