"In only two instances has anyone actually lost their lunch while we were up in the air." Those are the encouraging words of Steve Coan, four-time U.S. aerobatic champion, a member of the fast-growing "adrenalin-rush" vacation industry.
For $175, Coan will take you up in his bright red, open-cockpit 1930s-style biplane for a half-hour over Maui, Hawaii, you'll never forget. He starts with a variety of vertical moves, followed by what he considers modest loops. If you're willing to continue, he moves on to more ambitious "four-leaf clover" loops. Just like the aerial shenanigans in films such as "The Great Waldo Pepper" and "The Rocketeer."
"Our customers look at life as wide open and they're ready to try new things," said Coan, noting that they often yell "go for it" when he asks whether he should try more difficult maneuvers. "They're also trusting, since they don't really know me from Adam."
Coan's Bi-plane Barnstormers firm has piloted thrill-seeking folks all ages, including some with physical disabilities such as blindness.
Increasingly, Americans are willing to shell out hard-earned money to buy a thrill. Adventure travel is on the rise.
Elsewhere on Maui, Ken Schmitt of the Hike Maui organization was taking customers on a $90-per-person adventure hike that required considerable "rock jumping" and swimming in turbulent waters underneath Hanawa Falls.
The trend is worldwide. While rafting and bicycling are two of the fastest-growing types of adventure vacations, there's also been an increase in everything from bungee jumping to cattle drives.
"People spend more time working in an office and love the lure of outdoor adventure," said Jerry Mallett, president of the Englewood, Colo.-based Adventure Travel Society.
This isn't just the bailiwick of men, for those running the trips say more than half of participants are women.
The recent film "City Slickers," in which comedian Billy Crystal and several pals drove a herd of cattle on their vacation, has nothing on 77-year-old Milton Rockhill of Larchwood, Iowa.
"My 13-year-old grandson and I went on a cattle drive and loved the scenery of Colorado," said Rockhill, who paid the $1,000 one-week fee to drive longhorns under the direction of Broken Skull Cattle Co., Steamboat Springs, Colo.
According to Pat Dickerman, president of New York-based Adventure Guides Inc., the cattle drives, dog sledding, llama treks and cycle trips for which the agency handles reservations can be rugged and require following directions carefully.
"We have to explain to people about dehydration and about braking of their mountain bikes, since you'll do a somersault if you use your front brake," said Myke Hughes, director of Moab, Utah-based Adrift Adventures, which took 11,000 people on adventure trips last year. His combination mountain biking and white-water rafting trips are $799 a week. His business is up 30 percent this year and growing.
Nancy Frase, founder of the Reston, Va.-based North American Bungee Association and publisher of the Bungee Cords newsletter, says bungee cord jumping is growing steadily. A bungee cord is 425 strands of rubber bound into a 16-millimeter band. Adventurous folks, a cord securely attached to their bodies, jump out of hot-air balloons and off bridges. The goal is to spring back before reaching the ground.