Standing by the summit flag of Agri Dagh (16,854'), otherwise known as the "painful mountain." Agri Dagh is a stratovolcano located in modern Turkey and is traditionally identified with the mountain of Ararat of the Bible.
For the individual who is looking to experience the lands of the Bible in a way that his/her Sunday School teacher might not recognize as entirely legitimate, an extreme adventure may be just the thing. Of course, one must be cautious when throwing around such labels; what is "extreme" to one person may be quite humdrum to another. It might also be wise to announce your adventure to your your loved ones only after the said adventure is over. No sense in panicking the folks unnecessarily!
Just for the record, a wingsuit fly off the Eiger is not an "extreme adventure." That is crazy like fish in a blender. Sauntering through hotspots like Baghdad and Damascus are also exercises that should be immediately moved off the table. Being the lead story in the nightly news is not the best way to become a household name. Or so I suspect.
There are plenty of other adventures to be had where risk can be brought down to manageable levels. They are edgy enough to satisfy, yet responsible and achievable, given the proper training, certification, homework, and length of rope. Three classes of extreme adventure come to mind.
1. The Archaeological Excavation
The archaeological enterprise has many features that lend itself to high adventure. Working to extract some broken artifact from a hole in the desert floor while being assaulted simultaneously by the summer sun, insects, reptiles, and brattish children from the nearby village is always an attractive option. For the young man archaeology is particularly irresistible, especially since chicks really dig it, believing you to be some kind of Alan Quatermain or Indiana Jones or Stephen Jay Gould. What these admirers don't know is that in real life, no one actually works as an archaeologist because the income is so dismal that you would literally starve to death before you published your first article. That, and the stress of the extreme adventure would kill you.
Nonetheless, archaeological directors from one end of the Mediterranean to the other are always on the prowl, looking to shanghai strong backs and weak minds. For volunteers, digging in the dirt is a fine way to spend a summer and despite my disparaging comments here, an excellent way to build character. This is critical because most of the archaeologists I know are absolute characters. If you want to test the truth of what I'm writing, contact me. I can make your dig happen. Just don't come to me all wind-blistered and whiney when it's over.
2. The Overland Trek
Trekking is something that Europeans have been doing for years now. Americans have been doing it too, although the whole time they just thought they were hiking. There are several fully mapped trekking paths in the lands of the Bible and more are being planned by the day. Two that I have recently experienced are the "Jesus Trail" and the "Abraham Path."
The "Jesus Trail" takes the happy wanderer from the town of Nazareth to the ruins of Capernaum. Along the way one visits several sites of importance for the history of Galilee, and the Jesus story in particular. I have now done this path (and a few other secondary routes) numerous times. It qualifies as a high-adventure-spiritual-formation-exercise, especially if you meet a roving pack of dogs from a nearby village. In this case, you may find yourself conversing urgently with Jesus himself or wishing for a less extreme adventure like drinking something cold beside the pool.
A second (and even more ambitious) trekking experience is the "Abraham Path." Stretching from Harran to Beer-sheba, it follows the exploits of the father of monotheism. Given that the mapped route links modern Turkey to Israel (try not to think about Syria between these two), it seems to be a political exercise that not even Hillary Clinton could survive. I have only walked a few segments of this path in Israel-Palestine, but anticipate doing more in the future.
Both the "Jesus Trail" and the "Abraham Path" take advantage of an impressive matrix of national trails well marked and mapped in Israel. It is even possible to walk from one end of this country to the other, assuming you survive the complete absence of water in the Negev. I recommend starting at the other end.
Likewise, developed treks elsewhere seem quite promising, although I've not done them. The "Lycian Way" and the "St Paul Trail" in Turkey are on my bucket list. So is the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Mountain climbing in Turkey is recommended as a Very Extreme Adventure. Turkey has many fabulous ice-capped peaks and has outfitters who service gnarly Germans eager to attempt them. They will let you in on the action, even if your name is not Hans. Mt Ararat (Agri Dagh) is the trophy mountain of the bunch. Did I say that the Turks have really good food too?
3. the undersea dive
Two words say it all. Red Sea. Dive sites on Jordan's tiny beach and on Egypt's rather large one can legitimately make a case for "best on the planet." For fish, corals, and clear water, the area is unmatched in my experience (but no, I have not been to Australia's Great Barrier Reef.). It is also really cool to poke your head above the surface and then look down to the seafloor again. The contrast between the colorless and desolate desert above and the colorful swarming biota below will take your breath away. Water is life. You can feel it here.
To do the undersea world right, you need scuba certification. If that card is not in your pocket, it is not a total loss though. Incredible corals and fish beyond number can be snorkeled from the docks. Resort hotels line the beaches. The hostels I can afford, however, are a much longer walk and give additional nuance to the phrase, "dive site."
The eastern Mediterranean ain't bad either, although my limited experience suggests a significant step down from the Red Sea. The Roman harbor at Caesarea is an exceptional two-fer: it combines the archaeological world with the undersea world. A marked trail on the seafloor makes for an exceptional visit. Try not to hyperventilate in your excitement.
Complete dive packages are sold by outfitters in Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. I have not done an extensive dive oriented trip, but I do recommend a daytrip to qualified divers as a nice "add on" to a study- or pilgrimage tour.
The archaeological excavation, the overland trek, and the undersea dive are three kinds of extreme adventures worth pursuing. Realize however, that these do not exhaust the opportunity for non-traditional travel destinations. Camel camping, 4 x 4 excursions in the desert, kayaking, and small boat sea or river cruises could easily be added to this list.
If you are an adrenaline junkie looking for a unique adventure in a biblical world context or if you are looking to add something memorable to the end of a more traditional tour, shoot me an email. Extreme adventures are not the domain of the insane. They are alternative experiences that are accessible to ordinary folk, given opportunity, proper preparation and responsible risk management.
Come on. Let's explore outside!