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5 Places to Almost Die Before You Die

1. Tiankeng Sinkhole, Xiaozhai, China

When I was 18 years old, I took a trip with a few buddies of mine to Lake George in upstate New York. We had heard that there was a great spot for cliff jumping on the far side of the lake, and we found it without too much trouble. It was a fifty-foot sheer rock wall that dropped straight into deep water. Hyped up on adrenaline and Red Bull, we scrambled to the top.

"Me first!" my friend shouted, running to the edge. He quickly stopped. What seemed like a short drop from the bottom now seemed like a very large drop from the top. This, mind you, was fifty feet into water. I cannot imagine jumping 2,164 feet into the world's largest sinkhole.

The Tiankeng sinkhole near Ziaozhai, China, attracts some of the world's craziest individuals. I'm not referring to lacrosse goalies, drummers, or Tom Cruise. No, I'm talking about B.A.S.E. jumpers, the wild individuals who get their thrills from parachuting off extremely high platforms (including buildings, antenna, spans, and earth, hence the acronym B.A.S.E.). The extreme sport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world, with an estimated one fatality for every sixty participants.

The sinkhole itself is the shape of an inverted bell and was created over time as an underground river eroded the limestone walls. From the top, it looks like an underground rainforest. From the bottom... well, I couldn't tell you.

2. N57 40.390 E12 29.000, Västra Götaland, Sweden

When bored, I often try to Google fun activities in my area. Unfortunately, a search of "fun things to do in Durham, NC" doesn't return much but advertisements for strip clubs.

One day, however, after searching through a few pages, I found something interesting. As it turns out, one of the most extreme geocaches in the world is located in Durham's storm drain system. I didn't know what a geocache was, but the words "extreme," "world," and "system" caught my eye. I turned to Google once again.

As it turns out, Geocaching is a sport that roughly resembles an international treasure hunt. Officially started in 2000 by David Ulmer of Beavercreek, Oregon, the game is simple. Someone posts clues and the coordinates of the cache, or treasure, and someone else tries to find it using a handheld GPS. Then, he/she takes what's inside the cache and replaces it with something else. There are caches everywhere: putting my zip code into geocaching.com revealed over thirty within a five-mile radius of my position. After some more research into Durham's extreme cache, I came to the conclusion that it was extremely dangerous. The Durham cache seems like child's play, though, compared to the extreme cache in Vastra Gotaland, Sweden.

The description on geocaching.com makes it pretty clear that the Vastra Gotaland cache is not for amateurs. "No cache is worth dying for!" it says. It further discourages anyone from attempting to find it unless he or she "has a serious death wish, is immortal, has more than three lives left, or is very stupid and not afraid of heights."

With a description like that, how could you afford not to snag this cache before you die?

3. The Graveyard of the Atlantic, Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

I wish I had a cool shipwreck story to start off a blurb entitled "The Graveyard of the Atlantic." Sadly, however, I don't. I was once almost kidnapped while on a cruise ship, but the ship never wrecked and the kidnapping was botched. Besides, who hasn't almost been kidnapped these days?

Instead, I'm going to jump right into the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Figuratively, of course. It's not known as a graveyard for nothing: in the past 600 years, more than 600 ships have been wrecked along this small strip of North Carolina coast. For those of you who don't speak math, that's an average of one shipwreck every year for the last six centuries. For an area that's generally known for its warm, sunny beaches, that's a lot of sunken ships.

The turbulent waters around Cape Hatteras are a result of two great ocean currents meeting and are responsible for the area's nickname. From the north comes the chilly Labrador Current, and from the south comes the toasty Gulf Stream. When the two meet, they create a sailor's nightmare in the form of rough waters and shallow sandbars.

Inclement weather also contributes to the abundance of shipwrecks. Hurricanes frequently move up the North Carolina coast, and storms are a common occurrence.

