Virtually hike the Appalachian trail using this app
Mid-March to early May is typically one of the busiest times on the Appalachian Trail, as NOBO (or North Bound in AT parlance) trekkers flood the southern terminus of the famous thru-hike in hopes of reaching Mt. Katahdin in Maine some 14 states and several months away. But this year, the Appalachian Trail is effectively closed to hikers – a result of stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures states across the country are using to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
That's a big disappointment for those whose bags were carefully packed full of freeze-dried meals and ultra-light gear, but thanks to a new app for iOS, anyone can virtually hike the Appalachian Trail from wherever they might be trying to flatten the curve. Walk the Distance is designed to use your iPhone's pedometer feature to track the number of steps you take each day and chart that activity in terms of the Appalachian Trail's 2,200 miles (3,500 km) span.
In other words, taking your pup on a walk through the neighborhood of a mile or so for a week will net you the equivalent of the Appalachian Approach Trail, which leads hikers from Amicalola Falls State Park to the true southern terminus of the trail at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Eventually, a stroll to the grocery store or pharmacy will correspond to the climb up Anthony's Nose in New York state, where the AT briefly hits its lowest point before traversing the Hudson River.
There's also a social aspect to Walk the Distance that those cooped up at home might appreciate as a panacea to national and state parks that have shut down all across the country due to the spread of novel coronavirus. Using graphics from Google Maps, users see an icon with their profile picture pinpointing where they are on the AT based on their daily steps, along with icons showing where fellow Walk the Distance users are on their own virtual thru-hikes.
The famous stone arch at Amicalola Falls State Park marks the start of the Appalachian Trail for many, leading to the true terminus on Springer Mountain © Laura Clay-Ballard / Getty Images
To enhance the sense of progress and friendly competition, checkpoints are built into the digital experience, corresponding with real-world shelters where you can "overnight" between workouts, along with natural viewpoints you might experience if you were really on the trail. It all adds up to a measure of the camaraderie that makes the AT so special, minus the packed shelters and early season rush on backcountry outhouses that come when the Appalachian Trail is at its most crowded.
An Android version isn't due out till next year, but the creator of Walk the Distance is working on it – and hopes to eventually create versions for other classic United States thru-hikes, too, like the Pacific Crest Trail. Meanwhile, there's more hikes and long-distance achievements to tackle in Walk the Distance than just the AT – including trails in several national parks, including Yellowstone, and the Boston Marathon for runners.
That's one more piece of virtual gear in the outdoor enthusiast's tool kit for getting through spring and summer cabin fever, in addition to a host of other virtual outdoor experiences you can check out. Those include 360-degree tours of national parks and online repositories of the kind of visitor center exhibits you might normally breeze past in your rush to the trailhead. It's not quite the same thing as sending your first 14'er or bungee jumping into the New River Gorge, but it does mean staying connected with well-loved, one-of-a-kind destinations until we can all get our trail legs again.
This piece originally ran on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
Would you pay $1000 to reserve a seat on a space flight?
Virgin Galactic, the Richard Branson-owned company, has targeted summer 2020 to debut its space-tourism service, and as the launch fast approaches, public interest in scoring a seat on a spaceship has skyrocketed. Though the ticket window slammed shut in December 2018, inquiries have continued to roll in – nearly 8000 online reservation registrations in the fourteen months since Virgin Galactic’s first spaceflight (more than double the number reported in September 2019) and 600-plus firm reservations to date. Last week, in preparation for the re-opening of spaceflight sales, Virgin Galactic announced its latest initiative, and it’s pretty much priority boarding or Global Entry on steroids. Called One Small Step, the program allows interested travelers to pay a refundable deposit of US$1000 to hold their place in line, so when the new seats become available, they’ll get first shot at the reservations. The company has targeted summer 2020 for the launch of its space-tourism program © Virgin Galactic“We have been greatly encouraged by the ongoing and increasing demand seen from around the world for personal spaceflight,” Virgin Galactic commercial director Stephen Attenborough said in a press release. “One Small Step allows us to help qualify and build confidence in our direct sales pipeline, as well as to ensure that those who are most keen to make reservations, are able to do so at the earliest opportunity.” Ticket prices have yet to be announced, but they're expected to go for upwards of US$250,000 © Virgin GalacticWhile details like cost and on-sale dates have yet to be announced, tickets were last priced at US$250,000, and they’re expected to go for more once the window reopens. “What we believe is that we actually underpriced the ticket price a bit in early years,” company CEO George Whitesides said last fall, adding that at some point, the goal is to lower the cost so space travel is more accessible to more people. In the meantime, however, those who can afford to pay the One Small Step fee will get first dibs on the new seats, “allowing them to make the One Giant Leap to a confirmed spaceflight reservation,” the press release reads. For more information, visit virgingalactic.com/smallstep. _____This article first appeared on our sister site, Lonely Planet.
