Adventure Travel Is Increasingly Not Just for the Young
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Adventure Travel Is Increasingly Not Just for the Young

The average age of participants has risen over the past few years, outfitters say, thanks in part to better gear and more-accommodating trips

By JEN MURPHY
Sat, Apr 6, 2024 7:00amGrey Clock 4 min

When Peter Cox wrapped up his career as a paediatric critical-care doctor at age 65, he celebrated by signing up for the Tour d’ Afrique, a transcontinental bike trip with TDA Global Cycling. The roughly 5,600-mile route from Cairo to Cape Town spans 10 countries over 74 days of riding with just 28 rest days. Riders average 74 miles a day and spend only 10 nights in hotels. They camp the rest of the journey.

Cox wasn’t the oldest participant. The group had five riders over 70.

Outfitters specialising in adventure travel say the average age of their customers has ticked upward since Covid, according to a survey by travel research company Skift. At TDA, for example, the average client age currently is 62, compared with 57 pre pandemic. And some 6% of its clients last year were over 75; before the pandemic, the percentage never exceeded 1%, the company says.

Adventure South NZ, a New Zealand-based outfitter, says the average age of its hiking and biking guests was 55 during the 10 years before the pandemic. It jumped to 65 directly after.

A U.S.-based operator focusing on trips for women, Adventures in Good Company, says its average guest age rose to 62 in 2023, compared with 58 pre pandemic, and on many of its most-challenging trips, ages skewed even higher. Last year a 73-year-old completed a nine-day slackpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail in Georgia that averaged 7 to 16 miles a day, and an 80-year-old woman completed a nine-day trekking tour of Mont Blanc in France.

About 4.1 million Americans will reach 65 years old this year . “Sixty is the new 40,” says Shannon Stowell , president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association. “My dad stopped being active at 50.… People are living longer, healthier lives and are more active than ever.”

Intensity with comfort

Adventure travel doesn’t have to be as intense as it once was. Stowell says it has gained popularity with an older demographic in part because there are more comforts available, such as lodges with good food and guides who will transfer your gear. “Trekking to Machu Picchu or Everest Base Camp used to be so much more hard-core,” he says. “Better gear and more professionalism in guiding have made these adventures more accessible.”

Also, clients in the 55-plus crowd have traveled more than their parents and grandparents did, Stowell says. “They’ve done Rome and Paris. Now they want to go deeper to places like Mongolia,” he says.

Cox, who is now 70 and lives in Toronto, rode 2,547 miles from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City last year. This spring, his wife, 60, will join him on a 35-day, 1,637-mile bike expedition in Morocco. And in 2025, he plans to pedal 3,295 miles in the Himalayas from Srinagar, India, to Kathmandu, Nepal.

“I’ve never been on a cruise or to an all-inclusive resort,” he says. “The nice part of cycling is you’re moving at a speed that allows you to interact physically and emotionally with the environment.”

On long rides, Cox experiences discomfort in his shoulders and hips, but he says regular stretching has kept most aches at bay.

Rita Tellerman of New York City celebrated her 70th birthday in 2019 by cycling 1,885 miles through Madagascar with TDA Global Cycling. The trip featured 31 days of riding, nine rest days and a mix of hotel stays and camping.

“It ticked all of the areas that took me out of my comfort zone,” she says. “It was my first trip to a Third World country. I had no clue about camping equipment. And I’d never ridden a gravel bike.” The retired public-health nutritionist started cycling at age 50 and says her speed isn’t what it once was. “It pisses me off when I can’t keep up with the 50-and 60-year-olds,” she says.

Time and money

Such trips require significant time and money, two assets that many older people tend to have at their disposal. Monika Sundem , chief executive of trip planner Adventure Life, says her company’s trips, which average eight to 10 days, cost $600 to $800 a day per person. Her customers in the post-65 range, meanwhile, have gone from 23.5% in 2019 to 35% last year, and they are booking such trips as treks in Patagonia, mountain biking in Ecuador and climbing in the Alaskan backcountry.

Todd Rutledge , owner of expedition specialist Mountain Trip, says 60-plus customers make up 19% of clients on his Alaska Range itineraries. “A lot of people tell us they didn’t want to go away when their kids were at home,” he says.

“Our trips are a hefty investment,” says Rutledge, whose multi-week to two-months-long expeditions typically cost $10,000 to $60,000. Most require a high level of fitness, too. “People age 65 and older statistically are more likely to experience some form of altitude sickness,” he says. “We’re not physiologists or trainers so in 2018 we partnered with a company to design personalised training programs for guests—and most, particularly our older guests, take advantage.”

Deb Shucka, 72, of Battle Ground, Wash., walks and hikes regularly to maintain her fitness for hiking vacations. She celebrated her 70th birthday trekking el Camino de Costa Rica, a roughly 175-mile cross-country trail with a peak elevation of more than 7,600 feet.

“At one point our guide told us, ‘Every morning starts with breakfast and a hill,’ and he wasn’t joking,” she says. “I had to stop a bunch on the hills but I never felt impaired,” she says. Guides transferred bags, which she says made the 16-day trip more appealing. Along the way she slept in tents, cabins and on the floor of a village community centre.

Last year, Shucka completed the Cape Camino, a roughly 400-mile route in South Africa, and she is hoping to trek in Ireland this fall. “When I retired at 63 it dawned on me I have to do these things now even if my husband doesn’t love to travel,” she says. “I’ve fallen in love with travelling by myself .”

