Tag Archives: adventure

Gliding to Freefall

One of the really incredible features of pursuing adrenaline sports as a pastime is that pretty much all domains become big playgrounds. From playing at being a fish and exploring the other-worldliness of being a scuba diver to the sheer thrill and exhilaration of freefall as a skydiver, I love the constant stream of ‘new’ that such endeavours present.
glider dubai skydive
When I saw that there was an aerobatic glider parked on the runway at Skydive Dubai’s desert campus, and knowing that they were offering something special as advertised on social media, I was intrigued but otherwise didn’t think too much more about it. That was until we were all sat around chatting after a couple of early morning jumps and the topic of the ‘glider jumps’ came up. As fun as it sounded I still wasn’t especially sold on the idea, especially given that the one and only previous time I had been in a glider was a couple of year’s ago when I ended up feeling really quite queasy whilst crammed in next to my dad. The price also seemed a little steep, representing several standard jumps – ones that would get me closer to my current goal of 200 – and so I somewhat mentally parked the whole idea. That was until Shunka, one of the most experienced instructors at the dropzone described how even after 15,000 jumps under his belt, his glider experience was among his top three jumps of all time! SOLD! I trust what he says and if he was saying that it was an awesome experience then I had to see what the fuss was all about….
Cash handed over, I was summoned to manifest where I met Tony, our glider pilot, and was taken through the briefing of what to expect, what to do and all I could think was “wow!” The description of the anticipated experience was intense enough and that was whilst standing safely on terra firma! When it came to my turn I strapped in and just started grinning from the moment we started rolling. I was going to do this crazy thing and I didn’t even fully know what that thing was even going to be!
As we climbed, higher and higher, towed by the plane just up in front of us, I appreciated the intense sense of freedom and presence that being in an uncovered seat on a glider that is flying affords someone. The view out over the desert, the dropzone and the surrounding properties and landscape was crisp, detailed and in full technicolor. I was able to appreciate features of the area surrounding the desert campus that I just hadn’t really ever been able to closely notice in the main skydive plane. The ride up alone was worth taking up the challenge!
At 4,500 feet we detached from the plane and started truly gliding, swooping in and out of the isolated banks of cloud that were our companions and spotting the current load of skydivers as their canopies popped sequentially into view. We completed a few fairground-worthy manoeuvres, including a full inversion to leave me dangling in my strap, head pointed directly towards earth, and the ‘practice runs’ of the main move in which we dived steeply before banking sharply skyward, placing us on a fully vertical steep ascent. After the second of these trial runs I was given the nod to do several things in sequence: a) undo my seat-strap – something that emphasised the reality of what was about to go down and the fact that I was putting my full trust in Tony; b) bring legs forward, with knees clearing the console positioned directly in front; and c) place my hands on the side of the glider, both in anticipation of the main event and also to ensure that it went as smoothly as possible. Only one thing left to do and that was grin from ear to ear as we dived one last time before pulling up into our steep, vertical climb. When the glider shifted it was the strangest feeling, even though I was fully expecting it to happen: the glider and I simply parted ways!
“I felt myself continue to move up!”
Whilst climbing at 100mph, Tony simply moved the glider in a quick fluid motion away from my relative position, the effect being to essentially eject me from my seat and the aircraft entirely. As I did so I felt myself continue to move up! The completely wrong direction! All whilst still moving in synch with the glider itself. The effect was one of simulating complete and utter weightlessness – a very powerful and difficult to fully imagine sensation. As both myself and the glider reached the apex of the ascent, the rush of air quietened to complete silence as we both sort of hovered in place for a split second before starting the downward phase of the arc, driven of course by gravity. After all, what goes up generally must come down. As I started to fall back to earth I remembered the advice I was given not to rush deployment but to a) continue to enjoy this most bizarre of experiences and b) to wait until I had sufficient speed with which to establish normal stability for correct pilot chute deployment. So it was and as I felt the rush of terminal velocity return – by now a familiar feeling – I waved off, threw out the pilot and waited for my parachute to open before surveying my airspace for the glider as it started to swoop and circle me whilst I flew under canopy. Being buzzed by an aircraft, especially one that makes little to no sound other than a rapid swoosh as it soars past, was akin to sharing the sky with a giant bird and the next few minutes of flight were like something out of an extreme sports movie.
Every piece of GoPro footage I have seen to date from those who have completed the same experience ends the same way: landing followed by a holler of delight at how utterly awesome the jump was. I was no different! I touched down, was buzzed at practically touching distance by the glider one final time – a pass-by that I was not expecting – and proceeded to whoop and holler like a man possessed. The entire experience was electrifying and had it not been for needing to get back to Dubai I would have been very very tempted to sign straight back up for another go. Wow! Every skydiver has to try this out. It was nuts!

