A good editor would probably wring my neck, but here goes... One of the logs from one of the twenty or so monkeys on the Chamonix 2010 paragliding expedition:
Day one-- We're in Switzerland!
Nice flight. Economy Plus a good idea. Bring own drinks and food and
metamucil & suppositories, too next time. Did not sleep enough. Saw
Sharkey and Duck & Duck's wife on the plane and began chatting them up
inbound to Geneva.
Geneva immigration line quite slow. Skipped the airport shower (a bad
idea, if you ask me-- next time will insist). Took a couple hours to
sort out the van. One the size of a Subaru was not what was intended.
On the road we admired the roadway and most especially the surrounding
scenery: hill top farms, castle houses, and especially very flyable
sites. We stopped at the autobahn truckstop restaurant shown on our
map. Thank goodness for that. Very good paella. French bread of
course could be the best thing about France. That is nothing bad
about France. The bread here is just darn good.
Got to Chamonix. We were obviously travel thrash stoned by this time.
Thank god Mad Dog had a radio on. After three tries, on foot using
directions of the information desk, I located the property mangagement
office renting me a room. Renting sheets and towels was a surprise,
however, I remember thinking "don't forget your towel (you wanna get
high?)" as a packed the day before, a couple days before. The bag
full of towels and sheets for my roommates and me promptly broke, of
course. I stagggered into the Super U and got a bit of bread and a
bottle of dark wine and continued staggering back up the hill. Once
at the Brevant, I learned that the manager's map was quite incorrect,
to the surprise a few residents that were where I was supposed to be
according to her dislexic directions. Mad Dog's wife rescued me from
my mentally compromised dilemna and we finally found the place. That
explains her halo. It is quite nice if a bit small for three guys. I
glanced at the mirror and learned why people in town looked at me like
they did. I looked like a Visine commercial.
Before passing out, Mad Dog showed me the LZ. Excellent bread,
delicious wine, stolen toilet paper, very hot bath, and a ten hour
Day Two-- Invisible Playgrounds
The next morning the Flying Monkeys gathered and went up the lift. I
took a few pictures and began laying out. " I am first" declared a
tandem. No worries. Dog and Duck and Sharkey caught up and I
launched out already at cloud base. The house thermal around the
corner just East of the lift was working quite well. I cored it with
a couple of tandems at about the same altitude, cranking and banking
into the clouds, breaking off to not lose ground references and then
back again into the clouds. The scenery was magnificant. My normal
flying gloves were a bad idea and I decided to head to the LZ before
my fingers lost feeling. 33 minutes was all my fingers could stand. Too bad.
The flying was most excellent.
That afternoon we went down valley to another site, now with Sidehill
and Don & wives. Working out of the launch area was a lot of work.
Topography, trees, the other gliders, seeds in the air and Mad Dog's
teasing from cloud base helped. I worked my way West along the slope
as altitude allowed. Being stuck in a tall tree is not on my agenda.
Making 5000 feet was a relief and I pushed myself to stay there.
Once I got to the giant rock slides and cliff faces, it got
much easier. Near the top of the cliffs an eagle screamed at me. I
glanced down and saw 7001 on my altimeter. Bitchin indeed. Looking out at
the panorama was very cool. Truly magnificant. I decided to cross
the valley. That turned out to be a good way to get down. Nothing
was working over there. Spending the last twenty minutes or so 600
feet over the LZ back on the North side enjoying goat farts in warm
air was a treat. Enjoying frosty beverages with the rest of the
Fallen Angels was even more satisfying.
Dinner of hamburger panini's was a hit. Duck's successful 14 year
marriage was delight as well. If I had a non-mental cutie here with
me so that Riley could be here too my happiness would be complete.
He would be in heaven. Duck is a smart one: corner unit, flymaster
vs flytech... Generous, too: Sharkey's beer and hamburger panini.
I woke up a couple of times, but this was a morning when ten hours of
sleep was delicious. I'm going to put in some wash, shit shower
shave, get some breakfast and my mail and then go avail myself of more
Aloha Nui Loa,
John aka whatever French is for "Frosty Balls", being the only pilot
with enough sense to fly wearing shorts
Day Three-- Snow Monkeys
No flying today. High clouds heading south with waves in them came lower, I guess, and messed everything up after morning raininess down low.
Bought a serious ski jacket-- for 29 euro. Also some glove liners and expedition quality socks. I then immediately put them to very good use.
We all went up the highest gondola in the world. It was spectacular. I kept saying "wow!". It was very foggy and the precipitous drop-offs went into cloudy nothingnesss. Just after disembarking at the top, we walked accross a bridge surrounded by fog and then into caves. Sharkey and I found some beers, cold of course, and then proceeded to view points surrounded by that spectacular cloudy nothingness, with momentary breaks in the clouds revealing other view points, the summit, and little groups of cramponed and leashed together hikers far below. I made my first snow angel in years. Wonder where all the nude pictures will someday show up? We saw a group of hikers depart from one of the caves onto an ice causeway path a couple of feet thick with thousand foot drop-offs on both sides. Not sure about that-- you couldn't see the bottom either way. We saw another group of three come in. Wonder how they passed each other?
My roomie Larry showed up and I got him oriented.
