Remember when we were kids playing on the swing set and we’d try to swing so high that we’d fly over the top bar and come down the other side? No, I never made it either. But in Estonia, they’ve taken a childhood dream and made it an extreme sport.
It’s called kiiking. Using a special swing with steel arms instead of chains, the kiiker stands on the swing and pumps back and forth until he or she gets enough momentum to make a full 360-degree turn. The best kiikers can go around several times. The longer the shaft of the swing, the harder it is, and according to the “Guinness Book of World Records,” the record for kiiking is with a 7.02-meter (23-foot) swing used by Andrus Aasamäe of Estonia on August 21, 2004.
Kiiking has taken off in the Baltic states and in Scandinavia. Here we show a video of the Estonian army taking a little time off from defending the nation to practice kiiking.
After living a year in Santander in Cantabria, northern Spain, I had a problem. I was chronically, unutterably, and perhaps terminally bored. Santander is a sleepy regional town, and while weekend hikes and trips for Gadling helped ease my boredom somewhat, I was still not getting my drug of choice – a long-term, low-level adrenaline high.
There’s nothing like it. Do something captivating and somewhat perilous for a period of a few hours to a few weeks and you’ll feel more alive than any amount of booze or drugs can ever make you. My trips to Iraq and Somaliland were two of the biggest benders of my life, but they also came with a bad case of withdrawal. So, at age 43 in a town I didn’t like, I needed to find a regular adrenaline fix.
How about learning an extreme sport in a foreign language with a bunch of people half my age?
Yeah, that should work.
Cantabria is one of the best regions in Europe for caving, and luckily the Federación Cántabra de Espeleología offers annual classes. I already had some experience caving in Missouri and New Mexico, but that was 15 years ago. Plus techniques are somewhat different in Europe and technology has changed over time. So I took a beginners’ class. This is not the sort of sport where you exaggerate your ability. That could land you in serious trouble.
%Gallery-181190%The course started off with a series of lectures that provided me a long list of Spanish words I hadn’t picked up making the rounds in bars. This was followed by a practical class at an abandoned quarry. While most of my fellow students were from the local university, I was glad to see a couple of others who looked like they knew what it was like to have kids instead of just be one.
We spent all day learning to ascend and descend. Unlike rock climbing, the point isn’t to take the most challenging way up a cliff, but rather get up there as easily as possible in order to save energy for exploring the cave. You wear a harness similar to a climbing harness. For ascending, you tie into the rope with a Croll, which has a blocking device that allows you to go up the rope but stops you from moving down. Another device that locks into the rope is called a puño (fist) and has a strap with a loop that goes around your foot. The puño has a blocking device like the Croll and you move up the cliff by doing a series of one-legged deep-knee bends, worming your way up the rope like a caterpillar.
For descending you switch to an locking pulley called a Stop that allows you to safely rappel down. Switching from ascent to descent requires securing yourself with the aid of two carabiners on ropes tied to your harness and making sure you disengage and secure the equipment in the proper order.
Beginners at a sport always expend far more energy than they need to. I was no exception. Once I got to the top of the quarry wall for the first time, I started switching over from my ascending gear and securing my Stop so I could descend. Each step is safe if you do it right, because at least two devices are securing you to the rope or wall protection at any time. Despite this, my mind was still in rock climber mode and I was trying to do it all with one hand as my other hand gripped a ledge. One foot was on a good hold and the other had a halfway decent smear.
This, of course, was entirely pointless since I was properly secured through my gear. Just then one of the instructors popped his head over the cliff top.
“Why are you hanging on?” he asked.
I didn’t have an answer for him.
“Let go,” he told me.
I let go.
“Now hang there for a minute.”
OK, lesson learned. I got back to work.
“It’s easier with two hands, isn’t it?” he said.
We finished the day worn out but successful. The class all made it through the techniques without injury, even that older foreign guy who made everything more difficult for himself.
