The boat captain hears something on the radio and immediately speeds off in the opposite direction. I brace myself for the obligatory sea spray and hold on for dear life. As if tracking the Big Five on an African safari, we are chasing sail boats. "They're getting ready to race!" he exclaims triumphantly, "We can catch them right as they go across the starting line." I am in St. Thomas, experiencing the St. Thomas International Regatta and somehow I have found myself on a ship with serious photographers. The hunt is on to get as close as we can to these stunning sailboats, with their colorful spinnakers catching the breeze.
The day is a sailor's dream -- gusty winds, clear skies, the water catching the sun's rays in reflective spurts. It is however, an inexperienced seafaring rookie's nightmare. The swells are deep and relentless. I am sick within a few minutes of arriving into the heart of the action, but I try to act cool.
What is amazing about the day is how picturesque and adventurous it is, despite the discomfort. I have a magnificent time and feel very sporty through it all. As the boat guns its engines and we lurch off to catch another herd of ships, a photographer turns to me, "Isn't spring gorgeous in the Virgin Islands?" Yes, yes it is.
If outdoor sports tempt for spring, plan a trip around the activity. Here are my choices for biking, hiking, sailing, horseback riding, and paddle boarding.
photo credit: Bryson City Bicycles.
Biking in North Carolina
I am a big fan of Western North Carolina author Ron Rash and so I did what any normal literary-obsessed person would do and tracked him down. He was very amenable and after stalking him via phone I garnered an invitation to a literary weekend, with Rash as a speaker, held at the Old Edwards Inn and Spa. My husband immediately got excited about the cycling routes and we planned a biking tour to include Asheville's micro-brew scene, excellent food and some exercise.
For mountain bikers the Tsali trails beckon, just outside Bryson City, with 40 miles of loops in the Great Smoky Mountains. Stay at the Lands Creek Log Cabins, it is charming and woodsy without being too remote. Unwind at the Nantahala Brewing Company, their Noon Day IPA is the perfect refreshment after a long day on the mountain.
For the best of Western North Carolina, head to Asheville. It's a haven for serious climbers -- at 6684 feet Mount Mitchell is the highest peak east of the Mississippi River. Rent a hardtail at Liberty Bikes and hit the Blue Ridge Parkway. Treat yourself to a stay at the Grove Park Inn, 10 U.S. presidents have stayed there along with Edison and Ford, and the views of the mountains to be conquered by bike are panoramic and spectacular. For refreshment, Plant, a vegan restaurant, and Early Girl, a breakfast joint, will impress. After riding the local mountains head to Wicked Weed Brewery for the best beer in all of beer-crazy Asheville.
Hiking in Zion National Park
The view from the top of the Canyon Overlook Trail is so magnificent it seems surreal, like a movie backdrop. Layers of red and cream rock fold like marble cake into the vast distance. After hiking Zion National Park it will be hard to hike anywhere else. There are easy hikes that take only 30 minutes, like the Grotto Trail, moderate two hour hikes like the Watchman Trail and strenuous hikes like Observation Point via East Rim Trail. I found a magical place near the park called Red Mountain Resort which kick-started my hiking craze. They have guided day hikes to Zion and Red Rock, as well as a nurturing friendly staff and many other activities like yoga, meditation and Nordic walking. I loved the peace and calm I felt there in the evening looking up at the multitude of stars in the night sky. Red Mountain Resort has astronomy classes as well, so guests can take full advantage of the unobstructed view of the constellations.
Sailing the Caribbean
St.Thomas, with its reliable winds and laid-back nature, is a favorite destination for professional sailors and fans alike. For seasoned captains, take advantage of St. Thomas' prime location within easy sailing distance to other islands. Visits to St. Croix, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, and Anegada make excellent seven to ten day sailing holidays. CYOA charters can help choose the best itinerary and vessel. For something less time-intensive try Bad Kitty, a catamaran day cruise with breakfast, open bar and great bay stops for relaxing. Be adventurous and take a lesson with Paul Stoeken of Island Sol. He is an active member of the USVI sailing community and races in the St. Thomas International Regatta. One of my favorite things about the St. Thomas sailing community is the friendly vibe at the Yacht Club. Pop in, grab a drink at the bar, and talk to the veteran mariners there.
Horseback Riding Along the Irish Atlantic Coast
One of my many favorite travel guide books is Equitrekking, a book devoted to the equine vacation. What could be better than galloping across the sand with views of the Aran Islands? Horseback riding vacations are a wonderful way to experience nature, both scenic and wild. Connemara Equestrian Escapes, located on the West coast of Ireland, provides horseback riding vacations from three day to seven day trips. They weave in Ireland's mystical and magical culture and history while the tour takes riders along country lanes, bog roads and sandy beaches. Visit Equitrekking for more global pony-holiday advice.
Paddle Boarding In Bora Bora
Everyone is doing it, whether in cool or warm-as-a-bath waters SUP is sweeping the world. There is much debate where the best place to learn is, but I can't think of anywhere better than Tahiti. With the real life versions of Gauguin's paintings surrounding the lesson, Stand Up Paddle boarding is a breeze in Bora Bora. The flat conditions are ideal for a beginner and the easy jump-off-the-board-and-snorkel option make manta ray or clown fish spotting part of the experience. If athletics are important, check out the Bora Bora Liquid Festival where guests can be as active or as party-animal as they like. The Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora has SUP lessons for all skill levels and a perfect launching point for a paddle boarding excursion.