Saturday, July 16, 2016

Solo Traveling

For the most part, solo traveling makes me feel very spoiled and selfish...and I love it.  All alone I get to do exactly what I want to do 100% of the time.  But, there are definitely times that it can be the most gigantic pain in the ass.  When I arrived on La Maddalena last week, I walked straight off the ferry to a scooter shop.  The shop owner was kind enough to use his tools to remove the helmet storage box behind the seat and then carefully strap my small hard sided roller bag onto the back so I could get to my little Airbnb apartment about 6 or 8 km away on the the far east side of the island. Worked like a charm and I returned to the shop that evening to have him re-mount the storage box. Unfortunately, I completely forgot to consider how I would get my bag back to the scooter shop to catch my ferry the morning I left.  I remembered this small detail about 8 o-clock the night before leaving, after the scooter shop was closed and I had no options other than to figure it out on my own. 

I'm not exactly helpless, but I'm also not terribly mechanically inclined either - and, after all, I am a girl ;-).  The best I could come up with was to use my leather belt and a long cotton scarf to try to strap the bag on the back seat of the scooter.  It seemed a decent enough plan the night before and rather than check for sure that it would work, I drank the last half of my bottle of wine and drifted off to sleep feeling confident it would all work out - what more than a belt and a scarf could I possibly need?

I gave myself a little extra time in the morning.  Without the wine to fuzzy my good sense, it crossed my mind that this might be more difficult than I had figured.  I packed up my stuff, gave back the keys to the apartment and started the process of strapping the bag onto the back seat.  It had just one small handle on the top, but that would be fine for routing the leather belt through and then around the passenger handle on the back seat.  Ok, that held one side.  However, the other side of the bag had nothing but wheels to use as an attachment point for the scarf.  Hmmm.....yeah sure, that should work, right?  

This whole process was taking me longer than I every imagined and I was starting to worry about missing my ferry, then missing the bus to the airport, then missing my flight back to Milan where I was meeting up with Trudy to drive to Macedonia for the Euros.  But, the calming words of Mark Whatney kept me company (last summer I fell in love with Mark Whatney from the book/movie "The Martian".)  "Solve one problem at a time" he would remind me..."Then when that one is solved, start working on the next."  

These words rang in my head when I hopped on the scooter and popped it off the stand.  Just the motion of getting the scooter off the stand knocked the bag off to the side where it hung a few inches off the ground threatening to lay the scooter onto the pavement.  With the bag hanging off the side, I couldn't even begin to the get the scooter back on the stand.  Worse yet, it was the windiest day every (easily 20-25mph gusts) so I couldn't even get off the scooter to try to unbuckle the belt and allow the bag to just drop to the ground.  Eventually I managed to carefully work my way off the scooter and around to the downwind side where the wind would help balance the scooter against my legs and I could use my hands to unbuckle the belt and untie the scarf.  But seriously, this took some time. Another 10 or 15 minutes of trying to do a better job strapping on the bag before I worked up the courage to get back on the horse and try again.  

Well, this time the bag didn't instantly fall off.  But, I knew that if I started down the road and it decided to fall off at some speed, that would surely have caused me to crash the thing.  So, all I could do was throttle and brake with my right hand and try to keep the bag from moving with my left.  One handed scootering - not the best idea.  It worked though.  I managed to make it down the small hill where my apartment sat - very slowly - and onto the main road back to the port.  But, if I could have been watching myself, I'm guessing I looked a bit like Lucille Ball - she was always so clumsy and silly looking.  That's exactly how I felt when one of those 20mph gusts of wind caught my skirt and blew it up in my face, nearly blocking my view of the road.  At that point, all I could do was laugh out loud at myself.  I couldn't drive the scooter with no hands and I couldn't risk letting go of the bag and having it fall off and cause me to crash (especially with my skirt up around my chest!).  All I could do was pull off on the shoulder, stop the scooter with the bag balanced and try to compose myself.  Not too many things I can imagine more embarrassing than exposing my undies to a bunch of Italians.  

I did eventually get most of the way to the ferry port.  I say most, because the last few hundred meters were paved with large stones that were so totally uneven that riding my scooter there on previous days - without a piece of luggage barely hanging on - was tough and bouncy and generally no fun.  I had avoided that road the entire week.  So, I jumped off the scooter, unstrapped my bag, walked it the rest of the way to the shop and then came back for the scooter.  

