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Red Bull Fierste Liepper in Utrecht, Netherlands, sees a competitive twist to an age-old way of crossing small rivers by pole-vaulting them. In celebration of the event this coming weekend, we look at six even crazier ways to traverse a stretch of river.

Rocket man
When the words ‘danger’, ‘crazy’ and ‘stunt’ coincide, the legendary Evel Knievel is never far away. On September 8, 1974, the American swapped his normal bike for a steam-powered rocketbike (something Jules Verne might have invented but actually engineered by a certain Doug Malewicki) to propel him across the Snake River Canyon in Idaho, USA. After tests on SkyCycle X-1, model X-2 was completed, but the stunt failed, as the force of the superheated steam made Knievel lose consciousness and deploy his parachute release lever early. Knievel survived with minor injuries, but having almost reached the other side, X-2 plummeted 500ft (166m) to the canyon bottom and landed on the same side of the river it had started from. Had it landed in the Snake River and Knievel still been strapped in it, he’d have drowned, as his harness had a malfunction. At least he didn’t smash his pelvis on this escapade… 

null Douglas Malewicki

A popular addition to the Cannon
Just two weeks before Knievel’s unsuccessful Snake River stunt came another, slightly more, well, English failure. On August 25, 1974, on the River Avon near Bristol, in south-west England, Mary Connors tried to recreate the classic 19th-century circus act of being fired from a cannon across to a safety net on the other side. Having taken the valuable precaution of “a few swimming lessons” (but not taken out any insurance cover), Connors’ stunt itself didn’t work and the 21-year-old secretary landed in the drink. It was lucky she could swim, then, especially as two rescuers sent to fish her out then fell in the river themselves and had to be rescued by a second boat. This one can definitely be filed under ‘heroic failures’, and that’s just the rescue crew…

A bridge just far enough
When the words ‘Evel’ and ‘Knievel’ coincide, the name Robbie Maddison is never far away. Having claimed the jump distance records of his hero at Red Bull: New Year. No Limits in 2007, Maddo also jumped the Corinth Gap in Greece on a bike, but even more fun was his leap over the raised piers of Tower Bridge in London last year. Not as big a gap, perhaps, but boy did it look spectacular. So impressed were Londoners that there’s now an exhibition for the Red Bull X-Fighter in the Bridge’s museum. Relive the moment below.

Niagara, but no falls
Frenchman Jean François Gravelot made history by being the first person to tightrope-walk the gap at Niagara Falls, which lie on the US/Canada border, in June 1859. This first success in front of an eager crowd saw The Great Blondin with a standard balancing pole, wearing a wig and pantaloons as he traversed the 1,300ft (400m), 3in-wide (7.5cm) rope. It obviously gave him confidence, as he subsequently made the same crossing on a bike, on stilts, in the dark, pushing a wheelbarrow with a stove in it (cooking an omelette), and blindfolded and wrapped in heavy blankets. (These were separate achievements, not all in one crossing.) He once even carried his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. In his last stunt in September 1860, Blondin sat at a table and ate cake and champagne to the delight of the watching public. Full stomach + alcohol + big, big drop = brave man.

Bordering on insanity
“Going anywhere nice on your holidays?”’s hairdresser asked us last week as she gave us a wash and blow. Well, for some people, ‘anywhere nice’ isn’t on the itinerary. Far from the usual spectacular ‘backpacker-trail’ travelling experiences in the Americas, one organisation, Parque EcoAlberto, have taken it to a new level by offering vacationers the chance to experience what it’s like being a desperate Mexican migrant trying to get into the Land of the Free. Groups of up to 20 can crawl fearfully for four hours through terrifying pitch darkness across aqueducts, bridges and through the undergrowth as they are hunted down by searchlight-wielding ‘border guards’ in pick-up trucks, hellbent on stopping them crossing the river into the good old US of A. “But along the way there are also moments of tranquility in which you find yourself in a magical place where local legends come to life,” says the official website. La Caminata Nocturna (‘The Night Walk’) is actually based in Hidalgo, some 1,126km (700 miles) from the US-Mexico border, and costs just 200 pesos (US$15/€12) per person. But we’ll stick with the package tour to Tenerife, thanks all the same. 

null Dr Peter Henderson, PISCES Conservation Ltd

‘No peeing in the swimming area’
This last one is a bit of a liberty, as its hero swum along a river, not across it – and then some. Slovenian Martin Strel decided to up the ante last year by swapping the Danube of his native Europe, the length of which he has also swum, for the Amazon, the world’s longest river, in which two-thirds of all the world’s fresh water flows. As well as having to swim its 5,268km (3,272-mile) length, which took 66 days, the 52-year-old ‘Fish Man’ also had to watch out for pirates, drug runners, sharks, saltwater crocs and man-eating piranha fish. "I did get the odd piranha bite through my wetsuit, but the support boat crew poured rancid blood overboard to distract them when we drove into a shoal,” explained the former supermarket worker matter-of-factly. More terrifying, perhaps, is the tiny candiru fish native to the Amazon, which urban legend states can sense the warmth of your pee in the water, swim up its source and lodge itself in the urethra with backward-pointing spines, requiring urgent and painful surgery. Try explaining those symptoms away to the doctor when you get home from your holiday in Tenerife…

Read an interview with a Fierste Ljepper legend right here for a bit more background…


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