She found her thrill in Blueberry Land. Once or twice a year, thrill seeker Tamela Rich, 52, leaves her husband. She packs a couple changes of clothes, dresses in helmet and protective gear and sets off on her motorcycle.
Her sons are grown, her husband loves her and she averages six weeks on the road. You can follow her adventures on her blog or read her books. She inspires all, male or female, who dream of finding thrills on the open road, but what she finds thrilling is not always what one might expect.
Upon returning from the Bay of Fundy in Maine, where towering cliffs are witness to 160 billion tons of seawater that create the highest tides in the world, she was asked what had she seen recently that she would define as a thrill.
“Oh, Wild Blueberry Land,” she gushed, and in the silence that followed, she added, “I mean, it didn’t thrill me as much as being out in the Bay of Fundy in a flotation suit with a finback whale and her calf—but when I saw this blueberry place, I had to stop. I mean, you just have to stop. The main building looks like a giant sunken blueberry, there’s a blueberry-themed putt-putt course and everything’s blue. Think about the imagination behind making a simple farm stand and bakery into an event, a destination! The kitsch, the joie de vivre!”
To understand Rich’s enthusiasm, one might have to re-think the word “thrill.”
For some, it might be something that looks dangerous. Riding a motorcycle is thrilling. But for Rich, that’s just a way to discover real thrills: up-close encounters with herds of bison, mountain goats, whales and, yes, Wild Blueberry Land.
If there were a graph that charted thrill seeking ranked from 1 to 10, and you left out the motorcycle ride between Nova Scotia and North Carolina, you might put Blueberry Land at 1. At 10, you might want to talk to Lee Guilfoyle.
Guilfoyle is a thrill seeker. He discovered his obsession with the sky when he was 22. He joined the Navy in 1952 and signed up for duty on aircraft carriers.
After his four years in the Navy, he still hadn’t had enough. He joined the Army as a ranger/ paratrooper, and soon he was addicted. When he left the service, he took a job testing parachutes at Parachutes, Incorporated, where he was the first to jump with the innovative Sailwing, a part of his job that earned him induction into the Hall of Fame of Parachuting in 1978. He became Vice President of Operations, an office job—but nothing deterred him from jumping out of airplanes. His free time was always spent in the sky.
“I met my wife in 1961 because of parachuting,” he says now, with a little bit of pride and a lot of brave sadness. He’s been a widower for less than six months. “Her boyfriend at the time bet her $100 she wouldn’t skydive. She took the bet, I was her instructor and we were married five months later.” Luckily, his new wife Joanie caught the thrill seeker bug. For the next 53 years, they built a marriage in the sky and on the ground.
Still working at 80, Guilfoyle writes owners’ manuals for boats made by Chris-Craft. Maybe a speedy dash across the water is thrilling enough to some, but Guilfoyle says that that free-fall is the “real freedom.”He is also an active member of Skydive Tampa Bay at Lake Wales, Florida, encouraging people of all ages to try skydiving. And if someone is too nervous to jump? “That’s their problem,” he says. You can hear the smile in his voice.
Then there’s Doyle Mann. Heights are not his idea of a thrill. “I’m not jumping out of no airplane,” he says. When he and his wife Natalie visited Chicago, Doyle gritted his teeth and backed onto the Sears Tower observation deck. He didn’t want to look.
But he rolled his wheelchair out onto the glass floor anyway, his back to downtown Chicago and four surrounding states.
“I’m not a thrill-seeker,” says Natalie, but she was the one who arranged the visit to the 103rd floor. She was also the one who made the arrangements for the underwater “motorcycle” in Cancun, and the scuba diving lessons and the trip to Italy. You might want to call her a thrill-enabler.
Doyle was born with spina bifida, a congenital disorder in the spinal column. He used braces to walk, but being stubborn he continued to shoot baskets and play baseball in a makeshift diamond in his yard in rural Tennessee.
When he was 16, a wheelchair-bound basketball player told him he could be faster and better in a wheelchair than he was on crutches or braces. Since then, Mann, in his wheelchair, has played tennis, racquetball and softball. He has competed in hand-cycle marathons, 5K races, and his first duathlon.
