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Adventure Travel

Apr 28, 2017

Irish Wingsuit Team Sets New World Records

On a recent jump in California, three members of the Irish Wingsuit Team shattered existing world records for longest flight, both distance and time.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Jumping out of the aircraft from over 34,000 feet up, David Duffy, Stephen Duffy and Marc Daly used the jump as practice for an even bigger project, when they hope to wingsuit across the North Channel, from Ireland to Great Britain.

The Irish Wingsuit Team, a group of four wise-cracking thrill-seekers, flew into the record books at the beginning of this month. On April 9, in preparation for an even bigger, riskier flight, three of the team’s members—brothers Stephen and David Duffy, and Marc Daly—set new world records for both time and flight in Davis, California.

Photo courtesy of the Irish Wingsuit Team

Their jump was a subproject of a larger goal still over a year away that the Team is calling The North Channel Crossing, in which they hope to fly their wingsuits from the North of Ireland to the UK. They will need to fly at least 21 kilometers to avoid splashing down in the water. “Us being Irish, the concept of this came over drinks in the pub, about three years ago nearly now,” Stephen Duffy told The Outdoor Journal. “We’ve been doing lots of subprojects working towards it.”

Photo courtesy of the Irish Wingsuit Team

Their recent jump in Davis, CA was the biggest subproject yet. The Team decided it would behoove them to try a flight of at least 21 kilometers over land before they attempted it over water.

Duffy, Duffy, Daly and Des Reardon (the newest member of the team, who didn’t participate in the record-breaking jump), all have day-jobs: Stephen, 31, is an aircraft engineer and university lecturer; Marc Daly, 47, is self-employed; David Duffy, 30, is a Sales and Account Manager at a construction company; and Des Reardon, 31, is a “military man,” according to Stephen.

The three are also highly experienced skydivers and wingsuiters. “We all have over 1,000 jumps, and that includes 600 to 800 wingsuit jumps,” Stephen said.

Photo courtesy of the Irish Wingsuit Team

The Duffys and Daly formed the Irish Wingsuit Team in 2011, and have been operating out of the Irish Parachute Club ever since. Since its founding, the team has represented Ireland at World Cup and World Championship events around the globe.

The high-altitude nature of the California jump posed a variety of problems and dangers for the guys. Temperature was perhaps their biggest fear: at the altitude from which they hoped to exit the plane, they estimated it would be roughly -55 degrees Celsius.

One of their sponsors—a company named Flexitog that designs and manufactures insulated wear for people working inside freezers—came to the rescue on the temperature front. According to Stephen, the guys at Flexitog said, “Guys, you’re all crazy…. What do you need?” and then outfitted them with compression skins, thermal layers and custom designed suits.

Not your average head gear… Photo courtesy of the Irish Wingsuit Team

They also had to line up an aircraft and support crew that would support their high flying aspirations. The Irish national Airline, Aer Lingus, stepped up to the plate.

When the Team arrived in California, raring to go, they had to hurry up and wait. Stephen said, “We done what the Irish do: bring the bad weather with us.” After three straight days of thunderstorms, they finally had clear skies to test out their oxygen set-ups and cold-weather gear before the main event. Stephen, David and Marc did three prep jumps from 13,000 feet, 18,000 feet, and 24,000 feet. “The last one was our first record attempt,” Stephen said. “On that one, we broke the European Continental Time and Distance records for free fall.”

Feeling confident, they readied themselves for the “big day.”

The trio awoke at 4:00 am on April 9. They arrived at the drop zone at 5:00 am to gear up, and boarded the aircraft at 6:00 am.

“We had to pre-breathe 100% aviator’s oxygen for an hour before take-off,” Stephen said. “The idea of this is to push all the nitrogen out of our tissue,” to prevent the “bends” (decompression sickness, caused by changes in pressure, most commonly associated with divers).

Technical difficulties with the first aircraft led to the team deplaning and boarding a different one. Another hour of pre-breathing oxygen and everything was a go. The plane took off around 11:30 am and quickly climbed to 34,400 feet. Their predictions about temperature weren’t far of the mark: the thermometers registered -59 degrees Celsius.  

Feeling good, the Irishmen jumped.

And, GO! Photo courtesy of the Irish Wingsuit Team

“I went first, then Marc, then David,” said Stephen. “We flew a straight line from over the mountains and into the valley as far as possible.” After an exhilarating flight lasting nearly ten minutes, they each landed down in different spots, but Marc hit the jackpot. “Marc landed in a field right beside a guy who was loading up his RV and who provided him with cool, chilled beers,” Stephen recounted, laughing. “Only that man could find beer in the middle of the American countryside.”

When they got back to the drop-zone, they checked the results from their fly-sights (little GPS units that record all the statistical data from the flight), to see how they had done. “David flew the largest horizontal distance of us, at over 29 kilometers. If you take in the angle of descent, he flew 32 kilometers, and that’s known as absolute distance.”

Stephen flew 26.5 kilometers and Marc flew 25.5 kilometers. Though David went the farthest, Stephen spent more time in the air. “I was up there for 9 minutes 31.4 seconds. That’s a long time to be falling.”

