X-Pyr 2014 Impressions of an Average Pilot

Above: photo session minutes before the start

Lets start at the beginning, in August 2013 i noticed that the X-Pyr pre-registration was opened and i thought to myself that this would be a great way to explore a part of the world that i had always wanted to go to but never had the chance. My brother had started flying a while ago and i thought this might be a great occasion for us to finally go on an adventure together to make up for all the others that we had had to put aside over the years. So without too much thinking i signed up and put my brother as my supporter, as the weeks passed it drifted to some hidden part of my brain. I remember seeing an update that some of the top X-alps pilots would be competing in the race and though to myself “good luck to anyone that has to race them” (not remembering that i had signed up), in January i get the email “Hi, I’m glad to tell you, your team is selected for the X-Pyr 2014” those few words took a few moments to sink in, all of a sudden i remember my comment to all those that would have to race against the X-alps pilots 😉 …. o shit…. i need to start to train.  During this time i was still in Nepal where i have been based for almost the last 4 years flying tandems when not able to fly solo in the Himalaya, training started the day after obtaining the email (luckily i had stopped flying tandems a month earlier due to safety concerns and a poor risk/reward ratio) training basically consisted of daily hike and fly’s slowly working my way up to being able to do around 30 kms of walking without too many issues. Its funny how your flying changes as you become better at coping with longer walkouts, you start to push deeper into areas that you might otherwise not fly to in fear of having to walk out later opening completely different lines and routes.
Below: during the road trip through france In the first week of April i flew out to Europe to find a camper and organise things for not only the X-Pyr competition but for a longer road trip. With almost 2 months till the competition i started the road trip, First stop was Clopotiva in Romania for the Sky Tribe XC competition and to pick up my Harness. For people that want to explore the less know places to fly in eastern Europe i highly recommend a visit to Romania with its welcoming people and awesome Carpathian mountain chain it can provide some interesting conditions for not only mountain flights but flatlands as well.

Below: thermaling over the flats in romania

After Romania the next stop was Slovenia visiting our friends at the only place we stay when in the area which is Camp Gabrije the weather wasn’t the best but i had some time to kill before my brother and supporter for the race would arrive for some training and flying. About a week after Shem arrived we started the drive west, from Slovenia we headed to Bassano for a few days of flying, my injuries were showing their signs again so i was forced to drive up to launch.

Our next stop was the Icaro2000 factory to pick up our newly made Transalps helmets. From there we headed non-stop to Annecy where we didn’t have awesome weather to fly but we still had some fun, then came St Hilaire for some XC fun and probably the most memorable flights of the trip so far managing to cloud soar above the lower clouds providing awesome views.

After a long weekend in St Hilaire it was on to BGD headquarters to have a meet and great with Bruce and Arna, to thank them in person for their support in lending a Tala for the race.

Above: checking out a launch site close to the BGD HQ, too windy to fly today Below: first look at the Pyrenees from the french side

We continued our journey towards Spain, Shem flew out from Marseille and i kept driving solo. About 100kms later i had lost overdrive on our gearbox dropping our top speed of 80kms down to 63 which provides the perfect speed for taking photos out the window and looking at the surrounding views without running off the roads but it does kill anything that ou could associate with fuel economy. Catching the first views of the pyrenees from the north side brought butterflies to my stomach as it was sinking in that the race is coming closer by each day and km travelled. I arrived at Port de la Selva in time for a short swim before the sun dipped down behind turn point 7.

Above: fresh after the first swim in the med in about 4 years Below: the view of Port de la selva from launch
Then came the slow drive alone west staying close to the race line, first stop over for some flying was a little off route but well worth it in Organya as the wind was too high along the route, what a great place, you can take off mid morning and stay up till after the sun goes down providing a great place for taking photos if there isn’t too much haze in the air.
Above: site seeing along the drive west Below: the colourful although windy abad narrow roads that the camper had to fit down

Luckily i wasn’t healthy enough to climb Aneto during the recon trip through the pyrenees and only stopped by Castejón de Sos which later turned out to be replaced in the route instead of Aneto. By this stage the weather forecast like my health were only getting worse so at this point i decided to drive the remaining distance to the start line and try to get better there. The following 3 weeks before the race were filled with watching movies, eating chocolate and taking various pills to try and get me back to a somewhat normal state after being hit with a pretty bad case of tonsillitis, i would take antibiotics for this till the morning of the race. Looking back over the final 2 months leading to the competition it was tough in terms of training with both ankle and knee injuries making it almost impossible to do what i needed to be doing for preparation. With all that had happened prior to the race with injury and illness i had realised i would need to reassess my expectations for the race, i knew that my body might not be to keep up to the pace that will be set and considering who we would be up against i would be happy to reach turn point 3 by the time the leaders reach the finish. Below: Final pic before start