Baggage problem solved, the only thing left to do was figure out how I would make my flight.  I had missed my scheduled ferry and although I only had to wait another 20 minutes or so for the next one, that caused me to miss my bus to the airport.  The next one didn't go until a half an hour after my flight was to leave :-(.  Luckily, there aren't that many travel pickles that can't be solved with a bit of cash.  I found a friendly taxi driver that took me the one hour drive for just 70 Euros (compared to the 6 Euro bus ride - ouch!).

I made my flight, hooked up with Trudy and we had an adventurous drive to Macedonia - thankfully together!

Wheels, Stay Under Me!

If you ask me, jetways are way overused at home.  It's so much nicer to walk down the airstairs onto the hot tarmac - especially when you step out into a stiff Mediterranian breeze.   I always feel like I'm in a movie when I get to do that.

I flew last week from Milan to Olbia on the island of Sardinia.  I've wanted to check out this area for several years since I saw pictures on Kathryn's blog of her trips there with her sister.  Filippo suggested I stay on a small neighboring island at the north tip of Sardinia that is easily reachable by ferry.  It was a perfect idea.  The island is really very small (about 10 or 12km from top to bottom) and is part of a small archipelago that sits between Sardinia and Corsica. 

I had a little apartment in a quiet residential neighborhood with a clear view straight across to the island of Caprera to the east.   There was a trumpet player in one of the nearby apartments who entertained me with his practice every evening while I sat on the terrace eating dinner.  

Caprera was my favorite.  With the scooter, I could ride 5 minutes across a little causeway to this neighboring island.  The entire island is now a national park.  But it was for many years owned (yes, the whole thing!) by Guiseope Garibaldi (an Italian war hero who I knew nothing about before coming here).  There's a Garibaldi museum there and you can also tour the home where he lived for the last years of his life.  Other than that, there is little else.  A couple of paved roads and a few more dirt roads take you to to hiking trails that lead up to the tops of rocky mountains or down steep paths to hidden beach coves.  I loved it there.

The previous photo was taken from near the top of Caprera looking back to the west toward La Maddalena.  

My happy place (atop Caprera).

Saturday, June 25, 2016


It's been a while since I've written anything here.  Not that there hasn't been plenty happening, I just haven't felt overly inspired to write about it.  Sitting watching a James Taylor concert on TV the other night, I was reminded of the two things that never fail to bring a smile to my face and sense of excitement inside.  The first is listening to James Taylor sing anything.  The second is traveling to a new place - or an old place - a warm place - or a cold place...any place apparently.  

James Taylor sings a song called My Traveling Star.  The lyrics are me, through and through.

They hunger for home but they cannot stay,
they wait by the door, they stand and they stare.
They're already out of there, they're already out of there.  

Never mind the wind, never mind the rain, never mind the road leading home again. 

Never asking why, never knowing when, every now and then, there she goes again.  

The wind blew me to Colombia earlier this year.  My dear friend Mike Glennon has been trying to get me to come visit for ages.  I decided to take a break from the usual January in Australia and hang with Mikey and Raul.  Pippo and I flew down to take part in the annual Hombres Pajaro competition. There are no hosts like Mike & Raul.  Just like my many trips to Ecuador, they started by retrieving us at the airport and then taking care of absolutely everything along the way (including holding my hand in the hospital on the last day).  

Colombia is very typical of south/central America - full of the warmest, friendliest, happiest people I've ever met.  The schedule and pace of things takes some getting used to and for the first two days or so, I thought I wouldn't survive the frustration of having no phone or internet access.  After a few days though, communication sped up and I slowed down.

Flying in this area (Rodanillo/Santa Elena) is super mellow and totally low stress.  Although there are heaps of sugar cane fields throughout the valley, everywhere between them is friendly and landable. The air is very damp and heavy, but absolutely amazingly lifty despite some days being downright rainy.  Cloudbase was never super high for us, but it didn't seem to matter as lift was never too far away.  It's just the most happy kind of flying for me.

