This weekend I had a quick catch up with Dawn who arrived in Europe on May 5th.
How is training going? Training is going well, a good mix of flat road hiking, hills, upper body training (via ferratas!), and flying. With only a couple of weeks to go now I am starting to taper…better to be too rested than over trained.
How do you feel physically? Physically I am ready for the race to start. Bring it on!
How do you feel mentally? Is it as you imagined? Mentally I am a lot more confident than before we arrived. Being able to see the terrain, fly it, hike it has been perfect. Now I know what is coming and I know the fastest routes on the ground and in the air.
Have you been training with the other teams, how is that? We traveled for a few days with Dave Turner and his supporters, which was fun. We were able to help each other out by comparing notes and checking out the maps for the area.
Are you feeling a lot of pressure as only one of two women in the event? No, I don’t feel too much pressure. Well, I may be lying about that, as I think everyone in the race is feeling a lot of pressure! But I’m going in with the idea that I’m competing against myself. As long as I do the best I can then I will be satisfied.
What are you thinking about when you go to sleep each night? I’m sleeping pretty well at night, actually. I’m trying to store up a little although I know I can’t do that. I think since I spend a lot of the day thinking about the race, I can let it go at night and sleep well.
Describe how you feel in three words about the race starting in just two weeks. Let’s start tomorrow!
Big thanks to Dawn for taking the time to chat and Good Luck!
I’ll be arriving in Salzburg in a weeks time with the Powertraveller team who are partners of this years event – we will be following the race and supporting the athletes for their off-grid power needs. New for this years race is the Powertraveller Prologue Race – on the 2nd July the athletes will take part in a mini X-Alps completing a triangle around Fuschl Am See, amongst the mountains made famous in the classic film – The Sound of Music! Unlike the race itself the Powertraveller Prologue will allow fans to be really close to the action for the entire duration. The first three athletes to finish will earn a five-minute head start in the main race and they will also win an additional Led Lenser Nightpass to journey through the night, which is going to make things very interesting!
With little over six weeks to go before the start of the Red Bull X-Alps the athletes are preparing for the race of their lives. With it’s reputation as the toughest adventure race in the world the Red Bull X-Alps covers a straight line distance of just over 1000km, from Salzburg to Monaco, which must be covered by foot or by paraglider.
As proud partners of the event the team at Powertraveller (who provide the ultimate off grid power solutions and who I am an ambassador for) are getting excited about following this epic journey. Each athlete has been given a Powermonkey Explorer 2 – the toughest portable charger providing off grid power whenever they need it; which could be above the mountain tops while flying high or in the depths of a valley running in the rain.
We’ve loved getting to know some of the athletes and getting their invaluable feedback about the Powermonkey Explorer 2 and of course while we support and are cheering on every team in the event Steve Nash and Richard Bungay, Team GBR, have a special place in our hearts!
No stranger to this event Steve Nash competed in the 2011 Red Bull X-Alps so he knows precisely what he’s in for. At 52 he will be the oldest athlete in the race but with age comes experience and a solid foundation of fitness and skill. He has flown from the Vallot hut at 4,362m on Mt Blanc, from the summit of Elbrus and from 6,200m on Peak Lenin in Kyrgyzstan and he’s vol-bivvied across the Pyrenees during his 20 plus years of paragliding cross county. With a reputation of being a running machine and doing mountain marathons for over 10yrs Steve completed the 119km Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc TDS race with 7,250m of ascent in an impressive time of 26hrs 5mins.
In his day job Steve is an engineer but now in training mode he’s taken a break from work and is in training full time. He recently completed a Hike & Fly of the 15 peaks (3000ft mountains) in Snowdonia, Wales. He took 10 hrs 18 mins to complete the challenge (44k with 3404m height gain) and it seems that this is the first time anyone has done this using a paraglider. Currently Steve is in the Alps for a month to do a thorough X-Alps route recce and when we asked how he’s feeling about the upcoming X-Alps he had this to say…
“Since selection in October, my whole existence has been focused to the start of the Red Bull X-Alps on the 5th July. I’ve been in the Alps now for 3 weeks traveling the route, exploring options and talking to anyone and everyone who has ‘local knowledge’ of the areas. Richard has joined me to spend another week in the Austrian section, where we will fine tune all of our equipment and routines. We now feel very familiar with the 2015 route and both look forward to a very expensive cup of tea in the Cafe de Paris in Casino Square.”
