So, you’re in Vegas and it’s 10 AM and you’re standing in a cloud of second-hand smoke on the casino floor. All around you, Midwesterners in tank tops drag their bloated bodies back and forth from one flashing machine to another, and no one is winning. And no one is smiling. Upstairs, everyone’s hungover or broke. Outside, it’s the same Mandalay Bay-to-Bellagio parade. The possibilities for the day in Vegas seem tired, perverse, and well, shitty. And you have two more days of this?
But here’s the thing: If you have the money and you don’t feel like painting the roulette table for hours, there are newer, better ways to get your rocks off in Sin City. You can actually get your adrenaline going by doing things—gasp—off the strip.
Recently, I was a guest of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, and they put me through the off-the-strip ringer. In three days, I drove a Ferrari 140 mph around a racetrack, shot machine guns inside a garage, piloted a stunt plane at 5 Gs, base jumped at 855 feet, and zip lined the Mojave Desert. My insides were no better off than if I did a three-day bender at Circus Circus, but I have way better photos and stories.
The morning at Dream Racing at Las Vegas Morning Speedway began with a red meat hangover courtesy of MGM’s Craftsteak, an instructional video, and then a turn-for-turn 3D simulation run with a professional racecar driver telling me when to shift, floor it, and stop closing my eyes. Then came the real-deal outfit, the head sock, the helmet, the obligatory Instagram photos, and the slow motion walk to my $250,000 Ferrari F430 GT. Soon, I’m blasting 140 MPH down the stretch, shifting and flooring the pedal, not thinking how the $499 for five laps breaks down per lap, per minute, per second. I just drove a Ferrari for the first time in my life, and I didn’t have to wash and wax it afterwards.
Later in the day we signed our lives away at Guns and Ammo Garage Shooting Experience where I chose a target starring a zombie attacking a woman from behind. I’m not a gun guy. Never have been. Even less so in the past year. So when I was given gun after gun after gun to spray down my zombie in the garage, I did it in hopes that every weapon would be the last. We shot AK-47s and other fire-breathing machine guns, and all I could think about was what the things were really made for. My left-wingedness finally trumped my graciousness, and I said goodbye, thank you, uh huh, so neat, no really, so neat.
But the highlight of the weekend, and the best reason to get you and your bachelor party off the strip, is what’s going on at Sky Combat Ace. After an almost-efficient deal of training, for $999, one can fly like a fighter-stunt pilot for 55 minutes. And by that, I mean, you take the controls and do loops and barrel rolls and hammerheads and tumbles and whatever else the real pilot behind you teaches you to do—literally—on the fly. And then, in the middle of it all, you get to have your very own dog fight where you pull an electronic trigger when the other plane is in your sites, and if you hit him, the bad guy’s aircraft lets off a plume of smoke as if it’s going down. I squared off against another journo, and it was actually up to me to chase him down, taking 5-G turns that made my stomach kiss my throat (and the plane stall in mid-air). Some how, some way, I got out of his range by looping completely upside down like I knew what I was doing. I suddenly found myself behind him, like I was Ice Man or Hollywood or George Dubya dreaming in a bathtub between paintings. I took the shot, smoke plumed, and I won. For ‘Merica, or whatever.
After that, we hit the Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower. I was feeling lucky after kicking ass as an amateur pilot, and if I was going to bet all my chips on black at any moment, this was the time. But we were ushered to the roof in a whole new get-up, and then asked to jump 855 feet—the equivalent of 108 floors—out the window and onto a target. The SkyJump, they call it. The wind was screaming that evening, so much so that they almost pulled the plug for the day, but I stepped into the abyss and closed my eyes. Now, I’ve never jumped higher than the third rung on a ladder, so even though I was connected to a high-speed “descender,” it felt like I was jumping to my doom. For the first five seconds, at least. Then it felt as if I could fly.
The weekend was capped with 1.5 miles of zip lining over the Mojave Desert with FlightLinez, led by a group of goofy-yet-professional guys who strap you in and give you a little shove. From the 3,800-foot summit of Red Mountain, you can see the strip, Lake Mead, and the new Hoover Dam bridge. On the first of four runs, you drop 450 feet in 15 seconds, and from there on out it’s smooth sailing.
So, the next time your cousin or college buddy invites you to Vegas and you start to feel all empty inside, know that there are alternatives to the gambling, the gawker pools, and the creepy mini New York City facades. There are Ferraris to drive and stunt planes to pilot and deserts to zip line over and buildings to jump off. These are much better ways to feel lucky.