by Vicky Lane, The Guardian, August 11, 2015
Drowning. Nearly drowning. Sprain. Strain. Torn ligaments. Fracture. Heat and cold injuries. Over-exhaustion. Brain damage. Stings. Heart attack. Contact with poisonous plants. Bites from animals. Accidents involving machinery. Death …
My friend Dani glances up from the sheet he’s been reading, looking puzzled. “How do you say when a person becomes paralysed down one side?”
“Stroke?” I reply.
The Austrian’s kind offer to translate the possible risks listed on the disclaimer form my sister Sophie and I have just signed is not having a particularly reassuring affect. “Don’t worry,” he continues, noting our concern. “It says ‘includes but is not limited to’, so there are likely to be many other ways you could either get injured or die.”
It’s good to know Dani hasn’t lost his sense of humour. Having not seen him since we backpacked together for a few weeks in Australia over 10 years ago, I wasn’t sure if the rapport would be the same. So, when he messaged on Facebook to say he was doing the Xletix Challenge Tirol – a 10 mile obstacle course on the Alps around Kuhtai, a mountain resort about an hour’s drive west from Innsbruck, Austria – and asked if I fancied joining his team, I figured it would be a great chance to find out. After all, if things were a bit flat, I could always “lose” him in one of the mud pits.
Inviting Sophie – currently living a mere three and a bit hour train ride in Basel – to join the pack just seemed logical. At 5ft nothing and a novice when it came to obstacle events, she was bound to be worse than me. And, according to Dani, none of the 10 members of his team have done any training. “We’ll just take it slow,” he shrugs.
Great views up here ... Photograph: Jan Eric Euler
What Dani forgot to advise us more fragile Brits is that his group is made up of Mountain People, as I like to call them. A wonderful breed; they’re the kind who don’t think twice about going for a morning ski before work in the winter, a vertical mountain bike-ride in the summer and a post-work hike all-year round. Essentially, they are a naturally healthy, outdoor lot who are all tanned, toned, beautiful and far fitter than I. They’re also far more prepared for the conditions than we are, which at 8am on an overcast morning 2,000 meters up, are cold. While everyone else looks snug in sensible base layers, hats and gloves, Sophie and I stand shivering in T-shirts and running bottoms.
Still, as with any good obstacle event these days, a merry compere-cum-fitness instructor is warming up the crowd with a comical stand-up-cum-stretch routine that regularly directs the athletic mob to form an X for “Xletix Challenge” with crossed arms above their heads. The company, started two years ago by “avid obstacle-running and action-sports enthusiasts” Jannis Bandorski and Matthias Ernst, now runs eight events a year across Germany and Austria, and will be holding their first in London next summer. Each consists of a series of “spectacular” obstacles (which must be completed to avoid a forfeit of 15 burpees) placed around a course that integrates with its natural surroundings.
As the horn blows, and our wave sets off galloping across the start line with enough hoots to ensure the mountains are alive with the sound of, well, noise, we reach the first slope and – despite our best efforts – are brought to a walk within four seconds. It’s so steep that even the fittest barely make a minute before joining the rest in a slow but steady hiking motion.
Fun in the mountains. If that’s your idea of fun. Photograph: Jan Eric Euler
But soon we are happily running along a ledge about a quarter of the way up the first mountain. It’s nice. Really nice, actually. The weather changes quickly up here, and the sun has decided to join us, which transforms the rolling, lush green hills and lower, sparkling turquoise lakes into the kind of panorama you’d get at least 50 likes on Facebook for.
What I wouldn’t like on Facebook, however, is the many “Wonder” walls. I hate them. At least 10ft high with no ridges for footing, there’s no option but to clamber onto another team member to try and haul yourself up and over. It’s lucky, then, that we have “Tank” on our team, as I’ve nicknamed him. A huge, muscular guy who wouldn’t look out of place in a Die Hard movie, he’s balanced himself on the top of the wall and – with one arm – is casually lifting stragglers over like a human crane. “Thank you!” I gratefully trill upon my turn. “Keep moving,” he reprimands me sternly, in a perfect Arnie voice.
So we do, and – thanks to Tank and the rest of the Mountain People – we make the best progress of any obstacle race I’ve ever attempted. With their encouragement, “tricky” tunnels, freezing water tanks, wobbly rope webs and a horribly high jump onto an air mattress are completed quickly. Even a minor electrocution on a fence the attendant “forgot to tell us was live” (“See? I told you there’d be other ways you could get injured!” calls Dani) is brushed off hastily.
One hard way to earn a beer. Photograph: Jan Eric Euler
The hardest obstacles are the mountains themselves. It’s when I realise that being English has its advantages. Mainly because I can regularly stop to “look at the incredible views” (“We don’t have this in London, remember?”) instead of admitting the truth: that I need to stop to catch my breath in fear of passing out.
My pauses don’t go without retribution, however, when – as the last to clamber the final mound to the top – I’m rewarded with a snowball to the face. Of course, I think, wiping the ice from my eye, we’re on the Alps: there was bound to be some of the white stuff. Soon, a full spontaneous snowball fight is underway, a first for any official sporting event I’ve done and a very welcome means of cooling down after all the climbing. It’s awesome.
Perhaps it’s the high altitude, but Sophie and I are grinning as though there’s more than just sugar and electrolytes in our energy gels. The final obstacles – a “speed” water slide and monkey bars across another tank of water I don’t even make the first rung on – ensure we all cross the finish line soaked, while the rest of the course has left us sunburned, bruised and battered. We’re too happy to care, though. We’ve managed to not suffer any significant injuries (or death), and, as everyone gleefully accepts their completion beer for compulsory cheers, hugs and photos, Sophie and I know we have been accepted among the Mountain People.
Xletix Challenge Tirol has been the most enjoyable adventure race to date. There are very few locations that could top the Alps and – I’ve learned – doing these kind of things with people who are actually good at them (ie Austrians and, I hate to admit, my sister) is the way forward. It’s also a superb way to reconnect with old friends, for anyone short on ideas.
Vicky tweets @TravellerVicky
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
This article was written by Vicky Lane from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.