Last week I headed to Salzburg to the famous Hangar 7 to attend a press launch revealing the route for the 2015 Red Bull X-Alps race.
Known for being the toughest adventure race in the world, the race sees athletes cover a distance of over 1000km, by foot or by paraglider, from Salzburg to Monaco.
During the race athletes must pass certain designated turn points and this dictates the route. For 2015 there will be 10 turn points, through 6 countries covering 1038km.
This year also sees the brand new one day Powertraveller Prologue race. On the 2nd July the athletes will take part in a mini X-Alps completing a triangle around Fuschl Am See. Unlike the race itself the Powertraveller Prologue will allow fans to be really close to the action for the entire duration. The first three athletes to finish will earn a five-minute head start in the main race and they will also win an additional Led Lenser Nightpass to journey through the night. The night pass could be a game changer and have a significant impact on the race results.
Attending the route announcement were four of the Red Bull X-Alps athletes.
Chrigel Maurer (SUI1) winner of the previous three races and race record holder (last year he finished the race in 6 days 23hrs and 40mins!). Chrigel told me that whilst the route isn’t much longer he thinks it will be much harder, especially if the weather is bad. I wondered if now he knew the route he would change his training plan but he said not, that the weather now will be very different to July and so there would be no real advantage. Maurer told me that he uses a process to train that works for anywhere in the world – the process is “to learn what is needed to continue. So taking small steps using the map, a weather forecast and feeling”.
I asked him if he was feeling pressure to win because of his previous race domination and he said, “I feel pressure because I broke my leg and the big question is how it will work in the summer”. He continued, “my head is fast like last summer but my leg is slow and I hope I can perform like last year, I believe I can still be fast. There are also many new athletes this year, 22 new teams, and we don’t know how they will do, maybe they have some new ideas and will be much faster, this we have to accept and to know it can happen and react smart – that will be the challenge.”
Not the only one with leg troubles, Italian athlete Aaron Durogati (ITA) and his team mate Ondrej Prochazka were also there – both recovering from broken legs! Aaron, now well recovered told me about his Italian diet and said he can easily eat half a kilo of pasta! “…but it must be gluten free with just olive oil.” He smiled and looked over to team mate Ondrej ” he has to cook a lot of pasta because I don’t like energy gels too much, I prefer real food.”
I was excited to get the chance to meet Yvonne Dathe (GER2) – one of the two women in the race this year – there hasn’t been a woman in the X-Alps for 10 years!
I asked her what her first reaction was when she found out she had been accepted into the X-Alps, “oh god!” was her reply with a big smile! “I think it’s a big challenge and I want to do my best, concentrating on having my own race.”
Yvonne told me, “I think women have the same chances as men although less enter because they are fearful. I hope to send a positive message to other women and more will get involved.”
Local pilot Paul Guschlbauer (AUT1) was also there, he’s been training harder than ever before and several people suggested that he would for sure be one to watch this year!
As the press launch came to an end Hannes Arch, the race mastermind summarised…
“The race will be fast if there is good weather and good thermals. This is the 7th edition of the X-Alps and more than ever the athletes are learning and developing in every detail of the race. One thing is for sure, every year there can be big surprises and the organisers are usually one step behind!”
The sky was grey but the storm had passed, it was moving South and as luck would have it I had just flown North. Waiting at Sacramento airport I pondered what it was going to be like meeting ‘The Honza’.
The Red Bull X-Alps in July 2015 will be the 39 year old’s 5th time in the race. Understanding more about the event it’s little wonder it has gained itself the title, the world’s toughest adventure race. Athletes must travel a straight line distance of 1000km by foot or by paraglider from Salzburg to Monaco.
The bar is raised every year, Maurer – who won last years race in a record 6 days 23 hours – with his bird like instincts has taken the competition to another level. For Honza, of course another podium finish would be incredible but his ultimate challenge, yet to be realised, is to reach goal in Monaco. There’s a rule that means once the winner is in goal, the race stops after two days (as long as the overall race finishes in no less than 12 days). His best result was 3rd in 2009 but he’s never made the finish.