Now came the real test: Cañuela Cave in the beautiful Sierra de Cantabria. Our instructors were easy on us and picked a cave with little technical work. The entrance is like an airplane hanger, a huge hole in the hillside sloping into darkness. Not far in, the tunnel starts to narrow and the floor gives out. The only way to continue is along a rounded hump that slopes off at a steep angle to the jagged rocks below. A rope is secured along it and by tying in with the carabiners attached by short ropes to our harness we were able to traverse this pretty quickly.
Now all daylight was behind us and we started to see rock formations such as stalactites, stalagmites, curtains and more. The route opened up into echoing galleries and then narrowed down into smaller rooms. One room was nearly circular and fringed with stalactites reaching almost to the ground, making it look like a giant petrified birdcage.
A bit beyond, we had to use the Stop to descend a cliff. A second, deeper one came later. I couldn’t see the bottom from my vantage point. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m scared of heights. All through university I went rock climbing in order to conquer my fear. I never did; I only learned to ignore it and get on with what I was doing. Discovering that you can live with the source of your fear without being affected by it was the most important thing I learned in university.
I thought I may have trouble with caving, but it turned out I didn’t. At the quarry I was too busy fiddling with the new equipment to even notice. In the cave, not being able to see the bottom made going over the edge easier somehow. No, that doesn’t make any sense – phobias never do.
More wonders followed: a lone bat clinging upside down to a rock, stalactites formed at an angle because of air currents, fossils stuck into the wall. Check out the gallery for just a small selection, and stay tuned for more underground adrenaline highs. I’ll be going into more detail about the world underneath our feet and the sport that helps you explore it.
[Top photo by Sean McLachlan. Bottom photo of yours truly wearing his helmet at a rakish angle taken by Dani “that guy in the caving class whose last name I should have learned.”]
It starts at midnight with a 108-kilometer mountain bike ride into the teeth of a biting Patagonian wind. And then, in the morning, there is the brutal realization that there is another 593 more kilometers of mountain biking, trekking and sea kayaking to be completed in no more than ten days. Here’s your map and compass. Now figure out how to survive in the remote, untrammeled wilds of Patagonia.
Two years ago, I covered the Race Across America (RAAM), an insane 3,000-mile bike race that challenges sleep-deprived cyclists to sprint across the country within a 12-day time limit. The winner that year was Christoph Strasser, an Austrian bike messenger who caught a total of just 7 and a half hours sleep while crossing the country in eight days.
Earlier this week, one of Christoph’s friends sent me a message about the Patagonian Expedition Race, and after talking to Pete Clayden, a Brit who moved to Chile in 2011 to help run the race, I no longer think that the RAAM participants are the world’s craziest endurance athletes.
This year’s Patagonian Expedition Race is a 701-kilometer adventure that involves 300 kilometers of mountain biking, overland treks totaling 320 kilometers, and about 80 kilometers of sea kayaking across rugged, virgin terrain in Patagonia that includes majestic mountains, fjords, glaciers and ice fields. The race, which is considered one of the toughest endurance tests in the world, was the brainchild of Stjepan Pavicic, a Chilean geologist who has mapped out different courses in each of the 11 years the race has been held.
“Some of the areas we go into, we may be the first people to have gone there,” says Pete Clayden, who went to work for the race after his post in the financial sector disappeared during the Great Recession, in a recent Skype interview. “There’s a lot of completely virgin ground here, so we never have a hard time finding a new route. We try to showcase the best of the region while creating a unique, very difficult adventure for the racers.”
This year, eleven teams from around the world set off from Puerto Natales, in Chile, at midnight on Monday, February 11, for the first leg of the race – the hellish, aforementioned 108-kilometer mountain bike ride. Two days into the race, six teams were still active, two were thought to be active but hadn’t checked in, and three teams had already dropped out. Last year, 11 of the 19 four-person, co-ed teams actually finished the race.
