Published: December 2007/January 2008
Outdoor Sports Trends of the Year
The year's hottest trends for adventure's six realms: deserts, forests, mountains, road trips, snow, and water.
Text by Steve Casimiro
Trend Picks of the Year: Desert

Bringing the Heat
+ This just in from the weather desk: Climatic extremes occasionally attract extremists. The world's deserts certainly saw their share of craziness this year.

+ Take, for instance, the Run Across the Sahara by Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin. The trio hoofed it 4,300 miles (6,920 kilometers) in 111 days from Senegal to Egypt. That's about a marathon and a half every day, with only two showers and Lord knows how much sand stuck between their toes.

+ Alexander Zverev and Andrei Patouv survived on the margins of China's Taklamakan Desert (it's not Mandarin for Bermuda Triangle, but it could be) for 25 days without food after a boating accident.

+ No-limits aviator Steve Fossett tragically disappeared after taking off in a single-engine plane in driest Nevada.

+ Death Valley may not be the lowest place in the Western Hemisphere anymore (the Valdés Peninsula in Argentina snatched that title a few years ago), but it's still the hottest. On July 7 the mercury hit 129°F (54°C) in Furnace Creek, California, the hottest temp in a nation that saw one of its warmest years on record.

+ The downside: Ph.D.'s predict that it's going to do nothing but climb. The sunny side: Desert rats shouldn't be left wanting for new extremes to explore.

Trend Picks of the Year: Forest

A New Leaf
+ Decades from now 2007 just might be remembered as the year trees started to fight back. French Guiana cordoned off some five million acres (two million hectares) of Amazon jungle; Colombia followed suit with 240,000 acres (97,125 hectares) of virgin selva; and not to be outdone, Borneo preserved a huge chunk of its old, old growth. Indeed, of the 50 most heavily timbered nations, a full third transitioned from forest loss to gain.

+ Even the Bush Administration got on board: Investors can now offset their footprints through the Carbon Capital Fund, and Smokey Bear will do the planting.

+ That kind of annuity should give guys like Francis Tapon—who thru-hiked some 2,800 miles (4,506 kilometers) on the nearly completed Continental Divide Trail (only to turn around and hike back)—more room to roam, both above and below tree line.

+ Or tell it to Karl Bushby, who saw no shortage of fall foliage while trekking across Siberia this autumn on his 14-year, 36,000-mile (57,936-kilometer) quest to become the first person to walk around the globe.

+ Even the concrete jungle is sprouting new growth: As part of his ambitious PlaNYC program Mayor Michael Bloomberg has promised to plant a million saplings in Gotham by 2017.

Trend Picks of the Year: Mountain

XXL Games
+ We could say 2007 was big for high-altitude exploits, but that would be understating one Himalaya of a year. Irishman Ian McKeever started '07 with a bang, knocking off the Seven Summits in a record 156 days

+ Shortly thereafter Apa Sherpa padded his peerless Everest résumé with his 17th ascent, and American Sean Burch bagged 63 Tibetan summits in 23 days.

+ With relative peace descending upon Nepal for the first time since 1996, the growth rate of expedition permits rose like the North Face, to record highs.

+ Big-rig 29-inch (74-centimeter) mountain bikes (with wheels three inches [eight centimeters] larger than standard 26ers) plowed their way into the lines of a few mainstream manufacturers, while interest in paragliding—the leap-of-faith sport of, um, flings—spiked when German sky flier Ewa Wisnierska was caught in a sudden storm and updrafted to 32,612 feet (9,940 meters). She passed out and awoke coated in ice. Somehow she lived.

+ And Wyoming native Jay Petervary closed out the year in high gear, dusting the field in the Great Divide Mountain Bike Race by pedaling the entire 2,490-mile (4,007-kilometer) route in 15 days. An average of 166 brutal off-road miles (267 kilometers) a day? That, folks, is huge.

