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

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