Extreme challenge: they fight against death

  Cycling until unconscious, climbing unprotected rocks, swimming in seas full of jellyfish… extreme athletes strive to push the limits of the human body. Why are they doing this?
  | Extreme Cycling|
  During a cycling race in Slovenia, Christopher Strasser saw a piece of toilet paper on the ground. “I figured, I’ve got to pick it up and throw it away.” He radioed the support van and said he wanted to pull over. His coach urged him to move on and told him someone would sort it out. Strasser reluctantly agreed.
  It wasn’t until he reached the finish line that Strasser learned why the team had objected to his parking: He had hallucinated that the so-called “toilet paper” was actually just white road markings on the asphalt. After about 30 hours of non-stop riding with no sleep at all, Strasser’s brain went haywire.
  ”In hindsight , I just think it’s kind of funny,” he said, “but actually, sitting on a bike like that is pretty dangerous.” “Regular customers”. This strong man is from Styriamark, Austria. He participated in the “Cross America Cycling Race” which covered thousands of kilometers and lasted for several days. Participants need to plan their own diet and sleep time during the race. Many competitors will reach Even beyond the limits of one’s own physical and psychological endurance. “Old man, why do you keep forgetting how miserable you are every time?” Strasser asks himself during games when his hip is bleeding from grinding, his fingers are numb or he’s hallucinating.
  Strasser says he is not a masochist or particularly adventurous, but he has applied repeatedly for the competition for 20 years. And he’s not an exception. In recent years, the types of extreme sports have become various: athletes swim in the open sea, ride bicycles for several days, run in the desert, climb unprotected rocks, jump into the deep sea from cliffs… Although these sports are very different in content, they are all extreme. same. Extreme experience has been regarded as the spirit of the times.

  Why would anyone voluntarily enter such an extreme environment? For most people, it’s not worth the risk for money, and the winners of some competitions don’t get any prize money, or if they do, it’s very little, which doesn’t match the huge amount of energy and time they spend preparing.
  Strasser is clearly a little sorry for the answer he gave. “It might sound corny, but, for me, the process is the goal,” he says. He always does his best to prepare for the game. In the winter, he trains alone for hours almost every day in the basement of his home. “For me, the best thing is the process of training hard to win the race and making small improvements from time to time,” he said. “These are better than crossing the finish line.”
  Strasser has won six times . Winner of the “Cross America Cycling Race”. This may be the most difficult “superman bicycle race” in the world. From the west coast of the United States to the east coast, the whole journey is nearly 5,000 kilometers. There are no fixed rest stops. In 2014, he set a world record by climbing a total height of about 35,000 meters in 7 days and 16 hours, and only slept for six hours. All he received as a reward was a wooden plank in the shape of the United States of America, and he had to find sponsors to finance his tortured journey, which cost him around 50,000 euros.
  The hardest part is the extreme sleep deprivation, Strasser says, and the first night is especially painful because the body is still actively fighting this “sleep withdrawal.” At one point, he fell asleep on an uphill in the Rocky Mountains, fell off his bike, and ended up having to forfeit the race. “If it had happened on a downhill road, or there was traffic in both directions, I would have died,” he recalls.
  The last two nights, when sleep deprivation causes a physical and mental “shutdown,” can also be dangerous. After a little nap, you may forget how to handle the bike, and sometimes you may not even recognize your instructor. In one video, after a brief nap in a parking lot in Athens, Ohio, the coach can be seen giving Strasser instructions on how to pedal and what a red light means. Strasser listened with vacant eyes, then rode forward slowly, crookedly.
  In “Cycling Across America,” Strasser was followed by 11 people, including a doctor. They followed him in a camper van and two pickup trucks, helping when his bike broke down or he needed first aid. They decide how often he eats, when he sleeps, and in some cases whether he has to retire—decisions that Strasser, in a brain fog, cannot make alone. “Only in this way can I concentrate on breaking through my limits.” Strasser said, “I don’t have to worry about starving to death, dying of thirst, or having problems with my body that may cause serious consequences.” Strasser’s success is based on his dedication to the team. this trust.
  | Unprotected Rock Climbing|
  However, for some extreme athletes, this kind of escort may be a “luxury” treatment that they cannot afford or do not want to afford. Swiss Danny Arnold is one of them. “I need absolute freedom,” he said, “but it also means that I can’t shirk responsibility, I need to bear the consequences of my actions 100%, and I can’t rely on anyone.”
