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  • Mon June 28 2010
  • Posted Jun 29, 2010
By Lynn Hicks Charlie Wittmack has packed his wetsuit and his travel visas. His bicycles and support vehicles are ready to roll. Only one thing is missing in his plan to complete a triathlon over 10,100 miles and 13 nations. "We don't have enough money to actually finish," Wittmack said. But the Des Moines adventurer vowed that money wouldn't stop him from doing what no one has done: swim the English Channel, bike from France to India, and then climb Mount Everest. "We'll finish no matter what," he said. Wittmack, 33, will leave today for London to begin the World Tri. Back home, his supporters will continue to seek corporate sponsors and other donors. The lawyer sold his house and cars to finance the expedition. The trip's total cost: About $1.2 million, which includes educational and health endeavors. He's getting help from Mercy Medical Center, Pfizer Foundation and other companies. Iowa Toyota dealers have supplied a Tacoma 4x4 pickup and a 4Runner SUV as support vehicles. "We're looking after every penny," he said. They have arranged home stays to save money. For example, he's found hosts in Kazakhstan through Facebook, he said. His team includes communication and logistics chief Brian Triplett, a University of Iowa grad and Davenport native, and filmmaker Andy Stoll, former U of I student body president. His family - wife, Cate, and 28-month-old son James - will travel with him to Ukraine and then return to the states to avoid riskier travel in central Asia. They will rejoin him in Nepal. His last days in Des Moines have been a whirlwind. Thursday, the team members received their travel papers, which required extensive documentation to enter China, India and other countries. His team got training Sunday in off-road driving while Wittmack was in Chicago swimming in Lake Michigan. "We're in the hurricane right now," he said last week while taking a break long enough to eat a tuna-salad sandwich. He admitted he's failed in his attempt to eat 8,000-10,000 calories a day to fuel his 145-pound body. And if he cannot finish the swim? The tri isn't over, Wittmack said. "If I miss an inch here and there, we'll keep going," he said. "Each leg is historic. To combine all three is unbelievable." Swim: Wittmack will swim down the River Thames before attempting to cross the English Channel in early August. If he succeeds, he'll become the first American to pull off a "peak and pond" - swimming the channel and climbing Mount Everest. He was the first Iowan to summit Everest in 2003, but he was pulled from the channel after nearly freezing in an attempt in 2008. This time he plans to wear a wetsuit to insulate his body. He's been taking the Megabus to Chicago on weekends for eight-hour practice swims. Bike: Wittmack said he's most concerned about the ride. "There are some scary days," he said. They include crossing the Kyrgyzstan-China border at 18,000 feet on a 160-mile day, and a 150-plus-mile ride through China's Taklamakan Desert. The team will have a security detail as it travels through Kyrgyzstan and western China, the sites of recent political and ethnic violence. He'll take three bikes - a road, a cyclocross (for riding off-road) and a mountain bike with oversized tires (for riding on snow). Run/climb: Wittmack has altered the route to take a long, running approach toward the world's largest peak. "I want to climb all of Everest" starting at sea level in Calcutta, India, he said. He plans to climb Everest in May of 2011. But the trip is more than a physical challenge. The expedition will combine other components: Education: Wittmack is asking individuals to donate money to create a yearlong school curriculum from the trip. His nonprofit, the Adventure Institute, is working with the Iowa Hall of Pride, Character Counts and Topics Education, a North Carolina company. He's raised about $150,000, and he'd like to find $100,000 more. The curriculum, which will cover Earth science and other topics, will be available for free to any Iowa schools. Health: Nepal has one of the world's highest rates of women dying during childbirth. Des Moines University faculty and staff will join the White Ribbon Alliance for Safe Motherhood to train birth attendants on safe practices. The program will run from December to June. Wittmack estimated that contributions total $500,000, including in-kind donations. Travel: Wittmack is offering a travel package for people interested in participating in the trip. Groups of 10 people can travel next spring to Nepal, where they can hike to the Everest base camp. Cost: $2,995 per person, not including airfare, for an 18-day trip. For more information, see theworldtri.com.

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