Sunday, July 28, 2013

Belgian Nationals/Catalan Cup - Day 1

It's been far too long since I've been in Ager and I'm getting lovely reminders every day of why this place is so great.  Today was the first task of the combined Belgian Nationals and Catalan Cup.  The weather predictions weren't great and in fact we briefed this morning at HQ in a bit of light rain.  Up at launch, the sky filled with gorgeous lenticulars.  But they called a nice little 58km task anyway and by the time launch opened, things looked much better.

The clouds looked like there were little devils in each one, stowed away, getting a free ride. If you've ever flown in Ager on a windy day, you would probably agree that there are nasty little demons in those clouds!

There were easily 40 or more pilots at goal - so obviously the task was a bit undercalled.  But, I don't think anyone minded.  Although there were quite a few less than ideal landings, this one - by a little Russian girl - was absolutely perfect.  Way to show the boys how it is supposed to be done!!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Fromme vs. May

Le Tour

After the competition finished in Annecy, we had plans to go with Dave and Kathryn to see the Tour de France.  Dave is a big fan and he knew the best place to go see it in person.  Mt. Ventoux is the longest climb they do during the race and if you go near the end of the climb, the riders are fatigued and slow enough that you get to see them for more than just a split second speeding by.  Dave has seen the Tour in person before and his goal was to run alongside the top hill climbers for a couple hundred meters getting it all on his GoPro, AND to get on TV doing it.  

We spent the night before in the town of Orange down in the flats and then drove up the next morning to get a good spot before the riders came through around 4 or 5pm.  Although you can't drive all the way up there, we were able to drive around the backside of the mountain and get within about 6km of the top.  The rest was just a nice hike on a French mountain (with 2.3 million other people, as Mart pointed out to us). 

We arrived about 4 hours early, so there was plenty of time for picnicing and napping and most important, jockying for the best position.  For about the last 2km of the race there are barriers to keep the spectators out of the way of the cyclists.  But, below that, it's anyone's game and it's really just a wonder that more people don't disrupt the race.  Although plenty of people are probably a nuisance to the riders, it's surprising that more crazy people don't just jump in front of it all and cause a lot of chaos.

Dave's strategy for getting the attention of the cameras was (1) look as dorky as possible in a purple and blue metalic wig and no shirt; (2) choose a spot that was steep enough that they were going slow enough to keep up running along side them; and (3) choose a place between cops so that he could run without being arrested ;-).  

Once that was all squared away, it was just a matter of sitting back and enjoying the parade while the competitors worked their way up the 20km front of Mt. Ventoux.  

To say Dave's endeavor was a success is an understatement!  Within minutes, friends were texting, tweeting and Facebooking Dave that he was on ALL the tv channels.  By pure luck or plan, I don't know, Dave managed to get beside the leader Fromme at the key moment when came out of the saddle to make the break 1.1 km from the finish line.  Every major news channel in the world aired the footage of Dave running alongside Fromme over and over again.  Even days later, they were airing that same video in highlights of the previous racing days.  There's a video coming next post that brought tears to my eyes from laughing so hard!

Meanwhile, here are a few shots of the cyclist finishing up the last 2 km of the stage.  It amazes me how close I could stay to them as they passed by.  It was super exciting!

Annecy Wrap Up


  • Scenery is distractingly beautiful - you might forget you're in a competition.
  • Paragliders are annoying in the landing area.
  • Bad traffic in Annecy (but it's easy enough to stay around the area of HQ and avoid the traffic most of the time).


  • Gorgeous scenery.
  • Really nice take-offs - both launches we used had nice steep ramps.  The less used launch site has a much bigger area for setting up, but the actual launches are equally as good.  Each launch site has 3 launch corridors so it's easy to get everyone off the hill quickly.
  • Hot comp officials with sexy French accents.
  • Organizers are very open and receptive to suggestions.
  • Reasonably priced accommodation.  We had a great apartment about 3km from HQ that cost about 200 Euros each (for 2 weeks) with a full (albeit small) kitchen, big dining area and giant terrace.
  • Excellent food - especially in Faverge, a little nearby town where we found a wonderful French chef that made the worlds best risotto.
  • We didn't have the time (flew all but one day), but there's heaps to do at the lake - swimming, kiteboarding, etc.
  • Plentiful landing areas in most places where we flew.  Most are beautiful and grassy for flying barefoot if you like.  There were some iffy areas, but I'm hoping that for the women's competition next year, they won't be sending the girls in places where landings are scarce.  On the bright side, it is confidence inspiring to see that I could land in places that made me quite nervous from the air.  
  • There's a free 6030 waiting just below launch for whoever wants to scramble down there and find it ;-)
BOTTOM LINE: I loved Annecy and can't wait for next year.  I'm trying to gather up a full US team of women, sport class pilots and rigid pilots!!

Monday, July 08, 2013

Annecy Day 2

Had a fantastic flight yesterday.  Only flew a bit further than Day 1, but I enjoyed every minute of it.  It's really interesting to find lift in the most unexpected places here.  I was low hugging the mountain at one point and not getting anything when I noticed all of the PGs out over the flats, just next to the lake. If I hadn't been desperate, I wouldn't have flown over to them, but it turned out to be the best decision I made all day (probably the only good decision I made all day).  I came into the bottom of a PG gaggle of about 20 pilots and ended up in a 600 up, wingtip to wingtip with an awesome, well behaved, friendly PG.  Not only did he thermal exactly as one would expect (and I mean that in a good way), but he waved and smiled and all.  What a shocker!  We found the better part of the core just off from the rest of the gaggle and went up together as high as I got all day.  I'm starting to nearly feel guilty about all the worrying and whining about the PGs.  At least this one guy was a joy to fly with.

