Thursday, December 28, 2006

Manilla XC

Yesterday the sky was very overcast, but the temp trace was good enough to do some slow XC. Heike flew over 30k - I bombed out pretty soundly, so I chased her and got to watch her do a nice low save.

This morning the sun was out in full force and as we drove to launch nice cu was forming in the distance. The ride up the hill in the basher2 was unforgettable - basher1 broke down yesterday, and the basher2 was put out to pasture a long time ago, but with no way up the hill, it was put back in action today.

Basher2 is a Toyota land cruiser and had a load of 13 people and 12 wings (the wings go in a trailer). Only the temperature and fuel gauge work, it doesn't have any doors, and not much of a muffler either. Pilots sit in two rows with their backs up against the sides. The body has separated from the frame so when the vehicle sways to the right, you feel the side bow out and a you can look down and see the ground from the inside.

The road up Mt Borah is steep, real steep, and the guy driving must have been close to red line most of the way up, Toyota should be proud of that engine. I was amazed it didn't explode in a shower of steam, steel, oil and fire.

We launched off the west launch. It started off weak and I didn't want to bomb out again so I waited until wings were going up before I launched. I was almost the last off, and the wings that were going up were gone, and I was sinking out again.

But I found something and hung onto the slowest, scragglyiest, ugliest thermal I have gotten my wing dirty in for a long time. But it was much better than sinking out.

The clouds were developing really nicely, climbs to 9,999 ft (3047 meters) and a slight headwind at times, until you got high, then you got a little tail wind, so the going was slow. But it was good enough for just over 4 hours and 50 miles (81 km).

Tomorrow we get to spend all day in the car driving back down to charcoalville (NE Victoria).

Maybe Mystic will be flyable.

Monday, December 25, 2006

What would Steve do?

The forecast was wrong - wrong, wrong, wrong, bad, bad, stupid. But what else is new? Never believe the forecast, it always changes at about 11:00 am anyway...

Mostly Sunny - that is what the forecast says it will be tomorrow. Should we believe it? YES! I believe it! I believe it! Please, please, please be right for once!!

There were tiny blue holes in the otherwise grey blanket hung over most of New South Wales today. It was quite cold, but that didn't stop people from lobbing themselves off the cliff. People from all over the world too. There were even thermals to be cored, but I just couldn't get myself to lobb, after all, I can do this kind of flying back home during the winter at any one of our typically mediocre sites...

Steve Forslund, with breakfast in hand
What would Steve Forslund have done? Here is a hint: he wouldn't have gotten a ride back to town for lunch, he would either be going cross country all day until dark to get a 32km flight, or he would be at a bar trying to talk people into starting a flying commune with him as their charismatic leader.

So, tomorrow is another day - see, I really am an optimist. (But off the record, I think we are going to go XC...)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

In Manilla

We are in Manilla but only for a couple days, and the forecast makes me think we will fly.

Manilla is where the World Championships will be at the end of February, which is the most consistent time of year for flying.

All the distance records have been set around December, so while it is not as consistent, when it gets good, it's really good.

Later this week we head down to Bright. It has rained down there recently so the fires have settled down, and with the right wind direction the smoke should not be a problem.

The cloud picture was taken as we drove over the Great Dividing Range from the Gold Coast.

The Gold Coast has great weather, is very lush and has wonderful beaches with warm water, but watch out for Great white sharks.

Could some XC be in the works?

Stay Tuned

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Amo el volar (I love Flying)

Today taught me how much influence the coast has on the Beechmont site. The two words "sea breeze" can be music to one persons ears, and poison to another's. If you like silky ridge soaring, its music. If you want thermals, it can be either poison or music - it just depends on when you launch.

Take today for example. Being Saturday, a bunch of locals show up, but because the top guns weren't there, I surmised it wasn't going to be a record breaking day. The clouds were pumping, the wind was perfect - except it was OTB (over the back).

During the several hours that pass as we wait for it to switch, you get to know who the funniest local is, and I think it would have to be either Phil M or Rob (who just retired from the military). Rob had a great story about when he did a night paratrooper jump and landed in a small pond. In the morning they hooked his parachute up to a vehicle and pull it out of the pond - and the parachute is full of crayfish. So they find some old rusty coffee cans and fill them up with the tasty critters.

The social interaction is half the fun of paragliding. Back to the flying. The wind switched at about 10:30 - it was the sea breeze moving up the valley and it pushed all the hot air up against the ridge and it released in a giant gush of hot air that soon started forming big Cu over head... No body's wing is ready and all the hot air is releasing and being replaced with heavy moist air... thermals will be scarce for the rest of the day if we can't ride this lift over the back and into the flats.