On the last day of the comp, after having taken the previous day off because of tendonitis pain in my elbow, I went to goal early - without getting the last turnpoint - to land.  The elbow pain was too much and I realized I just didn't get enough of a break the previous day.  The sea breeze may have kicked in because it was a bit breezy, so I stayed up over the goal field for a half hour or so in kind of bumpy air waiting for things to calm a bit.  I eventually got impatient and decide to just land it in, despite it being a bit rough (not terrible, but not ideal either).  That may have been a mistake, or maybe I would have just screwed up the landing no matter what.  But, I came in with a lot of speed, leveled off in ground effect, went to the uprights and just a millisecond before it was flare time, the left wing lifted - a lot - and I piled in.  Oops.  I hit face first and my first thought was "oh god, please let all my teeth be intact."  Well, they were, but my arm was broken.  I knew it instantly and waved for help carrying the glider.  As evidence of how benign the bad landing actually was, I couldn't get any pilots to come over and help me - they thought I was just being lazy wanting someone to carry the glider ;-).  When a gentlemanly pilot came over to help, he realized I was hurt and Mikey came running out to help.  He was awesome and quickly got me in the car and headed to the hotel to get nurse Alaina to come with us to the hospital.

All ended well.  They casted the broken arm, I flew home the next day as planned and had surgery two days later to put a plate and 7 screws in.  I was in a cast for a total of just four days.  Within two months of the break - aside from the nice little scar on my wrist - you would never know I had broken it.  I guess if you have to break something, I did it with the least impact possible.

Although the end of the trip to Colombia was not what I would have asked for, the time there was so lovely and I came home with a smile and three albums full of new Colombian music on my iPod.

I can't wait to go back next year!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Rainbow Connection

All of us under its spell, we know that it's probably magic...

Although we haven't had the most perfect weather this time around, this place is still heaven. Yesterday after working until about 3pm, I headed out to the sand blow to find the wind a wee bit too strong and cross.  After that rest day, we were all pretty keen to get in the air today so we went out around 11am and spent an hour or so waiting for stronger wind....I was feeling like Goldilocks ;-)  It turned on perfectly though and we spent the day picking out the many sharks in the beautiful blue water below - the same water we've been swimming in all week - that is, until the sharks were spotted this morning (in knee deep water no less!!!).

I can't get enough of this gorgeous place.  There are more paragliders than hang gliders, but we all seem to be able to play together with no problems.   In this shot it's too light for us to stay up so the PGs are fooling around in our landing area.  But normally, they're out front and never get in the way at all - hopefully we don't get in their way much either.  

From the sand blow launch down to Double Island point at the far left side of the picture is about 15km.  Most of the ridge is useable - it's just that last 5km or so where the ridge no longer faces into the wind.   I've never pushed it all that much - don't want to end up on the deck that far down.

The sand blow is enormous and other than a small section that has some giant tree stump skewers, it's all perfect for landing.

It's pretty hard to see, but here's one of the MANY sharks we spotted all day long.  They're not way out to sea, they're extremely close to shore.  There were very few swimmers today - only the brave.  

Who ever said Disney was the happiest place on earth has never been to Rainbow Beach.

Saturday, November 21, 2015


After three relaxing days of driving at a snail's pace up the east cast, stopping at all the empty, secluded beaches, Hadewych and I arrived at the Sunshine Coast airport to pick up the kids.  Kathryn, Franco and Damon flew up from Sydney and we all drove together from there to my favorite flying site in the whole wide world!  We arrived a smidge late for flying and it was a bit northy anyway, so we're just getting settled in, checking the dune, having a swim and whipping up a house dinner for tonight.   

I love being here and I love the group of people sharing this holiday (two PG boys and three HG girls).  The banter between the hangies and the PG boys is loads of fun and who knows, we might even manage to convert them this time.  

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Too many things I haven't done yet...too many sunsets I haven't seen

Back down under to my favorite place in Oz!  I arrived on Monday and spent a cool, rainy weekend in the most special little town in all of Australia - Pearl Beach - before starting my drive north along the east coast.  Like last year, my plan is to check out every beach that catches my fancy between Sydney and the Sunshine Coast.  First stop, Forster, just a couple hours north of Newcastle.  I swung by Merether Beach and picked up Hadewych who is making the drive with me this time.  We arrived in time to have a swim and relaxing dinner in our little haven in the trees.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

My Travelling Star

They hunger for home, but they cannot stay.  They wait by the door, they stand and they stare. They're already out of there.  

