Mediterranean Living (and flying)

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Suss prepares for some evening soaring in Gourdon

The drive from Chamonix through to the Southern French Alps on the French Riviera is long and expensive. The drive was mostly uneventful and not particularly scenic after we left Courmayeur. Arriving to the smell of salty air where Alps meet the Mediterranean however was quite refreshing. Having grown up on the West Coast of Australia, salt air is in my blood and I always feel a special affiliation when it fills my lungs.

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Scenic is an understatement

We drove directly to the small mountain town of Gourdon which is mostly known for its castle that is perched high on the edge of a cliff that overlooks the flatlands that spread down to the ocean. It is also a well known flying location and we were all keen to try soaring off the parapets of the castle which was a touristic centre well known for its perfumes and soaps.

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Fuego getting comforatable

The weather predictions were looking positive and we settled a small camp on one of the paragliding landings. The small opening in the dry foothills surrounded by costal mountains was a beautiful place to camp and we cooked under the stars with the lights of Cannes and Antibes spread out in front of us.

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Waterbottle + headtorch = campfire

The next day our flying plans were foiled by strong wave winds from the north and massive salty fog rolling in from the sea. It was still nice to hike up to the take off 30min above our camp and check the view and read our books out of the wind!

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    Some days you walk down and try to smile while doing so
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Funky wave clouds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day we hiked up early and managed to take a flight in the weak morning thermals. As the days progressed the thermals became stronger and challenging. Having to hug close to the cliff face to get the unpredictable lift can be sketchy and it was hard work to gain any real altitude. After a few hours of flying I managed to push further up the ridge to a big golfball looking military radar where I caught my first real thermal of the day and raced a group of vultures up the thermals into the forming clouds. From there the view over the Mediterranean was incredible, coastline stretching around the French Riviera in a big arc as far as I could sea before the sea haze blocked my view. After that I pushed out over the Gourdon Castle and appreciated the scene from several hundred meters above. After a late lunch we went for an evening soaring session but just missed out as the wind died away to a calm and spectacular sunset.

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A real campfire and dinner with a view over the Med

We had an amazing few days of flying in Gourdon. The highlight for me was scratching back up the side of the cliff below the castle after coming back very low on a return glide. It was a tricky position because I was too low to glide to the official landing field and emergency landing options were very limited. The pressure was on. Flying close to the terrain, known as “scratching”, I gained only a metre or so every pass along the rock cliff in the unreliable lift. It was hard work and it took a long time to work my way up to the walls of the castle. Breathing a sigh of relief as I flew past the surprised tourists standing on the parapets who quickly upholstered their expensive cameras and fired volleys of pictures at me. On my last pass, I was close enough to give the smiley kid with snot running down his face a “high 5”. Spiralling higher and higher above the castle, back into the clouds was a wonderful experience. Our last night in Gourdon we camped on the Kennedy take off that overlooked the flats all the way to the Mediterranean. Cooking by our small campfire, drinking a glass of local wine and looking out over the valley was spectacular. The sunrise the next morning was even more impressive.

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Morning view from Kennedy

We had arranged to stay with some friends of friends when we arrived in Roquebrune, just outside of Monaco. The wealthy and tightly packed country of Monaco is a sight to see. Expensive looking skyscrapers and buildings all crammed together along the Mediterranean coastline. Huge mulit-million dollar mega-yachts anchored just out of the harbour that look like they have just arrived from a James Bond set. And against odds, paragliders hanging from the sky as they soar the evening sea breeze and occasionally come down to land on the narrow stony beach.

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People hype themselves up before the fly down. 

The friends of friends turn out to be Guille and Leo, a couple of instructors and tandem pilots from Annecy who are both friendly and relaxed. They have invited a few friends over that evening and food, beer and conversation is shared freely. The vibe is relaxed as they discuss the next days competition as we had arrived just in time to watch the French Championship of Acrobatic Paragliding!

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It was warm for October. New and old friends alike 

The next days were a blur of fun. Flying over the beautiful warm waters of the Mediterranean with good friends and watching some of the best acro pilots in the world throwing down some of the best and cleanest manouvers I have ever seen in person. If you don’t know what acrobatic paragliding looks like I recommend youtubing it or clicking HERE to see the highlights of the actual competition.