A mad frenzy of unfolding fabric ensues and one pilot gets launched. Soon the rest of us are standing on launch "all dressed up with no where to go" - the cycle has stopped and it's slightly over the back again. I time a little puff and jump into a nice thermal that takes me almost to base.

The wind is very north and this means a crosswind push to go toward the flats - I push out under a couple clouds and find no lift... so I go back to launch for a couple more climbs and realize this day isn't going anywhere because a few pilots have bombed out and a few have landed at the cricket pitch which is where I end up.

Johny Durand Jr. picks 4 of us up in his red Holden. 45 minutes in the air today, tomorrow we are driving towards Manilla.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wir flogen mit Wolken

Last night Heike has an idea - she says we should get up at 6:00 am and go flying. I heard her say it, but my brain said "she doesn't really mean 6:00 am, because launch is only 20 minutes away, and that's way to early to go flying." And so I said yes. So when the alarm went off, and I was shuffled into the car in a dream-like state, I wasn't sure what was really going on. But 20 minutes later we were on launch. A few minutes after that I was airborne.

There were a lot of clouds, and they were building pretty fast, which was a little spooky so early in the morning, so I woke myself up with a couple really sloppy wingovers and tried to get some idea of what this day could deliver and what I should try to do with it.

The lift was pretty much everywhere, and I was trying to figure out how much was ridge and how much was thermic, but it wasn't even 8am yet, could I get to base??

I pushed out front toward a cloud that seemed to be growing over the middle of the valley but I didn't have enough height to get back to the ridge if I didn't connect with the lift that might be under it, so I turned around and tanked up at the ridge. Just watching these Cu's start as a little puff across the valley and turn into medium sized darkies was fun in itself. I picked a nice one and headed out under it to try again.

The vario started to chirp and I kept flying straight. The chirping increased, why turn? When I was climbing at 4 m/s, I started a fat turn. These clouds were all thermic, and I turned a few more circles and the bottom was right above me. I straightened out to push to the front edge of the cloud and I am going up at 5 m/sec. Bar on, ears in, and whispies formed around me as I pushed through the leading edge and then pop out into the blue. This place is a trip - it's just after 8am.

I explore the ridge to the north and keep watching the clouds, pick a nice one out in front, and get to base one more time. I haven't eaten breakfast and the PB&J stuffed deep in the back of my harness wants me to eat it, plus I have to pee, so I top land, relieve myself and eat breakfast.

Heike launches with me for a second flight and this one last for just over an hour, base has lifted to just over 1000 meters, which is not quite high enough for a reliable XC. I'm hungry, is it lunch time yet? I land at 10:30 am at the cricket pitch just south of launch.

Wouldn't it be great to start every day like this?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

First XC in Canungra

How do you even start with a day like today? I love this place. I was talking to a guy on launch today, and he said he moved from France to the Gold Coast because you can thermal all year round here. Not just fly all year round, thermal all year round. As a matter of fact, the lapse rate is off the charts here in the winter.

So today we finally got the conditions that made the locals skip work, which doesn't mean it was epic, but it was a great day for XC. Yesterday we asked the locals what time they were going to be on launch, and they said 8am... It seems you can launch here at 8 am and start your XC. We started a little later today, launching at 9:45.

Beechmont is where we launched from, and you have to fly across 3 valley systems before you get out on the flats where base starts to rise and you start racking up the miles. We had some cu's over the valley systems which made the way a little easier, but out on the flats it got blue and things slowed down and the going got tougher. When the going gets tough, what do you do? You grovel. What does groveling get you? Low saves, and low saves make you feel good.

One other thing that made the day special was that I flew the whole day with Heike, which is nice because I get to hang out with her every day anyway, just not in the air. So we even hitched back home together, and girls have better luck at hitching (I hide in the bushes until a car pulls over).

So we didn't break any records, but it was good for a 2:48 flight and 38 kilometers.

nous volerons encore demain!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Wir Haben Geflogen

We have been in Canungra four days, and we finally flew today. We had to wait until the afternoon before the wind backed off, and then we got a nice flight from the Beechmont launch. The locals are excited about the conditions tomorrow - they launch from Beechmont at 8:30 am on the best days and then they fly west all day long and try to break the site record (PG 177km, HG 500km).

Special Things Canungra Has to Offer:

They got some insanely huge bugs here - I saw a severed head of a beetle that was bigger than a golf ball. They got ticks too - one latched on to Heike's neck yesterday, it was right on the juggler vein! I should have taken a picture of Kate ripping it out of her head with a pair of tweezers, what was I thinking...

Hopefully tomorrow I get to see some of this country from above.

