Aug. 8th, 2012

dreaminghope: (Sunspot)
There was a fatality on Monday in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals in Pemberton, BC. The pilot's body was found yesterday. My heart goes out to his family and friends. I'm sure he loved flying, but I'm sure he didn't intend to give his life for it.

***

Russ and I got a late start - 9 AM - on Saturday, since I nearly gave myself sunstroke cleaning the deck on Friday and Russ was out late, and then we just sort of threw wings and water bottles in the truck and started driving. We were going out to Pemberton to meet up with Dion and some iParaglide students and novice pilots and do a bit of flying before the national competition opened on Sunday. We saw pilots, including some friends, registering for the competition, had some lunch, then headed up for our first flight off Upper Mackenzie launch.

Russ and I had checked out the Lower Mackenzie launch on a previous visit to the area, but this was our first visit to the new, higher launch, and our first time flying the site at all. The new launch is gorgeous. The view is magnificent, of course, and the launch is also a nicely shaped slope with new grass and is very wide, so lots of people can set up and even take off at the same time.

IMG_1680

The competition pilots were flying a practice task, but we launched after most of them because us novices like the mellowest conditions that happen first thing in the morning and in the late afternoon and the evening. There was still some bouncing about as I flew through thermals, but I probably only noticed them as much as I did because the last flying I did was in Nova Scotia, where the air was butter-smooth.

I discovered that I love flying Pemberton. Upper Mackenzie is at least 1000 feet higher than our usual site, Mount Woodside, which makes even a sled run (a flight from launch to landing without any lift) about ten minutes longer. To me, it felt even longer than that, though, because you can't see the landing zone (LZ) from the launch. You launch, then fly all the way around a bump in the mountain to finally see the LZ just on the other side of the river. In my novice-level experience, that feels like an adventure.

Before turning the corner, I was briefly concerned about being able to identify the LZ from the air, as all fields look alike from more than a 1000 feet up, but it turned out to be easy: just land where all the other paragliders are landing and packing up.

Seeing as how we'd just gotten back from Nova Scotia a week before and had scrambled a bit in the morning, we'd only been intending to go up for the day and then maybe go up again on Sunday to watch the start of the competition and maybe get another evening flight in. But the weather was looking good for Sunday morning, so Russ and I made the decision to stay overnight after all. While still on the LZ, Russ used his smart phone to find and book us a cheap hotel*. We rushed to the only grocery store still open to get toothbrushes and deodorant before it closed at 9 PM. Turns out that one of our pilot friends had a package of new underwear in her hotel room, so I bought a pair of panties from her. The next day, we bought some West Coast Soaring Club t-shirts in the LZ parking lot, and we were relatively inoffensive, scent-wise.

That first flight on Sunday was one of my favourites so far. Though it was only a slightly prolonged sled run, it was memorable because Russ and I got to fly together for the first time. Despite the fact that we both paraglide, we've rarely been in the air at the same time due to a variety of reasons. Even in Nova Scotia, where we flew at the same time, we were rarely in proximity to each other; we just always seemed to end up on opposite ends of the ridge.

But the launch is huge, so we could set up side by side. I launched first because Russ' new wing is a faster than mine. Shortly after I was in the air, Russ followed me. We flew the typical route towards the LZ, but were able to see each other and call to each other over the radio or even just through the air. I loved being able to see him flying above me, his shadow passing over me, and seeing the sun filtered through his wing.

We arrive at the LZ at around the same time, as there wasn't any sustained lift out there, and Russ pulled a maneuver called "big ears" to descend faster than me. The only problem was that we were so close together at that point that I was getting bounced around in the wake of his glider. We both landed safely and with big smiles.

We did a quick pack and paid for a ride up with one of the competition retrieve vehicles and managed to get another flight in each before the conditions got too strong. I was very proud of myself on this one: I am typically a bit nervous launching in front of big crowds of strangers, but despite a crowd of competition pilots hanging around, I set up and took off. It was a nice, simple flight with even less lift than on the previous one.

Later in the day, I found a shady spot in town to wait with our wings while Russ got another ride up the mountain to pick up The Beast (our vehicle). While up there, he snapped this picture of just some of the competitive paragliders in the air:

IMG_1691

Then he found out that our vehicle was missing. After scrambling around, talking to various competition organizers, they reached a retrieve driver on the ham radio. The driver was in the process of driving The Beast down the mountain, thinking it belonged to one of the competitors. He was very apologetic, and Russ and The Beast were soon reunited and picked me up only a little later than originally planned. Back to Vancouver, tired, dirty, hot, and very, very happy.

* Some of the furniture was broken, the shower was luke-warm at best, and the room was over a sketchy-looking bar - but the bar had been shut down by the police already that night, so it was quiet... except for the train in the middle of the night. No air conditioning or screens on the windows, but they did provide a stand fan. Still, everything was clean and we got showers and some sleep.

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