Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

I was debating writing this piece.. Until I read the NPR article and then I thought it might be fine, it’s a touchy subject.
Growing up, my family always celebrated this holiday either at our house or Grandma’s. She lived a half hour North, in New Brunswick, NJ. My family isn’t huggy or warm, but they are honest and hardworking… To a fault.

My brother and I would giggle about grandmas cooking. She is shrewd and successful, almost five feet tall, with a heavy Spanish accent..

She planned ahead with her busy schedule, and made the ham and potatoes a few days before… Then froze it.

Inevitably, my father would cut into her culinary creation and the knife would come to a grinding halt on the frozen center. Mom (also a very short Colombian) would suck in her lips and look away.

Being in the military, I made very little money as a brand new recruit.. Even the couple first years after I enlisted, money was scarce. The pay is fine for an 18 year old with no car, credit card or medical debt. But a 27 year old with ten years of adult life and a flattened business behind her, there is no room to move.

There were, of course the obligatory Thanksgiving meals the khaki club would host, but they seemed significantly more depressing to me than just having a quiet day to yourself. I often heard stories from the (mostly men) sadness over estranged or deceased families, divorce. This is an anniversary to give thanks in the face of lonliness  and loss.

I’ve excused myself from this mandatory fun in the past lying to peers about having family obligations (couldn’t afford to get home) or didn’t have the time off to go so far away and just disappear. I would go for a hike, down to the beach, up the mountain… Wherever. Wait for the bars to open.

Recently, (my favorite) alone Turkey Day, I drove myself to Tecopa Hot Srings in my camper. I stay at the North end of town in a small RV park. Delite Hot Spring resort. It seemed like there was a fair mix of singles and families, mostly older folks gathered for the occasion.

It was simple and very relaxing. I had both my sweet Aussies at the time, Scout and Bogey. This desert is still largely undeveloped and absent many of the strict rules necessitated by higher populations. The dogs run free when I open the door, it is quiet.. Almost silent out. There are no highways and the purpose of coming here is to relax. Parties are low key and small, the tubs are kept immaculately clean… They are about three feet deep and filled with crystal clear steadily running mineral water. Between 101 and 104. It feels delightful on my skin and soaks deep into my muscles,  bones…  my thoughts.

The dogs are in heaven here and so am I.
This year, I had other plans until yesterday…. alone. I had no one to watch my dog.  I finally found a home for Scout. He has been a good and faithful companion for eight years now, but traveling full time has been a great strain on the both of us. He’s now living in Gila Bend, Arizona with the husband and wife team that are taking care of Auggies Quail Trail RV park. He’s a  perfect fit… an energetic and welcome greeting machine for the friendly campers.

I am intensely grateful to the families that have hosted Thanksgivings past, dear friends and new, a Mexican Thanksgiving in San Diego with a beautiful, close family, (a very memorable favorite). My chosen family in Denver, successful, creative, driven. They are the warmth of my life. It is where I am headed now.

SIV

(continued from the last post)

I roll in on Friday afternoon and see that there are already a bunch of pilots there.

I meet Chris Santacroce, he is conducting the clinic. Glenn Tupper http://www.paratupper.com/ who is not only in the military, but an incredible paramotor pilot, Darcy, a Canadian and amazing photographer, a friend’s brother Mark (amazing pilot who is along with Kari Castle, climbing Mt Kilimanjaro and then flying down!!!) come here to hone their skills. I haven’t even told the whole story about these folks, they are extraordinary. They are walking legends. I am a fortunate person to have met with such giant souls.

Saturday is fair, there is no wind for most of the morning but it turns the right direction and is a good enough strength to pull up a body. Chris gives a pilot brief and hands out a few tow harnesses. They clip in to our existing equipment. It is important to connect them properly, because they don’t allow the wing to “lock out”.. a condition that normally results in a high speed head plant into the ground or water.. usually, ground. Our window is small. Only about half of us get a tow. I watch everyone carefully for lessons learned that hopefully I don’t have to do the hard way.

 

Sunday, the weather is unfortunately, not fantastic. The wind is weak and blowing the wrong direction. I have my motorcycle though and take it out for a ride around the lake. It is really a gorgeous ride. Part of it you are in Utah and the other part, Idaho, The road around is a slow, two-lane roll.

I wind my way through half a dozen little towns to the northern part of the lake and find a Hot Springs resort. I wonder where I can check in or where the tubs might be. I stand up on my pegs and look around for someone to ask.. I spy a tall, stooped gray haired fellow making some last minute preparations to his camper. It’s a small cab-over loaded on a little old brown truck.

I make a tight turn and meet him at his camp spot.

I smile and ask him how it’s going.

“Goot.” He says.

Oh! He’s German.. or something.