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Fuego contemplates the intricacies of the universe while looking out over Monaco

The parties in the evenings were a lot of fun and all the French pilots were friendly and inclusive even though we didn’t parlais le France (speak French). We were, more or less, the only foreigners at the event so we didn’t always understand what was happening with the events but we enjoyed it none the less.

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Making new friends during a flyby on a castle in Roquebrun

The flying was somewhat limited for non-competitors but Jon and I had several memorable flights of soaring over mansions and castles along the shoreline before coming in low to skim over the crystal clear salt water and land on the beach where someone was already waiting for you with a beer in their hand. On the last day we ran into a friend who had been coming to Voss for Ekstrem Sport Veko (https://ekstremsportveko.com/)  for several years and he invited to us to visit him in his home town of Dignes after the competition was finished

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The start martial was of course dressed like Jack Sparrow

After the exciting weekend was over we were on our way NW again into the well know cross country area of St Andre les Alpes. Arriving to a crowded landing at Aero Gliss we were greeted by dozens of pilots drinking beer and packing wings after what appeared to be a great day of flying…….the view wasn’t bad either…..

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Suss catching som Zzz’s on the drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Arriving in St Andre les Alpes
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Vive le France! Flying in Annecy!

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Suss prepares for her first flight!

Annecy! I had heard the stories from friends back in Voss but I didn’t really get it until we arrived! We had arranged our first AirBnB of the trip and had booked for 2 days sharing a little house with a lovely French family in Les Clefs (about 25min from Talloires and the Annecy take offs). We arrived late and settled down to bed in anticipation of the next days flying.

 

The next day after the ritual coffee, we made our way to the Planfait take off where Jon and Suss tried out the early thermals (warm air bubbles). When we arrived for the first flight their were a handful of pilots on take off, mostly students and beginners. Both Suss and Jon were wearing big smiles after their first flights in the sunny conditions.

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Colourful on landing!

Arriving at take off for their second flight the number of pilots had tripled and they had to line up to use the take off. The warmer conditions meant that people were soaring along the wall in front of the launch and it was getting a rather “busy” in the air. They both had a fantastic soaring flight! Jon landed complaining of too much traffic and suffering from road rage (people not respecting the flight rules in the sky).

As we approached the take off again a little after midday it was obvious that it was CROWDED. There were dozens of pilots in the air. Different wings, skill levels and flightplans causing a chaotic myriad of wings flying backwards and forwards in a small area. The number of “almost collisions” I saw in the 5 minutes after take off was astounding and it was a miracle nobody was hurt.

After waiting in line to launch, dodging all the clueless pilots in front of launch I managed to climb above launch on the small thermals and make my way to the main face of the Pointe Centrale. From there I traversed across to Col des Fretes and finally over to La Tournette. The view was incredible to say the least. I then toplanded Col de la Forclaz to take a break. After chatting with the locals for a bit I flew back to the Planfait and down to the landing to meet the others. Not an epic cross country flight I was hoping for but a lot of fun considering the time of year, the traffic and the conditions. We celebrated the successful flying day with fondue and a few beers in Annecy. Unnaturally full of cheese we waddled back to Les Clefs to stomach rolling night of sleep.

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Lac du Annecy

The next day was raining so we decided to explore the centre of Annecy, eat some churros and feed the ducks. From there we decided to camp out at the take off and managed to catch a beautiful sunset. The next day was again bad weather so we decided to move on to Chamonix.

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Sunset from the the backdoor

We spent the next half of the day hanging out in the mountainous ski resort of Chamonix which sits right beside Mont Blanc. An old speedriding friend joined us for burgers an then we set up a rainy camp next to the resident donkey.

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Resident donkey. I called him Eeyore.

The next morning it was an early start in order to make the long drive south to warmer weather…..