Granted, nature is not solely responsible for all of the shipwrecks off Cape Hatteras. Piracy has destroyed many boats, the Civil War took a few more, and German U-Boats added to the collection. From the shore, tourists can often see the eerie masts of long-sunken ships rising out of the water. While Cape Hatteras might be a beautiful spot to vacation, it might not be the best place to try out your new yacht.

4. Space, Space, The Milky Way Galaxy

There are a lot of images that come to mind when I think of space: aliens, lasers, horrible death at the hands of alien lasers. Needless to say, none of them are very pleasant. Which is why, for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would pay $200,000 for a visit.

Yet that's exactly what approximately 300 people are currently signed up to do with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic. On December 7, 2009, Branson revealed the SpaceShip Two, his newest rocket plane. While it hasn't been put into operation yet, prototypes look both frightening and awesome.

The sixty-foot long SpaceShip Two will be able to travel at Mach 3, providing clients with approximately six minutes of weightlessness during a two and a half hour journey. Up to six passengers can fly at a time, meaning that you can bring friends. The ship can also accommodate two pilots, which seems like your best bet for experiencing weightlessness if you don't have 200,000 bucks to blow.

From the vantage point of space, views are supposedly spectacular. There are, however, several risks incurred when traveling beyond the Earth's atmosphere. Other than the aforementioned aliens, there is the possibility of the craft malfunctioning. Indeed, astronaut is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. While the experience is sure to be out of this world, there is one important thing to remember: in space, no one can hear you scream.

5. Annapurna, Himalaya Mountain Range, Nepal


Image via Wikimedia Commons user Leridant

I have often found that the craziest things in life come in sixes. For instance, I once met a group of fourteen-year-old sextuplet orphans who ran a circus. The six of them put on some of the most ridiculous acts I have ever seen. There are six basic animal groups, and animals are pretty wild. There are also six peaks that fall under the name "Annapurna," and they are the deadliest (by percentage) mountains in the world.

Annapurna I is the highest of the six peaks, the others being Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Annapurna IV, Gangapurna, and Annapurna South. Of all the places to visit on the list that could almost kill you, Annapurna is the most likely to actually do the job.

Since the first summit by Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal in 1950, forty-one percent of the people who have attempted to summit the mountains have died. Although more people have been killed on Everest, its eight percent mortality rate makes it seem easy by comparison. Even K2, the second deadliest mountain in the world, only has a twenty-five percent mortality rate.

Avalanches are primarily responsible for the mountainous deaths, although climbers have also been killed by extreme cold and falling ice. For the roughly 130 people who have actually succeeded in summiting Annapurna I, the views are probably similar to looking out the window of SpaceShip Two. For the rest of us, backpacking around Annapurna is typically said to be some of the best in the world.

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Here Are the Best and Worst Days for Christmas Travel
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Flight delays are always a hassle, but the holidays add an extra layer of stress. No one wants to be stuck at the airport while their family is digging into Christmas dinner. And even if you fly long before the holiday itself, airports are always more hectic during the holiday season. Between the high volume of travelers and the whims of winter weather, getting off the ground doesn’t necessarily feel like a given when you leave for the airport.

But not all airports and days are equally prone to flight issues, according to U.S. Bureau of Transportation data from the last five years, as analyzed by the electric supply company Elite Fixtures, which previously analyzed the worst airports for Thanksgiving travel.

A green chart lists travel delays and flight cancellation statistics by date.
Elite Fixtures

On average, you’re less likely to be delayed if you’re traveling the week before Christmas or on the holiday itself, the data shows. December 25 has actually had the lowest percentage (18 percent) of delayed flights over the last five years, giving you a good excuse if you want to flee to the airport directly after your family’s holiday meal. Traveling December 18 and 19 is also a good idea, since only 26 percent of flights are typically delayed on those days.

A red chart details travel delay and cancellation statistics by date.
Elite Fixtures

Beware the 22nd and 23rd of December, though. On those days, an average of 32 percent and 34 percent of flights get delayed, respectively. The few days after Christmas are also likely to stick you with an annoying delay—33 and 34 percent of flights are delayed on the 26th and 27th.

