I just got done with one of the coolest projects I have ever been involved with.
I got hired to be one of the experts, on-camera TV moderator, and race director for this new TV Show for the Outdoor Life Network (OLN) and ABC, produced by American Adventure Productions Inc.
I got to work with some old friends, but I met a lot of new cool people as well.
The event is set in 6 stages. 50 non-professional, non-sponsored athletes were interviewed and invited by the network for our first elimination round in Moab, Utah in October 2002.
They had to prove themselves in all kinds of outdoor/adventure sports including climbing, trail-running, biking …..being not only judged by their performances but also by their attitudes, teamwork, safety, experience and ability to ultimately climb Mt. Everest.
I was one of the four experts who evaluated and eliminated the athletes; 24 of them moved on to the second stage which was held in Aspen, Colorado in December.
My fellow experts were Cathy Sassin (Adventure Racer), Russell Brice (Everest/Mountaneering Specialist) and Eric Philips (Polar explorer). Each of us had never met before and had a different backgrounds; each of us would be in charge of one of the upcoming stages, Costa Rica being my event. We had a great time and I think we figured out a fair and honest way to select/eliminate the athletes.
Aspen was the second stop, at this point we had eliminated a bunch of persons, some of them with very limited outdoors experience and knowledge. Now we had a strong group of 24 guys and girls who had to prove themselves in snow and winter related activities, including rope techniques, snow running, backcountry skiing and snow camping….
In a not so easy process we eliminated half the field – now the real deal would start.
The 12 chosen athletes left for a 3 week trip to the Kalahari desert in South Africa at the beginning of the year. One person would be eliminated in Africa, the rest of them would straight go on to Costa Rica to meet up with me for 3 weeks of exhausting activities and a bit of fun.
After Costa Rica 9 of them will advance for another 3-week expedition in Iceland; where the ultimate 5 persons will be chosen who will then attempt to summit Mt. Everest in May of 2003.
Costa Rica: I had worked out a full schedule for our athletes together with my new friend and our local race director Juan-Ca (Juan Carlos Crespo) and with Mike (a.k.a. Fred the Terrible) from “Coast to Coast Adventures” who helped us plan the Ruta – our 8 days trip across Costa Rica from the Pacific all the way to the Caribbean Sea. I also had two local assistant experts, Ursula and Eric who helped me with my decisions in sports like whitewater kayaking or climbing which I’m not really an expert in.
Then there was our director for the TV program, nobody less than the legendary climber, adventurer and author Rick Ridgeway. What a great guy he was, you wouldn’t believe the stories he had to tell – meeting him alone was worth the trip – but not to forget his fantastic crew. Jenn was doing pretty much the whole production with help from “May I talk to May” and Cheri who helped in the first few days. Eddie O was much more than the sound guy – he lived up to his reputation – made me laugh all day long and entertained us throughout the trip. Harv was the DP great guy and a pleasure to work with, the Poole-man came in and taught me how to work his steadycam, MB, Jimmy and Wade have – just like everyone else on this crew – endless experience and are actually world class athletes in the shadows of their cameras. I had met Wade a couple years ago, when he was the cameraman on my Egypt Adventure. Toyota is the big sponsor of this show, Scott was in charge of the sweet 4Runners, unfortunately they didn’t make it their until halfway through the trip.
Last but not least there was Carl.
He was the logger, not in the restroom, but in the editing room. He would spend 12 hours at a time behind his monitor just to appear in time to share some great stories or a beer. I have actually a hard time describing this guy – lets just say he ruled.
And then there were the 11 athletes!! What a great bunch of people. These guys were super nice and super fit, only the lack of a salary short of a professional athlete. They were divided into 3 teams (Team Columbus: Petit, Ted, Jesse H., and Honza, Team Magellan: Andy, Colleen, Tryntje and Jesse R. and Team Shackleton: Troy, Sam and Eric). My job was to challenge them primary as a team but also as individual athletes.
I always had to keep in mind that this was not an ordinary Everest Expedition, this was Global Extremes. Although we ultimately will try to conquer the biggest mountain in the world, first we had to conquer all kinds of other challenges and many of them had nothing to do with Mt. Everest. We experts knew that each of the 12 athletes we had picked in Aspen were in our opinion able to climb Everest – now it was time to pick the 5 best persons – but not only in terms of high altitude experience, but also in any other outdoor activity.
