Snowboarder Twitters For Rescue

The “micro-blogging” phenomenon known as Twitter has captured the attention of many, while confounding others. In a nutshell, the service allows users to send out brief messages to friends, known as “Followers” in twitter-speak, sharing news and information or simply the minutia of your day.

The service came in especially handy for Jason Tavaria recently when he and a companion were snowboarding in the Swiss Alps and became lost in a snow storm. Despite being stranded in a blizzard, Tavaria’s iPhone still had reception, and he simply used his Twitter app to “tweet” his location, which he determined using the phone’s built in GPS. Rescue teams were able to locate Tavaria, who was unharmed and in good condition.

Tavaria’s companion, Rob Williams, was not so lucky. It is believed that while lost, and blinded by the snow, he fell of a 60 foot cliff and died. His body was later recovered from a stream at the foot of the cliff he went over.

The entire search and rescue operation played out over Twitter as well, with friends of the duo sending out messages and updates from the lodge while they waited for word on their rescue. At one point they sent out a request for Williams’ phone number in an attempt to call the young entrepreneur, who had founded the online music equipment site Dolphin Music.

This story is just another example of how connected we’ve all become and how technology is changing the way we communicate.

Amazing Race 14: Recap 1, Swiss cheese is heavy

When the teams took off for Switzerland from the Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos, California after the Marine helicopter ride that took them there, you could feel the buoyancy and hear their glee. No matter the season, every team has a real can-do attitude at the beginning of the Amazing Race. Amazing Race 14 was no different. And just like every other season, some teams began to fall apart not long after they landed.

Jennifer and Preston missed their connecting train. She got crabby and he crabbed back. Later in the episode, Steve chastised Linda for being slow as they hoofed it to the Church of San Antonio in Locarno to meet up with a monk. Her slowness put them behind most of the other teams. Steve only made her weepier. As Linda pointed out, she would have gone faster if she could have. “I can’t run and I feel bad about it,” she sniffled. Good point. Who goes on the Amazing Race trying to be pokey?

When people are crabby and chastising when they travel, they miss the details. In Switzerland, one detail comes in snow-capped mountains, so gorgeous they can make you cry. Brad, choked up, for example, as he and Victoria sped through them on the train. It might of been the mountains, or maybe he was tired. Other details of Swiss travel had to do with bungee jumping and cheese.

First the bungee jumping. After a night of camping, fending off mosquitos, the teams headed a short distance from Locarno to Contra Verzasca Dam where James Bond made his bungee jumping leap in the movie Goldeneye. In nerves of steel daring, one team member from each team made the Bond jump, minus the music, in order to receive their next clue.

This is not just an Amazing Race opportunity. You can make the 220 meter, 70-story, jump yourself through the company Trekking Outdoor Team. It seriously looks like a blast for a person not afraid of heights. Interestingly, the person most afraid of heights was Jodi, one of the flight attendants. As we knew all along, even a person afraid of heights would be able to make the leap for the chance for a million dollars.

When the jumping was over, it was off via train to Interlaken and Kleine Rugen Wiese, a place with a slippery, grass covered hill and wheels of cheese at the top of it. Teams had to grab antique cheese racks, trudge to the top of the hill, one rack per member, to carry cheese–great big wheels of it that can bound and roll down a hill like nobody’s business when dropped–to the bottom using the racks in some way. What a hoot.

The antique racks looked rigged since almost everyone of them snapped like kindling wood. Making the task more difficult was avoiding getting bowled over by the escaped flying cheese, and the people chasing after it. To get a 50-pound cheese wheel down a hill, you can hold it in front of you in both arms, sit with it on your lap and scoot, put one wheel on each shoulder, or do a combination of all three. If you’re really smart, you’ll stack three cheese wheels on the rack and drag it down the hill like Steve did.

While the teams acted out this Abott and Costello-like scene, Swiss men stood at the bottom of the hill swigging some sort of beverage and laughing. Eventually, all cheese was stacked properly, and the teams were off once more to find yodelers at the pit stop in the town of Stechelberg. For a little while I thought that Steve and Linda, who call themselves endearments like “dumb asses” when frustrated, wouldn’t find the yoderlers, but eventually they came out of the woods where they had headed to land a 9th place finish.