Red Hot with Red Bull

Red Hot with Red Bull

Sultan of the Desert Proves Itself a Worthy Title

The start of the run stage, which kicked off the day's racing
The start of the run stage, which kicked off the day’s racing

There are times in one’s life when someone suggests doing something and you find yourself enthusiastically going along with it, only to later question the original sanity of the decision. That was what I found myself doing more than once on Friday 10th October 2014 as I found myself staring up the impossibly steep, rocky face up which I was to carry my mountain bike and, even by that stage, fatigued body and mind. This, ladies and gentleman, was the Red Bull Sultan of the Desert Adventure Race: a three discipline race – trail run, mountain bike, and kayak – that athletes could either complete legs of as part of a team or, like the small band of insane people of which I was a member, race the entire course.

Mountain biking, Red Bull, Sultan of the DesertThe race started, for me at least, a few days earlier as I tapped up friends for the loan of a decent mountain bike, given the fact that I had entered a race that required one and yet had last been on one a year ago in Europe. Bike duly lent (thank you Rachael 🙂 ) I trekked over to Al Ain, where a friend and colleague of mine was kind enough to host me at her and her husband’s place a short distance from the race venue, Wadi Adventure. Pre-race preparations included an awesome braii, continuing my South African vibe from the previous weekend, and firming up last minute team members for a couple of teams suddenly without key members. I felt a bit like a sports agent 🙂
Naomi & I about to start the run stage
Naomi & I about to start the run stage

As with every race I have done to date, the day started incredibly early and we arrived at Wadi Adventure to register as the sun was still very much starting its ascent. Following one bib number change and then another on the day itself, I found myself racing as number 136, got my bike racked, Camel-Pak suitably loaded up with water and nutrition, and waited with the rest of the posse for both the race briefing and then buses out to the start of the first stage of the day: the 15km trail run back into Wadi Adventure.

In hindsight it would have been much better to have had the run kicking off significantly earlier, even right at the crack of dawn, as by the time the starting horn went, following a valiant effort by MC Very Enthusiastic to whip us up into a 300-esque frenzy, the sun was already beating down on us, meaning that even from the start I found my heart-rate shooting up to about 180 and remaining there even as I was forced to slow down my pace. The initial few kilometres seemed to be very short but the going got significantly tougher as we reached our first serious ascent, with running up it simply not something that was going to happen. The key difference between the road and track running that I am used to with triathlon and trail is that there are a lot more opportunities to roll an ankle, slip or otherwise do yourself an injury. On the flip side, as long as you’re careful and don’t do anything too heroic or out of control then trail is far more interesting. Our run route took us through valleys and even through a couple of wadi drains, as we ducked under roads, before emerging the Wadi Adventure side of Jebel Hafeet, and the last few kilometres to base and the start of our bike leg. The placing of water stations at regular intervals was welcome, especially the provision of chilled water, much of which ended up being poured onto and over me as opposed to into me, such was the temperature.
My run time was, in hindsight, a relatively steady 1hr 32min, and would certainly have been faster had I not forced myself to walk sections of it in a bid to bring my heart rate down to a more sustainable level. As I came into Wadi Adventure I took a quick detour via my car in order to change running shoes (wrecking an expensive pair of Zoots on both the trail run and mountain bike seemed wasteful) and a pair of decent cycling shorts, my logic being that I would be sat on my backside for the foreseeable future on both the bike and then the kayak. If I was going to have to suffer then at least it wouldn’t be my arse that bore the brunt!
The course!
The course!