How to Plan An Unforgettable African Safari in 7 Easy Steps
Gearing up for an African safari requires more planning than most trips. Strategies around everything from clothing and photography, to safety and basic comforts are key – not to mention savvy luggage-packing to suit small airplanes and bumpy jeeps. For some, simple travel considerations can be doubly daunting when it’s a first-time visit to Africa. But with the right basic planning, a safari will not only feel comfortable, it can be the ultimate adventure. Check out these seven essentials for planning your dream safari in Africa. 1. Plan far in advance. Since an African safari is likely a bucket-list sort of trip for many travelers, planning well in advance is essential. There are many great safari countries to visit, including South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and others. To determine which is right for you, consider things like: which airports and airlines you prefer; what vaccines and visas are necessary for that nation; what animals dwell there; what currency and languages are most common; and what types of accommodations are offered. Once you narrow down the right destination, consider when to go. Prime animal viewing occurs during the dry winter months (usually June-August), when animals are forced to congregate around water sources. During the wet season, the bush is greener and wildlife is usually more dispersed around each reserve, but you'll likely find better rates and fewer tourists Just be sure that no matter when you go, stay flexible. Being on “Africa time” means going with the flow, and enjoying an easy pace – just like the animals you came to visit. 2. Pack the right wardrobe. Versatility and utility are the name of the clothing game. Above all, pack and wear layers, because you may be chilly for sunrise or sunset game drives, and baking in the midday sun. If your trip brings you to the city as well as to safari bush, you’ll want outfits that serve both scenes. (Fortunately, the safari look is always on trend in Africa.) For the safari itself, wear earth-toned colors like tan or natural green to serve as camouflage when spotting wildlife and to keep cool when the African sun heats up. Most pros believe that white and brighter pastel colors are the worst for safari, so leave the hot pinks at home. Cotton is comfortable, but you may find greater value in fabrics that are insect-resistant, offer SPF sun protection, and wick away moisture to feel cooler in the sun or warmer at night. Outdoorsy retailers like REI, Cabela’s, and LL Bean carry good safari-smart clothing lines. 3. Don't forget the essentials. You'll want sunglasses, a full-brimmed hat with a chin strap, and boots or thick rubber-soled shoes that are comfortable enough for short or long hikes. Wise travelers also know the value of a good buff (a stretchy tube of thin fabric), which can be worn as a scarf, headband, or face cover on dusty roads. Pay close attention to your travel toiletries. Many basic products may be hard to find in African stores, so pack favorite items that will cover your entire trip duration (including shampoo, lotion, soap, tampons, and toothpaste). And whatever you do, don’t skimp on sunscreen; but do try to use a fragrance-free one since mosquitoes are drawn to fresh scents. Across Africa, you’ll likely rely on bottled water. But you can easily avoid single-use plastic bottles if you bring your own reusable bottle, and refill with store-bought (or hotel-refilled) jugs of spring or purified water. (FYI Klean Kanteen makes sturdy, insulated stainless-steel bottles with good handles.) 4. Remember safety basics. When it comes to pre-trip vaccines, every country is different. So check with the US CDC’s travel site for which vaccines and medicines are recommended in your destinations, and consult your physician. (Note that where yellow-fever vaccines are required, you may need to pack your official “yellow card” vaccination record.) The US State Department also has an up-to-date international-travel site worth reading; plus it has a page dedicated to emergency preparedness while abroad. Here are a few core safety tips: drink only bottled water, avoid eating raw foods without peels, mind your sun protection, use hand sanitizer, and apply insect repellent and/or take antimalarial medicine (where needed). Also, pack a basic first-aid kit with medicines to help with headaches, heartburn, diarrhea, sunburn, bug bites, sore throat, and dry eyes. 5. Bring the right gear and tech. No matter where you go in Africa, never forget an electrical outlet adapter. A quick search on Amazon will turn up dozens of affordable choices, and it’s easy to score one that works in any country, with multiple USB plugs. While you’re at it, consider bringing a lightweight USB battery pack too, so you’ll always be able to recharge on the go. (Extra points if your USB battery doubles as a flashlight!) Safari is undoubtedly a top photography adventure, so the right camera and lenses are clutch. Having a great zoom lens is vital for capturing long-distance wildlife photos, so invest in a point-and-shoot with a killer zoom; or if you’re using an SLR body, then buy, borrow, or rent a telephoto lens. When you see your close-ups of elephants, zebra, rhinos, lions, and other African wildlife, you’ll be glad you made the effort. And while you’re thinking about cameras, consider bringing along a shower cap or plastic grocery bag, both of which make handy dust covers in an open-air jeep. 6. Enjoy all wildlife. So you’ve heard about the “big five” – lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo – allegedly the most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot. Today, most safari-goers are only hunting to shoot pictures, but