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 ;-)

Sunday, August 16, 2015


Practice Days

As nice as it has been having this whole place to myself for the last five days, it's fun when the whole hang gliding family starts to invade the town.  The French and Italians have the equivalent of two teams each.  Alex Ploner has returned after sitting out the worlds in Mexico early this year.  Young Tim Graboswki, reigning rigid wing world champion is here.  We also have some awesome girl pilots - Francoise (France), Yoko (Japan) and Sasha (Russia).  

Probably totally commonplace for PG pilots, but we watched a scary deployment yesterday from launch.  At first, several of us thought the pilot was doing aerobatics.  But we all started to think he was doing them in the worst possible place, low and behind launch.  Eventually we saw his reserve come out and he floated, apparently softly, down to the forest below.  

Young Students

There has been a Greek family here for the weekend.  The Greek border is just about sixty kilometers south of us and with such a perfect launch and wide open landing fields here, it's an ideal place to bring student pilots.  On Saturday we got to watch a 15-year-old kid have his 4th mountain flight.  I'm sure it sounds cheesy, but it was so heartwarming to watch (for everyone, I think, not just me).  

Dad is a pilot and instructor and he has taught his son.  They also have a younger daughter, maybe 13 or 14 who is learning as well.  What a cool family.  I always wished I could fly with my dad and brothers.  

Here's the family and some of the local Macedonian pilots out at the street party last night.  Dad is second from the left and mom and the daughter are on the ride side.  I think the new young pilot was resting up for today's flights ;-).  

I also had the pleasure of meeting Victoria, another young student pilot up from Greece.  She had a fantastic flight today, soaring and getting above launch while we all cheered her on.

Here is Victoria with me and Yoko, the women's world champion. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015


I was lucky enough to get to Krusevo a few days before all the pilots started showing up.  After a week of sun and beaches with Trudy in Albania, I took a flight to Thessaloniki, Greece.  The organizers of the Euros sent a car for me and I got to enjoy the drive through the Macedonian wine country, some beautiful mountains, peach groves and field after field of tobacco farms.  It was a very pretty four hour drive from Thessaloniki to Krusevo.

The town sits on the side of a mountain range, tucked up into a little curve in the hill.  It's just about 2km from launch and is a charming and cozy little town.  I can't help but wonder how nice it must be covered in snow in winter.  

I met with Ivan and his adorable daughter Sofia and have spent the last three days with them before today when so many pilots have started to arrive.  It was nice to have a relaxing few days getting to know the local Macedonian pilots and the organizers before the busy time starts.  Everyone is warm and friendly and having flying in common makes me feel like I've known them forever.  It's kind of special how we pilots come in to a small village in some out of the way place and turn it into our home for few weeks  I hope the locals enjoy us being here as much as we enjoy getting to know a beautiful new sight like this. 

Sunday, August 09, 2015


When I was 14 my dad pastored a church in a tiny town in the mountains of northern New Mexico. The church was on the main street and the parsonage was right next door.  One day in the spring I was out in the front yard and two French girls on a motorcycle came by waving a fistful of envelopes looking for the "post offeeece."  I recall thinking that it looked like they were on the ultimate adventure - two foreign girls exploring the countryside.  So much of my young life was spent daydreaming about traveling to faraway places.  I still have those daydreams and lucky for me, my real life consists of so many of these adventures.

Trudy and I flew from Milan to Corfu on Tuesday.  After checking a hundred different ways to get to the Albanian beaches, turns out that Corfu is closest, with cheap flights and a 45 minute ferry trip across to Saranda, Albania.  Many people asked me why on earth I wanted to come to Albania.  I didn't have any really great answer, just that I had seen pictures of the beaches and they looked cool.  For me, that's as good an excuse as any.  That, and I committed to come help out at the pre-European championships in Macedonia starting in about a week, so I would be close by.  I've said for so many years that hang gliding takes me to places I would never ever think to go otherwise.  

When I close my eyes and try to come up with the greatest adventure I can imagine, it always involves a foreign country (of course), usually one where I can't speak a single word of the language. For me, the ultimate trip involves a hot, dry rural part of some Mediterranean country, a beat up old jeep and a lot of exploring around the countryside.  

Trudy and I picked up a soft-top jeep to check out some areas outside the town of Saranda where we're staying.   There's an UNESCO world heritage sight about a hour drive from here where sometime in the 1920's I think, an Italian archaeologist uncovered an ancient village completely overrun by vegetation.  The village is called Butrint and was settled by exiles fleeing the fall of Troy.   In the center is a castle and it's a cool place to explore - literally cool because there are lots of trees and the paths around the village are all shaded - a very nice break from the heat here.  