By the end of the run I was craving some sugar and, more pressing, salts, having stupidly forgotten to pack my electrolyte tablets for the one race where it seemed I was definitely going to be wanting them. Although it was a Red Bull sponsored event, offering athletes only Red Bull or water seemed a little silly. As much as I really didn’t need to be guzzling down the copious amounts of caffeine in the aforementioned beverage, my craving for additional sugar to fuel the next stage was greater and so a can was consumed before I was off on the bike, heading out along the initial straight. It might have been a straight, flat line but it was also predominantly thick sand – not the easiest to cycle in, thats for sure! Pushing the bike – a repeated exercise over the next 15km – was necessary for much of the first section, before the drinks station and just before entering the really technical stage of the ride. The MTB course had apparently been designed by a Red Bull sponsored downhill champion and it showed! Rocky, impossibly narrow on sections, with some serious drop offs and fast sections, and an area where we literally had to carry our bikes up a steep face. This relatively short section of more technical riding, which I believe was only about 4km, took most of us a considerable amount of time to navigate our way around and I certainly wasn’t the only person who felt a real attachment to their intact collar bones and thus walked a sizeable portion of the route. The final 8km of the course were flat, taking in the outskirts of the Wadi Adventure park and then taking us over the main road to the hotel and the kayak transition. I am not ashamed to say that I was pretty well cooked by the time I arrived and the sight of athletes further up the field carrying their kayaks back towards Wadi Adventure did little to rejuvenate my flagging energy levels.

A slight moment of the ‘whites’ once off the bike, followed swiftly by a hastily guzzled down Race Food bar, led me into the kayak for the three loops around the artificial lake, this being the first stage of the kayak event. Although I have had the privilege of doing a bit of paddling recently around the Palm, it was clear that my paddling technique still required some honing as I received helpful pointers from much faster fellow athletes, especially as on several occasions I found the kayak spinning to face the wrong way, a frustrating occurrence when all I now wanted was to see the finish line. Anyway, through a combination of stubborn determination, crap technique interspersed with moments of correct technique, and a strong desire to finish the race already, I ploughed on, exiting the water, I believe, in last place. A quick check of the rules to see if there was any reason why I could not place my kayak on my bike for the return to Wadi Adventure – I couldn’t sadly. Thankfully, a fellow individual competitor, Mark, was also at the same stage as me and so we teamed up, taking either end of the kayaks and walking the 2km (plus) back, flanked by the marshals who had stayed back to usher us stragglers in. 20 minutes later and we arrived at the white water course, eager to finish our short but fun rapids stage prior to the finish line, but were met with the rather annoying advice that as they had run out of time for the event (Jeez! Were we really THAT slow and behind everyone else?!) we would just have to drop the kayaks and run to the finish line. As much as I was glad to see the back of those kayaks and was eager to be done, I was also bitterly disappointed to not at least be able to finish ALL of the race. I couldn’t help myself as I asked the organiser, with an unavoidable hint of annoyance in my voice, why, if they were running out of time for us, did they feel it was ok to allow us to lug the kayaks all the way back when we could have been given a bit of a helping lift in order that we at least got to finish the race properly?! Obviously the kayak carrying was still part of the race but I’m sure most would agree that given the choice of which bit could feasibly be ‘cut out’ from the race in favour of doing the really fun bit (the white water), it would have been lugging 22kg kayaks the best part of 2km! Still, the fact remained: we were last, time was against us and so Mark and I ran to the finish, crossing together to close out the day’s efforts. Nearly 6 hours after starting it was over.
Finally finished
Finally finished

As fun as the race was in hindsight, and an epic achievement, especially given the fact that there were actually several DNFs, I would opt to run a half Ironman distance race any day! It was a tough, tough race and I am sure if I work on my specific discipline fitness (trail run, mountain bike and paddling), all of which I really haven’t done much of at all, then a return to the race next year (lol – see what I’m already doing?! Mentally signing up already! We are gluttons for punishment!) would, I am certain, see a much faster time. In the meantime, I plan to stick to triathlon 🙂

The race winners: teams & individuals
The race winners: teams & individuals

 

Wet & Windy

I think I may have overdosed on adrenaline! A recent trip away from the heat and humidity of Dubai, and the Emirates, saw me head back to Europe, principally to attend the wedding of some good friends. The destination was Switzerland, or more specifically the small but fairy-tale looking lakeside town of Nyon, a short drive outside of Geneva. After the wedding itself I packed up and drove my nippy little hire car out of Switzerland and into France, directly towards the hypnotizing and impressively majestic Mont Blanc, which my now married friends have an unrivaled view of from their townhouse, across Lake Geneva (or Lac Leman, to give it it’s local name).