Clayden said that this year’s race, which concluded over the weekend, was one of the toughest ever, with fierce winds and a difficult course that only three teams were able to complete in the allotted time. Team Adidas TERREX Prunesco, made up of Mark Humphreys, Sally Ozanne, Nick Gracie and Chris Near, won for the fifth consecutive year, crossing the finish line in Punta Arenas, Chile on February 20. The Japanese EastWind team finished third, with GearJunkie Yogaslackers in third.
Each team has to have at least one woman; one team has two this year. But while the women may be outnumbered, some female racers from previous years proved to be some of the competition’s fiercest competitors. Last year, a Japanese woman named Kaori Waki broke one of her ribs on the second day of the race.
“But she kept quiet about it and carried on,” Clayden says. “Her team still managed to come in third place.”
Each team is required to bring their own cooking gear, tents and supplies and there are six resupply opportunities spread out over the course. Clayden says that most teams sleep for just an hour or two per night and some suffer from sleep-deprived hallucinations.
“But a lot of the racers tend to enjoy their hallucinations,” he says. “They call them the sleep monsters.”
Teams are required to stay together, leave no trace in the pristine wilderness, and assist other teams if they are in distress. (Time spent helping other teams is deducted from a team’s race time.) Each team gets a GPS and a satellite phone but they can only use them if they’re in deep trouble and are no longer vying to win the race. Weather conditions are often brutal; on a few occasions Patagonian winds of more than 100 mph actually knocked riders off their bikes (see footage below!) and temperatures can dip below freezing.
“But the thing that really gets the racers is the terrain,” Clayden says. “For the first third of the race, they’re trekking across a glacier, working their way alongside a long section of mountains and lakes, with many river crossings. And there’s one iceberg-filled lake they’ll be crossing on a kayak. It’s an adventure playground.”
It costs $1,000 per team to enter the race, which attracts an eclectic mix of adventurers from around the world who work 9-5 jobs as teachers, tradesman, entrepreneurs, guides and almost any other job you can think of. And what is the prize for enduring this brutal, self-guided race?
“There is zero prize money,” says Clayden, who had just started his own sports massage business when he got the phone call that lured him down to Patagonia to work for the race. “The race is run in the Olympic spirit, solely for the honor of winning it. But there is a trophy and those who finish get a medal. People make enormous sacrifices to compete.”
A British team called Adidas TERREX Prunesco has won what is often referred to as the “Last Wild Race” four years in a row but there’s a plucky quartet of Americans who has also been in the running for the last four years. Gear junky Yoga Slackers are a husband and wife led team comprised of yoga instructors from Bend, Oregon (see videos). In most cases, however, spouses refrain from competing on the same team.
“Generally speaking this is not something you want to do with your life partner,” Clayden says, with a laugh.
When the racers reach the finish line, their feet are sore, they haven’t had a shower in a week or more and they want beer – sometimes, several beers. But Clayden says that more often than not, they come back for more, year after year.
“For most people, it’s to have a great adventure and to have it here in Patagonia,” he says. “They love the wildness of the country, the savageness of it, the intense weather and the way they are immersed in nature. It’s the world’s greatest race, because you compete in mind-blowing scenery and with three of your best friends.”
[Photo credits:Alex Buisse, Chris Radcliffe, Ulrik Hasseman and Alex Karelli from the Patagonian Expedition Race]
Some of the best things we run across just don’t need a whole lot of words.
This stunning video compilation is one of those.
Awesome X: Sense Of Life is a compilation of over 30 adventure videos from Germany’s EdisProduction. The stunning effort is a whirlwind of visuals and locales. The production company offers this caption to accompany the video: “Sense of Life – my fresh 5-minutes compilation capturing awesome and stunning videos introduced with a wonderful Song: Band of Horses – The Funeral.”
Travel brochures tout tourist-oriented destinations that commonly offer plenty of things to do. Any given place on the planet might have historic significance, a natural wonder of some sort or man-made things to see and do that draw visitors from around the world. The state of Colorado is no exception.