Day Four-- Plain Jew Goat Farts
Began the day freezing whilst internetting then followed Larry up the
lift for a sled ride. Ran back up the hill and launched into more
thermic conditions and followed Mad Dog and Doug and Side Hill over to
the launch from a couple days before. I was a few hundred feet under
them and instead of bee-lining, crossed the valley to the north and
worked the face over there. I begged and it gave me a couple hundred
feet and change. I overflew some farms and that little lake to the
east of launch. The other monkeys all top landed. Radio traffic
contained the "B" word. And then I got there about 200 feet MSL
short, maybe less. I went down the hill kicking and screaming and
scratching. Finally, already resigned to drinking beer all by my poor
lonely self whoah wiz me and less than 500 feet above where a bunch of
goats were spotted a couple days before and imagining I could still
smell them, I hooked in :) It took me almost back up to launch and in
short order I hooked another that took me above and to the west of
launch. "Where should I land?" "Not in the trees!" is something
like how it went. After top landing we all had a most excellent lunch. Reaper and
Bon Bon joined us. I launched again and cavorted some more on the
slope for a while before hearing Duck state that six pilots were at
launch. They must be packing up to go home, I figured, so I landed
again. Leery of rotor, my approach was a bit high and I pulled ears
to make it a nice steep one. The log fence around launch drew
ominously close to my glide slope. I popped open the wing and flared
but air did not cooperate entirely and apparently the result was
dramatic. Oh well. Duck was at launch and my kamikaze approach was
wasted. I relaunched to go sniff goats some more.
Pau flight I got to drive up with Carson, our new German friend from
Munich, and Reaper to get Carson to launch and us to our cars. Carson's car was big van. Little French cars got out of my way on the way back down. The horn did not
work, but Reaper and I had radio contact and that is more fun anyway.
The evening repast was all about cheese. Duck's wife had been
mountaineering and so we all actually took a van down and up the hill.
If you park halfway onto the sidewalk "the man" thinks you are local,
Duck figured. Sharkey got his cheese, Andrew took many excellent
pictures, and we met some Formula One roadies. Exhaustion set in and we could have slept
right there at the table.
Day Five-- Mauna Kea Shrubbery and Annecy Ridge Lift
The day began for me running around town looking for software
downloads so I could talk to Riley and a desiccant pad for my camera
so it would not fog at altitude. Stopping by the Super U, I ran into
Reaper and Berndt and so found those other two things. Reaper and Bon
Bon had over-nighted at a nice little B&B on the south side of the
river. The B&B had been a mill and so was perched right over the river.
I booked up the hill and caught up with more new arrivals at the west launch
including our very own King of Kahana and Nikki. I followed Mad Dog
out along the north wall at lower altitude than the day before.
There is a charming launch out that way which demanded top landing
consideration, but with not even a leaf shudder, I over-flew it and
headed back to more familiar LZ's. My look cost a couple hundred feet
and my glide was not going to get me home. I called my position.
Duck was nice enough to advise that valley winds were now going up
valley. The nice green grassy park that I chose for a forced landing had more downhill than I thought at first and tree height turned out to be too high. Penetration was
great, although 20 knots of ground speed is not really what I felt
like the situation demanded. At low level I crossed the street into
another grassy area, doing what I could to get down and slow down.
About that time I began looking for something soft to run into. The
upwind obstacles looked abrupt. Houses are abrupt. Downwind contained an inviting hedge.
"Come to me, Frosty, come to me. Yes, that's it-- object fixate on
me. You love me." Whatever. Downwind also gave me more lawn to
touch down. I tried and did-- and then slid right into the welcoming
embrace of the bushes. My wing went over the top because it likes
cherry trees more than hedges, obviously. A couple little boys
upslope laughed at me in French and then declared how cool they
thought the whole thing was in English and asked me to do it again,
please. Then they offered to help, guided me though some tunnels in
the hedges and then scampered up into the cherry tree. A neighbor
lady told me it wasn't the first time and found a couple of long pieces
of molding. The cute nanny came out with a swaddler. I went up the
tree. George and his little brother's parental units Peter and Leslie
arrived home from mountain climbing on Mont Blanc and took pictures of
the monkey in their tree. George even climbed back up into the tree for
the photo shoot. Leslie turned out to have lived at Black Point, her brother
had taught at Punahoe and their house that I landed at was named "Villa
Mauna Kea". What are the chances? She offered me a glass of rose.
Peter and I enjoyed frosty beverages. They insisted that I arrive
back at their place at 6 PM on Saturday with as many pilots from
Hawaii as possible and they would buy all the beer. I asked about
trying that LZ again and they figured that as a one off thing it would
be fine, folding our wings on their side of the hedgerow, of course.
So, most charming people who share a love of Hawaii with us, cold
beer, a fly in party for all of us, and a temporary LZ. Not a bad
landing at all.
Then it was off to Annecy with Reaper, Bon Bon, Andrew, and Sharkey.
It was Torrey Pines all over again, except for an astroturf covered launch in a forest and a lake instead of an ocean, and an LZ with a restaurant to land at instead of a nude beach mostly full of old men. I counted twenty wings in the air. Reaper said it can be 200. It will be fun to see on a weekend. Great bunch of people to road trip with it is very true, like: "I don't want my money back I just want to know how many times you have sold this fucking monkey" etc., but the most interesting thing was the toilet. Please ask Reaper. He even took a video :)
Day Six-- Close Encounters and Thank God for that Abortion
Ate an almond croissant that I didn't need. As she handed it to me, she described it as also being chocolate filled. I am sure it was fattening because nothing that good is not.
I grabbed my gear and rode the lift up to west launch. A short ride down valley and back was good for launch and landing practice. The "Saturday LZ" looked good and I almost commited to it, but it should be walked first. Alex said he would help.
