When I send Dave on his way on this morning to walk towards the Timmelsjoch I don’t think he was actually awake. He resembled more one of those shambling zombies than an athlete of the toughest adventure race. Even the pumping deep house in his earplugs seemed to act as a lullaby. Second breakfast though kind of did the job and he finally started to realise his surroundings.
We were in the Ötz valley, famous for great skiing and a 5000 year old mummy that got killed in those mountains and luckily for science preserved in an astonishing manner in the heart of a glacier. Ötzi, apparently being chased up the mountains by a war party or a jealous husband, obviously tried to be the first X-Alps athlete, by crossing over to the south side and was cut off his personal race in a more violent manner than they do nowadays in the race. An arrowhead, stuck in his shoulder, didn’t seem to work as additional motivation to cross the high mountain pass.
If you look at ‘before-after’ pictures from contemporary X-Alps athletes, Ötzi doesn’t look much worse today than the athletes that make the float in Monaco.
We were to close to the Timmelsjoch and conditions weren’t great on the north side to try and tackle the steep mountains for a flight. Dave had to tackle the col by foot to launch from the pass. Over there flying conditions seemed much better. But we had another issue. There was a strong north föhn forecast. And a south-north running valley right on the backbone of the Alps is NOT the place to be with a paraglider.
While no pilot with a little sanity left would try and fly in conditions like that, an athlete in the X-Alps thinks ‘föhn-shmöhn’ and that’s the end of that. When I arrived at the col, there were a many athletes at launch already in the air or getting ready to fly, completely disregarding the eight points of pressure difference between the north and south side. But the Föhn (german for hairdryer) is a peculiar thing and there is no absolute rule of thumb for safe or unsafe flying. Obviously, when in doubt stay on the ground. But again. It was a race and personal safety gets thrown overboard more often than not. So I say: “DON’T DO THIS AT HOME!”. But I have to say, on launch it wasn’t that bad actually and looking at the other athletes in the air it didn’t seem like a death rodeo fest at all.
When I waited for Dave looking down from the col seeing him walking up towards the Timmelsjoch my sleep deprivation started kicking in and I kind of lost concept of time. So at some point I freaked out, believing Dave had already walked past me, as I couldn’t see him anymore and there was no cell reception up there. So I drove down to the launch, trying to see if Dave was there or not, back to the col when realising he hadn’t showed up there yet. He had just passed the Timmelsjoch looking at me slightly pissed off, wondering why I hadn’t waited for him at the col. No time for explanation and I quickly gave him an update on where to meet up. I had used that launch in the preparation myself and knew how it worked. So we didn’t loose time, as we were about one and a half hours behind the other athletes that had launched there before and off he was, into Italy, pushing towards the Brenta, next turnpoint.
It was a windy and narrow road towards the Brenta, so I had to race my van quite a bit to keep up with Dave. After Merano I could see him above me, getting pushed around by a strong headwind. Some effects of the lingering föhn I’d guess. He wasn’t too impressed by that and sounded a little stressed on the radio, but he finally managed to get into some better air the further he went.
Before the Brenta there is a difficult valley crossing to tackle in order to reach the hut, where Dave had so sign a board to be able to push on. If you get too low, you’ll have a very hard time getting out of the strong valley wind. I think Dave got too impatient, especially with the outlook of eating a fine italian pizza. It was already the main talk on the radio anyway and multiple times he tried to get me to buy one to have it ready when he’d land. Bad mindset of course, also I was sitting in bad traffic and had other things to deal with than bloody pizza. I tried to get him to not listen to his stomach, but instead to gather some Jedi power to reach the hut.
He managed to climb out a little, but he was stuck on the wrong side of the little side valley that leads towards the turnpoint and landed in a tight spot. I made him a stiff pasta, as I hadn’t managed to buy a pizza (while I raced my car below him, violating every possible rule). That pasta at least resolved the serious case of Dave’s hangryness.
Things got less hectic now. I loved these moments in the race, when you realise you can’t go flying big distances anymore, most of the people are on the ground and not much is going to happen anymore. Also the eye-watering magic light in the mountains at these hours are just mindblowing. With the backdrop of the Brenta even more so, when we hiked together up towards the hut. Everything was really relaxed at this time and we had a great time walking together. Although Dave had some serious cravings, check it out:
When we did about half of the climb, we noticed a glider coming towards, flying as close to the cliff as possible as he could and we recognised Ferdy. This is definitely a special moment in the race, when you just want to eat icecream and your legs hurt so much you just want to lay down and cry yourself to sleep and then another athlete comes soaring past in perfect silky evening air.
We had to hustle now a little bit, because we were seriously running out of time before the clock would turn nine. But when we reached the signboard, it was obvious that Dave didn’t had to walk down and launched just before the clouds would engulf launch. In the end he even catched some of that evening residue and extended his glide past the heads of Ferdy and his supporter. And guess where Dave landed. Yep. Next to a pizzeria. There was no need to walk any further really, as a launch was close by for a morning sledder into the valley. So we allowed ourselves to indulge.