Run before the wind, run before the rain, over yonder hill, just around the bend.  Never knowing why, never knowing when, every now and then, there you go again.  

I'm pretty much always questioning my desire to go.  I know there's nothing seriously wrong with me, but a few people have asked recently why and what it means to me and that makes me stop and wonder all the more.  I've never been able to put my finger on what causes it or even exactly what it is. Running from something?  Running to something?  Trying to escape boredom?  My ADHD? Some combination?  

But, a friend recently posted an article on my Facebook wall.  The subject matter was what the author called "Wanderlusters", a term I have heard, but never really defined.  A wanderluster is someone who can't sit still and has a constant desire to explore, to see and to experience as much of the world as possible.  According to this article, scientists have isolated a gene - the DRD4 gene.  Holders of this gene are predisposed to migrate and are typically novelty seeking, hyperactive risk takers.  The whole concept brought strange comfort to me.  They say that the drug companies like to come up with names for common medical conditions because people have a need to define what is wrong with them and of course, as a result the drug companies can then sell whatever snake oil they have to cure what ails them.  Seems I'm pretty typical then.  The fact that it brings me comfort to know that some scientist may have figured out what is wrong with me is hilarious really.  

Meanwhile, off I go again.  After returning from Macedonia and spending a couple of weeks in the Arizona desert at the Santa Cruz Flats Race, it was time to complete my circumnavigation of the continental US.  (Circumnavigation is a good word...makes me feel like I'm with Shackleton on the Endurance.)  With about 2500 miles to drive and the great state of Texas to cross, I thought I should find something worthwhile along the way, or the drive would make me looney.  

Favorite stop was Big Bend National Park.  Who knew there was something so cool in Texas!?!  It's lovely and remote and full of wildlife.  Went for a horseback ride in the desert, hiked the canyons and waded across the Rio Grande to Mexico.  Perfect.  

Friday, August 28, 2015

Long Ago Places

Everyone packed up and started to head back home after a week in Krushevo.  A little at a time, it was turning back into the quiet town I found a few weeks ago.  Jochen and I packed up the car with a plan to head west to some place flyable.  The idea was the Dolomites, but the weather didn't cooperate right away.  So, after a really nice Italian dinner in the old city of Belgrade (read: something sensible before the main course of chocolate lava cake and prosecco) we decided the best thing to do was head to the seaside and wait out the expected rain in the Alps in some place warmer. 

Pula, Croatia was impressive.  I had never even heard it, but it was chock full of old stuff and an arena that I actually found nicer than the coliseum in Rome.

Pula was just an hour or so from the site of the 2006 European Championships in Buzet.  I went to the pre-euros there in 2005 and then the euros in 2006.  It feels more like a hundred years ago than nine.  My how life has changed.  I blogged about the comps and the site HERE, and HERE and HERE. Although the launch itself looks just as we left it, the owners have added some incredible new amenities that make me wish for another comp there!  Yes, that pool is ON launch!  Not a bad place to hang out.  

Next stop, mountains!  Conditions didn't cooperate for flying the past few days, so we spent our time hiking in two of the most beautiful places on earth.  First we hiked to and around the Tre Cime (three teeth) in the heart of the Dolomites.  Words really can't describe the beauty....and my pictures don't do it justice either.  

Jochen gave me a whirlwind tour of the places he used to go in and around Salzburg as a child.  After quite a long hike in the Dolomites, we found a nice shorter one that ended at a peak overlooking lake Fuschl where I spent my afternoons "studying" while I went to school at the University of Salzburg many years ago.  It was hard to leave the stunning scenery.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pre-Euros Finished

I kind of run out of blogging steam when it comes to the end of a comp.  We had a final very difficult task on Friday.  Only four flex made goal and Jochen won his second day in a row.  Goal was down south very near the Greek border, so the pilots (and ground crew) got to see a bit more of the area. Unfortunately, most of the area around goal was in shade by the time they were getting close.  So, few were at goal and many were within about a 15km radius.  

We woke up to heavy rain and beautiful thunder and lightning Saturday morning and quickly realized it was finished.  They held the prize-giving at 11am so that everyone could pack up and make their way back home.  Always the sad part.  

