Wednesday, August 12, 2009

x-alps statement and more details

It has now been a few weeks since the completion of the Red bull X-Alps, and it has given us time to reflect and write this blog.

We are having a great time here in Germany. We are all recovered, no more dreams of having to get up to get ready for the next hike, where will we take off and what route will we go. The kids love it, Penny is settling in to the "local lifestyle", I have high speed Internet and am able to work from here without any problems, the beer is good and cheap, so everything is just pefect.

The main question I am hearing, is if I would go for the 2011 x-alps again?
I am very happy with my 13th place finish this year. I did have a good chance to be in the top 10, if I would have choosen the "North Route", as I was sitting in 9th spot with 48 hours to go. The weather seemed to be in favour for the north the days I was traveling through that section, but had already positioned myself in the south. The "South Route" did have a lot of wind and it was hard to gain distance. It is not that the north or south route is better, it all depends on the wind and weather at the time you are there. Christian Maurer (winner) took the "South Route" and Alex Hofer (2nd) the "North Route" and both where very successful in both areas. It is just how you hit it, and being in the right place at the right time.

The major aspect that seperates the top pilots from the middle and end of the pack is the skill level of these pilots and some of them, being from around here, have a lot of local knowlege. The top finishers are exceptional pilots though, are in a class of their own, and did take more risks than I did. If I would go for the next x-alps, I would have to spend at least 2 months with a motor glider (motor sail plane) to really explore the whole route and fly it several times to get more familiar with the area and different valleys and landing areas. I also think the next x-alps, you will see more professional mountain guides as supporters, as had Christian Maurer.

Another important point is if I/we are willing, and able, to to free up the necessary time for training and also the time for the training in Europe. Further more, it is a matter of money as well. This race cost us more then $20.000. We were able to raise $10.000 at our fund raiser, but our personal costs exceeded $10.000. Thanks a lot to everyone again who came out to support us and spend money at the BBQ and on silent auction items. This obviously was such a huge help to us. We had a couple product sponsors too, (which I will mention in a bit) who helped us as well. The biggest expenses are the airplane tickets, car rental costs, gas, shoes and hiking boots. (I had about 12 pairs of shoes & boots through training and the race), phone, internet costs during the race (checking google earth, routes etc), maps, GPS, light weight equipment, and the wing, not to mention the time you are not working.
We got the wing for about $3000 from Nova. I was very happy with the wing as it certainly was better then most wings in glide. Ogi even thinks that the Triton is pretty close in glide with his Bommerang. Very good from the performance perspective and even better if you look at the saftey aspect as the large Triton is rates as a EN "C" wing.

Vincene Muller with sponsored me with the Apco "ChairBag" harness. This is a very comfortable harness. The reserve is under the seat and the harness is reversable and very light. For the race I ended up with the SupAir Altirando XP which I got sponosred from SupAir. The reason why I chose this harness over the Apco is because the backpack is developed by mountaineers, is extremely comfortable and perfect for the hiking I had to do. I did not once have sore sholders during the race. The harness also has an optional leg fairing (pod) and an additional bag which can be mounted on top of the backpack. The backpack itself is very large and easily fit in my large triton, helmet, and other gear.

Craft clothing line, who sponsored me with clothing, has such an excellent line of clothing for active sports people. I used a sweater which was perfect for warmth around the neck, which is so important, and at the same time it drew the sweat off my body, and believe me I was sweating!! Very impressive is their underwear. I wore this during night time hiking, and again, your body never stays wet from sweating, you stay warm, but do not over heat either. It is hard to explain, but it certainly is different from what I have used in the past. Once you use the "Craft" line of clothing, you will not use anyting else.

Ark'teryx supplied me with a light Gore Tex jacket and pants which I used as my fly gear. The pants and jacket together, weigh only 590 grams. I did not have to use the pants too often though as the leg fairing of the harness (pod) was so good and kept me very warm. The jacket was awesome, keeping all air and wind out, keeping me very warm.

Another sponsorship which I was very grateful for was the "MBT" shoes. During training, I tried a number of different styles, and found the best for me, and the best for the different conditions I would be in. The shoes made it possible to walk long distances, on the pavement and on some hikes, without any pain and too much blistering. I had no problems with my knees, as I had in the 2007 X-alps, and by the end of the race, all I had was swollen feet, swollen achilles and a couple blisters. I would say this is normal with the kind of walking and hiking we ended up doing! I did not use any regular runners, only the MBT hiker, runner or sandal, or a solid hiking boot.

I would like to mention a few people I met because of the x-alps and have become very good friends with. Thanks to Till Gottbrath (Team Nova leader and owner of KGK) who connected me with Craft, Ark'teryx and with Garmin. His connections helped me get these product sponsors. Thanks also, and again to, Michael Phol (one of the best Austrian x-country pilots and super nice guy). Michael helped me in route planning and took time off to meet and fly with me before the race. Mik Broschart, simply a super nice guy, who was always there to help any way he could. Lloyd Pennicuik and Lewis Nott - Team Australia, who I spent some time with before the race and found that we were together quite a lot during the race. And of course, our great friend, Frank Kernick - 2007 supporter, who convinced me to go me into the x-alps, who helped raise funds to cover some of the expenses, sponsored me by paying for some expenses and joined me in Europe for a week prior to the race to check out the Frensh Alps.