A green-and-gray U.S. map highlights the 10 best airports for holiday travel with plane icons.
Elite Fixtures

Airlines don’t encounter flight difficulties in equal measure across all airports, though. If you’re flying through one of the airports above, congratulations! The likelihood of getting delayed is less than at the Houston or Oakland airports, both hubs with the highest rates of holiday flight delays in the U.S.

Unfortunately, no matter what day you fly and where you fly from, there's no way to really predict whether your flight will leave on time. You'll just have to hope that Santa brings you the seamless holiday travel experience you put on your Christmas list.

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Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.
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4 Festive Holiday Road Trips To Take in December
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Road trips are often reserved for the freedom of summer vacation, but if you miss the open road, there’s no reason you can't find holiday-inspired adventure along the highway during the winter. Work these festival stops into a trip back to grandmother's house, or follow the trail for a merry and bright day trip.

1. PORTLAND, OREGON TO SALEM, OREGON

Oregon holiday road map
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: Christmas Festival of Lights in Portland

If you can't get enough of belting out "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls" with family and friends, take the music of the season one step further at Portland's Christmas Festival of Lights. This month-long festival runs through December 30 and features more than 160 indoor holiday concerts. The 2017 festival marks 30 years of holiday performances at what organizers consider to be the world’s largest choral festival. And if your road trip companions aren't feeling the music, there's always a lighted pathway, puppet shows, and a petting zoo complete with baby camel cuddles.

Stop 2: Oregon Garden in Silverton

Heading one hour south from Portland, swing into Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical garden that becomes a German-inspired Christmas wonderland. Open most days in December, the Christmas in the Garden event has drawn in thousands of visitors (peaking at 35,000 attendees in 2016) thanks to its Christmas market, ice skating rink, biergarten, and never-ending glühwein—a spiced, mulled wine popular in Deutschland. There’s also snowless tubing, two restaurants, and more than 600,000 Christmas lights hung throughout the botanical garden for a festive and glowing holiday adventure.

Stop 3: Christmas Tree Hunting Near Salem

The nearby Salem area is home to nearly 20 Christmas tree farms, making it a great stop for picking up the family tree before wrapping up a road trip. While that may seem like market saturation to non-Oregonians, the number of tree farms throughout the state isn't at all surprising, considering Oregon is the top Christmas tree-producing state in the nation, harvesting an estimated 5.2 million trees in 2016. Douglas and Noble firs are easiest to find, since the two varieties make up a combined 86 percent of the state's Christmas tree population. With 42,000 acres of tree farms throughout the state, it shouldn't take too long to find the perfect fir to take home.

2. ROCHESTER, NEW YORK TO ITHACA, NEW YORK

New York holiday road map.
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: George Eastman Museum in Rochester

Even if you snap a selfie with a cell phone instead of using a point-and-shoot, it's worth swinging through Rochester to thank George Eastman, the founder of Eastman Kodak Company, for his impact on the photography industry. The George Eastman Museum is housed in Eastman's former residence, and has collected and preserved photography and cinema history since 1949. During the winter holidays, the museum is also host to Sweet Creations, a gingerbread house display that features more than 50 edible structures. Running through December 13, visitors can view the tiny homes among other exhibits. But unlike most of the museum’s artifacts, these displays are auctioned mid-month with funds used towards museum restoration projects.

Stop 2: It's A Wonderful Life Festival in Seneca Falls

From December 8 through 10, the 9000 residents of Seneca Falls celebrate the Christmas classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. The town claims to be the inspiration behind Bedford Falls, the fictional setting for the 1946 Christmas film, and even has the evidence: Director Frank Capra visited in the 1940s, exploring the town and getting a haircut. Now, Seneca Falls celebrates with a three-day festival featuring a gingerbread contest, soup cook-offs, and several panels about the meaning of life. But even if you miss the fest, Seneca Falls is a lovely drive down memory lane, thanks to its classic, 1940s style.

