At its heart, adventure travel is about testing limits—of altitude, temperature and, at times, good sense. Here, some thrill-seeking pros explain the urge to take things to extremes.
Illustration Dave Murray
Silver Lining Tours: Roger Hill
“The first tornado I saw was the one that destroyed my house. I was 9 years old. It was in Topeka, Kansas, and at the time it was the most destructive tornado in the state’s history. I watched it come down the block toward my house. I was scared to death, but also really curious.
I’ve chased storms for 28 years, during which time I’ve completed 638 tornado interceptions. [Co-owner Dr. David Gold] and I have been running tours for 13 years. We’re based in Houston but go wherever the storms are, depending on the time of year.
A tour is generally seven to 10 days long. We use customized vans with every form of weather equipment, and each of the six passengers gets a window seat. There’s some great country to see, like the Badlands and the Nebraska Sandhills, so there’s never a dull moment.
You never know what’s going to happen on a tour. You do know you’ll see severe thunderstorms, with large hail, lots of lightning and some pretty cloud structures. About 80 percent of the time you’ll see a tornado. The storm will take on a circular appearance; it’ll start to rotate. Your ears may pop, and there’ll be an eerie calm as the pressure drops. It can be quite spooky.
We try to position ourselves so the tornado comes directly at us. We stay about a mile away—which might sound far, but these things can be a mile wide, so it feels closer. We’ll get out and watch for a while, then step out of the way and watch it go by. You’ll feel the rumble and see the debris flying.
First-timers are awed and terrified. Some just stand there and say, ‘Oh my God, oh my God.’ I remember one woman, all she could do was giggle. Another, an actress from Hollywood, said beforehand that if we saw a tornado she’d shout all her life’s frustrations into it—and that’s what she did.”
If you’ve ever watched an airborne circus performer and thought, “Hey, I’d like to do that,” head to the Dominican Republic and check out Kaiceitos Circus School, in Cabarete. It has classes in many aerial stunts, including the vaguely worrying-sounding “Drop-in Flying Trapeze.”
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s … a guy in a wingsuit! A piece of clothing that employs parachutelike webbing, a wingsuit allows its wearer to fall from great heights without the splat. For those who’d like to try suiting up, Fly Like Brick (really) offers a regular schedule of courses in Central Europe. flylikebrick.com