Down at the LZ, Bon Bon and Kaawa Larry decided to go again, too. We launched west with the intention of working convergence over the lift into the same on top and then going elsewhere. The theory sounded good, but it just was not happening. I tried to work it for what it was worth anyway. I turned inside a few bunches of bee farts, sometimes gaining a bit, more often losing a little. During one of these hopeful maneuvers, as I turned towards the hill, Larry was coming out from the hill. It blew my circle. We both turned to the right, with me basically doing a 180 to stay out of the trees. He was now below me and to my right and rising. I was above and a bit behind him to his left, but descending. His wing rose up and contacted my feet. So far so funny. I continued banking to the left wanting separation. And then it happened: my right foot slipped between some of his trailing edge lines. I am personally and intimately familiar with how quickly things can go from OK to life destroying. The lines snagged on my boot for a moment, braking his wing. My boot popped free from his lines. His wing surged and I yelled something like "Holy Shit" and started laughing like I do. That was a close call for sure. Larry figured that I had been also rising and was well behind him and so was out of the way, but I was in the sink next to his lift. All is well that ends well. Always assume that the other pilot does not know where you are, I guess. Even though it was my fault, Larry's call sign is now "Mid-air".
Andrew ("Flash") was on his way up the lift with his great camera and we overflew him on our way down to clean landings. I remember Bob from Torrey's observation that cameras kill more pilots than machine guns, but there was no more drama. It was Flash's turn.
Mid-air, Bon Bon, and I folded our wings as Flash sank out like we had done. He went further east (downwind) than recommended for base but still yet appeared to have a decent glide path, assuming of course that he either didn't hit sink or was wearing an engine. He apparently decided that the bigger LZ to the east of our position was a better idea and turned downwind for that one. About a minute later Mr. Master of the Understatement radioed that he had not landed quite where he had hoped. When pressed for details, it had something to do with half naked women next to a lake. Good job. His helmet cam had been on the whole time and the video was even more exciting than naked women (who almost got landed on). His low level downwind path to me echoed my Mauna Kea landing. Downwind, base, and final require altitude and if you don't have it, well, let's just say that a limited option combo downwind final can get interesting. His video'd route went low right over the artsy roof tops of a school at high speed and then he was forced to veer left to not land in a lake but rather on the bathing beauties. It is an exciting video and we are all happy about the ending.
The three of us hiked over to lunch with Reaper and Alex and the foul tempered French waiter who, when I requested steak tartar like Reaper had just enjoyed, informed me that there were rules to be followed: first I must be handed a menu, and only then, after perusing the menu would I be allowed to order, and then after executing his own duties our waiter could go take a nap. One did not begin a story at the end, did they? France is great. Lunch was delicious and the company was good too.
Then we all marched over to the south lift and rode a gondola up to where mysterious ungulates poop a lot. Launching to the west to join Alex and Nick and overfly glaciers was the plan. I began my preflight laying out and hooking up. Flash helped make sure that there were no compression knot wanna be's. I built a beautiful wall and lifted it up over my head. Most excellent indeed. I began running towards the end of the earth. My crotch on the one side had that nice airy feeling. I was about to compose a feminine product ad in my head when realization struck-- "Abortion!" I killed the wing and spun around sinking to my knees ready to grab reindeer shit for whatever that would be worth. I had not completed hooking in my right side. That was a close one. I would actually have been OK but it would not have been fun flying around crooked. I finished hookeing up and launched out over the glacier. Maybe it was the lighting, but it looked like a bunch of ice with rocks on it. "A bunch of gay waterfalls, too" went the radio chatter. Landing got bumpy a few hundred feet above the LZ when the nice headwind lost it's good mood and began shifting. It was an "interesting landing" continued the chatter.
The air mellowed out after a while and Reaper, Bon Bon, and Flash followed us in. Alex talked story with some British dude, Xavier (Side Hill's favorite instructor, I think) told us to let him know if anyone gave us any shit, and we watched an acro team arrive from the glacier high launch. At one point I counted fourteen loops-- and that was only after I noticed the guy. Their landings were spectacular too. Then it was off to chat with a celebrity (I forget her name) about a glacier launch and then to a pub where most of the rest of the monkeys joined us to share adventures. Even BC Ryan wandered in-- literally looking for a drink after air travel from hell complete with cancelled flights and lost baggage. Thank goodness Bon Bon is light. What a day.
Day Seven-- Bump Tolerance, Ball & Chain
No hangover for me but early morning monkey chatter kept mentioning pain relief medicine.
I followed Larry Mac down the hill from east launch, circling a couple of mild thermals that really only delayed the inevitable sink out onto wet grass. BC Ryan came in after me and then I'm not sure where everyone went. I threw my bag into and then jumped onto the bumper of a car containing Side Hill and went up to launch. None of the monkeys were on the hill, so I left my bag with Xavier and caught a gondola ride up to the summit. It was full of Nihonjin no retirees. They all softly went "waaaaaaaaaaaa" when one of Xavier's student's wing overflew him at launch. They took pictures of me after I agreed that the view was "sugoi". Nice views up there. The air was starting to work and there were also cliff hangers doing their thing on a couple of extreme faces. Back down at launch monkeys were showing up and launching. The thermals were punchy and it was an exciting ride after I began hooking them. At one point a couple other pilots and I, who had been circling each other going up for who knows how long, reversed direction. I think their left arms were sore, too, is all. I cleared 7200' almost at the top of the mountain and headed down valley, stopping for refills when possible. I left the valley for Plaine Joux (spelled how?) on a beeline from about 7000'. Alex and Duck said "hi" when I got there. I could have landed on Duck's field, but was very tired and tried to work lift out front to set up a proper top landing. I eventually sank out. Should have preserved my options. Brendt was down at the LZ and not happy about being there. It was fine for me. I took a nap on a bench, was woken up by some helicopter operations, watched a guy lose a riser, had an espresso, and then rode a train back to town. Riley really would have gone nuts over the train ride along a river between mountains through little towns. Back at town I met up with Larry Mac after enjoying an ice cream cone and some nice scenery walking around in the town square.