Day 1:
At the beach surprisingly things were pretty relaxed, people were happy, friendly and ready to go. Once the buzzer sounded we headed off, i knew that i wouldn’t be able to keep up running as my legs would fold under the strain so after around 2km’s i slowed down to my own walking tempo making it to take off sooner than i had initially thought at around 1530, i had a small break and ate a bit of food before taking to the sky, by the time i had arrived at launch the cirrus had already started to roll in and i knew it would be slow patient going if i was to gain any height and do some km’s flying. first flight of the day was only around 17km’s where i landed just below the ridge line, i then headed up to the peak and further along the ridge to try and get a better glide to a location where we could camp for the night. After a sled ride to the valley below and about 2 hrs of walking we made it to a nice camp ground where we enjoyed a hot shower and good food just before the 2230 cutoff.  Below: Ready to head off

Day 2:
  waking up early to rain, low clouds and more rain i headed up the hill, around 2 hrs later i had caught up with Yvonne and Martin at their over night spot on top on the Col, together with Yvonne we teamed up and headed off on what would be a very long day of walking. i think i covered just under 60kms this day in 14hrs of walking with about 5 breaks during this time putting us a 3hr hike away from the Orhi turn point where it looked like 8 or so pilots would converge upon in the morning.

Below: Huge Kudos to Yvonne for the long walk together and her endurance and perseverance.

Day 3:
Awoke to clear blue skies today and the outlook for some km’s to get flown. The first few of us that launched and started to fly to the east were getting some rough thermals to get height, i chose a slightly different line on only the second main transition and found huge sink putting me on the valley in moments, later i discovered that some of the locals call this section the toilet as anything that goes in gets flushed… not wanting to be disheartened and there still being some air time to be had i made another 3hr hike, along the way running out of water and having to find a spring almost by accident saved me that day as i had already been hiking an hour without any. unfortunately by the time i reached the launch site a strong north wind had come through killing off the low level lift, i managed to stay up for a bit longer but couldn’t get higher than 1500m which wasn’t enough to get onto the main ridge, so once again i was forced to land about 3 kms straight line distance from where i initially landed during the first flight. I had a 20min break before seeing Inigo the 2012 X-Pyr edition winner walking down the road and we paired up to continue to a camping grounds below a launch site that he knew from the previous edition. we discovered that we were not the only team to be having car issues, we had lost our starter motor 2 days earlier and the 2 Inigo’s had lost their alternator which was causing other electrical issues including the alarm arming.

Top: view east from the trail to Orhi waypoint around 630am, Middle: i hate waiting to launch, Bottom: Heading off on first glide 

Day 4:
we started our hike up to launch at around 8am, it was a long hike up but worth getting the extra altitude and being on a main ridge line, I launched first and could maintain height while Inigo managed to just squeak a little higher above inversion and into the better lift leaving me behind, i didn’t want to loose site of him as its always better to fly together so i pushed on lower and managed to maintain height along the ridge. As we reached the first valley crossing we got the first good climb which slowed about 200m before cloud base. Inigo made the crossing first while i was still thermaling, we both met up once again and we found climbing out was hard and we were stuck at a certain level and couldn’t get enough to pass the next spine, so after a while i decided to head back (sometimes you have to go back to go forward) to the previous thermal across the valley again, this time i waited till i was able to reach cloud base before i started to cross the valley again. This time i came in high enough to catch the lift above the inversion level and drifted with the lift till i made enough height again. From this moment things began to get a little easier with climbs being stronger and better structured most glides however were pretty sinky its became almost normal to see 5/1 glide with 20km backwind during the day, coming through turn point 3 i had accomplished what i had set as my minimum expectations for the race and everything after this point is a bonus. Later in the afternoon glides improved but having to fly south to avoid one of the airspaces and then having to avoid storm clouds everyone in the area got shut down by a combination of strong head wind, shade along the route and the oncoming rains and clouds. Once on the ground after about an +80km flight i realised that something had snapped during this flight (in a good way), without noticing before i had some sort of mental block holding me back from flying how i normally do, (this may partially be an explanation for my previous days performance in the air) with the injuries that i had suffered in recent times i was holding on too tight while flying and couldn’t relax and focus on what needed to be done, this flight relaxed me enough to break through that mental break not to mention give me a chance to catch up to some of the other competitors that were shut down by the same weather system as myself. After speaking with some of the others we found out which village they were headed to to regroup for a hike to takeoff in the morning and we decided to head up with them. so off i go for a walk again. it was about 20kms from where i landed and i just managed to do the last 6kms of hilly terrain to arrive before the 2230 cutoff time to meet up with Andrej and Zdeno at a little village at the foot of the main climb.

