Adventure travel in the '90s is nothing if not responsive to popular culture. Never have so many travelers been wooed by the world's far-flung mountains, rivers, deserts, rain forests and glaciers -- and never have there been so many ways to traverse them. In these fit times, you don't just stand around admiring exotic destinations; you hike, float, climb, ski, trek, dive, sail, paddle, dogsled, horseback, mountain bike and sea-kayak them.
And now you can in-line skate them, as two outfitters tap into the most popular innovation in bipedal locomotion since the pogo stick. The result is a leap -- well, actually more of a push and a glide -- forward for adventure travel: in-line skating tours of Venezuela's savannah, England's countryside and Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
In-line skating, the generic name for what people commonly call "rollerblading," after Rollerblade Inc., the leading in-line skate manufacturer, isn't exactly new. A Dutchman had the bright idea of placing skate wheels in a single line one summer in the early 1700s as he tried to replicate ice skates by nailing spools to wooden strips attached to the soles of his shoes.
But Rollerblade re-created the in-line skate in 1980 as an off-season training device for hockey players and cross-country skiers, and today in-line skating is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with nearly 10 million neon-fluorescent-clad enthusiasts.
With all this high-profile growth, it's little wonder that skaters are craving new venues to replace the well-traveled -- and well-populated -- urban asphalt. They are already skating country lanes, recreation areas and even national parks. And now there are organized tours that take skaters from the concrete jungles into the wild ones.
First stop: Venezuela's Gran Sabana, the world's sixth-largest national park and the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic "The Lost World." Lost World Adventure's eight-day in-line skating tour features 120 paved miles of brand-new, two-lane highway in the Gran Sabana with a panoramic view of tropical rain forest, ancient sandstone tableland mountains, 100-plus-foot waterfalls and endemic flora and fauna that seem to have taken an evolutionary detour.
Part of the tour is spent visiting a Capuchin mission and a rural Pemon Indian settlement, but you spend three invigorating days on skates, covering 35 to 40 miles of roller-coaster hills each day. At the end of the trip, you hop a flight for a bird's-eye view of Angel Falls, the world's highest waterfall.
A sight for soldiers
If the images of Lycra-clad thrill junkies and primeval wilderness seem a bit incongruous, don't worry; they did to Scott Swanson of Lost World Adventures at first, too. The first time Mr. Swanson skated the route, he had to pass through a remote National Guard checkpoint on skates -- a sight that made the young soldiers gawk. "They were curious and amused," says Mr. Swanson, "but they posed no obstacle to continuing. Now the locals know us."
The Gran Sabana tour, departing the first Saturday of each month (excluding August and some holidays), is not "soft" adventure -- the skating's strenuous, and you'll sleep in tents and lodges. It's also no place to learn how to skate. You'll want to have intermediate skills and experience in braking on long, medium-grade hills. A support vehicle is equipped with first-aid supplies to alleviate road rash or road strawberries (the inevitable cuts and scrapes), but the nearest Third World hospital is several hours away by car, so protective gear, including helmet and elbow, knee and wrist pads, is a must.
Skaters who are not quite up to sweating Venezuela's hard-core descents will likely be stoked by a more moderate skating tour along rural roads in England. Timeless Cycle's eight-day trip features rolling terrain, rustic villages, Roman ruins, and splendid views of the Kennet/Avon Canal in the countryside around Salisbury, the Coln Valley and the Cotswold hills.
Improving skating skill
You should have basic skating skills, but George Ramsay, owner of Timeless Cycles, says that his tour is somewhat of a "rolling clinic," designed to help people work on their skating skills during 10- to 20-mile days. Instead of roughing it, you'll sleep in inns and hotels each night, including a 16th-century manor.
The England tours are scheduled to begin next spring, along with Timeless' eight-day Colorado skating itinerary. which makes use of extensive bike paths in the foothills of the Rockies around Boulder, Vail and Aspen. By 1994, Mr. Ramsay plans to offer in-line skating along bike paths in the Scandinavian capitals, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Oslo.
There's been tremendous response so far to this type of tour, says Mr. Ramsay. "The novelty of it is being able to pack your skates in a bag and tour countries on them," he says. "It's just logistically easier than trying to pack your bicycle."
All the more reason for adventure travelers to consider a shift into glide.
) Universal Press Syndicate
IF YOU GO . . .
Lost World Adventures ($1,395, excluding air from Miami or Atlanta, including accommodations and some meals), 1189 Autumn Ridge Drive, Marietta, Ga. 30066; (800) 999-0558.
* Timeless Cycles Travel & Tours ($1,695 for England tour; $1,395 for Colorado tour, including accommodations and some meals), P.O. Box 18324, Boulder, Colo. 80308; (303) 499-8965, (800) 737-8844.