I heard a voice shouting “Squash!” there was a tall, athletic looking man in shorts (it was freezing!) with long hair scraped back into a pony tail, it was Honza. I headed his way. As I approached the car I saw a blond haired little boy smiling and looking up at me, “that’s my son, Martin. I just picked him up from school.” said Honza as he took my bag from me, lifting all 23kgs in one hand like it was weightless.
In the front of the car was a huge black spider, “I made it for Halloween.” Martin told me. I admired the spider, especially all the glitter and jewels it was decorated with.
There’s nothing like a child to break the ice and bring the conversation down to basics. We soon covered our ages and what had been going on at school that day. “Usually I pick Martin up from school and run home with him on my shoulders, then run back to collect the car” said Honza. Immediately I was getting a glimpse into how this guy makes his training work with a young family.
I’d got lucky being able to meet Honza in person. I was in LA and had a weekend to spare before flying home, I contacted him to see if we could meet up for a hike and fly and it just so happened I’d picked the weekend before Honza and his family were departing for Chile – where they spend Christmas. It only gave us a day though, I arrived on Friday evening, we had Saturday and I was leaving again on Sunday morning.
On arrival at Honza’s home I met his lovely wife Barbara and Martin showed me to my room, his room, which he was kindly letting me stay in. Honza told me about the stunning images that were hung on the walls. Many were taken in Chile, where Honza has recently built a cabin, a place for all his family to go to and where he hopes to be able to spend more and more time flying and enjoying the outdoors. The cabin looks out onto the volcano Villarrica where Honza carried out much of the practical side of his Meteorology degree. He said that’s the reason he was in such good shape for the first X-Alps – he hiked up and down it many times that year.
Dinner was a team effort. Honza, Barbara and Martin were all involved. Martin was wielding a kitchen knife to cut the mushrooms and I watched, impressed by the five year old’s competency, as he sliced and chopped. It was a lovely evening. I was made to feel very welcome. Barbara smiled, saying that she was happy I was there to go and hike and fly with Honza as it would give her the day off, telling me, she loves cities but a city break isn’t something that happens too often. “Honza never ever, ever stops. We are always, hiking and camping and doing something active. These days if he’s moving too fast we try and weigh him down with Martin and all the camping equipment!” She joked.
After dinner, nervous of just what ‘a hike’ with Honza might entail I was conscious a good nights sleep was needed. Honza and I packed our kit for the next morning. We’d leave early.
We really had got lucky with the weather, the storm had passed when I arrived and Saturday was the only day with no rain and light winds forecast. I rose just after 6am, Honza was already up and playing with Martin. He told me that he’s usually up around 5am as he prefers to get to work early so he can leave in time to collect Martin and do the school run! His day job, as an atmospheric scientist, was a compromise, Honza wanted freedom but also had a family to think about. The flexible hours, being able to work outdoors and going on trips that were conducive to paragliding when he’d finished for the day made it a good compromise.
Our plan for the day was to head to San Francisco, grab a couple of photos at the Golden Gate bridge and then hike up and around Mt Tamalpais with a view to flying if the weather played ball.
We soon reached a road block, the storms had caused land slides and the roads to the car parks on Mt Tam were closed. Honza thought for a few seconds, turned the car around and we headed to Stinson beach. “We’ll hike from here, it’s better training anyway going from the bottom, and then we’ll land on the beach near the car if we can fly.”
It turned out to be a brilliant plan, the road blocks meant most people had simply turned around so not only did we have a beautiful hike but we had the entire place to ourselves. Wasting no time we hopped out of the car and Honza began organising the most incredible amount of food and water. He had supplies that would have kept us going for days. I looked at him, slightly puzzled and asked how long was this hike we would be going on? He laughed and said, “I know, I know, I have way too much.” He then explained that he had ‘Ruwenzori Syndrome’. “Back in 1991 my family and I did a week long backpacking trip in the Ruwenzori mountians in Uganda, my brother and I felt that we didn’t have enough food and so it’s been an inside family joke that ever since we take too much.”