Surf’s up

Betsy Cuthberton, 65, an accountant in Vail, Colo., and her retired husband, Mike Cuthberton, 66, recently took a vacation in Costa Rica so they could learn to surf. “We aren’t sit-on-the-beach people,” the wife says. “We do TRX classes and yoga a few times a week so we’re still physically capable of trying anything.” The couple, who are devoted skiers, booked a weeklong stay with Surf Synergy, a surf camp in Jaco that incorporates training, yoga and massages into the programming.

Surf Synergy co-founder Marcel Oliveira says he has seen an uptick in 65-plus guests wanting to surf for the first time. He assigns each guest two coaches so they always have someone with them in the water, whether taking off on a wave or getting out of the water. Betsy Cuthberton stood up on her first wave, and her husband was up and riding by the end of the first day.

“Not once did anyone say, ‘You’re too old,’ ” she says. “I believe staying young is embracing a mindset where you’re always learning.”



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Should AI Have Access to Your Medical Records? What if It Can Save Many Lives?

We asked readers: Is it worth giving up some potential privacy if the public benefit could be great? Here’s what they said.

By DEMETRIA GALLEGOS
Tue, May 28, 2024 4 min

We’re constantly told that one of the potentially biggest benefits of artificial intelligence is in the area of health. By collecting large amounts of data, AI can create all sorts of drugs for diseases that have been resistant to treatment.

But the price of that could be that we have to share more of our medical information. After all, researchers can’t collect large amounts of data if people aren’t willing to part with that data.

We wanted to see where our readers stand on the balance of privacy versus public-health gains as part of our series on ethical dilemmas created by the advent of AI.

Here are the questions we posed…

AI may be able to discover new medical treatments if it can scan large volumes of health records. Should our personal health records be made available for this purpose, if it has the potential to improve or save millions of lives? How would we guard privacy in that case?

…and some of the answers we received. undefined

Rely on nonpartisan overseers

While my own recent experience with a data breach highlights the importance of robust data security, I recognise the potential for AI to revolutionise healthcare. To ensure privacy, I would be more comfortable if an independent, nonpartisan body—overseen by medical professionals, data-security experts, and citizen representatives—managed a secure database.

Anonymity cuts both ways

Yes. Simply sanitise the health records of any identifying information, which is quite doable. Although there is an argument to be made that AI may discover something that an individual needs or wants to know.

Executive-level oversight

I think we can make AI scanning of health records available with strict privacy controls. Create an AI-CEO position at medical facilities with extreme vetting of that individual before hiring them.

Well worth it

This actually sounds like a very GOOD use of AI. There are several methods for anonymising data which would allow for studies over massive cross-sections of the population without compromising individuals’ privacy. The AI would just be doing the same things meta-studies do now, only faster and maybe better.

Human touch

My concern is that the next generations of doctors will rely more heavily, maybe exclusively, on AI and lose the ability or even the desire to respect the art of medicine which demands one-on-one interaction with a patient for discussion and examination (already a dying skill).

Postmortem

People should be able to sign over rights to their complete “anonymised” health record upon death just as they can sign over rights to their organs. Waiting for death for such access does temporarily slow down the pace of such research, but ultimately will make the research better. Data sets will be more complete, too. Before signing over such rights, however, a person would have to be fully informed on how their relatives’ privacy may also be affected.

Pay me or make it free for all

As long as this is open-source and free, they can use my records. I have a problem with people using my data to make a profit without compensation.

Privacy above all

As a free society, we value freedoms and privacy, often over greater utilitarian benefits that could come. AI does not get any greater right to infringe on that liberty than anything else does.

Opt-in only

You should be able to opt in and choose a plan that protects your privacy.

Privacy doesn’t exist anyway

If it is decided to extend human lives indefinitely, then by all means, scan all health records. As for privacy, there is no such thing. All databases, once established, will eventually, if not immediately, be accessed or hacked by both the good and bad guys.

The data’s already out there

I think it should be made available. We already sign our rights for information over to large insurance companies. Making health records in the aggregate available for helping AI spot potential ways to improve medical care makes sense to me.

Overarching benefit

Of course they should be made available. Privacy is no serious concern when the benefits are so huge for so many.

Compensation for breakthroughs

We should be given the choice to release our records and compensated if our particular genome creates a pathway to treatment and medications.

Too risky

I like the idea of improving healthcare by accessing health records. However, as great as that potential is, the risks outweigh it. Access to the information would not be controlled. Too many would see personal opportunity in it for personal gain.

Nothing personal

The personal info should never be available to anyone who is not specifically authorised by the patient to have it. Medical information can be used to deny people employment or licenses!

No guarantee, but go ahead

This should be allowed on an anonymous basis, without question. But how to provide that anonymity?

Anonymously isolating the information is probably easy, but that information probably contains enough information to identify you if someone had access to the data and was strongly motivated. So the answer lies in restricting access to the raw data to trusted individuals.

Take my records, please

As a person with multiple medical conditions taking 28 medications a day, I highly endorse the use of my records. It is an area where I have found AI particularly valuable. With no medical educational background, I find it very helpful when AI describes in layman’s terms both my conditions and medications. In one instance, while interpreting a CT scan, AI noted a growth on my kidney that looked suspiciously like cancer and had not been disclosed to me by any of the four doctors examining the chart.

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