Wandering back into downtown to try and catch up on some internet business, I ran into a bunch of Monkeys at the tour center. Reaper had proposed to Bon Bon. She had accepted and we were celebrating. Mad dog, Alex, Nick, Duck all walked in from Plaine Joux and joined us. After much picture taking and a run around town looking for more wine, we bailed for dinner where I met Brittany the beautiful blonde acupunturist 805 689 9427 firstname.lastname@example.org & Laurel the beautiful asian on a year long me time leave of abscence from Ford. Both girls are rock climbers from Michigan. Nick and Ryan helped me take them for a night cap. Ryan insisted the ladies were 30 year old cougars, but that is because he is 12, eh? We were offered a night flight by one of the lift operators. i wonder if any of the monkeys would be interested?
Day Eight-- Happy Landings
My batteries have finally run out.
I played with my Hero HD at west launch and then went to 8200. Before I died of hypothermia or doing the wrong thing after a collapse I redeemed myself with a most excellent Villa Mauna Kea landing. It is so much easier to land when you are able to set up for it. After enjoying a panini burger accross the street from the lift, I joined Duck & Ginger, Berndt, and Alex for lunch on the river. The food here is beyond words. A kayak even went past.
After a quick nap, (How those guys went to fly at Annecy is a mystery to me and my tired old bones.) Alex and I decided not to do that south face. Good thing, because my watch was off by half an hour and in short order I realized we were late for our party. Jeanine showed me a short-cut to Mauna Kea makai of the Gendarmerie and I hurried up to the house. Peter and Oscar greeted me at the door. Their enthusiasm was only dampened by the fact that they missed my landing earlier in the day at their house and that there would be none that evening. Alex persuaded me that the local club could catch heat from a bunch of us landing in other than a prescribed LZ. I went off to fetch the rest of the parapunts and we arrived as a herd at a house full of pupu's and good things to drink and most excellent hosts. Peter and Leslie, George and Oscar were very happy to see us all. The kids circulated through the party with pupu's: "Excuse me sir, may I offer you macadamia nuts?" "Please excuse me, miss, would you care for a glasss of wine?" I want my son to hang out with some kids like this. Alex's wine was truly delicious. I got some laughs showing my helmet cam into the bushes landing video. After we all posed for pictures, we played a game of football on some slippery grass. Nick and Duck are ferocious players, but our ace in the hole was Oscar, who when arranging the teams offered to be our goalie: "It is the only way for us to win" he insisted. "It is time for us to go-- they have kids that need to get to sleep" was a bad idea and dismissed out of hand, especially by the kids. Alex, George, Oscar, and I played a smell game. The ocean (le mer) does not smell like that. Tom and Donna showed up bearing okurimono for the kids. Don & Yolie arrived. Ginger & Jeanine explored the house. Reaper and Bon Bon arrived. Then it was around the countertop, with me being about the only dufus lacking the agility to do so. I'm glad Mad Dog didn't try it. Ryan and Sharkey made it look easy. Something like a sideways coconut tree was Sharkey's explanation. And then-- like a fireworks finale, we raced though the hallway, relayed back and forth on giant mice. We left not only having enjoyed a very good party, but also having made new friends.
Leslie Feeney Baily: email@example.com, 0632 987 735, 0450 532 854
Peter Baily: firstname.lastname@example.org, +44(0)7712 531 010
Nick and I walked back though Les Pauses towards Brevent. "It is amazing how dark it is, isn't it?" commented Nick. "Rrrroarrrrrr!" A monster burst from the foliage on my right. Alex's timing could not have been better. My stomach hurts today from laughing so much. Another ambush behind us sounded successful, too.
There is not a lot of monkey chatter on this two cup morning.
