Torrey


I love Torrey Pines Gliderport. It is one of the most special places of my life. I never feel lonely when I am on the hill…  Never when I am flying the buttery smooth air.

I’m here for the next few days.IMG_3974IMG_3685

It is incredible that such a place should exist. It’s proximity to such a developed urban area and its financial value make it an unseemly place to put a hangliding or paragliding launch. But it is here in beautiful La Jolla, CA and it is busy… and almost always full of pilots and bystanders.IMG_2835                                                  It is a place to experience for yourself. To see with your own eyes the sparkling Pacific meeting the Black beach three hundred and twenty-seven feet below. To feel a gentle West wind full of salt. To see the rainbow of paragliding wings in the sky when the airspeed and direction are perfect. To stand in a sunset filled with sometimes Peregrine Falcons, Brown Pelicans, Harris Hawks, Black Crows or Seagulls, flying friends and an enormous expanse of calm seashore.
IMG_2854

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 9.41.47 PMIt is magic to me and the memory burns a pattern in my mind. I feel whole and good…. I feel like I have a super power. It is the power of Flight…. Whenever I land, my smile is as big as the beach. It is hard to stop laughing. It is better than the best drug. Ever. It is pure love.IMG_3971IMG_3753

 

First Flight, GV.

I’m in Governador Valadares, Brasil, staying at Hotel Everest in the center of town. It’s only a couple blocks from the LZ. $25/night.

Today we’re going to fly. I’m still a little nervous about going up. Although, we’re going to fly safely and sanely, and I am going to put a lot of effort into a safe launch and landing. I slept well last night and didn’t have too many cocktails at the bar. 

 Stay out of power lines. Stay out of the water. Stay away from the rock. There are good, large LZ’s everywhere. It’s just staying out of the bad ones that is important. And not crashing in the good ones.

GV is small. It is dominated by the giant rock face that is launch for the crowd of paraglider and hang glider pilots that make their way to this haven of XC flight. I am the only female pilot that I have seen here yet. 
There are few Americans. 

I’ve noticed a couple of things about here. The two biggest to me are, firstly, the way these women dress up for everyday is amazing.. Heels, tight pants, make up, hair did.
Secondly, I haven’t seen a dog on a leash yet…. Plenty of dogs..There’s a few other things, but I’ll get to them later.

The thing that is trying to dominate me right now, is fear. I’m uncomfortable about getting in the air again after my wreck.  I have to try all the little tricks I’ve learned over the years. I struggle to keep the negative thoughts from happening..  I buy some gum… stick two pieces in my mouth…. chew it up for a while. It seems to quiet the racket in my head. I set up my equipment robot like. Open bag. Remove flight deck, remove folded wing. Turn harness around. Each step is manifesting in my brain like an itemized list. I focus on each one. Task complete. I check each line. I check and recheck that I am clipped in properly. Helmet. Radio. I’m ready to launch. we wait. It seems like forever but the right moment never really arrives. Finally, rain on the horizon headed our way is the catalyst that gets us moving. We decide to launch before we get trapped at the top.

It’s light wind getting off the mountain but, that’s what I’m good at. So I take off. The air is a little chunky but has some nice lift and I finally get a piece going up….  Fast. This is probably not the best idea because the rain clouds are getting much closer. 

It’s fine though, I find an area of sink and spiral down through it. I’m still comfortably high so it’s time to get ready for my approach, but find a great deal of sinking air. I have to cross the Rio Doce.. a giant surging river swollen and muddy from recent floods.  I’m worried I might not make landing. 

The setup is a little different, I had to come in from the opposite end of the LZ. Kevin is on the radio and really paying attention to me, coaching the landing. I’m scared. More nervous than I have ever been flying before. I hate feeling like this. Too much adrenaline…makes it hard to think clearly.
He guides me in and I plant it perfectly, next to the road. First landing, out of the way.

We celebrate with some beers and food.

GV has sushi. A whole bunch of it, actually. It’s not bad. Not too creative or too many choices, but it really satisfies the craving. 

I love the meat on a skewer, even at the buffet, you can get seasoned, juicy grilled meats by the pound hot off the coals. The locals’ favorite are chicken hearts. The beef and pork are also delicious. The most common  (and least expensive) thing to eat here are the stuffed pastries. Fried or baked then stuffed with meat or cheese generally. Street vendors are really different here. I have seen mostly fruit carts…. 
The one that I think is really fun is the potato chip cart. In the evenings, they wheel a cart with a glass box top around and serve bags of peanuts, hot potato chips or popcorn. It comes in a small white paper sack.. about the size of a “medium” McDonalds French fry box. you can get butter, salt, cheese or spicy on either. It costs about fifty cents.

