I was tired. More tired than I’ve ever been I think. As a single supporter you even get less sleep than the athlete and I also had to get up in the middle of every night to turn off the charger in order to save the batteries. And now the sleep deprivation had finally got a hold of me.
When I drove north on the big and busy motorway that cuts through the Alps, I started fainting in the middle of the road. I immediately reacted, driving onto the service lane, slamming the breaks, just before my head would hit the steering wheel. I sat there for a couple of minutes until I found my composure again and drove on to our meeting point. Time for an unhealthy dose of Redbull.
I only fainted once in my life in my military service as tank gunner. The 60 degrees inside the tank and the sleep deprivation of a weeklong exercise got to me. But driving on a motorway and a similar thing happening was extremely worrisome.
The valleyfloor of the Tessin is low and the peaks surrounding are high, so it took Dave a while to reach the launch. We were maybe an hour behind schedule. I had met him at the top of a gondola and hiked up the last hour with him to be his winddummy. While I waited for him, I realised I had forgotten his additional water in the car, so I ran around to ask day hikers for empty bottles. Another faux-pas.
It wouldn’t have been necessary to be a winddummy. A constant strong updraught was already present on launch and clouds were forming everywhere. I still took off just to make things fast for Dave. Flying together is so much faster, and as Dave was already behind the timetable, being fast was crucial.
I had forgotten my mishap from before on the motorway… which I maybe should have and taken things more conservative than usual. Completely judging things wrong I went into a close turn towards the hill. I cut through some grass on the side of the cliff, barely scrapping through. If I had been ten inches lower, I probably would have broken my back or fallen down the cliff. It was definitely a wake up call. This was my closest and most dangerous incident while flying a paraglider and I still do suspect the little sleep I got for this.
I took the thermal out of the gate for a couple of turns and flew towards the next trigger, but Dave didn’t need help anymore. He had topped out the other thermal at way over 3000 meters. He was sorted and flying into the Wallis wouldn’t be an issue anymore.
I landed in a strong breeze down on the valley floor next to my car and went on to gun the car over the Nufenen pass. I could tell on the live tracking, that Dave had done a mistake crossing the Wallis, as he flew way to close to the Grimsel pass. Most of the time, on any decent XC day, the colder air from the north will start spilling over this pass and start killing thermal production close to it. This phenomenon happened to Dave, so he chose to sidehill land and hike up a little higher to get out of the clutches of the Grimsel.
It worked and soon he was in the orbit once more. He was able to push quite a bit now, to make up for lost time. Most of the field was just in front, negotiating their way into the constricted Zermatt valley to tag the mighty Matterhorn.
Dave managed quite well, but hadn’t had the patience to properly get high anymore in the valley (again, I think his belly was talking more than his brains, ordering me to get at least two kebabs for him). There is a famous convergence at the end of the valley that allows pilots to sometimes go stratospheric. Some of the athletes had taken this convergence and flew over the high mountains into the back of the range to avoid flying back out into the Wallis. I tried to instruct Dave over the radio how to use the convergence but he chose sun over wind and tried to fly north out of the valley. He got downed just shortly thereafter. He was still happy about the flight as he should have been. Just a little bummed to have missed out on the convergence. The kebab double-fisting helped him to get over it though.
In the meantime korean athlete Chi-Kyong Ha was stuck at over 5000 meters in that very convergence (or maybe even wave), not able to move forward (you’re in the jetstream, bro’) or going down. Just stuck over glaciated peaks. In the end he actually landed understandably quite shaken way behind Dave. But on the other end, he had an enormous day, flying over 150 kilometes on the southside of the Wallis over the backbone of the Alps, making up for getting into the lower ranks earlier in the race.
And so did Gavin McClurg, who had fallen behind, as he did a couple of bad decisions in the days before. Another athlete, Nick Neynens, who had nearly been cut off as the first competitor of the race, celebrated an enormous comeback and finally showed his true potential. He flew all the way from the lowest ranks past us and even sneaked his way around the 4000er’s at turnpoint Matterhorn, using the convergence. I don’t remember the total distance he flew that day, but it was a lot. He finally landed somewhere to the south of the Wallis around Verbier, which prove to be one of the best spots for the next day.
Louis Tapper, Supporter of Team New Zealand, called in to ask if we could help him out, as their team vehicle had finally given up and they had no way of helping out Nick at this point. But luckily there were enough of official X-Alps runners and helpers in the area to give them a hand.