Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Red Bull X-Alps 2017 Route Is Out There!

The route for this year's X-Alps has finally been announced!

As has already been said numerous times in the short time since the announcement, this is an unprecedented route, what with the crazy departures southward, its length even as straight lines between the turn-points, and the long distances between the points themselves.  The route crisscrosses the Alps fully 3 times right where they are the widest, and each time is pretty well against the grain of how a paraglider might fly.  Visiting areas that I am sure even veteran Alps pilots are not too familiar with, the course guarantees frustrating bomb-outs and a sh*tload of walking up and down endless hills in the middle of nowhere!

I am personally quite happy about this, even though I think it will be the most difficult X-Alps ever.  That's because I believe it plays to whatever advantages I may have.  First of all, everyone's not knowing the route well will 'level the playing field', as has already been said, and that's great for rookies and those for whom the Alps is not their backyard.  Second, I believe I am fit and ready for serious punishment, even, I dare say, more than some of my competition!  Third, the complexities of this route make efficient, accurate, and error-free navigation (both in the air and on the ground) a priority, and that is something I know I am good at.  Certainly, it will be a great challenge and lots of work to study the route and its flights online.  In fact, much of the research and hard work I've already been doing just went right out the window, since the route doesn't even go where I thought it would!

I am sure the previously all-important Mt. Blanc turn-point has been dumped mainly in order to keep the route length within reasonable bounds, but this too opens up some interesting possibilities.  It seems that nearly the entire second half the course will be spent fighting the stable air of the Italian Piedmont.  Quite by coincidence, I ended up flying the very area for nearly a week last summer, not really because I wanted to, but because the weather sucked everywhere else!  I never imagined this would become the X-Alps course.  The flying here is pretty different from the rest of the Alps, and a little more like my 'home' areas in Japan!

I'm excited to hear more detailed analyses and opinions as everyone digests this new data.  For now, congrats to the organizers for surprising us all!

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

50 km Walk by the Sea

This is an excellent tour and recommended also for running or cycling.  Using the two ferries which connect Amakusa to Nagashima, it is possible to walk around the entire Hachiman Strait in a 48 km loop, and the scenery is great most of the way!  All but a few hundred meters were on paved roads.  The 18km Nagashima part (foreground) is hilly with four significant climbs, whereas the 30km Amakusa part has two minor hills and is otherwise almost flat.

Having left my paragliding gear in our shack at the Kuratake takeoff the day before, I improvised a 12 kg load with some lead diving weights and a couple of 1.5 liter bottle of Coca-Cola.  Similar enough to an X-Alps backpack, I hoped!

Not the best weather today; sun alternating with cloud and an hourly shower with sudden gusts of wind and rain mixed with sleet.  Quite cold for this time of year!

With its unique landscape right next to but quite different from Amakusa, Nagashima is a small treasure.  The course was a pleasure to hike, although we did not expect the hills to slow us down quite so much, and so we had to run the last 5 km pretty hard to just barely make the second ferry. Had we ridden the first ferry of the day to Nagashima, we would have had an extra 30 minutes to do this part, and it would have been more comfortable...but it was hard to get up at 7 in the morning after a long, late night of looking at xcontest tracks from the Alps!

Back in Amakusa, the ferry docks in Ushibuka, a typical rural fishing town.  No pretenses here about how a clothes rack may be used!

Fairly soaked from a passing rain shower near Ubushima Island, also known as Amakusa-Fuji.  Two or three times we got pretty soaked, but dried again as we walked at a sprightly pace.

Rainbows are a bonus on these kinds of days.  Tiny Matejima Island sits in the middle of Hachiman Strait.  During plague outbreaks a couple hundred years ago people were dumped on Matejima and left to die.  It is said their plaintive cries could be heard across the straits.

Hard to tell freshly flooded rice fields from the sea!  In the lee of Amakusa mountains today, winds alternated from violently gusty to completely calm.

Home stretch (about 10 km to go).  Miyanogawachi village, (or, 'Myangaach' in the local dialect).

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Inclement Weather Tandems

Nice day today!  In spite of drizzle, difficult NE wind, and lack of time, I managed three fun tandem flights.  Thanks guys for all the support and thank you Mary-Ellen for your assistance - you were really helpful especially since Leanne couldn't come.  Great job everyone!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Support Pouring In

 Today I received this lovely photo! Thank you to all my paragliding friends in Miyazaki and around Japan for the overwhelming financial support and encouragement.
We also really treasure all the great friends we have made through paragliding in Japan and around the world. This week, we received this lovely letter, and lucky charm from our dear friend Mr. Yugawa. Despite recently turning 80 years old, he still continues to paraglide and be an active member of the paragliding school in Nagasaki.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Yomiuri Shimbun Article

An article about me appeared in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper today.  The Yomiuri is one of Japan's main papers, read throughout the country.

The article talks about how I am training for the X-Alps, a major international competition, on the unassuming island of Amakusa in the Japanese countryside.  It says that I chose to live here because I love its nature and opportunities for outdoor sports.  It also gives some details about the X-Alps and my own background.  Thank you Tanaka-san for spending a half-day with us to gather the information and feeling for am accurate and very professionally reported article.

Sunday Tandem

Not the best weather last weekend, but we managed to squeeze in a hike and fly and a tandem before it started to rain.

Practice makes perfect! Hiroko gets a 'crash course' before her tandem flight.

Hiroko at the controls.

Thanks Hiroko and Carl for the support!

The rest of the weekend was spent shopping for shoes and then testing them out with a 35 km run.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Recent Events Scrapbook

Waiting for a favorable gust of wind in catabatic conditions at Kuratake.

Shooting  a TV interview for the local cable station.

On a 20km training walk with pack.
Trail running with friends; top of Mt. Kuratake.

Takeoff on another great day.

Today's flight on XContest.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Hike and Fly Mt. Waita

Here is a video of one of my flights last weekend.  Pretty exciting!  Sorry about the rough editing; I am really too busy with the X-Alps business these days to spend any more time!  Enjoy!

Thursday, March 2, 2017

ICARO Transalp Helmet

Leanne and I already own ICARO 4fight full-face helmets, and are rather satisfied with them after 2 or 3 expensive lemons we managed to buy as we were learning the sport.  So a couple of weeks ago we shouted out to the good folks at ICARO for sponsoring my X-Alps effort with the ultra-light Transalp Helmet. An enthusiastic "Yes" came back almost immediately and a week later, an incredibly lightweight package was delivered to our door.  All I had to do was ask!  At less than 400 grams, the helmet is feather-light, comfortable, and looks great too.  What's more, I noticed that the wind noise in flight is much reduced compared to any other helmet I've tried.  For the first time I could hear everything that my tandem passenger way saying in flight.

Thanks a million, ICARO! Not only for the wonderful helmet, but for your enthusiasm and hassle-free, no-strings-attached approach, which also saved us a lot of time and effort during a busy time.  You really put your money where your mouth is!  Now have another essential piece of top-notch equipment that will help me perform my best in the X-Alps!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Weekday Tandem

Where did her shoe go?

A trail-runner friend and X-Athlon athlete came from Kumamoto today for a flight.  The day was cloudier than forecast earlier, but the wind was ok, so we managed two sleddies.  It was her first time and she really enjoyed it, although she really did not want to come down.  Better luck next time!  Thank you for your support and encouragement, Terumi!


What is in this blog?

Hi!  This will be a blog about my experience in preparing for and competing in the Red Bull X-Alps, IMHO, the coolest race in the world!  Wi...