I ask him how the hot springs are but he doesn’t know what the heck I’m talking about. Maybe he doesn’t speak too good English?

 

I tell him, “You know, there are some hot springs here, right?”

“I am…   not sure.” he stares at me.

Strikeout.

It seems a little weird, so I decide to keep rolling. The wind might get good pretty soon, I should start heading back anyway.

 

I am passing the East side of the lake where there is another launching area that I heard might work if the wind wasn’t blowing the right way at our little beach.

There is no traffic. It is a beautiful day but it has been a little cool because of some high clouds but they are blowing out and the sun is making a big effort to break through.. there are small patches of blue everywhere. As I’m contemplating the new warmth on my back and the patches of sun rolling on to the farmers fields, out of the corner of my eye I see a brown blur about the size of my fist wreck into the spokes of my front wheel. I bring the bike to a quick stop and circle it around back to where the little brown thing is. It’s a bird.

A little brown bird. But it is not dead. Its little yellow beak is opening and closing soundlessly and only about half its body is working. I am horrified as I stare at its agony. I can’t stand to watch this pain and determine to put it out of its misery. I circle the bike around and aim for its head. I roll over it with my front tire. Surely 600 lbs is enough to squish it to death.

I hear an ominous crunch and circle around to check my gruesome handiwork.

Egads! It’s still alive! I swing the big bike clumsily around, desperate now to obliterate my mistake and again aim for the tiny brown ball of misery. I hear another nasty crunch and crane my neck around to see if I’ve finished the deed. I see no movement. I park the bike in the small strip of gravel on the side of the road.  As I walk over to the fluffy bird pancake, two other little brown birds land in front of me and stare at their fallen comrade. Oh MY GOD. I am a bird killer! I stop and watch the two hop around the bird-cake I’ve made. They cock their heads from side to side. I feel wretched and walk the final few steps to inspect it closely. It is dead. Very.

Job done, I plop my heavy heart back onto my bike and motor back around the bright green, now sunny lakeside. I hope this is not some kind of foreshadowing.

When I arrive, the crew is getting ready to go to the other side. I get my gear together and hop in Darcy’s car. We meet Chris in his boat but aren’t happy with any of the beaches for various reasons.

I am really anxious to get a flight. We drive up and down the little rocky, bushy beach and finally settle on one place. It is generally free of debris and rocks.

This is my first tow ever and I am thrilled with my commitment to this event.

It is a team effort. I hook up the tow harness… I know how to do it because the day before I had helped hook 4 people until the wind got too strong.

I’m hooked in and prepared for my launch.

We check in with the boat on the radio. I hear the engine roar to life and the boat surges forward. I feel a gentle pull on my chest. I raise my hands. The wing comes up full and straight. I begin walking and then quickly start running to keep up with the pull I feel on my chest strap.

I feel confident and focused as my feet leave the beach. I’m getting towed!! I’m going up but it takes much more input than I was expecting to use to turn with the shrinking boat below. I am HIGH. He tows us to an average of 3000’ ! That’s better than a half mile up.

The boat is tiny now. I see it make a tight turn… my signal to cut away.

I pull the bridle connecting me to the long line….. I’m free!! I have time to look around.

It is a spectacular scene. The water is a peculiar blue. The large lake is surrounded by mountains, but I can see beyond even those.

My reverie is interrupted by Chris. He’s hauled in the line and giving me instructions. The radio tells me to pull on right side A’s. The wing slowly spins to the right.

HOLD IT! LET IT WIND UP. the wing dives to the right and I feel the pressure begin to change in my seat………… OK, RELEASE. HANDS UP. LEAN LEFT.

The wing recovers quickly.

 

I do it again.

I recover.

 

OK. GRAB BOTH A’s. PULL……….. HARDER.

The entire leading edge of my wing collapses. I feel myself falling.

 

HANDS UP.

 

The wing pops open and stabilizes.

 

OK. LOOK FOR YOUR B’s. FIND THEM AND PULL.

 

I do an in-air pull-up. The wing tacos in the middle and I begin descending quickly.

 

HANDS UP.

 

I let the B’s up. My beautiful, reliable wing pops open obediently and flies forward smoothly. I am breathing heavily and this smile is starting to hurt my jaw.

OK, PULL BIG EARS. FULL SPEED BAR.

HOLD THAT.

 

This is a descending technique. You can come down pretty fast if it becomes very windy and you are having trouble making headway. It is effective. I loose several hundred feet and release speed, then Big Ears. I do it again on my own.

I’m a little light on my wing and haven’t lost all my altitude… the wind is picking up and I take advantage of the giant ridge to get more altitude and fly a little more. I go down to a huge grassy field and land in a stiff breeze. I think my face will crack. This smile is really starting to hurt. I can’t help it though, and the great huge warm feeling in my chest offsets the aching in my cheeks.