 

Pigs, Switzerland and Speedflying

Happy birthday to meee!
Thank you all of you who took your time to congratulate me! I love birthdays and all the attention, Thank you! Its my first birthday in a van, seems like it works just as a normal one 🙂
Life has a way of giving you exactly what you need. On my birthday we woke up on our very improvised camping site, half way up a mountain. Not sure where we were it became obvious that we had picked the right place, because right there – on my bithday –there were pigs! Free roaming pigs, almost ate Johns tent, I fed them crackers! I rolled out of bed and into my down jacket to get you this video of it: Pigs!
Tzak gave me a vario as a birthday present! What a glorious day! After a lovely cup of coffee we set off towards the mountain area they call Switzerland. They boys wanted to see Interlaken and since we were in the neighbourhood we decided to stop by. We had left Lake Garda the day before and the plan was to check the town of Interlaken out to see if the raftng was good, if the paragliding was good and if they had any chocolate.

The conclusion was yes.14954387_10153848829147175_715549241_o

After having very expensive chocolate cake and a nice chat to the people at Outdoor Interlaken we set camp at the last camping site open in town. Wifi, a kitchen and showers was exactly what we needed. The next couple of days were spent in the studybooks for me, starting an essay on the history of pedagogics and its development, and a flying day for the boys.

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Tzak soaring above Interlaken

Here is a video of Tzak speedflying from Männerichen.14971517_10154492000832254_1964300844_o

Being in a an outrageously expensive town we decided to save the culinary experience for later, so we stayed in our new kitchen, had beers and beef teriyaki. The boys surpised me with italian cake and as a treat we put the heater on in the car so that the sheets were nice and toasty.
Thank you birthday and Interlaken!

We set off west towards Annecy, our first airbnb and a cheese overdose. Stay tuned!
Tzak -tag!

Love,
Suss

Italia Prega (Due)

Lake Garda. What a place!
Eh.. I loved it!

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It was sunny, pretty, italian and very accomodating for anyone keen to pratice acrobatic paragliding.
Lake Garda is a gigantourous (yes thatis a word now) lake stretching across from south to north inbedded in tall rolling mountains with the occational peaks here and there. Malcesine is a quaint little spot of a town that starts right on the lake and has expanded alongside the lake and up the hill with olive gardens and parking garages everywhere.

We arrived in the middle of the night.
A little worried about Fritz, as the sounds coming from the engine had been getting louder. We set up camp, on what we were told the last weekend of the season, and decided that we were going to ride out the storm in some cafe the day after.
Happy to be in a well known paragliding spot with internet and good coffee, we spent the day in the corner café. Catching up on blogposts, checking our emails, watching videos and getting more and more concerned that our camp might have involuntarily changed location in the gusty winds and side-ways-rain. It might have been the stickers on out laptops, our gear spread across the tables or our body language (or a combination) that caught the eye of Alice from Chamonix. Alice beacame our introduction to Lake Garda, apparentently we hade timed our visit perfectly with an acrobatic paragliding event that was taking place over the weekend. We felt that maybe our luck had changed (except for the weather)!

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The next morning, after a pint of coffee, we walked down to the landing on the lakeside, just down from our campingsite. The well kept landing of the paragliding club of Malcesine showed the next level of dedication. Right on the lake with its own bar and shuttle service set up for the weekends event, perfect! Up to this point i think we all felt the same. Beautiful place, good access and lots of people to share it with. However, my point of view changed slightly when i got on the gondola.
I can handle some hights, but the first flights from the main takeoff (after an hour and a

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the para-waiting game

bit of waiting for the rain) made me absolute terrified. Petrified. Why? It was bloody high! I had a lovely takeoff, the first row to a spectacular acro show, right in mid air. But just as I flew in the box it was like my litte fear of hights knocked me on the shouder and asked me what the hell i was doing. And I had no good answer. 1500m over the lake with no real flightplan other that ”flying out there and feel how high it is”, I spent the next 15 minutes trying practice some 360s and not freak out. When i had checked the landing in the morning it had felt spacious and unworrying but once in the air it felt like a tiny tissue of a landing. The flight went without problem and i landed safely.

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busy landing, no problem for crazy acro people

I was in no way hurt, except for my mindset. I managed to push myself into flying a few more times but it was absolutely exhausting. I flew a handful more times but that little devil on my shoulder kept on flying with me. However, there was some sweet moments,  when you fly in clouds like this.
My uncomfortable feeling might have somthing to do with the tandem flight I did with Tzak.
It almost made me cry. Here you go, watch the video!