We left the car and set off, uphill, towards take off. Despite being known for and openly admitting that he doesn’t like social media or attention it was clear that, after less than 24hrs with Honza, it wasn’t because he’s shy or doesn’t like talking. In fact he’s the opposite, Honza has plenty to say, he’s generous and thoughtful in conversation and has a willingness to share information. He just doesn’t see the point in wasting so much time interacting with a screen when there is so much to be done… outside, that’s real. And he’s got a point.
As we hiked up and up I tried to ask questions which required a long answer. The more talking Honza did, the better I was able to keep up with him!
We reached a take off. There was an option to go higher to another one, but we both agreed we should take advantage of the conditions right now and go for this opportunity to fly. We looked out to a tree on the beach, it was the landing zone marker, and discussed a flight plan, with the standard back up ‘if in doubt, fly straight out and head for the beach’.
I was running through my final checks and Honza was set up next to me waiting for me to go. He would take off after me. What an honour it was to be sharing the sky with this man. A Red Bull X-Alps athlete! I took a deep breath, using the fear that is always present every time I fly to focus, I waited for the moment and went for it. Commitment to a take off is as vital as fuel is to a jet plane. You won’t get off the ground without it. I was in lift immediately. It was perfect conditions for flying.
Honza took off straight after I was in the air and found lift, he went higher and higher. I wasn’t so bold and played safe, soon heading out towards the ocean and a very satisfying beach landing. I looked up for Honza, he’d reached cloud base! I was delighted he was having such a good flight and wondered if I’d been too quick to head for the landing when there was clearly lift to be had.
I packed up my glider, sat on a chunk of driftwood and looked out to the ocean.
Honza landed with a smile as wide as his glider! He had been up to cloud base, which unbeknown to me was almost unheard of in this flying location. It was now after lunch time and rather than a stop for lunch we decided to eat while we hiked and try and get in another flight.
I asked Honza about food. I wondered if he had a strict plan or followed a particular diet. “Not really” he answered. I wasn’t surprised. Having already covered this topic when I met Red Bull athlete Tom De Dorlodot I had a feeling they would have a similar theory about food…. and training for that matter. These guys don’t separate their everyday life from their training. This is what they do, it’s who they are. The most important thing for them is to listen to their bodies. Honza said for the X-Alps itself he had figured out a diet that worked well for him during the race. He had juice soaked chai seeds for breakfast, an egg sandwich once he’d got going, energy gels during the day and quinoa with veg/meat in the evening and plenty of water.
By the time we reached take off again the wind was coming over the back and it was impossible to take off, so we continued our hike. There was another take off higher up but the chances of flying now were very slim. Wandering up through the woods we came across a banana slug! It was huge. Honza suggested I took a photo of it next to the powermonkey explorer 2 so that you could get an idea of its size.
The powermonkey is not only a brilliant portable, waterproof and tough power solution that can be used to show the size of slugs, it’s also the reason I got to meet Honza in the first place. Powertraveller, who make the product are partners of the Red Bull X-Alps 2015 and as their ambassador I have the wonderful job of getting to meet the people who are using the kit and work alongside them to understand their needs and how the product can be the best it can be. I asked Honza for a photo of him with his new powermonkey explorer 2. I said, “you can do what you like in the photo” not thinking for a minute he’d find the nearest rock and back flip off it! But that’s what he did!
We reached the higher take off and the sun was beginning to set. The wind was still coming over the back and we both agreed at least we’d been lucky enough to get one good flight that day, inwardly, obviously, both not wanting to hike back down. We didn’t rush to start walking, instead we wandered around and stalled… hoping the wind might die down. It did! Not quite believing our luck we had our gliders out and wasting no time I ran as hard and fast as I could in order to make the nil wind (bordering on slight downhill wind) take off. Once airborne I knew there was still a chance of not making the beach, there was no lift at all and a ridge and trees to clear before it was a glide to the landing tree on the beach. I lifted my legs high, as if that would make any difference!! and focused on judging the ridge, could I make it? I was at the point of no return, I held my breath as I cleared the trees and looked behind to see Honza was right there. It was a magical flight – ocean, beach, a sunset and Honza. There I was with The Honza!
We drove back to Sacramento, both elated from the perfect day we’d had. We’d managed to time it so well with the weather. Martin was pretty exhausted when we got back. He and Barbara had been at a party and he needed to go to bed. He assured me though he would show me his moves on the trampoline before I left in the morning.
