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New Guide Is Thrill a Minute : Resource for people who want to try daring sports also provides firsthand description for those who would rather read about them.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

It’s common practice for authors to do a public reading to mark the publication of a new book, but Erik Fair of Orange recently offered a new twist: he did his reading while dangling upside-down at the end of a bungee cord, his book in one hand and a megaphone in the other.

Leaping from a platform while attached to a set of elastic cords to promote a book is not as far-fetched as it sounds, at least in Fair’s case. Bungee-jumping is among the topics of Fair’s book, “California Thrill Sports” (Foghorn Press, $14.95), as are rock-climbing, white-water rafting and kayaking, hang-gliding, sky-diving and paragliding, hot-air ballooning and parasailing.

Fair said he had two main objectives in writing the book. One was to create a resource for people who might want to try any of the sports; the second was to provide plenty of firsthand description for any armchair thrill-seekers in the audience.

“Whether you do it or not, it makes no difference,” says Fair. The book “was purposefully written with no macho challenge. I’m not a very aggressive person, and I’m not a macho person.”

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Fair discovered hang-gliding in 1976 and became an instructor in the sport in 1980, abandoning a career as a social worker in the process. He has tried his hand at each of the nine sports he describes in the book, several of them for the first time within the last year, during his research.

“If you’re presuming to tell people what these things are like, you damn well better do it yourself,” Fair says.

Bungee-jumping was the most terrifying of the sports he tried. “Even as a 10-year hang-gliding veteran, when I jumped bungee I thought I was gonna die,” Fair says. With a licensed operator, the sport is no more dangerous than a roller coaster, he says, but “the disparity between perceived and real risk is enormous.”

During his first jump, he thought he was going to hit the ground.

“Thinking you’re going to die is the second-biggest thrill you can experience in life,” Fair says. “The biggest thrill you can experience comes a few seconds later, when you realize you’re going to live.”

The thrill is repeated with each bounce, six to eight times in less than 30 seconds, “and that’s special,” Fair says with a laugh. He describes the sensation as “quick, back-and-forth visits between heaven and hell.”

Fair divides the activities in the book into two camps, “rides of passage” and “leaps of faith.” The “rides of passage"--bungee-jumping, hot-air ballooning and parasailing (in which a passenger is fastened to a hang glider-like device and towed by a boat)--can be experienced quickly and with little instruction. “There’s not much investment in time or money,” Fair says.

“Leaps of faith,” on the other hand, require “some soul involvement and some time investment,” Fair says. White-water sports, hang-gliding, rock-climbing, sky-diving and paragliding all require at least some instruction to be safely enjoyed: “When you do these things,” Fair says, “you have to pay attention.”

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The appeal of all the pursuits has less to do with sparking an adrenaline rush than with altering everyday experience, Fair says. “It gives you unique ways to experience time, space and gravity. That’s the nut of the reward, as far as I’m concerned.”

Stepping back into his social worker mode, Fair says thrill sports also help “empower” people by giving them the means to “identify and manage risk . . . . It makes you feel good about yourself.”

In addition to describing the pursuits, “California Thrill Sports” lists companies that give instruction or operate activities. Fair also gives advice on “picking the right provider,” so that readers can “assume responsibility for their own safety.”

Says Fair, “There are real risks involved with these sports,” but they are “different and more manageable than the common perception.”

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Although he largely gave up hang-gliding in 1988, it remains Fair’s personal favorite of the pursuits outlined in the book, and an example of how such sports go beyond onetime thrills to something more soul-satisfying.

“When you land after that first flight, the world looks a little crisper and brighter,” he says. “It’s the closest thing to feeling like a bird that you’re ever going to experience in this lifetime.”

Another new book offers a resource of a different kind. “California Parks Access” (Cougar Pass Publishing Co., $19.95), by Linda and Allen Mitchell, is billed as “a complete guide to the state and national parks for visitors with limited mobility.”

The Escondido couple became interested in the subject after their son was injured in a car accident.

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“During that time we became aware of his needs,” says Linda Mitchell, and it soon became apparent that information on camping facilities for the disabled was entirely inadequate.

During a year of research, the Mitchells visited 276 parks in the state. They found that the wheelchair symbols used to denote special facilities in park guidebooks are not only inadequate, but they were often misleading. Some bathrooms fitted with facilities for users in wheelchairs are at the top of a set of stairs, for instance.

The main purpose of the book was to give outdoor enthusiasts with limited mobility the information they need to plan outings. In preparing the book, the writers worked with Mark Wellman, the paraplegic park ranger who made headlines by climbing the face of Half Dome in Yosemite, as well as a number of organizations that work for greater access to public facilities.

“California Park Access,” published in April, has been endorsed by the state Parks and Recreation Department. The book is geared to wheelchair users, although it also provides information of interest to readers with different limitations. The parks are rated on parking, picnic and camping areas, restrooms, showers, trails and other facilities. The steepness of ramps and approach roads is noted, where appropriate.

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Linda Mitchell said the point of the book is to provide usable information, without editorializing. The new beachfront campground at Doheny State Beach, for instance, is found to be well-designed for users in wheelchairs; Corona del Mar State Beach, however, is found to have “no accessible restrooms, drinking fountains or tables.”

Finally, a quick note about the classic Orange County trail guide, which was recently updated in the first new edition since 1985.

“Santa Ana Mountains Trail Guide” (Whale and Eagle Publishing Co., $7.95), by Kenneth S. Croker, was first published in 1976. The slim volume has helped many hikers discover the oft-overlooked joys of our local mountains; what’s more, Croker has done more than anyone to keep these areas accessible.

Since 1972, Croker has been helping to organize volunteer efforts to reopen and maintain neglected trails in the range, and even to build entirely new trails. One such project is the Lucas Canyon Trail in the San Mateo Canyon Wilderness, built by Croker and his teams of Sierra Club volunteers and included in the new edition of the trail guide.

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The guide can be difficult to find but is usually available at REI in Santa Ana. “California Thrill Sports” is available at REI, B. Dalton and Waldenbooks chains. “California Park Access” is carried by the B. Dalton and Waldenbooks chains.


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