Above: walking up with the two Inigo’s to launch. Below: car problems in the Pyrenees are tough not many people want to stop to help, the old breath life to the new 😉 

Day 5:
The 4 of us started the hike up to the Pena launch at 8, we kept a steady comfortable speed up the hill and arrived before 11, we discovered that one of the spanish teams Jordi and Josep were a little bit above us and we hiked up to meet them. Inigo and Karles arrived in time to launch with us as well. From the very beginning this flight was showing potential to do some catchup with the teams in front, solid fast climbs and a fair amount of ridge running. before long we reached turn point 4 Castejón de Sos and quickly on to turn point 5 were i got stuck for a while in some valley flow and took some time to get up again, i took my time getting high again and focusing on not rushing after the others which worked as i drifted to tag the Pic de L’Orri turn point and start my glide after the others i was managing to catch them a little bit by bit on each glide and climb. As we were making our way towards turn point 6 Puigmal the conditions started to deteriorate on the hills and with the valley still in sun i thought i might get lucky with an late afternoon climb over a town, not that lucky today landing 12kms in a straight line from the TP after a +140km flight, i started to walk in the general direction. Shem met up with me shortly after for a break and provision fill up before continuing the hike stopping at 2215 for the night at a museum.

Top: ready to go, Middle: just after launch heading to first thermal, bottom: Thermaling with Inigo.

Day 6:
Waking up in the morning to slight discomfort around my left kidney and pain in my left lower back and abdomen i didn’t know what this day would bring. i couldn’t eat much and even water wasn’t really wanting to go down. Slowly i started the hike up to the waypoint, about an hour into the climb just as Shem was reaching me i bent over and proceeded to vomit uncontrollably, this continued for the next 3 hrs, i couldn’t hold down a single sip of water for longer that 15mins with pains in my kidney and abdomen escalating during this period. after the 3rd hour of this Shem looked at me and said that he thinks we should pull out, i told him lets give it some more time, taking a few sips of water to prove that i would improve only to bring them up 2 mins later. At this point i said to send the text that we are out. It was a great shame to loose the last 2 days of catchup work only a few ams from tp 6 but at the end of the day, there is always next time and I’m not out here to discover how good the medical services of Spain are. We started the long slow drive towards Port de la selva stopping a few time for me to bring up something that wasn’t agreeing with me, at the end of the day after arriving in Port it was a watermelon that seems to have saved me, being the first thing that i could hold down in any larger quantity. in total from the moment of pulling out of the race i have probably slept about almost 20hrs straight and feel much better, still with slight pain and discomfort around the kidney but slowly improving and able hold down both liquids and solids.

Above: assuming the position out the side door for another session: Below: When the road just got too bad for me i slept like a bum on the side of the road

The race is over and now its time to relax, refuel and try to regain some strength but first a few people to thank.

I would like to once again thank the amazingly friendly Organisation team, local and foreign Pilots who were always ready and happy to give any advice they could, they tried to accommodate us in any way possible, this is another endorsement that hike and fly competitions should be the future of our sport, discovering different areas not flying 6 days in one valley, while building great camaraderie between teams during a road trip of this sort. If they will have me again i will gladly return in the next edition of X-Pyr if anyone is interested in obtaining official clothing from the 2014 race you can click here just remember you don’t need to be super human to take part in this type of competition you simply need to have the will to keep going. The rest will come along the way, i highly recommend people to sign up to try their hand at events like the X-Pyr you will soon realise just how much fun hard work can be.
Big thanks go out to Bruce and Arna for the Loan of the BGD Tala during training and race periods, with out this assistance it would have been extremely difficult for us to get a wing for the race. If anyone is looking for a great performing real EN-C glider that can keep up with the higher spec gliders consider looking into a BGD product.
For a previous writeup on the BGD Tala click here 
Huge thanks go out to my Brother who had to bare through the good and the bad days with me nursing me back to health before and after the race, helping not only mentally but also helped fund this adventure without him this wouldn’t have been possible.
Finally a huge thanks to my girlfriend Kate whose support, encouragement and dedication helped me immensely through not only this journey but the last 2 years as well, Love you and see you soon.  Not forgetting all that sent messages of support along the way. Thank you all!!!
Here is She’s account.
Finally Congratulations to not only the competitors that made it to the finish line but to all the competitors and supporters that put in a huge amount of effort during the race…

2 comments on “X-Pyr 2014 Impressions of an Average Pilot

  1. Thank you for sharing an extraordinary story with those of us who can experience it only through those who actually do it. Thank you for taking me on a journey with you 🙂 x lucy

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