"Life is either a daring adventure -- or nothing," so said Helen Keller. Too bad once-in-a-lifetime excursions to go deep-sea diving in Maldives or dog-sledding in Alaska are so expensive and time-consuming.
For a different kind of adrenaline rush, consider the range of extreme sports adventures that can be found in the Northeast, many within easy driving distance of Long Island. From getting behind the wheel of a race car to soaring through the sky on a zip line, thrill-seekers can get their fix on a weekend getaway.
BEFORE YOU GO
As with most outdoor recreation, the weather plays a significant role in your enjoyment level. Since many of these sports are offered three seasons a year, decide if you prefer green landscapes or fall foliage. You'll encounter fewer fellow adventurers and less wait time on weekdays.
Reservations are typically made with a few backup dates penciled in to account for strong wind, heavy rain or land conditions that might prevent your tour from going off as originally scheduled. For that reason, operators are often flexible about rescheduling, if necessary. Before you book, ask about individual refund policies and travel insurance (ditto for any hotels you may be reserving for the night before or after your adventure).
You should expect to sign some kind of liability waiver that limits your recourse should you have an accident or otherwise get injured during your tour. Operators control the risks by requiring participants to attend safety training before the tour gets under way -- they'll also temper the experience to your ability level
WHAT TO BRING
All the technical gear you'll need for these adventures are provided by operators. Wear comfortable outdoor clothing and sturdy sneakers, but leave valuables such as jewelry at home.
If you're bringing a camera, be sure you've got one with a wrist strap -- these are the kinds of jaw-dropping experiences that you'll want to capture for eternity.
FIVE ADVENTURE TRIPS IN THE NORTHEAST
Hot Air Ballooning
WHEN|WHERE Daily April-November, Adirondack Balloon Flights in upstate Glens Falls
DISTANCE FROM NYC About 200 miles
COST $275 a person (private flight for two, $750)
Take a romantic ride at dawn or dusk in a colorful balloon over the Adirondack countryside. The thrill is allowing the wind to control your lateral movement after you ascend. The ride lasts about one hour, and you'll rise to about 1,000 feet, as conditions allow. Flights may be shortened or postponed in poor weather, lengthened in ideal conditions. Summer mornings are typically the best flying times. If you like, you may help the ground crew inflate the balloon. You'll float 10 miles to view the mountains, historic villages of the upper Hudson Valley, Lake George and Saratoga Springs. Join a group of three to five passengers or book a private flight for two, plus veteran pilot. Allow three hours for the entire experience. Expand your adventure as a spectator by attending Glens Falls' big Adirondack Balloon Festival Sept. 22-25.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE
Continue your romantic weekend at Lake George, 15 minutes north. Drive to the top of Prospect Mountain for the panorama. Later, dance to live music on a moonlight cruise ($19.50, lakegeorgesteamboat.com).
WHEN|WHERE Daily March-November, Alpine Endeavors in upstate Rosendale
DISTANCE FROM NYC About 100 miles
With its white vertical rock and water vistas, the Shawangunks, or "Gunks," is the mecca for serious rock climbers. Here, you'll scale one of five sheer cliffs of the Gunks Ridge in Mohonk Preserve or the Peterskill area in Minnewaska State Park. Brave beginners or intermediate climbers may choose a private half- or full-day with the climber-to-certified guide ratio kept low. Guides will choose your cliff, number of ledges and height of your climb from 60 to 120 feet up, depending on your ability level. You'll be securely roped together. Advanced climbers may do the specialty marathon, lasting up to 12 hours on several cliffs.
GOOD TO KNOW Technical equipment, lessons, helmet, harness and daily passes are included. If possible, avoid summer weekends when traffic ties up the region and climbing areas are crowded.
WHERE TO STAY The Minnewaska Lodge in Gardiner is a B&B set on 17 acres at the base of the Gunks ridge and close to the climb sites. Rates are from $119 midweek (including a $20 discount for Alpine Endeavor climbers) and weekend discounts can be negotiated based on availability (845-255-1110, minnewaskalodge.com).