Day Nine-- "This was worth getting herpes"
A bunch of us bailed to Annecy again. After wasting about five hours at the parapente store and restaurant without even offering the eye candy a ride, we finally got ourselves in gear. This time we did the higher launch near the end of the lake. Reaper gave the site intro and then it was off into the traffic jam. Some of the other pilots appeared more interested in mutual destruction than I was comfortable with. I hooked one last thermal that took me back over launch and managed to out-fly the pilot also in the thermal opposite me. I had about a 100' on him when he left towards the ridge behind launch. Hoping he knew what he was doing, I followed. By the time we got to the bare granite face of the cliff, I was also skimming trees, but not losing a lot, and then it started happening. Took a bunch tries, but I finally cleared summit number one just after Mad Dog left for the next butte. After earning a bit more altitude, I followed, with a tandem above me that sank out to my right when he tried too hard to work that hill with the restaurant on it. I made "number two" in the trees, but found workable lift. The rock fall was better yet. And then at cliff base I hooked into a screamer (I screamed) that express elevatored me to the summit. I think my report contained mention of nude sunbathing at the butte top. Then it was on to number three: "The Teeth" behind the launch we did the other day. There I finally caught up with Mad Dog. I even briefly saw the top of his wing. We all get a little lucky sometimes. Maxing out, we decided to play for past the castle on the other side of the lake, going for the windward side of the ridge rising up more or less from that point. I got beeps again just after clearing the shoreline road and made it to workable lift at the ridge. Working up ridge was interesting, because the best workable lift was at ridge-top and it disapeared entirely much below that. So, you fly up-ridge as far as you can, the only thing is that the ridge rises at a faster rate than you do, so you either get spanked for hubris and sink out or be smart and turn back down- ridge just before things stop working and get back over the ridge-top with a nice altitude gain in the piggy bank and then do it all over again. I got too ambitious after the second set of power lines. I was in front of Mad Dog and chasing pilots working the tippy top of the ridge and I got too far below ridge-top and the gods decided that I was a bad boy. I began considering some of those farms and a walk to the highway. I made it back to about where I had first intercepted the ridge and started all over. By that time Mad Dog had begun crossing back over the lake and Alex, Duck, and Reaper were all joining me along with a bunch of other pilots. Reaper was bit low and commented that he would work the castle lift before landing in the water. It really was dying off a bit and it wasn't long before we crossed over the ridge for the LZ at the end of the lake. That was exciting, complete with a pattern full of landing gliders making right traffic. What a gorgeous day indeed. Alex even commented that it was worth having taken a sip of pre-flight Reaper water, complete with social disease risks. Berndt followed us in, Nick and Alex got the van, Bon Bon and Sharkey had exciting flights, with Sharkey being more acro that he probably intended. We enjoyed frosty beverages with the "Geneva Merchants of Death", gave Duck's van a rinse, and then drove (Bon Bon assisted by yours truly, much appreciated by the back seat passengers, I must add) to the Tex Mex place where Nick and I ate a steak bigger than our heads.
Day Ten-- Paying Bills
I took the day off-- to work. Gag.
Day Eleven-- OD
We are rained out here at Chamonix and like a bunch of ducks the monkeys are heading south variously to Venice and Rome. The "para-widows" are not complaining, but I hope they will all still be married.
I tagged along with Reaper and Bon Bon, driving south on autostrasse often at something better than 180 kh. Upon arrival in Venice Reaper announced that if you walked around in the islands for two hours it would take eight hours to get out and then he set about proving his point. We walked around lost only for about an hour or so in the very interesting maze that is Venice before sitting down for a good dinner and a glass of wine. I fell into conversation with some Aussies and then we found the rest of the monkeys: Duck & Ginger, Tom & Donna, and Berndt. I got into some absinthe, or rather it got into me and then it proceeded to kick my butt. Duck saved my life, the only MIA, later found, being a SFH3 sweat shirt.
Day Twelve-- Good Spaghetti
We wandered around Venice some more, ultimately touring St. Mark's. Truly an amazing place, very full of scenery. Inside St. Marks we even saw some dead saints. I have decided that Venice is the place to get a replacement mask for the one that my guests broke. I took a boat back to the train station and hotel for a nap, past lots of other canal traffic, interesting buildings, and the most beautiful gardens. I'm sitting at a cafe enjoying a shot of espresso and people watching, including a serenade by a violinist, guitarist, and accordian player. The african hand bag guys have set up mid-square and I'm waiting for the cops to show. The bag salesmen have look-outs and everything.
I just had the best spaghetti of my life. I wandered by myself down Rio Marin. There were children in a boat singing and dancing and otherwise raising hell while their happy father drove the boat. I saw another small outboard boat piloted by a man holding his very pregnant sweetie while a lady friend of theirs conversed with them. I bought some fruit and a gatorade for my head from a happy rugby player who owned an interesting very Italian grocery who had pictures of his children on a shelf behind the register. There was an alleyway with no more than about five feet of head room that a couple came out of. That looked interesting. I went into that rabbit hole and emerged on a street with a lovely neighborhood restaurant, where people knew each other. I don't know how they made the spaghetti so delicious. It swam in olive oil and the tomato pieces were mostly skin. A couple of tables over a bovine woman is on her third course, that I have counted, and announced that she has been to the restaurant three times because it is that good. For once, I see nothing wrong with that. My own stomach is happy and I am only sad because it is full. Sitting here underneath the menu, my rave reviews have caused no fewer than ten people to enter the restaurant where they are now having some really good food.
Day Thirteen-- Back to Chamonix
I'm back in Chamonix from Venice, basically couch surfing with my guardian angels Duck & Ginger and wondering where my roommate is with the other key for the unit rented through tomorrow night. Not knowing where I am going to be the next couple days is liberating, though flying is the important thing again. We pigged out at L'M.
Day Fourteen-- An SIV Course is a Great Investment
Hooked up with Fireman Dave & BC Ryan, also Larry Mac and Brendt and Don. We went to the next little down up valley, rode a couple of gondolas up and then forward launched off a snow field with a minor katabatic wind. Laying out on snow was easy. When you felt no wind on your neck, you just started running. It was the most beautiful sled ride of my life. The jagged Alps and glaciers and clouds were all absolutely stunning. Ryan took a great movie and I hope it makes it to his website soon.
