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In Through the Outdoors:
How to Find a Babe in the Woods
or, If We Get Out of this Alive, May I Buy You Dinner?

by Jillian Perlberger

If you've ever scaled a summit, rafted a rapid-filled river, or maybe even just rented a rowboat in Central Park, you know there's something about being in the great outdoors that makes your heart sing. The logical, though often-overlooked, extension of this truism: if someone else is out there with you, chances are that your two hearts are singing in tune. So don't just "get out there" in the BTD sense; really Get Out There! Outside, where the views are majestic! Where the adventure (or perhaps the adventurer) makes your heart race! Where the bonding is instant and strong!

If you really want to maximize your chances of making an amorous connection during what's left of the summer, forget the house-share scene and get yourself on an outdoor adventure trip.

Wilderness: It's Where the Wild Things Are

There are plenty of reasons to use those vacation days you've been hoarding for an excursion to the mountains, forest, or high seas this summer:

The Physical: Hiking, biking, kayaking trips and the like are a great way to rack up the hours of exercise that would bore you silly at the gym. It's the perfect end-of- the-summer antidote to the physical decrepitude you've been sinking into since you finally went off your oh-my-god- it's-bathing-suit- season diet sometime in mid-June.

The Spiritual: Sure, living in a civilized society has its merits. We all like having cleanly laundered clothes and access to round-the-clock take-out food. But getting back to nature and roughing it a little reminds you what it means to be human. Wake up to mist rising over the lake and loons calling instead of a tall Starbucks latte, and your soul will thank you.

The (All-Important) Social: Getting back on point here: there is nary a better way of meeting high-spirited, down-to- earth people than signing up -- by yourself -- for an outdoor adventure trip. Trips abound for solo travelers, and most of them lack the cheese factor associated with Club Med-type "singles" trips. Why? Because they combine doing something inherently broadening, satisfying, and challenging -- meeting people -- with doing something inherently broadening, satisfying, and challenging -- say, rappelling down a cliff face.

The Proof is in the (Freeze-Dried) Pudding

Lest you think I exaggerate about the bonding potential of the great outdoors, I just came back from the wedding of two friends I met on an 8-day mountaineering trip to California I took two years ago. Where did they meet? Same trip. He lived in D.C. at the time, she hailed from Boston. The intensity of the connection they formed out in the High Sierra sustained them through a year-long long-distance relationship. Ooh, ooh, what a little (sleeping under the) moonlight can do! And even though I found no one to spoon under the stars with on that trip, I did make six friends for life. (Despite being geographically scattered, we reunite often to go camping, celebrate New Year's Eve, and, of course, attend the recent nuptials. Such are the bonds formed by s----ing in the woods together.)

The Tough (and Tenderhearted) Get Going

How do you find a reputable outfitter, an activity that suits your fitness level, a trip within your budget? One word: GORP. No, not that yucky trail mix made bearable only by adding M&M's. I mean the Web site www.GORP.com, acronym for Great Outdoor Recreation Page. It offers one-stop shopping for adventure trip-seekers: online experts who give advice and answer questions, a searchable index of trips (operated by independent outfitters, only the most well-reputed of which get listed with GORP), and a free booking and travel reservation service. You can even order gear you might need for the trip from the site.

The range of destinations and activities is comprehensive, currently listing more than 4,000 trips. You can even search using very specific criteria: hiking trips for singles or solo travelers in Norway in August 2000, for instance, actually turned up one result! The site is very informative about what each trip entails -- accommodations, prices, what kind of shape you'll need to be in, etc. -- and will also put you in direct touch with the outfitter and/or with references.

Another good resource is the online magazine Outside Online. Browse its current stories and archives to get an idea of what kind of outdoor activity or destination might appeal to you -- sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands or mountain biking in Mongolia, for instance -- and then search its travel directory for links to the companies that run such trips. Unlike GORP, there is no vetting function here; the listings are more like classifieds.

You should definitely research the companies advertising trips before you sign up with them, both by asking around and getting references. You don't want to be led out in the wilderness by people who don't know what they're doing. ("Bears? Gee, I don't know if there are any around here... better not bring any honey just to be sure.") Or, just stick to the ones that have been around for a while, like those discussed below.

Your Boy- and Girl-Scouting Manual

Here's a completely unsystematic guide to outdoor adventure trip operators. Check their Web sites for more detailed information before you sign up for anything requiring shots or special dispensation from the Azerbaijani embassy.

King of the rugged adventure trip: Outward Bound
Definitely not for the dainty. The leaders are wise and experienced outdoorspersons. The people on your trip will all be strangers when you start, but once you've gotten phenomenally grungy together (as you undoubtedly will; there are no showers where your going), they'll all feel like your oldest friends. Outward Bound has trips all over the country, as well as international offerings, doing everything from canoeing to rock climbing. You can search their site for trips with last-minute availability by location, activity, or date, or other criteria.

Not for the faint-of-wallet: Backroads
A staggeringly wide range of trips, running the gamut from cushy accommodations to modified roughing it. Backroads trips are all generally high-end, but worth it. Friends have had a fantastic time on bike trips in Europe, rainforest adventures in Costa Rica, and multi-sport conquests in New Zealand. The people tend to be older, since, there's some cash outlay involved. But you can find out vital stats in advance (within limits) about other members of your trip.

Pig 'n pedal: Vermont Bicycle Tours
Stay in great inns or charmant chateaux -- depending whether you're in Vermont or France -- eat fantastically well, and burn it all off the next day. This company is also pretty high-end, but it's downright thrifty compared to other worldwide luxury bike trip operators, and among the most well-reputed. If you can wait until fall for your vacation, I highly recommend a long leaf-peeping weekend in New England with VBT. Or try a California wine country bike tour. As with Backroads, the people tend to be older... but after a few glasses of some great Napa vintage, will you really care?

Naturalists and/or cheapskates: Sierra Club, Audobon Society
Both of these organizations run trips (through their national or local chapters) that are geared toward respecting the environment and wildlife, not on making a profit. Thus, they are great for you budget-minded Lewises and Clarks. Your guide will probably know (and be happy to share with you) as much about natural history as you ever hope to learn. Both organizations offer trips all over the country, from a day to several weeks long.

Find Your Inner George and/or Sheena of the Jungle

Worried you haven't got the stuff to make it out there? Believe me, you have. There are trips for he-men, warrior princesses, and couch potatoes of every ilk. If you've never spent a week away from a telephone in your life, you'd be surprised by how much you might enjoy it. (Or, you could go on one of the trips where they book you in luxury suites with princess phones.) No matter. The point is to get OUT THEREout there.

Chances are you'll discover a side of yourself that you never knew (for example, the side that pops up when you're clinging to a sheer rockface). And you'll certainly make new friends with whom to share the excitement of such discovery. With luck, one will be a "special friend." Either way, you'll be glad you sailed the coast of Maine/trekked the Himalayas/biked through Tuscany/[insert your adventure here].

And it sure beats sitting around eating bonbons.

Jillian Perlberger last wrote for the Big To Do about renting videos. Things continue to go swimmingly with her and the stamp machine guy. Thanks for asking.

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