Friday, August 19, 2016


While woman are busy arguing on Facebook about whether or not girls should wear bikinis on launch and whether or not organizers are sexist for posting pictures of bikini clad girls on launch and who is ultimately responsible for those images appearing in the first place, Klaudia is out winning the task....against 150 pilots, including all the men!!  

What better way to promote women in the sport than to talk about this!  Klaudia is from Poland.  I don't know much about her other than that she is a friendly chatty girl and a pretty badass pilot.  On the task before yesterday's rest day, she beat all the boys - including the likes of Honorin Hamard, the French kid who is reigning world champion and multiple world record holder, Torsten Siegel, current European champion and Stefan Wyss, current PWC Superfinal winner.  

You go girl!!!

Groundhog Day

That's how I'm feeling at the moment.... After more than two weeks in Krushevo for the European Hang Gliding Championships, I had a quick week being a tourist in Scotland before returning here for the European Paragliding Championships.  This is a new one for me - my first PG competition. I'm finding myself fascinated by the differences...and inspired by the things we share.  

From a hangie perspective, the first and most noticeable difference is launch.  Coming straight from the HG euros where we had a very tidily organized setup, staging and launch system, the first day here was downright entertaining.  There doesn't seem to be any kind of order whatsoever. After the launch horn blows, canopies just start randomly popping up across the takeoff area, many at the same time without any apparent regard for each other.  It took a little getting used to for me as a first time spectator, but strangely, it just works.  What looks like chaos results in 150 paragliders in the air (and often into a single gaggle :-) in very short order.  

They congeal into an impressive and enormous gaggle that looks from the ground as though someone has spilled a big bag of fruit flavored jelly beans onto a blue tablecloth, every now and then slowly lifting the edge of the table so they start to move in one direction.  It's a very yummy sight!

A similar situation takes place at the goal field. Instead of a lead gaggle consisting 10 or 15 pilots, the main gaggle of 40 or 50 or more comes in like a colorful swarm of birds.  It looks like madness and is pretty amazing to watch! The first few days seeing this made me quickly realize why FTV is so important in paragliding. Without it, I can't see any incentive to ever try to escape the gaggle and do anything bold.  

They've also got a really great handle on live tracking.  Ulric and Chris, the technical geniuses behind the live tracking and scoring here, have got a simple and efficient system set up.  They've included some very clever innovations that solve various little problems and an integrated system making scoring fast and painless.  Each tracker is barcoded and a barcode scanner at the scoring table quickly scans a pilot's tracker and allows scoring directly from the tracklog on the live tracker.  Only if there is a problem with that, does the the pilot need to use his primary or backup instrument. 

On the fun side, the live trackers used here cannot be turned off except by the administrators.  So, there's no hiding. When a pilot hasn't checked in because he's off to get a haircut, massage and dinner after landing (no joke, this really happened during the HG euros) they can see exactly where he is. Sounds a bit big brother like, but it was very handy to track down a PG pilot a few days ago who opted to go for dinner before checking in.  After not answering calls from the organizers to his local mobile or to his home mobile number, they checked the tracker, saw what restaurant he had gone to and simply dialed up the restaurant and asked them to get the pilot on the line.  The result was him throwing his dinner into a take out box and speeding off at 150 kph to reach HQ before the deadline, all to the amusement of the organizers who were watching his tracker the whole time.  I love it!

Ulric also told me about an alarm system they've built into the trackers.  I suppose a pilot would have to be a really serious nuisance to warrant using it, but from HQ the organizers can set off an annoying audible alarm on the tracker that cannot be turned off and all the pilot can do is come to HQ to get it deactivated.  This is a feature I would really like to have use of for those times when, no matter what you do, you can't get a pilot's cooperation ;-).  

The online page for viewing pilots on course is also nicely set up.  My favorite feature is an ETA of the first pilots at goal.  I haven't checked to see how accurate it is - of course, it updates constantly - but it sure is handy for people on the ground wondering how soon to head to goal.