The only tourist trade here comes from paragliding.. and only for a few months a year. 

 The women outnumber the men by about  twenty to one. Perhaps this is the reason why Brazil seems to have the largest concentration of beautiful women per capita… they are everywhere.
The female police officers are all stunning. Every last one. Beauty must be an unwaiverable qualification for entering the academy. I will be recovering from whiplash when I return.

GV has a gay bar.
The women are mostly single, the men are not generally inclined to stay with any one woman… That doesn’t explain the gay male population though. The ratio here is a whopping estimated thirty percent. It is widely accepted. 
The bar is five blocks from my hotel.

There is so much to tell about this culture and tiny town, I will have to tell you more later. I’m going to check out the gay bar in the next couple of days.

San Felix

  I thought I would feel worse today, but i just feel very sore. Aside from the three beers I consumed immediately upon my arrival, I have been treating myself pretty well… Being gentle with my painful rib.. got my foot up, iced it for a few hours,  drank a lot of water, pumped some ibu.. glad I threw in a giant stash with my first aid kit! 

I want to tell you a little more about San Felix. It is a really cool place. The view of the valley from launch is spectacular. They know this and have shaded stands at the top where you may sit and watch your loved ones hurtle themselves from a precipice.

There are two launches. Each one is owned by a different company. One is a skinny, inclined short-ish stretch of grass… A typical small mountain launch. The other is a fat, square piece of golf course that launches like a ridge. 

Before I left on Sunday, I went to what I  thought was the equipment store. There was a fit, attractive gal with long, poker straight, black hair and a very distinct air of authority about her. She wore a tight,  motorcycle-ish red leather jacket and form fitting black pants with calf high boots to match. (she really just needed a whip to round out the outfit. Whew!)

She leaned on the counter and welcomed me in Spanish. When I spoke, a plain heavy set gal stood up from behind a computer and said, ” I speak English… Would you like to learn to fly?”

In retrospect, I should have told her I can fly pretty well.. it’s my landings that need some work.

I told her no, I was actually coming by to see if she had any Crispis for sale.(flying boots… So you don’t jack your ankle on a bad landing). 
They didn’t, but we struck up a friendly conversation about the site and came to find out that the hot, assertive looking gal was her sister and owner of the operation. They provide paragliding instruction, tandem flights, SIV clinics. and paintball. Not kidding.

Next door, is a canyoning operation… And judging from the appearance of the crew returning from their adventure, it is a wet canyon…  directly down the hill from base operations here.

I think I’ll make another trip back… just to hang out and enjoy the scene. In a couple days. Right now, this seems like a great opportunity to cut some video, learn some more Spanish and work on my book. 

Super bummed the battery in my gopro didn’t last long enough to capture my wreck.

Wreck

Saturday
I made some phone calls. Got directions on how to get the San Felix (pronounced: saahn-fell-eks) flight park. No one knows where the hell I want to go if I say it American way.

Sunday
I want to make a test run to the site without my heavy wing.
I walk to the train terminal. Take the train to Terminal Norte. Then find bus terminal eleven and catch that bus to Belmira. Tell the bus driver that I’m looking for parapentes. This guy laughs his ass off and tells me to sit down. So I sit. 

It is a total of 2 hours from door to door.

I check out the site. There are a couple restaurants.. Simple. There is a yellow stairway about 100m up the hill to the launch site. There are a lot of parapentes flying. They are all tandems… I walk up to the pilot entrance and ask a couple pilots if they habla English. One girl comes up to me and says she does. She is learning to fly. Through her, I meet one of the pilots and get a site checkout… Kind of. It’s brief and imperfect. No matter, I’ll just watch what everyone else is doing. I stay and watch. I’m jealous.. it is a nice day and I’m not flying…..  I will fly tomorrow.

It’s three o’clock. I didn’t eat lunch. I’m really hungry.. Actually, I’m not even hungry anymore, I just feel wrong… I know I have to have something before I leave. I sit down at a table and order the almuerzo…. The lunch of the day. I wait. 
20minutes….30 minutes… 40 minutes 50 minutes..  It’s almost dinner. 
I am agitated. I get up and tell the waiter I will pay for my beer and leave. I grab a donught at a little stand I had passed up earlier… It’s now an emergency.  I don’t want to feel crazy all the way down. 

I catch the bus. Then the train. I’m glad I don’t have my wing, it is really crowded on the way home. I walk the mile or so back up the hill.