Anyway, we had a 80km task.  Glen said it was the longest 80km he has ever flown.  I wouldn't know....I only flew about 15km ;-).  Glen made goal of course, relatively fast - I think about 10th in.  The Frenchies are dominating this place, as they would.  I think the top three were locals again.

I'm really happy to be here checking out the place and making all of my usual stupid mistakes a year in advance of the real thing.  Two down over the last two days and hopefully not many more left to make.

Today's task was cancelled as the forecast called for thunderstorms in most directions by around 3 or 4. They did arrive eventually, but later than expected. Many free-flew from the beautiful new launch we went to. I hope we get a chance to fly there again.

Kathryn really wanted to get in the air today ;-)

Glen didn't just want to, he DID!


Sunday, July 07, 2013

Annecy Day 1

Nothing sucks here in Annecy...well, almost nothing.  This place is not exactly as I expected - it's much, more more.  I was initially worried about the paragliding traffic because I've heard many European pilots say that they "used to" fly here, but hangies don't come here anymore because it is totally overrun with paragliders.  Well so far, although there are plenty out there, they haven't been a problem for me at all...and for that, I am very grateful!

The mountains and the lake are spectacular.  The landing fields seem plentiful, although I haven't ventured out enough to really make that judgment.  We had two nice practice days where I just spent the time getting my nerves in order and worrying entirely too much about traffic in the landing field.  There is heaps for sure - I think around 70 pilots in the French Nationals and probably another 35 or so between the girls, rigids and sport class.  But, the French seem to have a nice system worked out for landing approaches and lanes and such.  And, if there are 5 rigids and a sport class glider coming in at the same time as you (as was the case for me the second practice day), you can just bail off to the adjacent fields no problem at all.  I'm actually surprised more people don't just land next door.  Anyway, the things that were making me nervous at the start seem to be no problem at all, so that's a good thing.  Combine that with the gorgeous scenery here and this place really is something special.

I think the French organization will be great and totally up to speed for the worlds next year.  Yeah, things aren't perfect just yet, but they're making a real effort to listen to pilots and fix the issues that do come up as quickly as possible.  I heard from Ben, the British team leader, that they actually got the police to escort a couple of PG pilots off the field when they refused several requests to stop kiting in the middle of the landing field.  Raymond Caux is the safety director and have so much respect for him and his passion about safety.  He gave us the best mandatory safety briefing I have every seen.  Instead of the usual, pointless speeches about keeping the nose down on launch and drinking enough water, he gave an interesting speech about human risk factors.  Good stuff and I think people were actually listening!

Yesterday was the first real task and I screwed it up big time. I had replaced the lost screw holding my 6030 in my instrument pod.  The screw never felt like it was in there quite right.  Obviously, it wasn't because no more than 30 seconds after launch, I reached over to tip the pod down into place only to find that it was empty!  Oops....that was a $1000 cock up!  I flew around for a bit thinking, hey, I can still stay up and just follow people around the course....but then I started to think if I landed, I would have no idea of my coordinates and getting retrieved might be a bit of a pain.  Also, I'm sure I was overestimating my ability to stay up without a vario given that many others were landing even with one.   Lucky for me, little maria is loaning me her 6030 to use for the rest of the week.

I don't know where scores are up yet, if at all, but Glen had a great day - he didn't make goal, but landed with Pedro and Tom Weissenberger - two top dogs.  Apparently, 4 did make goal, but that's a pretty small number in this crowd.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Getting There

It's always fun arriving somewhere in the middle of the night with 24 hours of grime on you.  Sometimes travel can be so glamorous ;-).  The trip to Annecy was looooooooooong.  We started with a 4 hour drive to Ft. Myers to catch an Air Berlin flight because they're great about taking hang gliders.  Next leg was 9 and a half hour of flying to Duesseldorf, followed by an intentional 4 hour layover to give the baggage handlers plenty of time to get our gliders from one flight to the next.  But, when we boarded the flight to Munich, the plane was so tiny and the door to the baggage hold was so small that we knew there was no way the gliders would be coming with us on that flight.  Thankfully, we were very wrong - I don't know how on earth they got into that plane, but happily, they did and they arrived all in one piece in Munich.  We made the 6 hour drive from Munich to Annecy on a single tank of gas and a lot of fumes.  We realized we needed gas at nearly midnight and got a full tour of all the little streets of Annecy looking for an open gas station, preparing ourselves to roll the seats back and sleep in the car if we finally ran out.  Again, lucky for us we found fuel before the last of the fumes ran out.

But, enough whining.  We're here now and it's gorgeous even if the sky is full of clouds at the moment.  It is meant to clear off late this afternoon and hopefully we'll get our first fly in.  A day of light rain gave us time to un-short-pack the gliders and get settled in to our little apartment we're sharing with Dave and Kathryn.  A nice French dinner and one too many bottles of red last night and we're good to go!!