I rosette my wing and head to the road.

 

My new friend Darcy launched a little while ago. He is a better pilot than me and is having a great flight. I can see him swooping giant wingovers WITH BIG EARS!

He’s playing around with some acro… something in my future but not quite yet. It is ridiculously fun to watch him fly.

 

The wind gets too strong and we have to bail for the afternoon.

We meet at the campground later. Chris brings beer, lights a fire in the pit and does a debrief of our flights. The owner of the campground has a cannon and fires off a couple loud shots over the lake.

It’s a perfect way to wrap up this day… we say goodbye to our new friends, everyone is leaving tomorrow early.

I am making coffee and packing up the camper… I see someones wing on the beach..

I wander over casually. Darcy is laid out and looking like he’s towing! My eyes get big.

Darcy: “Get your wing!”

If I was a vampire, it would explain how I returned to the beach so quickly with my wing. The owner has a tow boat. He wanted his kids to fly, but they are being lazy on Sunday morning.

I help him hook up and get pulled up. He’s fun to watch again, swooping and collapsing. I love the color of his wing against the sky.

He lands and I begin hooking up.

I’m planning my practice session. I wanted to do some asymmetric spirals but didn’t have time yesterday… I’ll try some of those and some more collapses.

I’m pulled way up high again, cut away and immediately look right, lean right and pull my right brake waaaaaay down. The wing enters a spiral. I can feel my butt squish down into the seat. I release pressure and stabilize.

Those are FUN.

 

I spend ten minutes swooping and swirling then come in to land.

I want to fly again. No more tows are available but there is a ridge site me and Darcy want to check out later in Randolph. It blows out a lot and our chances of flying are meager, but we try anyway.

 

It is the Crawford range. It’s a 45 minute ride, but it is an amazing tour of this American countryside. It is a lush emerald green and smells like hay and dampness. The Crawford range explodes straight up from this flat productive farmland. We’re not entirely sure which road takes us up, so we just make a best guess… we luck out and make a dusty trail around the back of the mountain up to launch, but it is booming. Gusts 20 mph+.

The view is worth every moment. It is the most peaceful, verdant, riparian valley I have ever feasted my eyes on. I finally see what an oxbow looks like.. I wonder if I will be moving here soon.

There are four hangies in the air. Even they are moving slowly on this strong air. I am jealous of their flight,  but elated to be on this spectacular ridge.

Darcy and I are snapping a zillion pictures. We both are swimming in this moment.

We wander down to the edge of the spine we are on and find the hang gliders van. it looks like they are camping out tonight. There is a big pile of wood and a fire pit. I can’t imagine a better place to light a campfire.. they will be having a time.

It’s getting late and we both should return to camp, I need to get down the road to my next job… Darcy? That guy. I think he’s in next weeks clinic too! Stud.

Thanks to Darcy Gillis for the First, and third through eighth pics… and your support.

 

POTM, UT. (Point of the Mountain, Utah)

I would like to tell you about a story that happened some time ago. I don’t know why I didn’t post it before… In May, I was working in Wendover, UT. I told you a little story about the lake I swam in but flying…. I somehow missed

I wanted to have an SIV clinic… sometimes called a maneuvers clinic. It is a training event that you learn to react properly to an adverse event in the air…. Collapses, frontal deflations, spins etc.. My confidence had been somewhat damaged by the wreck in Colombia. I have flown a few times at the Point of the Mountain Utah. It’s a fairly easy, ridge soaring and thermal flying site.. one of the reasons it is so awesome a place to learn.. Beautiful, laminar air blows in the afternoon from the Great Salt Lake or from the South, which also produces strong, smooth reliable ridge lift in the early morning.

I bring Scout with me today.. actually, every time here. He loves it and nearly all the pilots love him back. He is thrilled to be free to roam the windy ridge while I play. Its blowing pretty hard right now.. maybe around eighteen mph or more. Seems like a good time to practice my high wind kiting skills.
I notice a lot of people are having a tough time and worry a little but feel determined to at least get the wing laid out.

I pull my helmet on, buckle into my harness and grab the reigns. I lean into my seat and pull up on my A’s… the wing comes up fast. I pull my brakes and bring it back down but have to run full speed toward the wing because there is a great deal of energy in it.
WHAM! It slams down into the ground. My heart is pounding…. I hurt myself badly a few years ago doing the same thing. I have to gather myself.

I focus and practice in my mind twice. I have to have A’s, C’s and brakes. I need to get it up, over my head and under it as fast as possible.

I lay my wing back out, position my hands, take a half step back, and lift. Whoosh! The wing snaps up, I again put my weight into my seat, I let my feet scrape forward, and pendulum swing under my wing.
I balance it over my head and turn.
I am on my toes like an astronaut… I am held in the air… all except the maybe twenty pounds in my tip toes. I shove my chest forward and put my hands up behind me. I moonwalk bounce toward the edge of the ridge…. And I’m flying… sort of…. I’m parked about five feet up in the air.