I came up with a judging system which would give the teams points (prayer flags) for winning certain stages and events while in Costa Rica. Ultimately the team with the most flags would move on to Iceland, the other two teams each had to eliminate one of their team members. That was the hardest part about all this.
In addition there were Individual points (prayer flags) and looser points given out to the first and last three individuals in certain events. These points would come into account in case of a tie breaker between the team points or as considerations when it came down to eliminating a team member.
Most everybody became really good friends, the rivalry between teams and athletes was rather small. Teams were even helping each other during events and everybody got to know each other more than well. Imagine that! – after spending about every minute during the past 6 weeks together.
Every day we had a different and challenging itinerary. From robes courses with zip lines and repels, were they were judged by safety and team work, to timed run/swim/paddle events, overnight jungle treks, whitewater kayaking, mountain biking, navigating, climbing coconut trees, Indian ceremonies, jungle survival, horses and sea kayaking. Many of the events lasted all day long and were not only mentally or physically demanding, but they had to deal with the elements like heat, rain, humidity, mud, dehydration and my party and after-hours schedule ( I knew I could teach them a thing or two…..).
What impressed me most was how multitalented every one of them was and how little faced they were after another long day. There was always time for a smile, a joke or an after event activities such as personal training, a surf session or my favorite was the soccer game against a team of locals.
As I mentioned before, the sad part was that some “family members” had to be eliminated at the end of our trip. But for me it was the end as well, because for the rest of this show other experts will be responsible.
Here is the low down on my new my friends:
Jesse Haynes, made me crack up more than once – he had the girly rasta look going on – he really excelled in CR. He is funny guy, strong kid, has little big mountain experience but raps like some Slim Shady guy.
Ted Mahon, was generally quiet and a middle of the pack guy – did most of Columbus’ navigating for better or worse – and was one of the most consistent competitors. I gave him a little souvenir in form of a scar at my coffee plantation bike sprint race, were I made them spin in circles before they crossed the finish-line. It made me dizzy just watching, Ted had an encounter with the nearby barbwire fence.
Andy Corra, some people think that the best thing in the world is to become a parent – for others it’s to climb the highest mountain in the world. Well, this guy has it both going on. He became father on our last day in Costa Rica and Everest is still there. Andy was the only guy who won in every individual event a prayer flag.
Colleen Ihnken, was the quietest person with us, but she is a very strong and accomplished athlete. She seems like a mountain girl and would probably do good in the upcoming events in Iceland and the Himalayas.
Eric Kapitulik, was our Marine. One strong “TeddyBear”, a guy one can rely on. Quite often he ended up being the backing animal for Shackleton, carrying all their stuff including his team members at times. Just as skilled and qualified as any of them.
Sam Gehring, was one of the cuter babes and a very strong individual who is used to go her own way. I had some good laughs and talks with her. Inspiring was her way of saying everything with a smile, even after a 10hour day.
Honza Fiala, he could have been the dad to almost anybody else there. If I’m half as fit as he is at 50 years, I’d be a happy man. His extensive mountaineering experience helped him little in Costa Rica, but he was the kind of guy you could never count out. He might not be a man of many words but he speaks with his actions.
Trynt Young, she might have been the least strongest of all the athletes, but had a smile and soul that surpassed them all. I think she excels more on expeditions than on race style events, I wouldn’t count her out for Everest.
Troy Henkels, a very interesting guy. He is quiet but very consistent. He excelled at no particular event, but managed everything perfectly without complains. Being from Alaska I think he is looking forward to the colder destinations to come. Plus he might have learned how to ride a wheelie.
Petit Pinson, one of the greatest athletes I’ve met. She was above average in every discipline. She is a fun girl to be around, always positive with a good sense of humor. She won the stitch award with 15 stitches on her arm after a bike crash. She crunched everybody in the water, I think she even out swam a dolphin in our swim event.
Jesse Rickert, was one of my favorites, not just because he is a fellow trials rider. He was accused of not being serious enough, since he has a pretty good sense of humor. I think a good sense of humor with the right amount of sincerity is one of the most important qualities any expedition partner should have. He definitely had this quality plus he was one of the strongest individuals.
Check out the web site for the latest developments and news, or catch a new episode every Monday night on OLN at 10pm. Once on Everest there will be a live broadcast. ABC will air 6-7 recap episodes sometimes in April/May.
Thanks to everybody at AAP and OLN!