The other side of the Malcesine story is the one told by Tzak and John. Tzak loved every little bit of it, the people, the flying, the beers, the gondola and the alpacas on the top. John had a good time crusing inversionlayers, drinking local beer and chasing thermals. 14924015_10154478109267254_577734753_oThe weather just kept on getting better and we made some good friends and got to hear some good stories from some local legends.
We also managed to take Fritz the car to the local doctor. After visiting the friendly but way-too-busy-mecanics (we met Luigi irl) we got sent to the don’t-go-to-those-guys mecanics downtown. The challange we stood in front was 1. Not get ripped off (as we had been warned about) 2. Make sure they fixed what needed to be fixed.
It might have been a challange since the mechanics did not speak any english, just Italian and a little bit german, but this did not discourage Tzak who set out to solve this problem. With his best Spanglish (spanish/english) with a hint of Svorsk (swedish/norwegian) he managed to lure a smile out of the mecanics and both get a diagnosis and get a part ordered for the next day for a reasonable price. Victory! 14914521_10153837790827175_362765528_n
On the way back we bought 4 bottles of good wine and invited our new friends  (3 badass french acro chicks) for hangout in our very italian appartment we rented for the night.
Life is good! Thank you Malcesine!

-Suss

Italia Prega (Uno)

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After an cold night in the van (Gideon was getting well aquainted with his new Troll Hole sleeping arrangement by now) we packed up our hastily made camp spot next a gas station on the autostrada (highway) close to the Austrian/Italian border. Our plan was set for the day: Drive to Mestre, take the train out to Venice, explore for the day, pick our good friend Jon from the airport in the evening and drive north again into the Dolomites.

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I dont selfie often, but when I do……

After finding parking near the station we hopped on a train 14787079_10153800197052175_1863079351_oout to the canal city of Venice. As to be expected it was busy with tourists and other sightseers even at this late time of season. We spent the day wondering through the winding streets and canals. The narrow streets and quaint canals were perfect example of a city powered by tourism but if you looked hard enough you could still see signs of the everyday life. Washing still hung out on clotheslines hanging over the canal, young men moving rubble into work barges as they renovate an ancient looking building and older men conversing passionately over an expresso in café tucked away in a quieter corner of the city. All in all, a beautiful place wrapped in culture and history and good Italian food (if you move out of the touristic center). I recommend the Free Walking Tours if you get the chance!

 

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That guy

That evening we arrived at the Venice Airport to pick up our friend Jon who had just arrived from a season of rafting in Japan. We had been making loose plans of when we might meet up and it was great that we were in the right place at the right time to pick him up. So now we were 4 people, 7 wings, 3 tents and all our luggage piled into Fritz. It was a tight fit to say the least but our trusty van rose to the occasion and took us up the next 1400m elevation towards Canazei and the Dolomites. Arriving in a hidden little spot next to a powerstation late at night we set up camp only to realise that we had were missing a few key camping items. We only had one sleeping mat and sleeping bag betweent Gideon and Jon so they decided to share.

 

Jon received the sleeping bag as he was alone in his tent and Gideon the mat for his Troll Hole under the bed. Gideon then proceeded to put on every piece of clothing he owned + our down jackets while jon attempted to use Suss’s paraglider as a sleeping mat. Every time he rolled over Gideon would end up suffocating himself in a hood of a jacket or some other part of the 10 layers of cloths he was wearing which would lead to a 30second claustrophobic panic attack under the bed waking everyone up.

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Morning camp.Coffee required….

 

Awaking in the freezing daylight to find IMG_8361.jpgourselves in beautiful deep canyon in the Dolomites was exciting for everyone. I eventually managed to lure everyone out of bed with the smell of fresh coffee cooked on our little makeshift kitchen. The view was spectacular.

After we were all properly caffeinated we continued our drive to Campitello di Fassa in the heart of the Dolomites. Finding breakfast one of the local cafes we tried to find some other pilots to fly with. After some very helpful advice over the phone from some of the local pilots we drove up to the Sella Saddle to check conditions. From there we hiked up to the top of Col Rodella, an incredible take off located at 2400m above sea level.

After assessing wind for over an hour we finally decided to launch. Taking off into a strong thermal I was shaken and had to work hard to keep my wing under control. It was fairly exciting first flight of the trip as I ascended the turbulent thermals until I was high up over the peaks at the cloud base.