A little right brake and I’m crabbing right, still facing forward.
This is fun! There is only one other person flying with me. The ridge is ours. We do a few slow laps and I practice touching down and taking off again in this robust wind. A few more people show up and I land. I’m happy for the early morning I’ve had. It has satisfied the deep need I have now for flight.

I watch some tiny speed wings playing in the strong air for a while.. I love watching. I love the colors and seeing them swoop the ridge. It is hypnotic.

My stomach growls and suddenly I remember that I haven’t had breakfast yet. Or coffee. I fold up my wing and as I head back to the parking lot I see the Superfly van. I stop a tall skinny fellow that looks like a pilot and ask about getting an SIV and he recommends a guy, Chris Santacroce…The owner of Superfly. . I’m warned not to call it an SIV though. “just ask him for a throwdown.” he says.

OK! I don’t care what the hell he calls it.

I’ve heard his name a few times before but don’t know much else. I also learn that it is $100 a tow. WOW! That’s expensive!

I screw down my reluctance to spend that kind of money and decide to phone him later in the afternoon.

Starbucks in hand, bagel with cream cheese and lox tracked down, I’m settled and decide to make the call.

He’s friendly, but sounds busy. We connect and come up with an idea he thinks is going to work. He’s mostly booked for clinics but if I come down, I might be able to get a shot if the weather is good. Count me in!

It is at Bear Lake, UT.. hm. Never heard of it, but I’m happy to give anything a chance..

Ladyfriend

Genie is a new friend. A fabulous new friend. She rides the same kind of motorcycle I do, and rides the same way I do.

I love her face. It is thin and square and strong. Her eyes are a blazing blue, sometimes green blue.  She’s got a thousand watt smile, wild, shaggy blonde hair, sometimes there’s a shock of pink in the front.
I think when they were pouring souls into bodies, an angel got distracted and spilled an extra two into hers.

Like me, she’s led a couple lives… She’s bright and driven.
She’ s the life of the party.

I’m invited to cocktails with her friends… At Lola’s. They have great drinks and an open, breezy patio that used to have a clear view of downtown which is now being obstructed by an big boxy apartment  building across the street. There are sweaty men swinging around huge framed pieces of lumber and pounding them into place. I like to watch them and wonder what they do after work.

There are half a dozen gals. Cute. Smart. One of them is tall, fit, tousled curly, shoulder length hair. Very professional looking.

I only stop by for a minute. I didn’t really feel like coming out but I wanted to see Genie. I miss her.

She’s late, she shows up as I’m leaving. I smile and hug her goodbye.

I see the tall girl again in Moab a couple weeks later, and then one more time  at Genies birthday. We finally talk.

 She is an Architect. She’s a little bit shy.. and nervous.

We discover we both love bicycles though and plan a morning.. We ride the Lariat Loop. My favorite.. a forty five mile scenic roll through the front range of Colorado. Starting with a steep, twisty climb up Lookout Mountain. it’s the kind of ride that says.. I’m serious about riding, but I like more than just the challenge. After Lookout, you get to pedal through Bergen Park, Kittridge, Morrisson, and just before Golden, Red Rocks… If you haven’t been to Red Rocks for a workout or a concert, you’ve seriously missed on the Denver experience. It is a large, deep, natural, open amphitheater set high in the foothills of the front range of the Rockies. Its defining feature is the colossal bright red sandstone rock that forms an acoustically perfect bowl around the stage. From the top rows you can see the whole valley and even Denver is visible.. Even when the smog is thick, it never feels like you are close to a major city.

I want to BBQ.  I haven’t done one in awhile so I invite some friends. Genie, my new riding friend, Linda, and also Jeff and Barbi, my favorite neighbors.

Genie can’t make it but Linda can. I’m pretty excited to be grilling for friends.. It’s one of my favorite things to do.

Dinner is great, Grilled pork chops, homemade applesauce and roasted squash.. I grilled some small paddy pans and zucchini with oil, salt,  pepper, and a couple shakes of a fantastic Balsamic that I picked up in San Diego.

After dinner, Barb and Jeff thank me and say goodbye, but Linda stays to help me clean up.

She seems nervous and I quickly find out why. She’s on a mission. Her friends said she has to kiss me. It’s our third date… I didn’t know we were out on dates but here we were in the kitchen… looking funny at each other.

Ten minutes later, I tell her she had better go home.. we plan another date and say goodnight.

I’ve  forgotten how fun that is. It’s been missing in my camper life for a long time now. I’m super looking forward to our next date… However, I am already moderately suspicious that she may be too delicate a flower for my uhhhh.. type of soil.