  As an extreme alpinist, Arnold often climbs alone , almost without any security measures, and the speed is surprisingly fast. He is the record holder for a large number of famous climbing routes. In 2019, he climbed a 550-meter-high vertical cliff in the Italian Dolomites without using a safety rope, and the whole journey took only 46 minutes and 30 seconds.
  In the sport known as “unprotected rock climbing,” every mistake could mean death. “So it was critical for me to figure out what I could do,” Arnold said. He couldn’t understand why some people would call him “crazy”. “We have to be adventurous,” he said. “Everyone’s perception of risk is different. I grew up in the mountains and knew how to move freely in the mountains. For climbing, of course I have different risks than a layman. Cognition. If a person only sees a picture of me hanging alone on a cliff 1000 meters above the ground, he will indeed say: ‘This person is crazy!’ But in fact, he does not know how many outsiders are behind it Missing work. I’d be stupid if I didn’t prepare as hard as I could before climbing.”
  Arnold said that at times he felt even safer without the belay so he could focus on each hold and move closer to the summit. Arnold called it “honest climbing.” He said that he would not be more nervous in such a situation, but calmer.

  But why can he remain calm when his life is on the line? In fact, these extreme athletes tackling different challenges have a lot in common. They are both physically fit and experienced in the sports they play. “None of them wanted to die,” says Odun Hetland, a psychologist at the University of the Arctic in Tromso, Norway. “All were trying to minimize the risk.”
  Hetland has studied BASE jumping in depth Athletes – those who jump with a parachute from a building or mountain top. “If it was just for the risk, a BASE jumper could jump somewhere with a World War II parachute, but no one would,” he said. “Still, it’s still very risky for them.” It’s important because there are risks and there are challenges.” In the
  past, it was generally believed that actively putting yourself at risk was a disease that could be cured. Today is very different, and adventurers can gain public recognition. Some people think that BASE jumpers are completely crazy or world-weary. In this regard, Hetland retorted that in comparison, extreme mountaineering is much more dangerous. When climbing on K2, the main peak of the Karakoram Mountains, the chance of death is more than 20%.
  In 2017, on a nearly 1,000-meter granite cliff in Yosemite National Park, American rock climber Alex Honnold completed what may have been the most breathtaking unprotected rock climbing up to that time. This incident was made into the movie “Unarmed Rock Climbing”, which was well-received after it was released. Many viewers were amazed by Honnold’s calmness and calmness during the climbing process.
  Honnold’s ability to stay calm may lie in a small area of ​​his brain — the amygdala. The amygdala is a part of the limbic system, about the size of half a sugar cube. It can use the stored experience information to analyze external stimuli and determine whether danger is approaching. If danger is determined, the amygdala sends dopamine to neurotransmitters that cause fear, with the intensity of the fear depending on the perceived threat: a person climbing an unprotected cliff a few hundred meters above the ground, as long as To look down is to feel the dread of approaching death. However, Honnold has no such sense of fear. Neuroscientists scanned his brain with an MRI machine before an expedition in Yosemite National Park and found that his amygdala, while healthy, showed little response to simulated stress . So Honnold is an extreme example of a “high sensation seeker,” an adrenaline addict who needs more stimulation than the average person to release dopamine.
  Arnold has never had his brain checked, but he doesn’t believe that his nerves are different from ordinary people. He thinks the difference is only in his mentality. “Riding a bike without a helmet is considered crazy and suicidal these days. To that, I have to say that we cannot overcome weakness by adding protective gear,” Arnold said.
  In 2021, Arnold ended a multi-year project and defeated the most famous six north faces of the Alps alone, some of which were unprotected rock climbing. He said: “I know that the more often I climb without protection, the more likely I will have an accident. I often ask myself when it will end, but until now, I have no answer.” What
  is certain is that in recent years , Arnold’s psychological barriers have increased. In the autumn of 2020, he stood at the foot of the Kleine Drew in the Alps, wanting to start a new adventure, but decided to give up at the last moment. “I don’t feel right,” he said. A few weeks later, his daughter was born.
  | Swimming in the death zone|
  Andrei Wellsger said: “I have never felt fear. I am often in awe, but never afraid.” Wellsger has brushed shoulders with death many times, such as In August 2016, he experienced “the worst 12 hours”. At the time, he planned to swim across the North Channel between Northern Ireland and Scotland, known for its freezing cold waters and huge waves, the so-called “dead zone”.
