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).