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.
After finding parking near the station we hopped on a train out 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!
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.
Awaking in the freezing daylight to find ourselves 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.
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.
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.
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…….