I’m starving. I grab some pasta at a nice restaurant near the hostel. And a couple shots of the local firewater for good measure.

Something evil has invaded my system.. I feel lightheaded and feverish. My stomach is gurgling ominously. I crawl in bed, completely exhausted.

Today
I woke up after sleeping a full twelve hours. I’m a little shaky still and my guts are rolling unpleasantly, but my fever is gone and only feel a little dizzy.. I chug a liter of water with two Emergen-C’s in it.
I’ll be fine.

I eat a quick breakfast, gather my belongings and head out the door. 9:15.

I. Will. Fly. Today.

I take the train half way there but opt to take a taxi for ease of space. The bus was so busy yesterday. The taxi driver doesn’t seem to know quite where to go. He is asking a lot of questions. I ask him if he’s ok, he says sure. We head up in approximately the right direction. I know he’s lied to me because he keeps stopping and asking everyone if he’s going the right direction. We take a bunch of wrong turns and finally after passing the place the first time, we turn around and get there. It is now 12:15.

I’m starving, but look up and see people flying. 

I’ll eat later. I hike up to launch and shake hands with a couple of the guys I met yesterday. I quickly lay out my wing and launch.. It’s pretty cross, but I get off perfectly. The air is smooth and cool. I head over to what I think is the house thermal. I climb slowly up the hill to cloud base. I can see all of Medellin. There are thermals everywhere and I’m super high.  I fly like this for two and a half hours.

 I am tired… And starting to feel really out of sorts. I try for a top landing but missed it by twenty feet or so. I can’t get up again quickly, so opt for the low landing. I saw a bunch of people land there yesterday..
I try to land for about half an hour. It is very lifty. I am a little light on my wing today.. The landing is a little funny. I have to kick some pinecones to get in. 
As I come over the top of the pine trees, I notice something I have never seen before. LZ is angled very steeply downhill and then levels out. Instead of clearing the pine trees and just doing a couple more turns, I have a momentary lapse of sanity… and stick my hands way down in the brakes. Bad move… super bad move.

I stalled the wing. 
At about thirty feet over the ground. My brain says.. PLF. Feet and knees together.
 I burn in. Feet were under me, I twist my right foot out and jam my knee first into my chest then my face. Then my ass hits. Thank god for airbags… No big.

I’m out of wind. My ankle hurts. A lot. And I’m having trouble taking a breath. A bunch of people run over. I can tell they are asking if I’m ok, but I can’t answer them. In any language. Finally, I whisper.. “No habla” 

A tall white guy comes over. He’s an ER doc. He took a tandem flight today. We sit for a while until I can get it together enough to say what’s wrong. It hurts to talk. 

“yeah. I think I’m ok.”

He wants me to stand up to see if anything else is super wrong. 
I stand up.
Same. Chest and ankle.

I sit around for a while and wait until I hurt a little less. A very attractive and sweet Colombian gal comes over and gives me some water.

ER doc looks like he is leaving. He speaks pretty good Spanish. I get him to talk one of the local boys into carrying my bags down for me. My ankle is starting to swell and I think I’ve cracked a rib. 

It’s a long hike down without bags… The young man beats me down quickly and has already hailed me a cab. I pay him twice what he asks and give him a hug.. Gently. The ER doc jumps in with me.. His name is Eric. He is from Oakland. He travels three or four months a year. He is semi-retired and only forty years old. He has been here three days and never wants to fly again.

He helps me get back to my hostel (which I can’t remember the name of) and schleps my heavy bags up to my second floor room.

 He wishes me well and heads out to the Zona-Rosa.

I need a beer.

Last Roldanillo Post

This is the second time I’ve apologized to my helmet for bumping into it in the dark.. It is next to me in bed. I keep trying to lay down and sleep… I’m super tired… drank coffee late and took a nap earlier.  I keep smelling man-cologne wafting through the window.

Guess I can write a little.

I have made a decision. I will leave Friday and go to Medellin and try to fly for 3 days….or so. Then I will go to Cali a couple days before my airplane leaves for Brazil on the 30th.

I kind of want to veg here in Roldanillo… But I think it’s kind of lazy.

I had dinner with a gal. Betty. Well, I didn’t really have dinner with her. She served me dinner… Actually, the kitchen staff served me dinner. She sat and talked with me for 45 minutes about Colombia, why she is here,  what she is after and  why she likes it. She lived in Miami for six years. She is a darling gal and I can’t help but be a little smitten with her casual charm. She’s beautiful, owns the restaurant and said she would go to a town in the country that she loves with me if I wanted to go.