wakeboarding, Nyon, Lake Geneva
Perfect conditions for wakeboarding on Lake Geneva

The adrenaline rush started, however, in Switzerland, after I had stopped in at a small skate shop in Nyon whilst out for a morning run to enquire as to whether there were any options to wakeboard locally, something I was keen to repeat having indulged in the activity on the lake several years before with my friends, and also off the back of the fact that I had been practicing here in the Middle East at the lakes in Abu Dhabi. Fortunately the owner of the job had a friend with his own boat in the town and so gave me his number to see if he might be heading out during the weekend. As such, the following morning, after the fun, games and excesses of the wedding, I roused myself with an early morning breakfast Swiss style, grabbed my board shorts and Go Pro and met Stefan, his girlfriend, Charlotte, and their mutual friend and fellow watersport enthusiast, David, down at their boat before casting off on to the crystalline and tranquil waters of the lake.

Wake board, Lake Geneva
Refreshing & exhilirating!

There is no better way to blow away the cobwebs and be left feeling amazingly refreshed than to jump into the cool waters of an amazing lake, with blue skies, the sun shining, and a majestic panorama of snow-capped peaks in the distance, and to then rip it up on a wakeboard. It was awesome, and although I didn’t quite grab any major air, the very sensation of being out there was fantastic. The best part of the experience, however, was then getting to try my hand, or rather feet, at wake surfing, a totally new concept for me but the main reason for why Stefan and Charlotte had purchased their fancy wakeboard boat in the first place.

Wake surfing, Lake Geneva
Wake surfing

Wake surfing basically sees you start in the water, much as you do with traditional wake boarding, being pulled up onto your board, which in this case is a small, mini surfboard. The aim is to then find the sweet spot in the large wake created immediately behind the boat and to then literally surf it, meaning that you discard the help of the rope pulling you initially and rely on the fact that you essentially surf down the wake/ wave towards the boat. It really was surreal to be that close to the boat and yet moving without the pull of a rope. Although I wouldn’t say I was an instant natural, or even stayed standing on the board for very long at a time, it was an amazing experience and something that I can actually see the appeal of over wake boarding, which is pretty much what Stefan and co had moved away from. Those people who are well practiced, such as my fellow lake playmates that day, can start to pull off some funky trickery on the board, which was great fun to watch.

The fun very much continued as I headed off into France to continue my activity fueled vacation. The first stop was a small airstrip in Annemasse just over the Swiss-French border, and home to the local skydiving fraternity. With a runway that points directly towards Mont Blanc, the views of the highest peak in Europe are unrivaled and it was clear that jumping there was something that I had to make happen. Unfortunately by the time I arrived en-route to Chamonix it had become too windy or me to safely skydive. Not one to be deterred though I simply made the decision to return early the following morning, hoping that the winds would prove to be lighter – which they did – and spent an entire day jumping over one of the most incredible landscapes I have had the pleasure to freefall towards so far.

Skydive, in plane, Annemasse, Chris & instructorOne of the aspects of skydiving, or indeed most adrenaline sports, is the friendliness and general feeling of comararderie that you get with other participants. I jumped initially with one of the instructors, who took along his Go Pro to record the jump, and had a blast as we pretended to swim through the air and generally lark about as we took in the amazing views that are abundant from 12,000 feet in the air, especially when there isn’t a single cloud in the sky. A leisurely lunch at a traditional French cafe in town was the perfect intermission before donning the flight suit and chute again, this time jumping with Lucile, the attractive girl who I had first had the pleasure to speak with when I arrived the previous day. That jump saw me leave the plane first, with Lucile diving out afterwards before we ran through a fun ‘routine’ before breaking away and making our own way under canopy. High fives all round on the ground after successful jump number 2!

At that point I had made up my mind that the day’s freefall fun was over as I had every intention to head back to Chamonix, but the lure of a sunset jump with Mont Blanc glowing in an ethereal light, was just too much to resist. “Besides,” I thought, “I’m on holiday!” It was worth hanging around for, as I joined three other skydivers for the jump, which again was caught on film and awaits my editing attention. A top day and adrenaline sport number two of the trip already ticked off. On to the rest of the week then…