Since the race, we have done a few presentations about the event, with information from the preparations (training, nutrition, logistics), the race itself, and the variety of equipment we used. Please feel free to drop me an e-mail if you have any questions.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The race is over

The race is over ... Not quite for our minds yet.
Our bodies are almost recovered and we are already catching up with work and getting things organized. 

The race was very intense and it was impossible to update this blog. We updated our race blog at the Check it out, there you can read others and see a gallery of photos and videos as well.  

I have to say that I had a lot of fun doing the x-alps adventure with Penny this time. Not that Frank was a bad supporter for the 2007 x-alps. Actually he was way easier and more human with me than Penny was. To be a supporter and a team for the x-alps is a huge test on your friendship and partnerships. We have seen some teams never talk to each other after the race, and on the other hand, it connects can also connect an amazing bond. As you all know, Frank and I are still very good friends and now Penny and I are even talking about marriage!!! Whew

I know that a lot of you want to know how we are doing and want to hear about what happened during the race. Most questions are:
How was it?
What was so special about it?
Would you do it again?

Here is in short was I/we think about it:

I have to admit, having my kids and Penny as my partner is still the most exciting adventure of all. But following in excitement right behind is the x-alps. What makes it so unique is that you are so fully involved 24/7 for numerous days on end. Nothing in the outside world even filters into your mind, work, kids, news, rumours. For both myself and Penny, we realized the focus we had and the concentration you have on the moment, you are absorbed in everything about the race. You do know the overall plan for the race, in where and how to go, but being able to do it physically, you need to concentrate on the moment you are in and this allows you to push the limits of physical stress or fly in conditions you never would fly in.
If someone tells you that you only can sleep 2-4 hours a day and have to hike up to 4000 meter in elevation or 50 km or further distances a day, for 12 days without a shower or bath, everyone would say you are crazy. The most amazing part is how the power of your mind can allow your body to do it.
As an example, one day I started hiking at 3:30 am, almost fell asleep walking along the road at 6:00 am, but Penny gave me a Red bull and I was a new person!! Then was flying at 11:00 in lee thermals while we had plus 100 km/hr winds build up behind the mountain. Eventually I got flushed down and managed to land in very steep and alpine terrain in the dolomite's, hiked over another pass (1000m elevation gain) and decided at 5:00 pm to hike up the 3300m Marmolada Glacier and rock climb in 120km/hr winds and to be down at 10pm in time for a pub to still be open and feed us spaghetti and beer. All this in one day and we were out there for a total of 12 days or so ( I already forgot how long it was) This was also one of two meals we were able to eat in a town at a restaurant!
Out of this ordeal, all I had was a couple blisters at my toes, heels and hands. I had swollen feet and archilles tendon which is all good again.

I am more amazed how Penny did all she did. She kept the van clean, had my bed ready when it was needed, got up an hour before I got up to have breakfast ready and the morning worked out, worked on the computer checking other athletes routes and updates on weather, had all the technical details in order, cooked, and made sure I have all the liquids and gear I needed and to top it off, she hiked all the mountains with me and most of the peaks to help carry up gear and supplies. Ask her how much her backpack weighed and she will tell you at least 30lbs of extra gear, food and water - she was probably right. Where ever I flew down, she hiked back down, up to 2500m elevation differences, and  somehow found time to stop in at a grocery store to restock, and then catch up to me again. Most amazing part is that she always had a smile in her face and was still talking as much as usual and what you know of her.

Now would we do it again?
Hard to say, It is an amazing adventure. The competition is extremely strong (Paragliding World champions and world cup winners) and the main benefit to most of the Europeans is that they know the alps and routes very well. They had alternate route plans and take off sites dependent on weather conditions, winds and time of day. Most of them are extremely good pilots and willing to take huge amounts of risk in how they fly and where they fly. To compete with these kind of guys is very hard. If I would do it again, I would have to spend at least the same time in physical training as I did for this race and next time I would travel the route for 2 month with a motor glider (sail plane).
It is too soon for me to make a decision on whether I would go through all this again. We still have some some time to think about it.

Even though my body's aches and pains and feet are back to normal, and the fatigue has diminished, we are both still having "nightmares" about where to launch, how is the weather, what are the valley winds doing, have we over-slept. It still takes both of us a couple minutes to realize where we are and that the race is actually over. We have both enjoyed a few flights this week.............hiking up 800m elevation gain, even when there was a perfectly good gondola right above our heads!!
We want to thank so many of you for helping us getting to this race. All your support at our fundraiser was incredible. It is a huge undertaking and a huge expense, and with your support helped make it a reality for us. And thank you too for all your comments on our guest book. I am sorry we didn't have time to respond, but we enjoyed reading them when we found a moment.

Max & Penny