The Italians ruled again with Elio winning, Suan (Italy) coming second and Balasz from Hungary in third.  Italy had five of the top ten (Guenther 4th, Tullio 6th and Marco 7th).  They're going to be hard to beat next year.  

The Macedonians did a phenomenal job on their first big comp and I heard nothing but praise for the organization and meet directing.  Combine that with a really friendly area and great flying and I expect we'll be completely full next year.   I can't wait!!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Pics from a super fun task...

Task 3

We woke up to a lot of low cloudiness and cooler temperatures yesterday.  At the 9:30 briefing Goran and the weatherman were not optimistic, but didn't want to cancel too early.  So, we decided to re-brief at 11:30, just in case things miraculously improved.  By 10am there was rain, so when we all headed to the 11:30 briefing, at least I was sure they were just going to cancel the day.  But they didn't - the forecast was improving and we ended up calling a late task from across the valley at the Monastery launch.  

As we drove across the valley to launch (only about 35 minutes drive), the sky was quickly opening up and by the time we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find lovely looking conditions. Because it was so late in the day by that time, the task had to be a bit short, just 74km.  But even the shortish task turned out to be a great call.  

At goal, it was one of those days when the vibe is just so great!  Everyone was on this collective high. Not because conditions were perfect, or the task was perfect, but probably just because few expected to fly and in the end, the day was gorgeous and most of all just plain fun!

Especially cool was Jochen winning they day by a huge margin.  He came smoking in at least 15 minutes or so ahead of the next guys.  He's not had the best comp of his life here, so seeing him win the day was fantastic!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Pictures - Task 2

Task 2

Our weatherman was not exactly optimistic yesterday.  The belief was that conditions would be weaker than Day 1, with clouds over the mountains, but blue in the valley and cloudbase not as high as the previous day.  There was also a lot of concern that the wind would come around from the west and make launch conditions questionable fairly early.  So, the idea was to have a single start and get everyone launched and out on course as quickly as possible.  The task committee set an appropriately shorter, 91km task to the south toward Greece and then back up to our main goal field.  

As launch progressed, we started to see that the conditions weren't nearly as bad as expected and even launch was fine for everyone.  With just 60 pilots and two launch lanes, it's relatively easy getting everyone in the air in well under an hour, even at a leisurely pace. 

By the time the crew got to goal, the clouds were looking great, even in the valley, and base was much higher than predicted.  We knew there would be a lot in goal.  There 41 in the end.  

Live tracking isn't mandatory here and it's a shame for everyone back home.  Only 14 were tracking yesterday and that was up from just 10 on Day 1.  The organizers provided free local SIM cards with 2 GB of data to encourage everyone to use the AirTribune app on their smartphones, but not many have done it.  We'll keep pushing for more.  

Who knew Alex had a twin ;-)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Launch & Goal Photos - Task 1

Task 1

Although only 5 flex and 1 rigid made it in to goal today, from what I've heard most everyone had a fun struggle.  They called a 124km triangle(ish) task around the valley.  Turns out conditions were quite a strong as expected and cloudbase was lower than the 3000 meters predicted.  The Italians ruled the day with Elio in first and Suan just seconds behind him.   Balasz came in a bit later on the longest, worst looking glide I've seen in a while.  We all thought he had no chance of making it in. Freddie and Tullio weren't far behind him.  I think it took them all more than four hours.  

Young Tim Grabowski, rigid wing world champion, was the only Class 5 glider in goal.  

Suan was a happy camper.

Photos from the Practice Task

Official Practice Task

The forecast called for strong west winds yesterday, so they sent us to the Monastery launch on the opposite side of the valley about 30 km away.  The wind started out fairly mellow and that lured everyone into setting up.  Eventually it started to gust up to 45kph and so the meet director cancelled the official task but allowed free flying for those that wanted to.

I love this launch.  It's a perfectly rounded, granite ramp.  There's only room for a single launch lane, so we probably won't be able to use it next year.  With the strong wind, the haze cleared out of the valley and the view was awesome.  

Probably a dozen pilots flew and reported that conditions were relatively smooth in the air.

Who knew a deputy meet director's duties were so diverse ;-)