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#nofilterrequired

Traversing the 3 local peaks of Col Rodella, The Sellar Towers and Cole de Tena I struggled to get comfortable under my wing in the strong conditions, and with no preplanned flightplan I decided to just enjoy the flight and not try any long distance flights. Getting clouded out (too much cloud cover to create good thermal lift) and fighting against a turbulent valley wind I decided to join Jon at the landing and had an exciting few minutes batteling the changing wind direction and turbulence on landing. Feet firmly back on the ground and hands frozen from the cold and altitude, I realized that flying here in the Alps was a whole new game for me which both excited and scared me. All I knew is that I needed to return to Col Rodella again once day once I have more airtime and confidence under my wing.

After Suss had had a brief and exciting flight from one of the other west facing take offs near Belvedere we decided that it was time to find somewhere to stay for the night. Finding out that all of the campsites in the area had closed for the season we decided to take an Air B&B in Bolzano, about 1.5hrs away (the boys were not so keen to re-create the same camping conditions from the night before). With a storm predicted for the next few days we left the beautiful Dolomites with the promise of return on day soon.

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Suss above Campitella di Fassa

After a pleasant night in an apartment we decided that we should check up on a strange sound that had started down in Fritz’s engine. A kind of flapping sound that sounded like a loose belt. We dropped my brother of at the train station as he was heading back to Vienna to catch up with some friends and then tried to find a “meccanico” somewhere in Bolzano. The language spoken in Bolzano is an intricate combination of Italian and German which also made communication a bit of a challenge.

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Working hard to get my point across

3 different diagnoses from 2 different mechanics (and a lot of hand signals, pointing and making of car sounds) we decided to try our luck further south near Lake Garda and Verona and hope that Fritz could make it. Arriving in Malcesine we found a campground and set up camp and prepared for the approaching storm…….

– Tzak

 

 

Out in the big world

After a few days of R&R at my parents house we finally set off. screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-17-19-42

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Couch selfie with Adela

We cut through southern Sweden, on a ferry to Poland and into Czech where we spent the night at lovely Adelas. After a night on the ferry floor we were
very grateful for the company, the fireplace and laughters. Thank you Adelco!
The day after we made our way to Vienna, Austria. Paul and Sibi took us in and gave us more than we deserved – food, opera, exercise, beer, wine and buckets and buckets of coffee.
We picked up Gideon, Tzaks baby brother, to give him a break from the hostel dorms and to add some entertainment to our trip.

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Gids luxourious troll-bed.

Just as we were to roll out of town, Sibi took a bunch of photos of our precious Fritz. We haven’t seen them yet but we have high expectations (yes we are publicly pressuring you Sibi :)but just because we are excited about it!), just check out her work here! Thank you Paul and Sibi! We hope you can join us later on!

As we approached the big hills of the alps we sourced out a spot to fly at, Stoderzinken. Awesome hike, but a complete whiteout. It was here, at the top of an Austrian mountain i realized the extent of Tzaks optimism.
With a glider full of hail and just a couple of meters visibility he was hopefull that the semiclear sky that we hiked up to was coming back.

 

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Top of Stoderzinken

Unfortunately it didn´t and we had to pack up and hike down. Still, awesome hike.

-Suss

 

 

 

Fritz joins the Family

Meet FRITZ!

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He is a puke/pearl coloured, loud, dented and well loved 1995 VW T4 Caravelle with over 310,000km on the clock. We picked him up locally from a friendly local family that had decided that after 10 years it was time for an upgrade. Fritz single handed raised 3 kids (took them to soccer practice, picked them up from school) and still has their names tattooed on his roof/seats in crayon and ink. All in all, he’s a loveable old van, that (hopefully) still has a sense of adventure (and an inability to drive faster than 90km/h)…… Could we possibly ask for a better companion to join us for our trip?

When Fritz joined our family he had a mild condition of flatulence and arthritis of the wheels. His exhaust was more holy than the Vatican City and every time we turn sharply his poor axel joints grind out a thumping melody of klanks. Upon further inspection we also found that he has a leaky rear differential gasket, 2 drive axels that need replacing, a jammed driver window and broken window lock. Luckily for me I have a good friend who is a mechanic and we will fix all of this (or as much as we can) before we leave. No time like the present to learn something new!
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Lars getting involved with the exhaust refit

First was to replace his exhaust. Originally we thought we could just replace the back half but upon further inspection it was rusted from the engine all the way to the rear muffler. After a visit to our local DIY car shop we came back with various pipes and clamps which we fitted together like lego, clamped/glued together and strung up from the bottom of the car with the wire.

