Five Miles Up with … Felix Baumgartner

Deborah Hopewell
CompassNovember 13, 2012

The Taipei 101 Tower in Taiwan. Marmet Cave in Velebit National Parc, Croatia. France's Millau Bridge. The Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur. Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer statue. This might sound like a must-see list of some of the world's awe-inspiring attractions, but for Alex Baumgartner, it's just another day at work. His job description: BASE jumper, skydiver, death defyer. Last month, Baumgartner undertook the Red Bull Stratos project, freefalling 128,100 feet (24 miles) above Roswell, N.M., at 833 mph (Mach 1.24), becoming the first man to break the speed of sound in free fall. And while some people have home movies of their travels, he's got a documentary, Space Dive, airing this week on the National Geographic Channel.

What's something you never fail to pack in your suitcase?
A picture of my girlfriend Nici, so she's with me wherever I go.

What's your favorite form of travel?
Skydiving, BASE jumping or piloting a helicopter.

If you're flying commercially, do you carry-on or check-in?

Check in. I hate bothering with carry-on, even the smallest bag.

Window or aisle?

Aisle. It's often cold in the window sea—and besides, because I do a lot of long-distance travel, it's nice to have easy access to restroom!

What's your idea of the perfect vacation?

It doesn't matter so much where it is, but what makes it a vacation to me is no e-mails, no telephone.

Tell us about a vacation you've taken that's come close thus far.
I don't really "do" vacations—I travel so much that for me a vacation is being at home. When I'm in Austria or Switzerland I love things like boating, snorkeling, inline skating….

What's the worst vacation you've ever been on?

In my early days as a BASE jumper, I was in the middle of a long trip with a friend when air-traffic control went on strike. The airline was nice enough to compensate us for the canceled flight with tickets on a big cruise ship. But imagine being on a fancy cruise ship when you haven't planned for it. All these glamorous people were enjoying life, and here we were — just young and starting out—with no money. We didn't exactly fit in! We didn't even have proper clothing because we were on a BASE trip and had packed only for roughing it outdoors. Fortunately, by the time we returned, the strike was over and we could take a flight.

Where has been your favorite place to train for BASE jumps?
Definitely my favorite place for training BASE jumps is what we call the "Dragon Wall" in the Salzburg (Austria) area where I grew up. It's close to my family's home, easily accessible and a good height for jumping.

Ever try a food that you wished you hadn't?

Not really. Most of the time when I go somewhere where I might run across unfamiliar food, I have to perform a jump and people are counting on me; so I seldom take chances with foods that are unknown to me.

What's your favorite hotel, resort, yurt, train, boat you've ever stayed in/on?
I loved Rio (Brazil) and Cape Town (South Africa). I loved both Brazil and South Africa. They have a healthy outdoor lifestyle and people from all walks of life who have such a welcoming, positive attitude. To me Rio and Cape Town are very powerful, spiritual places; I can't think of any other cities quite like them.

What's the biggest regret you've ever had while on vacation?

I'm not the kind of guy who focuses on regrets. Most of the time when I make a decision, I'm sure about it.

What's the one thing you're willing to splurge on above all else?

Fixed-gear bicycles — "fixies." I'm always seeing new ones I like.

Three songs (or artists) on your travel playlist?

Bobby Bland's Ain't No Love in the Heart of the City, the main titles from the Apollo 13 soundtrack—that was playing all the time while I was preparing for my jump in Roswell (N.M.) — and No Limit by Jamayl Maleek.

Where would you take someone visiting your hometown for the first time?

I would take them to Hohensalzburg Castle, which overlooks Salzburg. No, wait—even better: I'm a helicopter pilot, so I'd take them on a helicopter ride. Within 30 minutes I could take them to all the beautiful places in the area, and they'd immediately understand why it's such a cool place.

You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?

Since I'm answering this from the road, I'd go home!

What was your perspective like  Red Bull Stratos?
You can see for yourself on the documentary Space Dive, which is scheduled to premiere on National Geographic Channel. The documentary shows footage from the five cameras that I wore during my jump, as well as images taken from cameras inside and outside the capsule and on the ground.