She suggested I get the lasagna… Something went wrong in the kitchen, it was an hour and a half and it came out hot on the outside and frozen in the center. Hilarity…. It is exactly like my grandmothers cooking. She was very embarrassed. I wished she wasn’t…

I’m starting to speak a lot of Spanglish. Between hers and mine, it is a fantastico way of communicado.

I think this is pretty much it for Roldanillo posts.. I’m ready to move on, but I’m crazy about coming back here to fly and see my new friends again. I’ve loved this time outside of time and feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity.

For Ronen… Yesterdays Epic 45k and Quick Guide to Flight in Colombia

For Ronen.. Yesterdays debrief I am downloading the video now.

Longest flight yet. The morning looked promising. You can tell when an epic day is going to happen. Fluffy clouds building in the valley, little blue spots peeking out everywhere… very little or no wind.

Rode the magic bus up the mountain and took off with a forward launch in near zero wind conditions. We (my new handsome paragliding friend and I) went directly up to cloudbase and caught a lifty line skimming the bottom of the clouds past the foothills and then transitioned over the town we just drove up from….Roldanillo.
I was trying to keep up with the line and made a move in retrospect that could have been a wicked long walk out but turned out ok because there was lift everywhere in the valley.

We transitioned across the valley to a town called Zarzal and headed for the next one. There were cumulus forming everywhere and lift was really easy. It was more difficult to focus on which clouds to fly through… The local farmers burn their fields occasionally… the fire creates a very turbulent thermal.. And swirling hot ash. 
Finally, at 45k, I started getting low.. Just short of a town called Bugalagrande… And I really had to pee.  I think I could have gotten back up, I found a couple low thermals, but I just plowed through them and picked an lz.

I tried hitching a ride on the way back, but didn’t have any takers… Just as well. A bus came along shortly… It was gratifying how long it took to get home.

I am thrilled with Colombia… There are many places to fly, so I ask as many people as I can to decide where to go next.  The Canadians tell me I’m crazy to go anywhere else, Roldanillo is world class cross country flying. The locals say here. Few people say to go anywhere else… for better flying.

To see the country, a few people said  Bucaramonga (a Colombian paragliding Mecca… good for high ridge soaring) just outside of Bogotá would be a good place to go, Medellin came up a couple times because it is a diverse city loaded with modern Colombian culture, varied and lush landscapes and 4 or 5 flying different sites… Many people told me that it was beautiful but not a cross country venue.
In the south, just past the small, bucolic and architectural town of Popayan, there is a small flying site in Balboa that has reports of being an incredible place to get cross country, but the fear of being close to unsettled of Ecuador is pervasive. Cali is slow to boast what the locals and well traveled pilots call another great cross country site.  I think it is called Pinchinche… Or something very close to this… There was a lot of unrest there for a long time but it’s reportedly safe now.

I have to make an aside here. I didn’t mean to insinuate that this was a comprehensive guide. There was a packet from Paragliding Earth website under my hotel door when I returned from flying today! There are dozens of other sites, the ones I listed are what I believe to be the most well known… This may not be true, but they are the ones on everyones lips that I have met here! Cheers!

Second aside.. My new friend and champion of the paragliding event here in Roldanillo last week has corrected me on a couple of points… As well as convinced me to go to his home town, Medellin.. Here is the correction he sent me.

… “medellin is an amazing place for xc some of the longest flights in colombia have been made there and the flying is exelent its just got a ton of mountains way harder then rolda or piedechinche
Way more demanding but you can still pull off a 45 k
Dont even dare going to bucara might as well go sin in torrey pines al day . Its the same , bogota if there taking about sopo its also the same but cold as hell
So
Rolda
Piedechinche
Medellin ( 3 diferent sites awesome night life stuning women)”

I think we have all loved Torrey and easy soaring but when cross country flying gets a grip on you, it’s a difficult thing to fly over the same ground terminally… Funner to have goals.

Flight Log

This is my actual flight log. I am keeping the altitude and max ascent rate details in my vario but am too lazy to transfer them all quite yet. Its just a peek into what kind of flying I am doing… skip ahead to the video if you want to see the video version!

Sam Levinson said, “You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t possibly live long enough to make all of them yourself.”

29 60min. bailout with Skip
30 1.5 hr Bailout with Skip and Stephan
31 40min. field with the crew
01  30min. land in freaking Diablo
02 rain day
03 60min bailout self
04 40min.  land in field all by myself lots of giant winrows with motorcycle guy
05 rain day
06 rain day
07 1.2 hr no instruments thermal conditions  land in farmer field with the Russian Dennis tight landing with power lines. Dynamic turns close to ground. No bueno.