  Before that, Willsig had waited 12 days on dry land in Northern Ireland with relative Jurgen Peters. Peters paddled alongside Willsger as he swam, cheering him on and delivering him food—chicken or energy-packed mush—with dip nets. Wellsger calls it “feeding.”
  Wellsger is ready at all times, but to cross the strait in this way, he needs permission from the local government. Three times his accompanying boat stopped at the start and was brought home again because the waves were too high and the risks were immeasurable. Wellsger flew back to Germany disappointed. In Paderborn, he frequently checked his mobile phone, anxiously waiting for a call from Northern Ireland.

  Five weeks later, Wellsger finally had good news. When he got into the water, he knew this time it was going to be tough. Someone warned him to watch out for sharks, but he didn’t see a single one the whole time. He encountered swarms of jellyfish, which are common in water below 13C. Wellsger didn’t feel he was being stung, but soon, like Extreme Rider Strasser, he was hallucinating. He sees a friendly swimmer competing against him, and he even touches him. And when he noticed that there were no other swimmers at all, just him, the escort boat and the ocean, he negotiated with North Channel, “Let me finish the swim. I will never swim here again.”
  More than 12 hours later , He swam 35 kilometers, reached the coast, and climbed onto the accompanying boat with his last strength. It wasn’t until evening that he noticed the red streaks and pimples on his body. After returning to Germany, he went to see a doctor and found out that he had been poisoned. Perhaps because of this, he had hallucinations. At that time, he could lose consciousness completely at any time. After the trip to the North Channel, Willsger was awake at night in pain, but as soon as the toxins were cleared, he started planning his next swimming trip.
  ”Extreme athletes rarely feel pleasure during exercise,” said scientist Hetland. “They don’t feel happy until after the task is over. It may be a long time later, such as a few days, or it may be weeks. Realizing that they are Once they have truly overcome the danger and gained a sense of satisfaction, they will have the motivation to continue.”
  Hetland compared extreme athletes to children. For a child, taking that first step in life is a huge achievement. “They fall, they feel pain, and they keep trying,” Hetland said. “They push their limits. To them, it’s extreme sports. It’s human nature, it’s all of us. It’s just that extreme athletes’ definition of limit is different from ours.”
  For extreme swimmer Wellsger, the feeling of happiness is often delayed. The North Channel is the third stop of his “Seven Channels of the World” swimming challenge plan. These seven straits are located on five continents and correspond to the seven peaks that alpinists strive to conquer.
  Wilsger, 50, is the first German to complete these challenges and possibly the first to successfully complete all Channel challenges on the first try. Now he says setting records was never important to him. Still, he was always rushing from channel to strait, spending a lot of money on planes, speaking little to his wife, and then barely speaking of his plans to anyone. “I thought no one would understand me anyway,” he said.
  ”After he successfully challenged the seven seas, I was very happy.” His wife Beate said, “But I never worried about him, because he knew what he was doing.”
  Willsger is always careful and meticulous . Get ready. In order to swim in open water, he once went to Ibiza Island, swam to an ocean buoy 400 meters from the coast, the Automatic Observatory for Hydrology, Water Quality and Meteorology, and watched the bustling crowd on the beach. “Like a quiet dream,” he said. Ten years ago, Wellsger tried to swim to the buoy again, but failed. He took off his clothes and jumped into the water, but couldn’t start swimming because the water was too cold for him to bear.
  After that, Wei Sige began to strengthen training. He kept a bucket by the gazebo in the garden and filled it with ice water. Every night, he would stay inside for more than 15 minutes. He asked his wife to come over from time to time to check whether he was still conscious. Is he addicted? “No, not at all, but that also means I can’t stop,” Wellsger said. Is he afraid of death? “I’ve had a lot of brushes with death, but I’m not afraid of him,” Wellsger said.
  In 2021, Wirsger wanted to become the first person to swim from land to Helgoland, a journey of about 49 kilometers, which meant huge physical exertion even for an experienced athlete like him, and it was a distance from him at the time. Just two years after completing the “Seven Straits of the World” swimming challenge. He swam for more than 18 hours in total, without any rest as usual, and set a new record.
  In the summer of 2022, he was invited by the Seychelles to challenge the world record and draw attention to climate change. He planned to swim about 50 kilometers between the archipelagos, but after only two hours, he gave up. The waves tossed him back and forth, and he was patted against the accompanying boat from time to time, throwing up many times. “I shouldn’t have started,” Wellsger said, recalling the time. “I was a follower of the ocean. I never swam against the water. I always went with the water.”