the big five remain the hot subject matter. In reality, an African game drive offers many more animals that will dazzle and delight you. So instead of obsessing with just five animals, be open to beholding the countless other magnificent creatures in their natural habitat: hippos, warthogs, giraffes, kudu, pythons, eagles, baboons, crocodiles, and so many more. 7. Explore both land and water. On land, jeeps can access remote corners of game reserves, change course if animals are tracked elsewhere, and alter speeds for better photography. But then, so can boats (though they’re admittedly less agile). Even better, river cruises let guests unpack only once while touring several areas, and connect to land safaris in various areas – so visitors can check out waterways and parks too, the best of both worlds. African river and lake cruising is growing more popular each year, especially with companies like CroisiEurope Cruises newly expanding their tours to Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. But if you prefer a land-only experience, be sure to research a few different game reserves and lodges to gauge which is right for you. For example, in South Africa, Jaci’s Lodges in the more compact Madikwe Game Reserve may suit you better than narrowing down the many tour operators inside sprawling Kruger National Park.
The 10 Coolest Helicopter Tours in the World
We set out to find the most breathtaking helicopter excursions, from beautiful coral reefs and active volcanoes to stunning waterfalls and iconic city skylines. Here are our top ten helicopter tours. 1. The Grand Canyon, AZ Measuring 277 miles from east to west, the Grand Canyon is an immense chasm carved by the Colorado River. Featuring a unique ecosystem, the canyon is decorated with red rocks that reveal its ancient geological history – in fact, some studies suggest the canyon could be as old as 70 million years. Consider choosing a tour that flies over the Grand Canyon’s stunning South Rim, letting you soar over the widest and deepest part of the canyon. 2. Juneau, Alaska A helicopter tour is one of the best ways to take in Juneau Icefield, an endless horizon of ice-capped mountain ranges and flowing rivers of ice. Located just north of Alaska’s capital, the icefield is home to nearly 40 large glaciers. It stretches more than 1500 square miles, and is dotted with deep crevasses and azure blue ice. 3. Great Barrier Reef, Australia Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, one of the most sought-after tourist destinations around the globe, is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. Its sprawling reef system, which is spread over 1400 miles, boasts bright sand cays and more than 400 types of coral resting in crystal clear waters – all visible from up above in a scenic helicopter flight. 4. Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii See the fiery lava vents of one of the most active volcanoes in the world – from a safe distance aboard a helicopter. The volcano erupted in 2018, causing vigorous lava fountains to flow out that permanently changed the area’s landscape. For a fully immersive experience, take a doors-off helicopter tour of the volcano. 5. Niagara Falls, Ontario You’ll still able to hear the thundering roar of Niagara Falls when you’re looking down at the most powerful waterfall in North America. The falls straddle the international border between Canada and the US, but the Canadian side offers a favorable exchange rate that allows you to take a less-expensive helicopter tour of the three waterfalls that collectively form Niagara Falls. 6. Victoria Falls, Africa Care to travel a little farther to see the largest waterfall in the world? A helicopter tour of Victoria Falls in southern Africa on the Zambezi River offers beautiful views of one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular sights. Victoria Falls is the greatest curtain of falling water on the globe. It sprays more than five hundred million cubic meters of water per minute over an edge that plummets into a gorge more than hundred meters below, causing the sound of the falls to be heard from a distance of up 40 kilometers. 7. New York City, NY Flying in a helicopter over the island of Manhattan provides sweeping view of the Big Apple. You’ll get an up-close view of New York’s most iconic landmarks, from the Empire State Building and Times Square to Central Park and the Statue of Liberty, without having to deal with the throngs of tourists that roam the city on any given day. You’ll also enjoy a panoramic view of NYC’s iconic skyline. By the time you’re back on the ground, the city’s skyscrapers may not seem so tall anymore. 8. Nepal Explore the Himalayas by helicopter on a tour across Nepal’s high-altitude ranges. Soar over Everest Base Camp, the Khumbu Glacier, and Sagarmatha National Park Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site that contains areas of the Dudh Kosi river, Bhotekoshi river basin, and the Gokyo Lakes. Flying beats making the typical 12-day round trip trek by foot to Everest Base Camp. 9. Guatemala Only slightly larger than the state of Tennessee, Guatemala is home to volcanic trenches, rainforests, astounding Mayan ruins – including pyramids, temples, palaces, and fortresses – and the beautiful Lake Amatitlán, a popular tourist destination. This diverse landscape makes for a stunning helicopter ride. 10. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil From high above you’ll take in Rio de Janeiro’s white sand beaches, like Ipanema and Copacabana, the spectacular granite peak of Sugar Loaf Mountain, and, of course, the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the largest Art Deco-style sculpture in the world and a cultural icon of Brazil.
