This may line up as one of the most exciting weeks of my life. The world premiere of our film, 500 Miles to Nowhere gets screened at the Banff Mountain Film Festival; Will Gadd and myself have been nominated as the National Geographic Adventurers of the Year for our Rocky Mountain Traverse; and last week the announcement that I’ve been waiting for months to hear finally came out. I’ve been chosen to compete in this year’s Red Bull X-Alps, lauded as the hardest adventure race on Earth. 1,000 kilometers across the Alps by foot and paraglider, from Salzburg to Monaco. When I first got into paragliding back in 2006 I heard about the X-Alps and watched that year’s race (2007) hanging from my harness, literally glued to my laptop screen as colored lines attached to mythical pilots moved west across mountains that I’d only dreamt of someday flying.
A lot has happened since those early days. Many of those mythical pilots are now my friends. The alps have almost become a second home. I keep the Niviuk mobile there year-round, and I’ve flown many of the lines that only a couple years ago seemed impossible. But the task at hand is honestly terrifying. I’m not a spring chicken. I’ve got horrible knees, damaged goods from years of competitive ski racing. If the weather is bad during the race, as it was this July in the Alps the top guys are pounding out a couple of marathons a day in terms of distance. No one runs, but they move very fast for 17 hours a day. Day after day after day. I can’t run five miles before my knees start talking loudly to me. By 10 miles they are screaming.
So a few months ago I brought on a physical trainer, a good friend named Ben Abruzzo, who owns a Cross Fit gym in Albuquerque, is an ex-military bad-ass and trains ultrathon runners and elite athletes. My ask: can you get me prepped to pound out 80-100 km a day, day after day without killing my knees carrying my paraglider? I have always had a weird attraction to pain. I don’t mind misery, don’t mind suffering. But I’m not going to ruin two pretty important joints for one race. Ben said if we do it right, there’s a chance. The training is going well. I can’t beat Chrigel in the air. No one can. And compared to most of the guys in the race I’m considerably smaller and even though I’ve flown a lot in the Alps, I will never have the local experience that the Euro pilots do. In short, the odds are not stacked in my favor.
Which suits me just fine.
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