Between Stephen and David’s flights, the team set four new world records: the FAI (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the world’s governing body for all airsports) record for wingsuit time of flight, the Guinness record wingsuit time of flight, the Guinness record for horizontal distance, and the Guinness record for absolute distance. “We also set all the Irish national records and broke the European continental distance and flight of time records as well,” Stephen said proudly.

The guys were chuffed: “We’ll need to do at least 21 kilometers to get across the Channel, and we learned we can do that,” Stephen said.

With the records and that confidence under their belts, they are now firmly focused on the North Channel Crossing jump. The tentative plan is to jump in September 2018. Stay tuned!

 

 

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Travel

Jun 14, 2019

Riding Through Rajasthan

On the back of an indigenous Marwari horse, known for its warrior spirit, a female-only group rides 160 miles across India through villages that have never been visited by foreigners.

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WRITTEN BY

Margaret Reynolds

The adventure began before we even arrived at our destination. Racing through the twisting narrow back allies of Delhi, we were late. Our train to Ganganagar was leaving in ten minutes and we hadn’t made it through the swarm of Delhi traffic to the train station. We rounded a corner and came to a screeching halt as the road ahead was completely closed off at the intersection with no hope of a resolution any time soon. Honking horns, a constant accompaniment to Delhi traffic, now rose to a crescendo of cacophonic sounds as frustrated drivers expressed their annoyance. “Out! Out!” our guide shouted, and we leaped from the van and ran through the street. We were weaving around traffic which bolted forward erratically to gain inches, trying to maneuver their way free of the jam, while we stayed alert to avoid being bumped or hit. Some drivers called out to us in Hindi words we only understood by their tone. Blindly following our guide, using our adrenaline to power us through the crowd, we made it to the train and our sleeper cars minutes before departure and hoped that the bags coming behind us on porters made it too!

Author Margaret Reynolds is an experienced horseback rider who prepared for this trip with previous rides in both Europe and Africa.
Some of our group in the sleeper car of train.

Awaiting us in Hanumangarh, a short distance from Ganganagar, was the Bhatner Horse Fair, a once-a-year festival to celebrate, compete, and market the famed Marwari breed indigenous to India and unlike any other breed worldwide. Missing our train would have meant missing the Fair and it was an event that we planned our entire Rajasthan riding safari around.

“We discovered that we were the main attraction.”

The next morning, we arrived at the fair. It was the last day and while most of the events were completed, we discovered that we were the main attraction as they rarely had foreigners, and there were no other women there. We were given the red-carpet treatment since we were accompanied by Raghuvendra Singh Dundlod, affectionately known as Bonnie, a nobleman of the Shekhawati clan and reputed to be the savior of the Marwari’s. He has dedicated his life to the promotion and protection of the breed which he considers the true ambassador of Rajput culture and heritage. We were followed by a beehive of fair attendees, drawn to us like honey, and even interviewed by the local media. It became clear that our presence held so much more value than just our own education and enjoyment; we could offer support to Bonnie’s cause through our words and interest, as well as in undertaking the week-long safari to showcase these beautiful steeds to his countrymen.

Bonnie educating us on the horses while being observed by other fairgoers.
In breeder tent at the Bhatner fair with Bonnie, our guide and emissary (Margaret wearing bright scarf).

The next day we greeted our horses and mounted into traditional military saddles. The horses were proudly adorned with cloth martingales baring the rich red and saffron colors of Dundlod Fort, and the ride began past sheep herds along the Indira Gandhi Canal. These majestic horses, with warrior spirits, known for their stamina and power were the perfect partners for our eight-day safari across 160 miles of desert. We rode through the heart of Rajasthan, across the Thar desert, far from the bustling cities of the Golden Triangle, now populated by robust crops of millet and mustard enabled by the newly built canal system.

Our group freshly mounted ready to ride out. Margaret and Noel on far right.

“These majestic horses, with warrior spirits, were the perfect partners for our eight-day safari.”

The route was a new one as each year the progress of India’s roads, establishment of new agricultural fields and corresponding fences creates the need for a different trail. We passed through villages that had never been visited by foreigners. Women and children came rushing from all directions to shout “Hi” and “Hello” and shyly wave at us. We were followed for miles by young men on motorcycles whose English focused on the word “selfie” as they came armed with their cell phones to take pictures of this unusual parade of noble horses and white-skinned foreigners. We were welcomed guests wherever we traveled.

Passing through a village in Rajasthan.
Being greeted by villagers along the route.

Our first night by the village of Raika Ki Dhani, we were greeted by dozens of villagers who came to watch us—they observed us sharing chai and popadum, a crispy tortilla-like bread spiced with pepper whose flavor snaps in your mouth just like the texture, as we sat around the fire and chatted about our day. Bonnie regaled us with entertaining tales from his many adventures such as the time they were almost attacked by misinformed villagers who thought his group was hunting their sacred antelope. The locals stood quietly, respectfully, yards away and crept ever closer like sandhill cranes, en masse one step at a time, until the camp staff intervened.

Evening view of tents.
Inside view of the tents.