Racks of colorful travel brochures with a variety of attractions can be found in hotels, airports, restaurants and most public places. Stopping a couple days in the Denver area recently, we found some travel brochures that jumped off the rack saying, “take me.” Surely, that’s what they are designed to do; catch our attention over a hundred other brochures competing for our limited time in town.
It’s interesting though, how just one of those brochures can open up an entirely different experience; in this case, one that literally fell out of the sky.
Indoor Skydiving at SkyVenture Colorado in Denver simulates the free-fall part of a sky dive, the time between jumping out of a plane until the parachute is opened – what is commonly referred to as “flying.”
The SkyVenture wind tunnel facility does it so well, that avid and pro skydivers go there to practice what they might do during free fall, in a timely and cost-efficient manner.
Jumping out of a plane, skydivers get about 50 to 60 seconds until they need to deploy their parachute (called a “canopy”). To practice a routine or formation, many of these “drops” are needed and without a wind tunnel that means landing, repacking their parachute, getting back in a plane, taking off and jumping out all over again.
They don’t mind that; in fact, they pretty much live for it. But the Sky Venture wind tunnel allows skydivers to practice efficiently, often with other knowledgeable skydivers looking on, providing helpful tips and feedback.
Both experienced skydivers from different backgrounds, their paths crossed via skydiving.
Sydney Owen, a recent USF graduate, was climbing the corporate ladder at rapid speeds on a path to epic success when skydiving entered the picture. To feed her passion for the sport, she left the corporate world behind and started her own millennial-focused PR firm. Based at Southern California’s Skydive Elsinore, Sydney has jumped out of a perfectly good airplane 300+ times.
Barry Williams, the Director of Elsinore Elevate Advanced Bodyflight at Skydive Elsinore with an extensive pedigree (AFF-I, USPA C/E, FAA Sr. Rigger, for readers in the know), has over 6000 jumps.
Frankly, having anything to do with “Pro Skydiving” was not on my original top-ten list of “Wishes For Our Children.”
But “Be Happy,” “Impact Those Around You” and “Find Someone To Share Your Life With” were probably in the top three and skydiving managed to make hitting all of them possible. Pictured here, their “first dance” after the ceremony.
The SkyVenture Colorado brochure lists a number of services they render, but “life changing event” is not mentioned. It kind of makes one wonder what other attractions might have to offer, beyond the brochure headlines.
Let’s take a look at some other Colorado offerings found on brochure racks throughout the state.
Also flight-oriented, Glider Rides in Boulder, Colorado, are not the small, lightweight hang gliders that these high-performance aircraft are often confused with.
Here an FAA-certified commercial pilot tows the glider, you and another pilot to a suitable altitude. Once there, the glider pilot releases the towline, allowing the aircraft to soar effortlessly and silently with no engine noise. Passengers can take the controls for a portion of the flight or just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Back on solid ground, the Downtown Aquarium in Denver features Diving With The Sharks in which visitors dive into the aquarium’s sunken shipwreck exhibit where they experience Sand Tiger Sharks, Brown Sharks, Zebra Sharks and Barracudas.
Another experience available, Swim With The Fish, lets kids ages 6 and up snorkel with the facilities 350-pound Grouper, Moray Eels and more.
Also water-oriented, Raft Colorado, run by Raft masters since 1989 offers a variety of raft adventures and specializes in group experiences. On the Arkansas River in Canon City and Clear Creek in Idaho Springs, Colorado, Raft Masters provides all the equipment and safety training.
Beginners to advanced rafters at Clear Creek experience some of the best and most exciting whitewater, about 30 minutes away from Denver. Arkansas river programs boast spectacular scenery on America’s most popular rafting river.
Package deals include a Rail & Raft offering that begins with a scenic round-trip train ride through Royal Gorge. After an included buffet lunch, choose an afternoon raft trip on either Bighorn Sheep Canyon or Royal Gorge. A Boat & Bridge package combines Royal Gorge Bridge and Park with a half-day raft trip.