Stop 3: Ithaca Ice Festival in Ithaca

If you've ever wanted to see just how a giant ice luge or fancy ice sculpture is made, Ithaca's annual Ice Fest is the place to go. Ice carvers from around the country compete for the chance to win cash prizes in three rounds of carving competitions. From December 7 to 9, ice carvers compete based on how quickly and impressively they can transform blocks of ice into art, while crowds watch from the ice bar or sample more than 20 different kinds of chowder during the fest's adjacent annual chowder cook-off. If that seems too chilly, don't worry—there’s also a litany of fire demonstrations and a silent disco to warm you up.

3. DEARBORN, MICHIGAN TO HOLLY, MICHIGAN

Michigan holiday road map.
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village, in Dearborn

Christmas past blends with Christmas present in Dearborn, Michigan, where weekends in December play host to the Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village festival. Throughout the month, Charles Dickens reigns supreme, with mid- to late-1800s carolers, reenactors, and performers milling about the town to spread history-based cheer. But, that's not the only era represented; visitors can take a spin on a 1913 carousel or visit a Civil War encampment. Model T rides are available, as well as ice skating, historic home tours, and live reindeer. It's almost too much Christmas history for any one town.

Stop 2: Christmas Markets in Detroit

Detroit is home to a variety of Christmas celebrations, but holiday market lovers will enjoy browsing through various local vendors at the city's Christmas Markets. Through Christmas Eve, the market spreads through eight spots in the city, including Cadillac Square and Capitol Park, and takes its German inspiration seriously with dance bands, glühwein, and accordion and polka performances. There are also heated tents, an ice rink, and the city's 60-foot Christmas tree to enjoy.

Stop 3: Holly Dickens Festival in Holly

If you haven't had enough Dickens adventures on this trip, stop into Holly, Michigan, where the town hosts the longest-running Dickens festival in the country. Running for 44 years, the three weekends after Thanksgiving (through Dec. 10 this year) are filled with performances of A Christmas Carol, horse-drawn carriage rides, vintage photos, museum tours, tea parties, and shopping. If that wasn't enough, couples can renew their vows with the help of Queen Victoria while attending the festival.

4. ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA TO BREVARD, NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina holiday road map
Composite by Lucy Quintanilla. Illustrations by iStock.

Stop 1: Christmas At The Biltmore in Asheville

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is known for being a romantic getaway for couples and a perfect Christmas town. It's also home to The Biltmore, the largest private home in the U.S. The Vanderbilt mansion has historically accepted guests for Christmas since 1895, and it still opens for the holiday season each year. Visitors get an upper class taste of Christmas throughout December, which includes 55 decorated trees, more than 1000 poinsettias, "miles of ribbon," and other opulent décor. Christmas at the Biltmore also includes a gingerbread house tea, candlelight tours, carriage rides, and garden and grounds decorated for winter. Go on and pretend it's all yours.

Stop 2: Santa on the Chimney at Chimney Rock State Park

Chimney Rock State Park, about an hour's drive south of Asheville, is home to a 535-million-year-old rock face—aptly called Chimney Rock—that you can climb. But on December 9, you can also see how Santa takes on chimneys of all sizes. The big guy with the presents rappels the 315-foot rock as park-goers and Christmas enthusiasts watch. Visitors also get to snack on holiday treats and hang out with live critters that call the park home.

Stop 3: Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum in Brevard

"Jingle Bell Rock" turns 60 years old this season (it debuted in 1957), and in Brevard, you can jump right back to that time. The Aluminum Tree and Ornament Museum (called ATOM) hosts the country's only known display of aluminum Christmas trees—most dating to the 1950s, when the tinsel-colored trees were mass produced by the millions. Decades-old ornaments bedazzle the restored trees (which are given pseudo-scientific names, like Silvercus pinii holidaeus), and retro-inspired musical guests perform original Christmas carols through December 23. This blast from the past might wrap up a road trip through North Carolina, but it is sure to create plenty of modern memories. And after all, isn't that the best part about holiday adventures?

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