Martin wasn’t the only one tired that night, I was pretty tired too. I suspect, for Honza, it was a very easy day, but we were both happy with getting two flights.
In the morning we were up at 6am again. Honza and Martin took me on a tour of the neighbourhood, Martin on his bike and Honza and I ran. Honza thought it would be good if I got some movement in before my day of travel that lay ahead. We ate fresh fruit from the trees, tomatoes from the garden and stopped for a game of frisbee in the park. Back at the house Barbara had made pancakes – it was a good job we’d been out running afterall!
I was all packed and ready to leave when Martin remembered the trampoline, we rushed out for a quick display and then I left for the airport.
It was, even by my standards, a whirlwind trip, but in less than 48hrs I was able to get to know Honza and his family just a little bit and to understand the man they call ‘The Honza’.
Before I met him, a friend of his described him to me…
“His loyalty goes beyond reason. He doesn’t fall to group ideas because he is his own man. He would be the unknown Samari of the sky without the X-Alps. He is the paragliding bum turned into respectable family man. He truly believes the X-Alps is the perfect game. He believes in earning the right to compete and has the up most respect for guys who get the Red Bull ride. His concern for fellow athletes is more powerful then his desire to win and he of course gets caught up in the excitement of the race. To him the race is as real as life and to not give your all, to not go to the wall and beyond it is just plain disrespectful to the whole concept. He knows you win nothing real, but to race without honour, to cheat or to not go into it with your full passion and heart is an insult. He will do his best to race and focus on trying to beat the next closest guy until its over. Even when its over he is wishing it would go on. He is a true vol bivy spirit. A true X-Alper. He does it for the passion he has for racing and flying. One of the few who enjoys a punishing hike against the clock always, as a measure of fun.”
Known as the world’s toughest adventure race, held every other year since 2003, the Red Bull X-Alps has a simple concept – athletes must hike or fly across the Alps – from Salzburg to Monaco, a straight line distance of 1000km. In reality the athletes will cover up to 2,500km by foot or by paraglider by the time the race is done. It’s not unheard of that this can mean as much as 100km by foot each day! Each team consists of two people; an athlete and a supporter, no technical or outside assistance is allowed.
As both a paraglider pilot and mountaineer this race has been on my radar for years and a race that right now I could only compete in in my dreams. Watching from the sidelines I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who take part and I’m going to be getting a much closer window on the 2015 race as I connect with the athletes in the months leading up to the race and then follow on my BMW motorbike next July as the event unfolds!
I’ll be covering the event with Powertraveller – official partners with the Red Bull X-Alps – who design, develop and manufacture portable chargers for off grid power. I’ve been an ambassador for Powertraveller since they kept me powered on Everest in 2011 and on every trip since then when I have been off grid. Their vision is to push the possibilities of portable power so that their customers can go further – every X-Alps team will be using the new powermonkey explorer 2 during the race to keep their essential devices such as GPS, GoPro & iPhones charged.
This epic race requires expert paragliding skill and extreme endurance. I recently had the pleasure of meeting X-Alps athlete Tom De Dorlodot, we joked that unless you were born in a paragliding harness there is little point in taking part, such is the level of skill required to be a serious contender in this epic race. Tom is young but you could say he’s a veteran of the X-Alps. The race in 2015 will be his 5th.
I asked Tom about his training and he replied, “I like to listen to my body and keep it as natural as I can, I spend most of the year in the mountains and I run around 60km a week.” This summer Tom suffered from serious injury after experiencing a collapse close to ground during his project to hike and fly across the Adriatic with Paul Guschlbauer, he’s battling back though and looks set to be in peak condition by the time the race starts. I asked Tom about his diet, he smiled and told me, “my secret is a HUGE breakfast!”.
The X-Alps has attracted and tested to the limit some of the world’s top adventurers since it’s concept in 2003. Few women have competed and to everyone’s delight this years line up sees two women, Germany’s Yvonne Dathe and America’s Dawn Westrum.
The X-Alps is an almighty undertaking in one of the most spectacular yet unforgiving environments. I’m super excited that for 2015 I’ll be along for the ride….