Stay Tuned!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Warm, Moist, Beautiful

An ocean of warm and moist air has been flooding over us for days now. This torrent of air has come in from the Pacific ocean, and when it collides with the mountains, it's forced to shed it's moisture in the form of rain. We are on the inland side of the mountains, so we don't get the bulk of the rain, but we do get to witness the awesome power of colliding air masses nearly every night and the resulting thunder and lightning shows are fantastic.

Being on the leeward side of the mountains in the state of Queensland, it is not as tropical as the coast ranges, but it is very green compared to Victoria. But as you gain just a few hundred feet in elevation, the plant life starts to change dramatically and the best way to experience this micro-climate change is to drive up to Mount Tamborine.

At the base of the mountain, the Eucalyptus begins to thicken, but the black scars of the bush fires are wrapped around every tree - reminding you that Australia is a land of cyclical drought and cleansing fire.

The road gets steeper and begins to twist and turn as we climb higher and suddenly the vegetation becomes deep green and palm trees, bamboo, and ferns appear - this is a tropical rain forest. It is as if I have been transported 5000 miles to the Hawaiian Islands - the plants from my childhood are growing here, plumeria, mango, lychee, banana, but also the many species of the ever adaptable Eucalyptus tree.

At the top of the Mountain is a small community that enjoys the much cooler temperatures, and also a really beautiful west facing launch. Tomorrow the weather is going to improve, I can't wait to fly over this spectacular landscape.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The 1000 miles a day road Kit

I am now in Canungra, 1600 kilometers from where I made my last post. It's nice up here, we hope the flying is going to be good.

The 1000 miles a day road Kit

I have discovered how people with blown out backs (I am one of them) can now drive all day, and even into the night if you really have somewhere to get to. I used to think 5 or 6 hours was my absolute limit - my "pain threshold" for driving so to speak. But I shattered that myth with the help of a few tools, which I call the "1000 miles a day road kit".

My kit had 4 mandatory items: A bottle of Ibuprofen, a six pack of Red Bull, a kidney Belt, and an ipod. All of that is self-explanitory, except a word of caution regarding the red bull, you shouldn't drink more than 2 cans per day, (it says so right on the can).

One more piece of information which you must have or all of the above will be totally useless (and you could suffer permanent nerve damage) - you have to recline your seat until it is approximately at 135 degrees. You can't reach the steering wheel when reclined that far back, so slide your seat forward until your knees touch the dashboard, - and don't forget to re-adjust all your mirrors! My steering wheel tilts, I hope your's does too, so tilt it all the way down so it doesn't block your view of the road.

I don't recommend the above for city driving, this is for long haul, big freeway blitzing. A couple more things, one key to getting 1000 miles a day is this: the only thing you can stop for is gas, so get nice and dehydrated before you start because the only time you can get a proper pee is when you are filling the tank. Guys - take a couple empty wide mouth gatorade bottles, and for god's sake, after they are full, don't throw them out the window! For you girls, ignore this part (I don't know how to handle the toilet breaks for the girls....)

Take some food too - preferably salty food with lots of fat in it - you aren't getting out of your car for the next 12 hours, so grab some candy bars, peanuts, salami, cheese, that kind of energy snack.

Be sure to strap the kidney belt on tight, take a couple ibuprofen every 2-3 hours, wash them down with some red bull, put the Ipod on shuffle, and and start driving! You will have plenty of time to learn how to read maps and drive at the same time. Air conditioning and cruise control help a lot, but my car has neither, so don't let that stop you, and remember, rest stops are for losers!

PS. After you arrive at your destination, don't plan on doing anything for the next day or two, because you will be groggy and irritable, your liver and kidneys may not be functioning properly, so don't operate heavy machinery or try to do something dumb like fly a paraglider either.

(Disclamier: I am not responsible for anyone that tries this)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Keep Left, Keep Left...

How do you know when a Yank is driving a car in Australia? The wind shield wipers go on when the car makes a turn.

And that is because in Australia, everything is backwards - you drive on the left, the drivers seat is on the right, the turn signals and wind shield wipers are switched around, and on a manual, you shift with your left hand.

So I set off today for Canungra, 1000 miles of total backwards-ness. Watch out Aussie's, here I come!! My plan is to repeat "Keep left, Keep left..." as I drive for the next 3 days.

Regarding the fires, they are getting bigger, but a north wind blew the smoke out yesterday, and Brian and Karl flew from Tawonga Gap to Myrtleford hill to Bright. It was a 10k day. I was packing the car, bad excuse, I know.

I doubt I will post for the next several days, but Canungra is being flown a lot, so stay tuned.


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

How do we sleep while our beds are burning?

The title of this post comes from the song Beds are Burning by the Australian band Midnight Oil.

Which rings true as the bush fires get bigger - the visibility in the Wandiligong valley is about a half a mile - the smoke is so thick you can barely see the sun, it's almost dark outside - weird. The locals say the fires and smoke will be around for weeks, possibly even a month or more.