“We were all wearing smiles that transformed our souls and changed us forever.”

In the morning, the son of the landowner on which we camped, fluent in English, came to us requesting our presence at their home in the village so we could meet their women. Delightedly, we accepted and drove to their brick and adobe home in the village. Many generations live together, and women join the family home of their husbands. When we arrived, there were a dozen people and when we left many dozens as villagers heard of our presence and joined the gathering. The women are beautiful, graceful, and shy but so friendly and welcoming. It didn’t take long to bridge the language barrier as they let us hold their children, shake their hand, and take many pictures together. We aren’t sure who enjoyed it more. We were all wearing smiles that transformed our souls and changed us forever by the time we left.

Invited inside a local village family home.

The ride was swift with many fast canters through the desert, lined up side by side on a sandy two-track, with every horse competing to be in front. Astride the powerful Marwari thundering through the desert is an experience in which your soul is freed, and you are in the moment, feeling like you are riding on the wings of warriors past. You hope it never stops and if it were up to Koel, my lovely Marwari mare, it wouldn’t. She is a successful endurance horse that can go forever and is pleased to show you her power and speed.

The famous Marwari inward tilting ears—view to the desert.

Animals are esteemed in India. Cows, dogs and even pigs are considered holy and roam freely throughout India, including the cities. Drivers don’t honk at them even though they honk at everything else. They feast on grass and garbage or food provided by shopkeepers or families. While those of us in first world countries drive through our suburban neighborhoods, expecting to see the standard home with two car garages and the glow of multiple TVs, as we passed each home in the village we found a courtyard with a camel which served as the beast of burden pulling carts of supplies or crops, a few water buffalo that provide milk, a dog or two and likely sheep or goats for milk and meat. These precious animals, so essential for survival, are well cared for in a country known for its poverty.

The indigenous Marwari horse.

Life is simple in the villages. Days are repetitive and the work is essential –laundry, gathering fuel, cooking, and tending fields. Our presence in their villages provided some respite from the day to day existence. Often, a young boy would lead the way through town shooing goats, cows, or other animals out of our path and showing us the way to the community water trough so our horses could have a refreshing break, feeling pleased with his important role.

“The earthiness that filled the air was far preferable to the gagging stench and pollution of the city.”

Unlike the cities with their explosion of people and constant stench created by the recipe of uncontrolled diesel fumes, sewage, and trash, the villages were peaceful and calm. Here the smells were not of diesel but of livestock. Camels, so common in courtyards and hitched to carts, are ruminants. They chew and swallow their food into rumens where it is fermented, then burp it back up into their mouths later for more chewing. It smells a bit like a compost heap on a warm desert day. Cow patties are the most common source of fuel and they are being shaped by bare hands, then dried for use, usually within the courtyard or sometimes on the roof. Inexplicably, these smells weren’t offensive as they seemed harmonious with the way of life and the use of the land and its resources. For this Midwestern equine enthusiast, the earthiness that filled the air was far preferable to the gagging stench and pollution of the city.

Riding through a village.

We rode for 6-8 hours a day stopping for a break mid-day for lunch and a rest, avoiding the hottest sun of the day. Just before lunch, Bonnie’s staff raced ahead of us in the “gypsy” jeep to set up a small camp, with chairs and sleeping pads and to prepare the food, a buffet of vegetarian delicacies such as dal and curry flavored vegetables with steamed rice and endless chapatis. We were reliably greeted by villagers or passers-by, a camel driver, or young lads on their bikes, as we rested. Our biggest challenge was in finding an appropriate and private spot for a comfort break without being observed.

Men gathered with invitations to their homes.
Photo Op and Interview with the local press while the crowd watched. Margaret in a bright scarf to right of the horse.

“The future of the Marwaris has become our new cause.”

Our eight days through the desert was not a ride for the inexperienced. For those experienced riders who have come to believe they have tried it all, this ride surpasses expectations—not just because of the majesty of the Marwari’s but for the combination of culture, history, and riding which is unparalleled. I have worked up to this event by riding through other countries from Europe to Africa and the magic of this ride transcends them all.

Riding through a village being led by a young man.

The Marwaris, which drew us to India like snake charmers beckoning cobras, were everything we expected and more. We learned that they are banned from exportation which is leading to declines in the quality and popularity of the breed. The future of the Marwaris has become our new cause as we have so much respect for these amazing animals.

Dancing Marwari.

The days included challenge and leisure; hardship and comfort; and speed and stillness which have come to define India to me. It is a country of contrasts—from city to village; from western dress to traditional kurtas and saris; from Muslim to Hindu; and from ancient to modern buildings and customs. It is a country with many possibilities and it was exciting to experience first-hand the range of the country’s legacy and promise for its future.

Margaret Reynolds is a speaker, author, and advisor to organizations on improving business performance and increasing revenue growth. She is an avid competitive trail rider, winning back to back National Championships with NATRC in 2017 and 2018. Every year she and her adventurous friends find a new country to explore on horseback. [email protected]https://www.breakthroughmaster.com/

Feature image: Group send-off at Bonnie’s Dunlod Fort

 

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