Why Tucson, Arizona, Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure
From cactus-spotting in Saguaro National Park and biking down Mount Lemmon to mountains on all four sides and southwestern sunsets that seemingly last forever, Tucson is brimming with outdoor adventures—even skiing! Here’s what you can expect before booking your first (or next) visit. The cactus capital of the world Tucson is known for its “friendly green giants,” a.k.a. Saguaro (pronounced “suh-wah-roe”) cacti that dominate the landscape. Whether you travel to the nearby national park or not, you will encounter them everywhere you turn, and you’ll be sure to admire both their height (up to 50 feet tall) and wondrous presence. You can drive, hike, or bike among them and when seen at sunset or sunrise, they take on a timeless presence. In fact, they can live for over 200 years in ideal conditions. Two national parks (sort of) At the turn of the century, National Geographic endeavored to rank every national park in America. Much to the chagrin of nearby Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park took the number one ranking. Why? Navigating through towering green cacti that appear alive and guardian-like is a surreal experience. You’ll never see one move, but their humanoid stature suggests they’re just moments away from stepping across the horizon. The park is split into two sides, each with its own unique activities and topography. For more dense cacti, head to West Park. For paved scenic drives closer to the mountains, head to East Park. Die-hard desert museum Due to the extreme temperatures and lack of water, it takes one tough cookie to survive the Sonora and greater Arizona deserts. That fight for survival is on full display at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a 98-acre outdoor zoo, indoor aquarium, botanical garden, and natural history museum not far from the west entrance of Saguaro National Park. With two miles of designated trails, shade cover, and ice cream on site, it’s an enlightening way to soak in both state and Tucson history. Old West sunsets You know those postcard photos of silhouetted cacti and palms in the foreground of a radiant pink-orange sky? That’s everyday life in Tucson with the mountains off to the west. For ideal views, head to Sabino Canyon just northeast of downtown. Simply put, the clementine and purple sunsets here are amazing—some of the best we’ve ever seen. On a recent spring visit, the setting sun stopped us in our tracks every single evening during our five-day visit. Massive mountain biking Whether riding single-tracks in the valleys of Tucson proper or downhilling in the surrounding mountains, the Sonoran Desert is a radical place to offroad bike. With over 700 miles of designated trails, the terrain is as plentiful as the cacti are engrossing. While beautiful and intriguing, avoid those prickly plants at all cost. They straight up hurt if you miss a turn. Some of the best-rated biking trails include Catalina Canyon Loop Trail (2.3 miles), Agua Caliente Trail (8.5 miles), David Yetman Trail (12 miles), Brown Mountain Trail (4 miles), and Bug Springs Trail (8.3 miles) in Mount Lemmon. Magnificent hiking For one of the best hikes in either side of the national park, take the short Valley Overlook Trail in west park. At just one mile long (round trip), it can easily be walked by nearly anyone, both young and old and offers stunning views of the valley below the Tucson Mountains, as well as countless cacti. Other top-rated hikes include Bear Canyon to Seven Falls (8.5 miles), Romero Canyon Falls (5.5 miles), and Tanque Verde Falls (2 miles). Picturesque resorts There’s something sublime about floating in an aqua-colored pool with cacti, palm trees, and desert mountains surrounding you. Thankfully Tucson stars all of the above. At Loews Ventana Canyon Resort in Sabino Canyon, for example, you’ll be impressed by the on-site amenities, golf, and views of greater Tucson. At the 150-year old Tanque Verde, you can experience one of the nations best-rated “dude ranches” with all of its rugged, Southwestern charm. Beating the heat When the temperatures start to rise, head to Mount Lemmon, which is about an hour’s drive north of downtown. From there you can enjoy 9,000 feet hiking elevations and temperatures up to 30 degrees cooler than the valley. In winter, you can also enjoy budget-friendly skiing at the well-rated but small Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. With nearly 200 inches of annual snowfall and regular snowstorms, you can always find fresh powder stashes and light traffic.This content is sponsored by Visit Tucson