The next day we made a second attempt to find another place that is supposed to be interesting.  It's called the Blue Eye and it's a 150 foot deep pool created by a natural spring.  We've now tried and failed to get there twice!  After visiting Butrint the first day, we set out for the Blue Eye coming from the south.  When we got tired of pot hole filled dirt roads and the sun beating down on us in the jeep, we thought we'd give its another try the next day.  After a little lunch and swim in the Aegean, we tried from the west to find the Blue Eye.  This country is much more mountainous than I knew.  The roads that appear on our paper map and even on Google maps on my iPhone are very few and far between.  I suppose because that's all they've got, the roads on the map appear to be highways, maybe not 4 lane divided highways, but at least paved roads.  Ha!  After an hour or so making our way deeper and deeper into the mountains, our highway became dirt road.  We followed it for a while.  The landscape here is very Mediterranean - mostly rocky with small vegetation, if any.  So, we could see our little dirt road switchbacking up the side of the barren hills and presumably eventually bringing us to the Blue Eye.  But, I'm pretty sure we were both having the same silent concerns about the low fuel level, deserted road, and the late hour, so we made the decision that I'm sure my mother would be pleased with, to turn around and work our way back home again.  We made it back into the last little village we passed on our way out, sweaty and sun baked, in search of a white chocolate Magnum.  A small cafe/bar in the center of town was full of small round Albanian men who must have found it funny that we had not a single word of Albanian to try to ask for ice cream.  

We never saw anything terribly notable out there, but the whole trip made me think of the French girls on the motorcycle and the fact that sometimes I get to live my best dreams.  Funny thing is that my travel addiction gets worse with every trip.  Like a drug, it takes more and more exotic locations to get the same gratification....soon, I'm going to have to start looking into space travel ;-).

Here's Trudy with a big announcement at the Butrint amphitheater.

Some local traffic on the way to find the Blue Eye.

One of my favorite ferry crossings ever.

Selfie at Butrint.

View from the second failed attempt to find the Blue Eye.

Sunday, August 02, 2015


After nearly 6 weeks and more than 6000 miles, it was time to take a short break from the road trip.  I never imagined I would enjoy 6 weeks of solo traveling so much.  I wasn't alone the entire time.  I got to stop and visit friends in Kitty Hawk, New England, Michigan, Montana and British Columbia and then hang with my baby girl in Bend, Oregon and with family at home in the San Francisco Bay Area.  But the time alone was positively therapeutic.  I must do this again.

I have agreed to help out at the pre-Euros in Macedonia in the middle of August and I wanted to spend a few days on my beach in Florida before flying to Europe.  So, I decided to ditch the car in LA and hop a flight to Orlando.  I've never spent any time in Florida in July, but I actually enjoyed the heat and daily storms.  With a schedule adjustment, there's plenty of time from about 6am till sometimes as late as 4:00 or 5:00 in the afternoon before the thunderstorms start.  I loved it.

I arrived in Munich a few days ago and after a quick visit with Yves, I've made my way down to Lake Maggiore to hang with Gary & Trudy for a few days.  I love having friends all over the planet.

Next stop, Albania.  

Canadian Nationals - Lumby, BC

The idea for this whole road trip started with my good Canadian buddies Tyler and Rob inviting me to the Canadian Nationals up in Lumby.  Seemed like as good an excuse as any to hit the road for the summer.  After all my national parks and hiking, I was so ready to do some flying on my brand new T2C and there's nothing nicer than a small, relaxed comp with good friends.  Quite a few foreigners also made their way up to BC - Konrad, Dustin, the Rhythm of Flight boys, Bruce Barmakian and Dangerous Dave among several others.  

Lumby is such a cool site.  It's a small valley surrounded by launches on nearly all sides.  Randy and his wife own a beautiful piece of land that they've created Freedom Flight Park - complete with two grass runways, a clubhouse, wifi, showers, camping...everything you could ask for.  The nearest launches surrounding the flight park are relatively small and tend to be earlier sites, so most days we started from a site about an hour an half drive away (bigger mountains and a higher, later launch).  But, goal was normally always back at the flight park so it was very convenient.  Tasks were relatively short (compared to Big Spring and Forbes), but nicely challenging and taking us over beautiful mountains next to a big wide open valley every day.  Talk about easy and relaxing!  Although they said conditions were a bit softer than normal, it couldn't have been more perfect in my eyes.  Lift was generally not much more than 500 fpm and climbs were smooth and soft.  On the last few days we were getting well above 10,000ft and the views really were awesome!

I hope Randy decides to hold the nationals again there next year.  I loved it and would happily make the trek back there again.  We joking talked about spreading the word around that the flying was crap to keep the place totally to ourselves....but that wouldn't be very nice.  It really was fantastic and I'm excited to go back again.  I just hope it doesn't get totally overrun by a bunch of stressy foreigners ;-).