08 1.5 hr 6mi comp launch 5200′ thermal conditions land short of zarzal by myself, long ass walk through the sugar cane.

09 2.5 hr. 40mi. (30k) in-line distance  High launch 5800′ thermal conditions… Flew with Kevin, Caylee, Skip and Brian

10   no flight because insurance and bad winds..
11   30min landed in the barnyard with the Russian Serge.
12.  Wasn’t feeling it. Didn’t fly. Crap ass day… Most people got sled rides
13.  60 min. Strange day. Plenty of lift in the launch site, almost nothing out in the front except the fire cloud. Landed in the sugar cane. Strong headwind. Steep descent.

Who is a paraglider pilot?

Who is a pilot? I have been considering this question myself for some time.  I have been especially considering it since living in such close quarters with the large group that I am here with now.

I have been in and around the paragliding community for about five years.

I went to Iraq as a contractor for a civilian company cleaning up ammunition supply points with a heavy concentration of unexploded and improperly stored ordnance. I didn’t care for the living conditions… lack of exercise and particularly, the horrific fare globbed on our paper plates each morning and evening not to mention the very real possibility of being rocketed, invaded, shot, or otherwise blown up…

When I returned home I had a heart full of anxiety and a pocket full of money. 
I sat with myself for a while and thought I would do something great for me…
That thing was learning to fly. I looked online to find the best place in the country to do this. That is how I came up with Eagle Paragliding in Santa Barbara. 
I went for just shy of a month and cemented my addiction.

Since then, I have only flown about 15 different sites… but have met many pilots. We certainly have one thing in common…. We love to fly.

It is for many, an addiction. For some, it’s the adrenaline, for others, it is a Zen focus. It is a dedication to concentration and decision making. The consequences of not having a strict attention to this endeavor can be  dire.
To fly well, a pilot must have accumulated a fair amount of time to developing muscle memory and building a repertoire of experience at various flying sites… Learning to read weather forecasts properly for our sport, judging the  prevailing site conditions and mapping terrain for an optimal flight. 

Those who fly are driven.

They are very often successful men.. and few of us women. A large number are airline, helicopter or glider pilots as well… Or all three! It is an expensive sport to enter… It is a financial commitment. It is a time commitment. It is a close community. 

I’m loving being around this pack of giant personalities. I feel comfortable and engaged. I may not be the Goddess of Good Behavior, but I am every moment excited and grateful for this epic adventure, the people, and glad for the opportunity to keep telling you about it.

Rain, Rain, oh Rain!

Rain Rain, oh Rain!

We take the magic bus to a new launch today. It is not looking particularly promising. Our ride up is uneventful and we are happy to hear another jeep can take our heavy bags most of the rest of the way up to launch.
It is a steep, muddy hike up. It rained heavily the night before and there were still big puddles in the deeper tire tracks.

There are more than thirty pilots at the small, soggy launch. The heavy fog appears to be lifting so we quickly lay out our wings, clear the lines and clip into to our harness.

Two pilots launch, about ten minutes apart. The first took an opportunity with a hole in the low cloud layer. The second launched in a good cycle but directly into the fog.  And then it started to rain… pouring sheets of cool, drenching rain.
Every one of us scrambled frantically to cover our delicate paragliders. We used every piece of protection we had. Someone brought a huge tarp that housed most of the pile, a few of us had space blankets that came into purposeful use this day.

We wait about thirty minutes for the rain to let up so we could pack our wings without getting them and our carefully packed reserve parachutes soaked, but it seems like it would last a long time. I missed breakfast… (I didn’t think we’d actually come up here)  and eat an emergency coffee cake I had stashed in my bag.
The decision is made to just get out of the rain as quickly as possible and drive down the mountain.. We help each other to keep equipment dry while packing and slide and smush down the muddy slope to where our magic bus had thankfully waited.. It is important to get our wings and reserves unpacked and dried out as soon as possible. The longer we wait, the more saturated the really wet ones will become.

We loaded the bus as quickly as we can….. and there is confusion. The bus is parked. It is already dangerously overloaded. The gear is packed in a solid wall inside, there is an extra person in every row and the top of the jeep is holding as many people that will fit on it’s roof. The driver runs back and forth saying “No mas personas!”  but more keep piling their stuff on and trying to get in. A half an hour passes…. He has ordered another bus but if it shows up and the other people get rides before it does, he will have to pay the bus out of his own pocket. Finally, after much debate we leave.

Perhaps the next time it is predicted to be 100% chance of rain, we will be more conservative in our decision to charge up the hill.