After a salad of duck meat and goose liver over endives, et al-- this is France, desu ne, we drove out to Plan Jeux, or whatever, and launched into some nice conditions. I was afraid that the thermals funnelling up by launch were going to die off because the sun was moving away and so I followed the Sun and Fireman and Mad Dog around the corner. I did find lift on some cliff faces and carefully worked then like the Annecy ridges. Then I got to below the whatever launch beyond Plan Jeux and went up. But I also started getting beaten up, complete with plenty of asymetric wing tip collapses. I saw the lake that Mad Dog had described as an alternate and some little sail boats. How cute. There was a wing landing and it was Fireman Dave. He said that the wind was strong but smooth. I snagged a little lift from a hill on the way there. About 150 over the field things got exciting with a couple of large asymetric collapses. Thank goodness for that SIV course last year, for sure. Down on the ground, Dave and I looked around: "Oh there's a wind-sock!" "Hey-- those are wind surfers!" All is well that ends that way. We walked over towards the overpass. The farmer coming over to yell at us was just a bloke who said "bon jour". Bicyclists went booking past as did a train. Dave had been sinking towards the tracks, which would have sucked because those trains go pretty fast. A horseman had a hell of a time with his horse who hated trains. it would not go accross the tracks. Have you ever hear Mr. Ed say "fuck that"? It's pretty funny, but look out for those hooves. The rider had to dismount to lead it accross. When he remounted, the thing just booked. Dave saw a beer bottle fall out of his saddlebag. Cool. I ran back for it, but the Noel Beer turned out to be water. (We hope.) Meanwhile, Mad Dog flew back to way above launch at cloud base like he does and then onto the LZ to join Ryan. Brendt and Jenine picked us up. We had a couple of frosty beverages at the LZ with Xavier who has flown in Nepal and Thailand, among other places, including getting arrested in Yellowstone because rangers have no sense of humor.
Day Fifteen-- Fallout
Flew once down Brevent. Great day for sledding-- on a speed wing. I ain't doing it, but BC and the kid from Oahu are getting the most out of their lift passes. Larry threw himself off, I think, and I did the same, working it close to the hill for about twenty minutes before letting myself sink out. Saw some miniature goats painted like skunks on the cliff.
Most of us got kicked out today. The Duck van went to Geneva today with Duck & Ginger, Mad Dog & Jennine, and Berndt. Larry Mac has the studio until the 14th. Hope my cleaning deposit comes back.
I'm enjoying a toasted bernaise chicken sandwich that is pretty awesome.
Saw Peter & Oscar. It was first day when all the kids choose what sports they will be in for the next year. I had also overflown a farmer's market and a bunch of amusement park style rides.
With all my laundry finished, thank god, I met up with Ryan. We "Shinjuku'd" Dave's car and then with Dave & Rainette and Evan the speed wing guy from Skydive Hawaii down the hill we all left to Verbier.
Once in Verbier, past alpine scenery, trains on steep grades, vineyards, and even a fire, we began looking for hotels. Frustration had just begun setting in, when back down the hill, I looked up and saw "le Stop" with 29 SF per person. A guy in the bar upstairs told me to call them and they would let us in. Cool. Dave phoned the number on the sign, the answering guy gave us a lock box access code to open the front door, that gave us access to a box of front door keys, and that allowed us access to a fallout shelter complete with a vault door and showers and valves on the walls. It was all on the honor system: we left the advertised 29 SF per person. It did require us to go across the river to get drunk enough to sleep with our clothes on, as there were no sheets, but mattresses and toilets and showers were very welcome indeed.
Day Sixteen-- Cow Bells
Up the hilll we went. Don & Yolie appeared on radio as a pleasant surprise. We launched twice from the top of the second lift. Don & Jolie graciously picked us up at a very scenic little white church at the corner of a meadow. Don joined us for the second flight. His ordeal at le Grand Montet had been more serious than we had been aware of. He blew a launch, almost went into a hole in an ice cave, and then had to climb out of a very precarious situation, complete with a cave rimmed by icicles, etc., basically looking death in the eye. The only thing missing for the poor guy was an angry Yeti. Well, his Verbier flight was doctor ordered. He took off right after me. I ignored the great lift out in front of launch to prematurely try up-valley. The more patient Don stayed in that lift and and majorly skied out. Ryan ran back up the hill to join him. Then Dave, Evan, and I went up to the top of the third lift just before it shut down and figured out where we could launch. David is a great do it yourselfer and a good wind dummy to boot. If he ever doesn't go, I sure as hell will not. But went we did, with a thunderstorm gust front from down-valley and development behind worrying us down the hill in record time. The lift was closed, right? We flew to the church again. Even with big ears and full speed bar deployed I got a few beeps. Dave suggested that then was a good time to practice spirals. I actually landed in sink. Who knew? I packed up beneath threatening shadows. As soon as Ryan appeared with the car it began raining. Perfect. We all posed for photos, then followed the directions of a nice information lady at the train station to a great dinner and a real hotel room. A very good day, besides the miniature tasteless hamburgers, perhaps, but the cook was British, so there was no blaming him.
Day Seventeen-- Matterhorn!
Fireman David, BC Ryan, Evan & Ramey and I went to Zermatt. We parked the car, took a train to Zermatt, then wandered around town with our wings. The Matterhorn was incredible scenery. It was slow going because every time we took a picture. While Evan, Ramey, and I watched skiiers pau practice and fighter aircraft buzz by, David & Ryan went back down the hill and found Bruno, who had been paragliding for 24 years, the last 23 as a professional tandem pilot. David tried on one of the first paragliders ever created. Bruno agreed to take Ramey for a flight with us. We rode up an impressively steep rail line that utilized cogs to Riffelburg. I milked a cow. Ramey made it smile. Then we walked over to an epic launch with good ridge soaring conmbined with some spicy thermals. We soared with very clear views of the Matterhorn in all it's picturesque majesty. It's summit weather dramatically changed from minute to minute. The thing is four sided, steep as hell, was the last Alpine peak conquered, and has killed 500 mountaineers since then. Our view also included a bunch of glaciers, lots of little pointy Matterhorn look alikes, and the little alpine village of Zermatt where you can now pay $200,000 for a watch. We freaked out on the view, executed multiple top landings, ate some cheese, and took lots of photos. The cold finally got the better of us as the valley winds mellowed a bit and we finished landings on a train tunnel on the other side of the valley, except for Evan, who rode a speed wing down the hill. Fondue dinner with Bruno consisted of dead deer, a lot of cheese, and good stories. He even flew the Japanese PM's wife, who flapped her arms a lot. It was a delicious dinner indeed.