The last big bush fires were in 2003, and it took 5 weeks until the fires backed off and the smoked cleared. The CFA says that by next week the fires could reach almost a million and a half acres. Time to bail! The plan now is to go to Canungra (near Brisbane) which has a active pilot community and they have no fires.

Yesterday evening I was outside and burnt eucalyptus leaves were raining out of the sky for a couple hours, some were green but had been heat seared and smelled of smoke. The picture to the right is of 3 of the leaves that fell from the sky.

These leaves had to travel quite a distance to get here, about 15 miles. Tonight the forecast calls for "raining leaves" but this time the news warns they could be flaming leaves...

I am hoping to get to Canungra by the end of the weekend.

Stay Tuned!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Big Triangles

Yesterday, while I was fartin' around launch enjoying the smoke from the forest fires, several people were out doing big triangles. Brian Webb flew a nice one from Mystic to Tawonga Gap, up to the north end of Kiewa valley, then to Myrtleford hill, then to the Mystic LZ. Che Golus was up for 5 hours doing an 80k triangle, and other locals were doing the same.

In the picture on the right, you can see the smoke from the fires. The picture is from the NASA site which talks about the drought and El Nino.

Today a strong north wind has blown the smoke out, and base looks way above 10k feet, but a fire ban has closed Mystic. Tomorrow's weather forecast says light, and if launch is open we should see some more XC action.

Stay Tuned.


Purple Haze

God has been playing with matches. Remember the evening lightning show I mentioned on my last post? Well those were the matches that started 50 fires about 50 kilometers from here. But that hasn't stopped us from flying. Yesterday was task 2 of the Mystic cup, another brilliant task that took a 42 kilometer trip around some of the small valley systems near Bright. We had southerly winds yesterday and they come from the Antarctic, so the air is cool and that makes for a great lapse rate. Pilots got to 10,000 ft yesterday. I got squashed into a small LZ just North of Freeburg, and 3 gliders dropped in shortly after. The smoke from the fires blew in by the afternoon turning the sky into dirty milk.

Today was another story - there was a lot of smoke in the air but in spite of that we had cumulous clouds today - we haven't seen cu's over Bright for weeks. Base was about 2300 meters (7200 ft) and the air was blue and clear above me. I flew around for a couple hours practicing thermalling to the right, and then I flew toward a small hill on the south side of Bright which we call Apex, it is a known to be a good thermal trigger. In the valley to the East of Apex I spotted smoke rising in a column, so I reported the fire over our flying frequency and Brian Webb heard me and relayed the message to Barb who called the police or fire department.

I went for a walk up into the Pine forest behind my house about 6pm and by the time I got back at 8pm the smoke was really thick, visibility was about 1.5 kilometers. As I type this post in the house, my eyes are burning from the smoke... I just checked the fire web site, and the fire has burned 10 hectares (24 acres). I just heard there is a fire ban tomorrow, so Mystic is closed... again.

Hey, but don't everyone worry about me, I will still get lots of airtime, I might have to drive 3 hours to the town of Corryong which has a couple of benefits, first, it's not on fire, second, it's not in a valley system like Bright so they don't get blown out as much as Mystic. I hear they have a nice place to camp there and a couple of pilots even live there so it should be a slam dunk. For the Australians, that means it's a sure thing.

Hey, Cascadia, can we have some of your rain?

Beepin' our way to Base...


Friday, December 01, 2006

How High can you Go?

In the USA, paragliders can't legally fly above 18,000 ft. In Australia, the limit is 10,000 ft, which seems low until you consider that the highest mountain in mainland Australia is only 7316 ft above sea level... The highest Mountain on the US mainland is twice that.

Around Bright, the tallest peak is Mt. Bogong at 6500 ft, this is about the same as Pine Mountain, Oregon. In the 5 weeks I have been in Bright, I have only heard of one instance where a pilot got to 10,000 ft. Now, I'm not saying the flying is better in the US, because there would be no end to that debate, the more important fact is that it's summer here and winter back home...

The site we fly from is called Mystic and it is at 2600 ft ASL - for those of you back in the North West, it is very similar to the Toutle site in elevation, both ASL and vertical to the LZ. The big difference is that the Cross Country potential is tremendous at Mystic, in 10 flights, I flew 160 miles according to the OLC mileage on Leonardo. 16 miles per flight is nothing you might say, but we aren't trying for distance, we are doing round the valley type tasks.

There hasn't been flying going on here for the last several days, we have seen troughs, clouds, a little thunder and lightning, four drops of rain, and lots of wind. But Sunday looks possible and the Mystic Cup is on if the weather cooperates.

Stay Tuned...