“I consider myself lucky,” Mann says, now 55. “There was no traumatic injury for me. This is all I’ve ever known.”
He’s used to it. Which might be why he doesn’t see being in a wheelchair as a deterrent to getting his thrills—from road races to negotiating the hills in San Francisco to scuba diving and bowling. “Being married to Doyle is like being a soccer mom to a grown-up,” says Natalie. “He makes me push my limits.”
What’s really thrilling to Doyle Mann? “Being successful. The fact that I can still do things like this at my age. It’s living life. I worked with a college kid a while back and he said people take life way too seriously. I learned from him—and from Natalie. I learned that I need to have fun.”
Pat Mastandrea, 60, shares a fear of heights with Doyle Mann, but that did not stop her from signing up for a thrill seekers charity event that involved rappelling down a 21-story skyscraper in Stamford, Connecticut. “Thrill? It’s more like terror,” she said before the event.
Mastandrea is founder and president of an executive search firm, and in the course of searching for the right candidate for a senior position, she met Gary Mendell, the founder of Shatterproof, a non-profit organization committed to transforming the way addiction is prevented and treated, as well as ending the stigma associated with it.
In the process she learned that Mendell’s son, Brian, suffered from addiction. 25-years-old and 13 months clean, he took his own life in 2011. “I was moved and impressed by Gary’s anguish, his story, his organization and the work necessary to publicize fund-raising events. He said I should do one of their fundraisers,” said Mastandrea, “and the next thing I knew, I’d signed up.”
So last October, Mastandrea was dangling from cables down the side of a skyscraper in Stamford, Connecticut, to raise money to help families who needed it. Afterward, she changed her tune. “Everybody’s got to do this with me next year!”
Apparently, she went from “terror” to “thrill.” “There’s something about personal challenges,” she says, “and the older you get, the more proud you are when you meet them.”
“I remember what goaded me to get serious about challenges,” said George Fox. He’s 50, and he remembers competing in Tough Mudder, a race that expects its competitors to, among other things, run 12 miles up and down Mt. Snow. “I heard some guys behind say, ‘Let’s get the old guy!’ and that was it. They weren’t going to get the old guy.”
Fox, handsome, lean and happy, is a watch designer. After years working for Timex, he started NFW, his own company with his own watches. Even with running NFW and being a good husband and dad to three kids, he finds time to feed his habit: Obstacle Course Races, currently the fastest growing sport in the world.
As an individual or as a team, OCRs involve running anywhere from 4 to 18 miles. Along the course are obstacles that test the racer’s mental and physical limits: scaling 11-foot walls, crawling through underground tunnels and mudpits underneath barbed wire which keeps the racer crawling face down in the mud, swimming through pools of ice-water, dodging hanging live electrical wires of 10,000 volts, hoisting yourself up 20-foot ropes, scaling hills with 40-lb sandbags on your shoulders. (Readers may take a breath here.)
Races like this run the gamut from the Warrior Dash—which is only 3-4 miles with fairly “easy” obstacles—to the Spartan Race with the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets, for those of you who don’t know). Fox had designed a watch for them. Then they invited him to run the race, and when he saw what was involved, he remarked, “Well, I guess if you don’t like the watches, you’re going to kill me.”
To get his thrills, Fox has to stay in shape, and as family man and corporate executive, he has to be creative about his workout schedule. “I often work out in the middle of the night. There’s the P90X video that I can do, something I learned about on TV during my son’s 3 a.m. feeding.”
All that training has to have some reward, and Fox has a list. “It’s fun,” he says, shaking his head, knowing that most of his listeners aren’t going to think some of this stuff is fun. “And you know you’ll never be left behind. It’s all about the team. Everyone helps each other. You even help a competitor when he needs help.”
And here’s where the thrill seeker part comes in. “It’s that feeling at the finish line,” says Fox. “You are invincible.” He’s grinning. “And they hand you a cold beer.”
There’s a place for all of us on the Thrill Seeker Continuum. Somewhere between finding a laughably priced precious item at a tag sale to wingsuit flying (don’t ask), there’s something that will give us that feeling of being alive, of meeting a challenge, of being successful.
Something that makes us all invincible.
By Sherri Daley