Then it was back down the hill on another train to fetch the car and get to a station where Evan & Ramey bailed for Interlakken. Ryan was dropped off at Lausan, were he could catch a train to the airport for his flight home. Then David and I went to sleep with the gypsies.
Day Eighteen-- Fear & Loathing or Waking Up With Accordians
At the moment, Dave and I are at an Autogrill truck stop. We slept in the car. It took hours to get to sleep, I can tell you, but this morning I could have slept longer. Many of the other vehicles with people sleeping were occupied by Gypsies. I found some showers downstairs, which were very welcome. This place is clean and safe and nice and the only disconcerting thing, besides "Shell to Hell, (Anarchy!)" on a nearby wall is hardcore "You Are My Favorite Waste of Time", etc. being played first in the showers and now throughout the joint at low volume. Maybe I am closer to understanding the Swiss suicide rate, I don't know... But at least we got BC Ryan to the train station. No good deed goes unpunished.
Refreshed, David and I made arrangements for a Geneva hotel, a car for me, and then drove to to lunch with Collette, of French South Pacific fame.
Then it was off to Geneva, out from under the inversion if lucky. We got to the Annemassey cable car before the lift closed. David had a challenging non-launch. I earned myself a severe leg cramp with my dehydrated non-limbered-up sled-ride down to a nice big field of grass where I met Hit Girl. Any young lady that does a one handed push-up can be called that. Dave drove over and we hobbled to the surprisingly well equipped Park & Suites Confort Annemasse and then to a dinner at the Est West restaurant as good as any on this trip. Their enchilada was to die for. Those are not typos.
Day Nineteen-- Solo Monkey
David and I went to Geneva airport to drop off and pick up cars. He gave me a map and electrical plug converter-- very thoughtful and useful gifts, which actually say a great deal about a good guy like Fireman Dave. I'm now on my way to Interlakken, mostly maxing out the little piece of (insert whatever) Citroen. Oh I know-- Citroen must be French for Shit-on.
Made it to Interlaken and hitched a ride (8 SFr) up to launch with one of the paragliding operations. The visitor mix has changed over the years. It used to be all Americans, now Koreans and, unfortunately, Indians. "Unfortunately"? Many of the visiting Indians are upper caste and even as little kids treat those around them like shit, or at least that is the way it feels to be ordered around as though you are of lower caste. But that is the way they are raised, it is learned behavior after all, and they should be pitied for being jerks if they cannot help it, the Swiss driver explained. And anyway, pilots are treated with respect.
No good deed goes unpunished: I began setting up away from the crowded launch and one of the operators freaked out because farmers are "such fuckers" (a German word?) and so much rent gets paid for the launch anyway. Later I learned just how much care goes into the fields around here. A bale of hay is alledgedly valued at $1000. Whether or not that is true, foreign seeds tracked in on paraglider boots and doggie doo and whatever can spoil cattle feed and later ruin milk and cheese. It is all very well subsidised and is a source of pride and enjoyment to the Swiss. Maybe they should put up an interesting sign explaining all this to knuckleheads like me. The sky was a bit on the stable side and it was a 9 minute sled ride, but I did land in front of my recommended hostel, the Backpacker Villa, across the roundabout at the southeast corner of the gigantic downtown LZ. My leg was still quite sore from the Geneva cramp, but a good Sergio Leone film and talking story with fellow travellers in a very good hostel was just the thing for it.
Day Twenty-- Gravity Games
Evan & Ramey had sent an e-mail to me and we hooked up. Evan had been anticipating a base jump and speed winging at Interlaken, but that just didn't happen. He was still good company, but understandably totally bummed. The two of them were nice enough to accompany me to the same launch again. My first flight was not only scenic, but had plenty of free re-fills. I got to watch the guy in the blue wing do insane sats, etc. and after getting sick to my stomach watching his acro, got to fly out to practice my own pretty mild spirals and wing overs that didn't feel that way to me. After about an hour I flew back in over the canals and downtown to the LZ. On the ground I popped my wing back up a few times as a prop for some Indian family photos. I like Indians and Koreans, even if the hostel kitchen smells the way it does. Curried kim chee, anyone?
A second flight in the late afternoon was just another sledder, notable for the giant hawk doing better than me at the cliff before town.