Trend Picks of the Year: Road Trips

Rebirth of Fuel
+ "Whither goes thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?" It was exactly 50 years ago that the dangerously overcaffeinated Jack Kerouac published those words in On the Road. Bet the Beat prophet could never have predicted this year's boom in alt transport.

+ The charismatic billionaire Elon Musk unveiled his all-electric Tesla Roadster, which tops out at a smoking 135 mph (217 kilometers per hour) and a cool $100K.

Honda's new 2009 diesel is so taintless, even California allows it.

+ And Parkour, the hyperkinetic urban leapfrogging trend that percolated up from the streets of Paris, sprinted into the mainstream with sport-specific shoes and a starring role on the Casino Royale DVD. (Alas, if only the riders of this summer's Tour de France hadn't notched so many high-octane drug tests.)

+ No worries, road biking redemption came in a different form this spring: the new 2,058-mile (3,312-kilometer) Underground Railroad Bicycle Route from Alabama to Canada.

+ That's a lot of asphalt, but it pales in comparison with the post-postmodern Mongol Rally, which runs 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers) from London to Mongolia. The only rule? Motors can be no bigger than one liter, barely larger than a lawn mower engine—or roughly the amount of fuel Dean Moriarty used to toss back after a long night behind the wheel.

Trend Picks of the Year: Snow

The Cool Craze
+ Goodbye, global warming. Hello, global weirding! That's pro skier turned green guru Alison Gannett's name for the kooky effects climate change is having on the world's cold spots.

+ The Russians planted their flag at the true North Pole (under 2.5 miles [4 kilometers] of water); the Northwest Passage was ice free for the first time anyone can remember (take that, Lewis and Clark); and Dutchman Wim Hoff, the self-named Iceman, attempted to climb Mount Everest in nothing but a pair of shorts (he didn't make it).

+ On the slopes the phenomenon of twin-tip skis gained momentum—boarders found you could get more air on two sticks than one.

+ Twenty-eight ski areas offset their entire carbon footprint, while Aspen and Jackson Hole became the first to receive international accreditation for environmental business practices. That assumes the Big Melt won't drive the ski biz permanently downhill.

+ Rosie Stancer had to abandon her solo North Pole expedition because of deteriorating ice; beleaguered, and potentially endangered, polar bears struggled to cope with life in a gigantic Slurpee; and in a massive rounding error, Arctic sea ice shrank about a million square miles (over two million square kilometers) (that's six Californias) more than expected.

+ Future powder buffs might have to adopt Chris Davenport's strategy of striking fast: The Aspenite became the first—and maybe last?—to ski all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot (4,267-meter) peaks in a calendar year.

Trend Picks of the Year: Water

Free Flow
+ With all the natural disasters ravaging the West this year—drought, fires, Britney Spears on the VMAs—you'd think the waters had ceased to flow. Nope. Thanks to a deal with the city of Los Angeles, the Owens River ran for the first time in almost a century.

+ On a different kind of run, 20 athletes sprinted 15,200 miles (24,462 kilometers) through 16 countries to promote global water awareness.

+ Up north (like, Santa's Workshop north) Polar Bear Club poster child Lewis Gordon Pugh swam for nearly 19 minutes wearing nothing but a Speedo and a chattering smile.

+ Farther south 14-year-old Michael Perham became the youngest to sail the Atlantic solo, aboard Cheeky Monkey, potentially inspiring his own saltwater taffy Ben and Jerry's flavor.

+ Paddleboarding, a sport created from surfing's dullest moments, was marketed as the best workout this side of Maui.

+ When H2O news rained, it poured: Sudan's Darfur province may be sitting on a giant freshwater aquifer.

+ A 26-foot (8-meter), 1,000-pound (454-kilogram) colossal squid was snagged off Antarctica. And despite colliding with a freighter on day 15, Reid Stowe and Soanya Ahmad continued their quest to spend 1,000 days at sea without landing, resupplying, or reading a single blog entry about whether Lindsay Lohan's career is all washed up.