Seniors heed the call of the wild Elder adventure: Biking, hiking, ranching and doing without plumbing are on the agenda for gung-ho over-50s.

January 14, 1996|By Rhoda Amon | Rhoda Amon,NEWSDAY

In Auckland, New Zealand, I once ran into a troupe of Canadian bikers, all over 60, who had just come over the mountains from Wellington. They had journeyed over hills steep and long, ones that our Mercedes bus seemed to groan over as it climbed. One member, mid-60s, told me she had trained for six months for this vacation and felt no strain as she rode for miles beside a male partner.

"Not everyone over 50 wants to be carted around in a bus," commented one travel agent about a survey of the over-50 market. Well, many of us, of course, do enjoy being shepherded in a deluxe motor coach.

But Reva Wolbrom of Manhasset, N.Y., would rather paddle her own canoe. Or maybe shoot the rapids on a raft. For her 70th birthday, her son and daughter-in-law gave her a week on a ranch in the Berkshires where she hiked, canoed and swam.

The point is that if you loved sports and physical activities at 20, chances are you still do at 50 or 70.

"I thought it was the end of the world when my husband died," recalled 68-year-old Ann Kossar of Fairlawn, N.J. Then, she says, she discovered the Over the Hill Gang, an international organization that sponsors ski trips and other sport tours for members over 50. Ms. Kossar, a skier for some 40 years, skis with knee braces now, and at lower altitudes. She's still an enthusiastic participant in Eastern Chapter trips, which this year include a short hop to Wildcat, N.H., March 24-28, a longer one to Aspen, Colo., April 3-10, followed by a golf week in Bermuda, April 23-30. The New Hampshire trip, coordinated by Alice Meyers of New York City, will cost $180 for four nights' lodging and lift tickets, not including transportation from Baltimore. Call Ms. Meyers at (718) 278-5852. Chapter membership is $60 a year.

The Colorado-based Over the Hill Gang sponsors ski trips this winter at Ski the Summit, Colo., Feb. 24-March 2; at Vail, March 2-9; and at Snowmass Village at Aspen, March 9-16. Snowmass includes cross-country skiing. Trip costs range from $500 to $1,200. Membership is $37 a year, and members get discounted rates on lodging, car rentals, meals, sports equipment. Call (719) 685-4656.

When it comes to adventure travel, women tend to be more gung-ho than men, said Tov Mason, president of ElderTreks, which arranges treks into exotic lands for travelers 50-plus and companions of any age. The oldest trekker was 87, the youngest an 11-year-old accompanying a grandparent. Trips are activity-rated from one to four, easy to difficult. Rigors of the trip -- such as no beds, no indoor plumbing -- are factored in with the degree of physical exertion.

Some trips, like a planned Indonesian package, have a built-in option of four for the truly adventurous. The package includes two weeks on the island of Sumatra and two weeks on Java and Bali, Feb. 3-29, and again March 30-April 25. With the Sumatra portion, there's a four-day, four-rated optional side trip to the remote island of Siberut.

"We travel upriver in long boats, then hike through the rain forest to a local tribal village," Ms. Mason said. "There is no electricity, no running water, no toilets, no luxuries at all. The people wear loincloths. We live with a tribal family."

Who goes there? Mostly it's the women who sign on for the adventure, Ms. Mason says. "Some leave their husbands behind at the hotel." Cost for the 27-day package is $2,800 including all meals, not airfare. Call (800) 741-7956.

Here are some other options for gung-ho seniors:

* Walking the World, started 10 years ago by Ward Luthi, after serving on the President's Commission on Americans Outdoors, focuses on the outdoor life for those 50-plus. Sample trip: Costa Rica, March 26-April 6, includes walks through rain forests populated by "the world's highest diversity of wildlife." Also visits to two volcanoes, whitewater rafting. Land cost for the 12-day tour is $2,295. Call (800) 340-9255.

* If you'd rather ride a horse than walk, Equitour can take you through Grand Canyon winter pastures or along the coast of Donegal. Sample tour: a seven-day cattle drive at the Kane Ranch in Utah. No previous experience working cattle is necessary. It's $840, including meals, horses, packs, lodging and transfers. Airfare is separate. Call (800) 545-0019.

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