The day was obviously a loss for Evan, who was also bummed about a parking ticket he earned for me. After buying him a couple of beers at the Funny Farm to cheer him up he tried to give me the 40 franc for da kine, but I requested a sky dive from him him someday instead, transferrable to my next suicidally depressed friend who needs to be thrown out of a plane, because that would benefit the world more, and he agreed. A very good guy. He convinced me to go check out the Play Gravity film previewing in Bern that evening and we teamed up with Ramey's Rip Van Winkle friends to drive up. En route, Mark answered choke questions about this place. I learned from him just how militarized Switzerland is, as we passed numerous troglodite military bases. Yeah, the freeways viaducts are wired with explosives, too. Switzerland is a very interesting place. It is fiercely neutral, not even in the EU. The cantons are quite independent, with legal documents in different languages. An attorney told Mark that the basis for the legal system here is Roman. Alpine farming is actively preserved. There are no bums--anywhere. I personally have not seen a single homeless person, as opposed to every other country I have ever visited with the exception of Singapore. Employer paid medical is available to all employees. Education is the envy of the world, with lots of foreign students paying big bucks to be here. The minimum wage is 22.50 an hour, according to Mark. A month of annual paid vacation, to start, is there for all employees. When I asked why the suicide rate is high, I was told that is just the way the Swiss are. There are no traffic cops in evidence. Camera speeding tickets for less than 30 kh over are not a big deal and you can have as many as you want. Over that, you lose your license for a month. Drug laws are liberal. Prostitution and gambling are legal too. Any problems that people have with these are dealt with directly, instead of locking people up like in the Land of the Unfree police state back home, because like the Dutch, the Swiss are all about the money and it makes a lot more sense to treat people than lock them up in gladiator academies. Duh. When there was a motion to ban base jumping by some neighbors living below a popular cliff who were tired of finding dead jumpers in their gardens, the local judges ruled that if alpine cliff climbing had been banned back when it too killed a lot of people, it would never have evolved into the safe activity that it is today. Base jumping is a way to avoid a climb back down with all of those complications, besides. There was no appeal. Traffic lights show yellow in between red and green as well as between green and red. That is very convenient. Roundabouts are also a great thing, especially if you are unsure of the exit from one and need to look at the sign a few times. Remind me of my spirals, actually. The only thing I miss about driving in America are free right turns.
The crowd for the movie "Play Gravity 2 The Other Side" at Bern was quite athletic, mostly taller than me, and 100% white. Darker people are too smart to climb up or into things and then throw themselves off went the explanation, though I remember every single tandem passenger in Interlaken being either South or East Asian. "The supreme irony in life is that nobody gets out alive", or something like that, no wait-- "The supreme irony in life is that almost nobody gets out alive". The film contained some truly spectacular high definition sequences. Landing a helicopter at the top of a ridge so narrow that the skids extend out from it in both directions to drop off snowboarders looked not only insane, but also like something I want to do. Watching the snow boarders tear down the ridge face, triggering avalanches as they went was breathtaking. Watching the paraglider transforming an infinite tumble into a base jump into a lake got cheers out of the audience, as did the speedwing pilot basically barefoot water skiing out from under a bridge onto the beach. Riley would love this movie. I can hear the little guy looking up at me and telling me "I want to do that, someday."
Day Tweny One-- Supercars
On my way back to Geneva on back roads to a hostel that had no less than four stars. The sky today is very OD. But good weather is predicted tomorrow and I hope to fly until I puke.
Took back roads to Geneva. Had coffee at Eden Cafe on the north side of the lake. Had lunch at Migros at I think Thun. Watched supercars racing at an airport in Salans. First noticed a Skyline, then Ferraris (red, of course). There were a couple Mercedes with long noses and gull wing doors that appeared to have their trunk lids go up when they braked hard. An Audi supercar was in attendance. The loudest of all was what looked like a Honda stock car sans doors that filled the valley with thunder and seemed to go even faster than the supercars. I would have loved to see the lap times. After that excitement, I got stuck with a bunch of other cars on some hairpins behind a big truck. I even stopped to take a picture and nobody honked. That is how slow we were going. At Geneva, I had a heck of a time finding the hostel because of bad cartography. I actually watched a couple of super cars race in rush hour traffic. What is with those things? I found the information kiosk, got a good map, then arrived at the hostel a few minutes later.
Day Twenty Two-- Fly Geneva
Ate couscous at Annemassey then enjoyed a quick flight after a telephonique (or whatever) ride. Made the top of the ridge all the way across. A woman in the restaurant had her baby wave at me. I finally went too far along the ridge. Not sure why there was no lift over that way, but I didn't feel like working it and landed to go back to the hostel. I slept for nearly twelve hours.
Day Twenty Three-- Homeward Bound
Woke up, jogged down to the Geneva waterfront, packed for the airport, bailed. I feel Riley tugging on my heart and am very ready to go home.
Day Twenty Four-- Home
Motel 6 SFO is miss. It's even run by a bunch of Armenian thugs. Really. There is no courtesy bus as was advertised online, either. This morning I hopped on another hotel's bus back to the airport and so felt justified having a $30 breakfast including my San Francisco bowl of clam chowder to get me through the flight. Out of curiosity, I asked the guy who patted me down "If I was not gay, could I request a woman to do the pat down?" He winked at me (I'm not gay, but this is San Francisco and how questions are asked matter.) and he said, that no, they are sexist that way. He added that at first, when they were understaffed, that often searches were mixed sex and some squares really balked. Now, I don't know about you all, but I feel better about a colon check being done by a good looking woman than some guy. Same with airport pat downs. Call me a homophobe if you want, but it is a matter of personal preference and if the Christians and Muslims can freak out, then so can guys like me. Things we have to endure should be fun if they can be. At this point I feel like saying "The Revolution Starts Today!" or something like that, but real men have better things to do than get offended all the time and I'm only keyboard babbling like this because I am stuck at a gate waiting for the flight to Kona, a nap, and then my little boy whom is so missed I am getting sick over it. Just now I got misty in the bathroom, remembering changing his diapers on that fold down thing and later carrying a folding step everywhere so he could reach the toilet, and these days, wiping down the lowest urinal in the room for him. Funny what's endearing, yeah? That swim and hot tub back in Kona are going to feel so good.