In 2009 your host was about half way through a second circumnavigation when he was suddenly confronted with a rather daunting task- sailing from Bali to Langkawi, Malaysia (1500 nautical miles) across the two busiest shipping lanes on Earth (the Java Sea and the Malacca Straits) solo. This is an area of the world that is not only like a freeway on the ocean with enormous ships and fishing vessels moving at high speed it’s also famous for the worst electrical storms on the planet.
This year’s Red Bull X-Alps, if you could put it in a word- scary. We didn’t have a single “standard” day of flying with light wind, nice cumulus, and good base, unless you count the Prologue! We had incredible heat the first three days, low base, wind and stable conditions, then the thunderstorms started, strong Fohn from the South and North, window-breaking hail, severe lightning and really, really strong wind for the remainder of the race. Every athlete I spoke with at the awards at the end had a look of just going to battle. For the first time in my four races, the bad weather got everyone, regardless of where you were on the course, and it didn’t let up. There were times when all 12 pairs of my shoes were soaked. After a good showing in the Prologue and going into the race pretty beat up from a crash at the end of May, and carrying the remainder of a flu into the race, which later turned into some kind of pneumonia (we’re not sure, but it was ugly!) and having a terrifically bad start, Team USA 1 started clawing back.
A few months ago I interviewed Bastienne Wentzel about her book “Paragliding, The Beginner’s Guide” and at the end of the interview Bastienne turned things around and interviewed me for her magazine about the upcoming X-Alps, my history in flying, preparing for this campaign vs previous campaigns, why learning is so addicting, flying and family, making a living through flying (sort of!), the book (Advanced Paragliding), why the X-Alps and flying itself is so addicting (and could it be without the risk?), comparing the Alaska Traverse and the X-Alps, what the spectators miss in the race, the most memorable days, how to eat for the race, dealing with the physical trauma, the wonderful impact of the fans and a lot more.
In all my years of flying I’ve never been so excited for a new wing to arrive. With the 2021 Red Bull X-Alps getting close I’ve been thrilled with what I’ve heard from Niviuk’s test pilots and their lead designer Olivier Nef; and the photos I’ve seen on social media have displayed an extraordinarily profile, but you never know until you have it in your hands and take her for a spin.
The Red Bull X-Alps is a year of serious endeavor. Physical training. Flying as much as possible, especially in tricky conditions. Tightening up the game. Packing fast, moving fast, thinking fast. Assembling the team, getting all the tech dialed (this is endless in itself), the preparation and planning never ends. And then FINALLY 11 am arrives on the first day of the race in Salzburg and all of that is behind you and for the next 11+ days you have an adventure that is nearly impossible to articulate. It’s heaven a lot of the time and it’s also hell some of the time. And it’s everything inbetween.
In this episode we turn the tables a bit and I get interviewed by Nik Hawks, who followed the race closely and had a bunch of questions for me. Why did we pull the nightpass the first night? What mistakes were made? What did we learn from the 2015 race that came in handy this time? That bomb-out on day three when we were in such a strong position- what happened and what were the consequences? This and a lot more.
The Red Bull live tracking is great, but it misses out on all the behind-the-scenes and in this talk we dive into what the fans don’t get to see. We talk training, supplements, our decision on using the nightpass the first night, mistakes made, good moves, dicey launches, crazy weather and how the 2017 race was the most brutal yet. In 12 days I did 16 1/2 marathons, climbed the height of Everest 4 times (34,000 meters of vertical ascent), flew over 1,000 km- and I was still 308 km from goal! Only two athletes made it, Chrigel Maurer won for his 5th straight time, and rookie Benoit Outers made it in just before the time expired. 5 athletes were eliminated and 7 withdrew due to injury or exhaustion.
The 2017 Red Bull X-Alps was the hardest yet- a very difficult course and extremely poor flying weather. 5 athletes were eliminated and 7 withdrew due to exhaustion or injury and only two made it to Monaco. The race ended after 11 days and 23 hours. Here are some clips from Day 8, 9, and 10 that highlight how amazing the journey can be, and some of the crazy situations you find yourself dealing with (like landing in a tree!).
Here we go! Less than 24 hours until the race starts. I don’t have time for a proper blog post but just wanted to share the stoke from TEAM USA 1. When all the training is going down for months on end you never think the day will arrive. But now it finally has. The weather for day 1 looks pretty terrible but then things look to greatly improve. It’s the longest and by far the hardest course yet and I think this one is going to break some of the athletes and we’re going to see a lot of different and interesting routes and a lot of lead changes.