The first place finishers were mother and son team, Margie and Luke. Both of them started to cry. So did 2nd place finishers, Tammy and Victor–even Phil looked teary. Tammy and Victor weren’t feeling emotional because they came in second by a hair–thus missed out on that swell trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I think it was because the finish was so awesome indeed. Luke is deaf.

As Luke said, “A lot of people think deaf people can’t do things, but the deaf can do it. I just want to show people that deaf people can do it.” I’d say Victor and Tammy will get their share of first place prizes.

In a neck and neck finish, Christie and Jodi reached the Pit Stop mat before Jennifer and Preston. Although they were thrilled to stay in the race, the flight attendants did give the loosing team hugs, proving that flight attendants are indeed friendly. Preston promised Jennifer she did not let him down. Hey, they get to hang out for a couple weeks at some swank villa somewhere at the Elimination Station if this season is like the others. That’s not a bad deal.

The moral of this episode is, before you go on the Amazing Race, go to a train station. Jennifer had never been to one before. I think traveling at a break neck speed in unfamiliar territory is not the best place for a first time.

Where everyone has ended up so far:

  • 1st -Margie and Luke
  • 2nd -Tammy and Victor
  • 3rd – Mark and Michael
  • 4th – Mel and Mike
  • 5th – Amanda and Kris
  • 6th – Brad and Victoria
  • 7th – Cara and Jaime
  • 8th – Kisha and Jen
  • 9th – Linda and Steve
  • 10th – Christie and Jodi
  • 11th – Preston and Jennifer (Eliminated)

For a more detailed recap, check out the Amazing Race 14 website.

Body-skating in the Swiss Alps

This should wake you up on this Sunday morning. Check out this incredible daredevil, who’s just invented a new sport by doning a rolling bodysuit and then skating down a mountain road in the Swiss Alps.

I think it speaks to the craziness of this stunt that it’s managed to upstage the Swiss Alp backdrop, which is stunning eh? Oh, and notice the zooming bikes and vehicular traffic.

The World’s Longest Tunnels

The Gotthard Base Tunnel (map), a railway tunnel in Switzerland, isn’t complete yet, but in 2015 — after 22 years of construction — it will be the longest transportation tunnel in the world, running 35 miles through the Swiss Alps. It will eventually cut the travel time between Zürich and Milan from 3.5 hours to 2.5. Four tunnel boring machines are working the job: “2 southbound from Amsteg to Sedrun, 2 northbound from Bodio to Faido and Sedrun,” according to Wikipedia. The machines cut away at the rock at a rate of 100 feet per day in optimal conditions. That explains the 22 years of construction!

The Seikan Tunnel in Japan is the current world record holder, clocking in at 33.49 miles. Almost half of the length runs under the Tsugaru Strait, which connects the island of Honshū to Hokkaidō in northern Japan, and bridges the Sea of Japan with the Pacific Ocean. The tunnel opened on March 13, 1988, after 17 years of construction. Two stations are located in the tunnel: Tappi-Kaitei Station and Yoshioka-Kaitei Station, both of which were the first train stations in the world built under the sea. Yoshioka-Kaitei has since been demolished to make way for the Hokkaido Shinkansen project, which will eventually facilitate high-speed trains in the Seikan.

The Channel Tunnel, or Chunnel (map), linking the United Kingdom and France under the English Channel, takes the second (completed) spot at 31 miles long. While it’s a few miles shorter than the Seikan Tunnel, the Chunnel’s underwater segment is longer than that of the Seikan, making it the world’s longest underwater tunnel. The construction took 13 7 years, from 1987 to 1994, with over 13,000 workers involved in construction. Eleven tunnel boring machines were used — 6 on the English side, and 5 on the French side — and the sides met on December 1, 1990. 8.2-million passengers traveled the Chunnel via Eurostar in 2005, and numbers are expected to grow even larger when the Channel Tunnel Rail Link extends to London later this year. When the link is completed, a train trip from London to Paris will take 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The Lötschberg Base Tunnel in Switzerland runs 21.5 miles from Frutigen, Berne to Raron, Valais. When it opens in December of 2007, it will be the longest land tunnel in the world until the Gotthard Base Tunnel opens in 2015. “To dig the Loetschberg, some 16 tons of explosives were used and enough rock was excavated to pack a freight train 2,500 miles long – stretching across Europe from Lisbon, Portugal, to Helsinki, Finland,” according to this report from MSNBC.