WHILE YOU'RE THERE Tour some vineyards along the Shawangunk Wine Trail, starting with Adair Vineyards in New Paltz. You'll pass horse farms, farmers' markets, and antiques shops. Get the map at shawangunkwinetrail .com.
DISTANCE FROM NYC About 140 miles
Hunter Mountain's newly opened SkyRider is the longest, fastest and highest zip line in North America, sending riders zooming at speeds up to 50 miles an hour 600 feet above ground. This three-hour extreme mountain activity starts with a chair lift or off-road ride up to Summit Lodge. You'll take a zip line pilot training school course in aerodynamics, safety and technique. The tour offers a series of six side-by-side racing zip lines ranging from 1,600 to 3,200 feet long. Hold on and behold the Catskills beyond the trees as you fly, harnessed to a cable. You also may do the self-propelled Zapline, where you take a running jump-start to fly or walk across a 500-foot cable suspension bridge.
GOOD TO KNOW SkyRider is recommended for ages 10 and older who weigh 110 to 260 pounds.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE Consider a self-guided hike along part of the famous 27-mile Devil's Path trail that crosses several peaks in the heart of the Catskills. Get a map from nynjtc.org.
Drive a race car
WHEN|WHERE Daily April-October, with Cloud 9 Living at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa.
DISTANCE FROM NYC About 100 miles
If you emulate Dale Earnhardt Jr., here's your chance to make your NASCAR fantasy a reality. Head to the 21/2-mile Tricky Triangle Pocono Raceway, where you'll begin with a lesson on track rules, race car operation and safety. You'll tour the speedway with your instructor to learn the straightaways and slick hairpin turns. After you get fitted with a helmet and racing suit, you'll climb into the window of your 600 horsepower Nextel Cup-style stock car. Strap in and follow the professional driver in the lead car from the pit onto the track. Increase your speed up to 140 miles an hour with each lap of your 20-mile drive -- you'll earn your certificate of completion.
GOOD TO KNOW Drivers must be at least 18 with a valid driver's license and be able to operate manual transmission. Friends and family are welcome to cheer you on. Allow at least three hours for the experience.
WHERE TO STAY The nearby Split Rock Resort is set on Lake Harmony, with amenities including three swimming pools and indoor/outdoor sports. June and August NASCAR packages start at $50.50 (800-255-7625, splitrockresort.com).
WHILE YOU'RE THERE From May 6 to Oct. 9, celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Indianapolis 500 at the AACA Museum in Hershey, about two hours away, to see real and replica pace cars as well as an exhibit of 100 classic and antique cars (aacamuseum.org).
DISTANCE FROM NYC About 400 miles
COST $475-$845 a person for weekend to 6-day cruises
Sail away on an unpredictable journey off the Maine coast aboard one of the fleet's three restored century-old cargo schooners, all with full crews. The tall ships Grace Bailey and Mercantile are National Landmarks and each holds 29 passengers. The schooner yacht Mistress holds six. Pitch in to hoist the sails -- or just relax. With no set itinerary, sail by day and trust the wind, weather and decisions of the crew to determine at which of the thousands of islands to drop anchor by night. You might explore fishing villages, uninhabited islands, historic ports or quaint towns.
GOOD TO KNOW Spring and autumn sailings are most exciting because the air currents are strongest to take you farthest -- and prices are lowest. Your cruise is all-inclusive, with lodging onboard and meals. Rustic accommodations include single and double cabins and Pullman berths. Pack a small bag for the tight quarters. You'll eat food cooked onboard or lobster bakes served ashore.
WHILE YOU'RE THERE Take a drive north to Acadia National Park before or after your cruise. Once there, take the scenic Park Loop Road or walk the trails and swim at Echo Lake Beach (ouracadia.com).