National Geographic Adventure

For those who count the day wasted if they haven't dived off the cliffs of Kauai or swum with the sharks in the Great Barrier Reef, there is National Geographic Adventure. The cut line says it all: Dream It. Plan It. Do It. For the rest of us, just considering such aerobics is exhausting. NGA isn't armchair travel; it targets the slap-on-the-backpack, slip into Timberland Chukkas crowd. And they aren't disappointed.

Although the cover looks mild--a minivan holds a bike on its trunk and a kayak on the roof--it suggests a reader equally fit on land and sea. Check out the subjects: bodysurfing, hiking and safari. By safari, NGA means canoeing among hippos and hiking Mount Meru, Tanzania's second-highest peak after Kilimanjaro. Check out the cheeky "The (New) Bush Doctrine." It highlights "responsible wildlife encounters and authentic cultural exchanges." Which means if you stay at the remote Maasai-owned private game reserve in Kenya, you track nocturnal caracal and aardwolf. Often, on foot, which is so "Out of Africa"--without the erotic romance that, according to Hollywood, a simultaneous kill can produce. So forget the lure of a 4-star resort in the Serengeti, where the wine cellar rivals Le Cirque and guests marvel at distant wildlife. This is travel up-close and personal.

Perhaps you prefer "unmapped" adventures. If so, Gabon, in West Africa, is the emerging nation for that first-in feel. Outfitter Operation Loango helps you spy on gorillas or takes you to the beach, where herds of elephants romp in the surf. I'm all for great adventure, but "unmapped" gives me pause. Then again, I consider climbing the steps of the Metropolitan Museum the equivalent of a cardiovascular workout. Anyone rugged enough to trek through the Chyula Hills puts me--and everyone else in my co-op--to shame. But for such hikers, there is cause for celebration.

If your pocketbook won't permit trips to China's ZhongdianCounty, where woolly yaks graze in fertile valleys and Buddhist monks tend sacred temples, consider the red, white and blue. The U.S. possesses some breathtaking spots for a road trip, noted in "America's Best Hikes & Drives," a well-written, bite-sized guide. A few days biking in southeast Utah or canoeing the St. Regis Canoe Area, the largest wilderness paddling reserve in the Northeast, is a cosmic experience. Majestic and mystical, such places of unspoiled, pristine beauty celebrate America's physical treasures. It's why I love the Nature Channel. It lets you hike from the comfort of your couch.

Such stories are the magazine's strength--solid information coupled with the kind of photography that makes writing a check to the Sierra Club a must-do. But what's interesting about NGA is that it doesn't play it safe. Its writers dare to investigate Arizona's Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, once considered a desert paradise and now a magnet for drug runners. Before entering, it's obligatory to sign a legal document that explains the dangers ahead, including falling into old mine shafts. The road most visitors use is El Camino del Diablo or the Devil's Highway, so I'm guessing tourism takes a back seat to the cocaine trade.

Assuming that adventure rather than death is on your itinerary, I recommend a sharp turn east--to the Northern Forest Canoe Trails that link 740 miles of beguiling backwaters from New York to Maine. What's nice are the historic details woven into stories and the encouragement palpable on every page. It's not just NGA writers who love the outdoors; they assume anyone can experience the same thrill. Crocodile Dundee might be able to survive in the Outback on an all-beetle diet, but flesh-and-blood travelers, like the Boy Scouts, believe in being prepared.

To that end, NGA offers a slick gear section and punctuates stories with key tips and illustrations. Remember, this is travel for the truly adventurous. As you leave for Madagascar, the rest of us will raise our gin and tonics in salute.

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