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Before                                                                               After

Next i began the process of removing interior back seats and cage. I used the same attatchements points from the seats/frame as the base to attatch my bed frame so that it could be easily removed and also to avoid drilling any new holes in the car.

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Seats and frame removed. Spacious!                            Bedframe takes form

Working out a double folding bed system that works on a hanging hinge system i decide to have 2 seperate peices that would fold down to make the bed AND be detachable to be used as benches for cooking, sitting or studying.

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Bed takes shape. First bed peice in place.                         Storage system under bed

After the bed was finshed we had to change both the front and back drive axels on the right side of the car and change the oil. Unfortunatley this all took place at 10:30pm the night before we had to drive to Sweden so Suss could get to a meeting for school! We finished some time around 3:30am. There are some that say I like to leave things to the last minute…….

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2:20am Workshop                                                             Lars looking postive

The next morning we did one of the most hastey packs I have ever done to make sure everything we needed to bring was packed and the appartment was spotless for renting tenants. Amazingly we did it! We only forgot a few minimal things and manged to remember all the important stuff. After 13 long hours of driving we arrived in Sweden at Suss parents house…….

IMG_8248.JPG   IMG_8249.JPG  A sceptical suss inspects hastey the pack job in Sweden to see what we have forgotten…..

Next………..THE ADVENTURE BEGINS!

Suss

Hello WORLD!

Suss is wonderfully stubborn and determined young Swedish lady! When she sets her mind to something there isn’t a titanium reinforced force field of bazooka wielding imps that could stop her from achieving what she wants to do. That being said she is also great company and a bucket of laughs on the road and up in the air. She loves dogs, cooking, paragliding and hopefully me. She is badass on a pair of skis, cooks some of the most delicious foods and baked goods I’ve ever eaten and has worked herself to the bone so that we could make this trip happen. On the other hand she really doesn’t like being told what to do, doesn’t function properly before her first cup of coffee and scolds me if i even think about farting within earshot…….que 3 months or close living together in a self converted van on a trip through Europe 🙂 If we survive this we’ll probably have to get married….. or a dog….or something.

My hopes and aspirations for this trip is to explore the alps and best flying locations of Europe as thoroughly as possible from the air on our paragliders. I’m especially excited about the Dolomites. We don’t have time on our side as winter is fast approaching and with it comes miserable weather and darkness. We will make a tactical retreat as the cold pushes us further and further south until we reach our homebase of Algodonales in Southern Spain. From there we will (hopefully) fly until winter has properly arrived…….then we don’t know! Return to Norway for a ski winter? Travel to South Africa or Columbia to continue flying? Try and find a place to live in the Alps?

Only time (and money) will tell!

– Tzak

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Suss chilling with our good doggy friend Ronja before flying in Aurland, Norway

Tzak

We decided that the best view of us is through each others eyes. So here ya go, honest, straight and heartfelt:

The free and fearless spirit of Tzak that I am so lucky to have by my side is a constant reminder of that time isn’t a real thing, worries are for tomorrowland and matching socks is just unlogical. With his big heart on his sleave it is clear when flying is too far inbetween (read mopy and thinking there is nothing fun in the world) and equally as joyful when thermals and adventures are beng had.
He walk through life with on a baseline of excitement and makes me think that anything is possible, you just need to try and believe
.
You might think that things comes easy for him but don’t worry, he struggles too.

OK sometimes it’s me,
I’m his struggle.

He stuggles before morning coffee is had, when he has left the dishes for too long and when his talent isn’t enough he tries and tries again. When there is failure all he has is to try to imagine the next possible chance to try again.

This trip is the essence of what makes us both happy; Flying, travelling and meeting new people.
As a chef I’m ready to bring the challange of camping cooking on, to conquer my fear of hights in my trusted Mistral 6 and to try to share 3mof living space with incurable opimist.

– Suss