Amongst the stark contrast in the way flight and competition happens in paragliding and hang gliding, one thing is clear and that is that we really love what we do and we share something very familial.  I've seen this so much over the years in hang gliding and I see it just as clearly here in the world of paragliding.  We fight fiercely against each other in the task and then laugh and high-five and hug each other when we land.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Peaceful, Easy Feelin'

Day before yesterday was a scheduled rest day - Section 7 requirement after 6 days of flying and conveniently, bad weather.  Then we ended up with another weather day yesterday.  Oddly, something on my mind wandering around town both days was peace. It’s weird because I’m not one of these pageant girls that goes around wishing for world peace or even thinking about it ever really.  But, this part of Eastern Europe is one that most Americans would think of as “war torn” - my mother even asked before coming for the pre-euros last year whether it was safe to travel here ;-).  Funny thing though is that the town of Krushevo feels so much the opposite to me.  Although there are probably noticeable remnants of the years of war here, you don’t feel them.  The vibe is incredibly, noticeably tranquil.  Maybe it's the contrast with how I feel about the US right now and the nagging sense of insecurity with what often feels like constant mass shootings.  I live in a town with almost literally zero crime.  But, I’m honestly more afraid of violence nearly everywhere in the US than I am most anywhere in any other country.  

Here in Krushevo, both last year and this year, I walk home from town alone many evenings, after dark, along an unlit road winding up the hill to the HQ hotel.  The thought of being even slightly afraid doing that makes me laugh.  At home, on the other hand, even in my small crimeless town, my mother makes me call her when I get home from riding my bike from her house to mine (a five minute ride) after dark.  

Interesting our perceptions of what is safe and what isn't.  Anyway, I enjoy the atmosphere of peace here.  I enjoy the village full of happy tail wagging street dogs, gentle donkeys and patio cafes full out townspeople jabbering along in an indecipherable language.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016

21 Gun Salute

I finally had the chance to get into some of this beautiful Macedonian air yesterday.  Tullio was kind enough to bring me a Falcon from Italy so I had something to fly if I found some spare time.  Elia, one of the Italian team helpers also wanted to fly, so we set a task to go together from launch to the goal field. 

I set up before the briefing with plans to launch after the last competitor.  While I was suiting up, Goran prepared the entire crew for a salute when I took off.  I looked up to see them all lined up at attention.  Although I was a bit embarrassed, as I got airborne it made me feel very honored and it set the tone for my entire flying day.  

I suppose I got the best conditions ever, because the air was soft and I never found a single sharp edge on anything.  I'm sure it helps to be flying a Falcon.  What is also so incredibly nice is that this is basically flatland flying (my favorite), but footlaunching, so no aerotowing (my least favorite). Perfect combination of the kind of flying I love.  I see why it has become something of a Mecca for paragliding.  

It was a beautiful flight and my personal best Falcon cross country (ok, it was my only single surface cross country flight ever!).  Going xc into a quartering headwind is not an easy task.  The 15km goal was hard earned, but thanks to several storks and even a lone swallow, I made it in, ahead of a few topless even ;-).  What a great flight!

(Thanks to my favorite HG photographer Flavio, and Oyvind for the pictures!)

Longest Task

The day before yesterday, they called the longest competition task ever in Macedonia.  It seems Jochen from Germany (flying in Class 5) didn't think it was long enough though.  There was a 20km radius around one of the turnpoints, but he decided to make it a 1km radius instead, adding 40km to his flight.  He went on to make goal and complete the longest task in Macedonian history.  For his efforts, he got a bottle of wine and a dinner at the HQ hotel.  He was a great sport about it.  

Of course today, the task committee has set an even longer task for the rigids, so perhaps his record won't last very long :-(.

My favorite flying family... back!  At the pre-Euros last year I met the coolest Greek family.  I loved seeing dad and the oldest son Denis who solo'd here last year.  I believe he was 16 or 17.  Well they're back and now young Elena has solo'd too.  She's just 14!!!! She's a gorgeous girl and so enthusiastic.  I had hoped to fly with her yesterday, but the timing didn't work out right. Anyway, she's had a handful of solo flights and even got over an hour of thermaling time here a few days ago.   So so cool! 

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!