Friday, May 29, 2009

An Epic Day by Dan Miller

Sunday, May 18.  An Epic Day
We get started early today, and conditions are spectacular from 7:00 in the morning until 3:00 in the afternoon.  Everyone gets three flights today (and some of us get four and five).  A couple of launches are a bit hairy, and there are a few Albatross landings, but the improvement in our skills takes a quantum leap forward.  We practice lots of maneuvers, some thermal flying, and even a few recreational flights. 
Trevor perfects the spiral, Dan gets an "outstanding!" from Chris on his wing-overs, and Terry neatly cores a thermal over the beach directly above our heads for what seems like forever.  Daniel earns the nickname "Big Ears" for an unprecedented 15-minute descent holding the same maneuver for an entire flight.  (He lost radio contact after releasing from the tow, and the air over the lake was a bit turbulent in the afternoon.)  Clint earns our undying admiration for a perfect triple-S maneuver: stall, spin, and sat.  It's the scariest thing we've seen yet, and Clint performs it beautifully.
Chris has not let anyone ride in the boat with him this weekend.  He is superstitious about that: he says there is a curse associated with riding in the boat.  Every time someone does, something goes wrong.  After everyone has had his third flight of the day, Clint decides to challenge fate by taking a ride in the boat.  Nothing goes wrong... yet. 
Later in the day, Clint is back on shore, hooking in for another tow.  He takes a rough bounce on launch, puts his hand out to steady his balance, and his hand strikes a rock on the beach.  He looks down, sees one of his fingers sticking out at a funny angle, and brakes hard to abort the launch.  (Paraglider pilots may be a little nuts, but no one wants to fly with a broken finger.)  Chris stops the tow within about six feet, so Clint isn't hurt getting dragged along the rocky shore.  But he is pulled into the water, so he's the first one to get wet this weekend. 
A few minutes later Chris is on the prow of the boat, which is now pulled up to the edge of the water.  The rest of us are standing on either side of Clint, and we are all leaning in close to inspect his little finger, which looks like it has just grown a crazy-ass fourth knuckle.  Someone suggests that maybe it is only dislocated, but Clint can't move it and he's sure it's broken.  There's a discussion on where we ought to take him: to the hospital in Salt Lake City or to the walk-in clinic in Nephi (which is about 100 miles closer).  "You know," says Clint conversationally, not showing that he is feeling any pain at all, "if I was a horse you'd shoot me."  Chris gives him a powerful pain-killer and a king-size can of Red Bull.  (What you have to do to get a free Red Bull these days...)  Everyone takes a step back to see what will happen when that massive dose of codeine, caffeine, and sugar hits his bloodstream.  "I don't know, man," says Chris helpfully, looking at Clint's finger.  "I'd sure like to give that thing a pull."  The codeine, caffeine, and sugar hits all at once about three seconds later, because Clint grabs his pinky and gives it a good hard tug.  The bones crack four times.  Chris lurches to the side of the boat and nearly hurls overboard.  But Clint is smiling now, and wiggling his finger without any hint of a grimace.  "It worked!" he says happily.  Mathieu decides to nickname him "Pinky," and the name sticks for the rest of the day.
All's well that ends well, as they say, and this third day of our SIV course is truly epic.  We have driven 16 hours from Calgary to be here, and it has been totally worth it.
Often I wonder why we do this.  Paragliding is not as dangerous as most people think, but it is still a lot more dangerous than many of the alternatives.   Why take up paragliding and not gardening or croquet?  This question fascinates me.  Answering it requires an article on its own, but there are several things that come to mind immediately.  There are the obvious things, of course: the exhilaration of flying... the peace and quiet in the sky... the aesthetics of the wing... the beauty of a smooth launch or a well-carved turn... the feel of the sun and the wind on your face...  But there are very human elements to it as well.  Paragliding is a life-altering experience, and the people with whom you share that experience become an important part of it.  We are privileged with great teachers, instructors, and coaches, and we owe a lifelong debt of gratitude to those who have introduced us to the sport and continue to guide and direct our flying experiences.  This weekend would never have happened without Vincene, Keith, and Clint from Muller Windsports, or Chris from Super Fly, and our lives would be something less without it.  So thanks from each one of us - we will never forget it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Saturday Evening

Here is a photo of everyone ground handling on Saturday evening after
a bunch of flights
Photo by Tomo (san)

Busy day Saturday

Great morning with 20 students coming out which is a record....
the weather continued all day and the students were back for the
evening with almost everyone getting flights before the wind went
cross and a bit strong but ground handling was still great.
Photo by Tomo ( all round great guy ) student from 2008

Day 2 Blog from SIV by Dan Miller

Friday, May 16.  First Flights
The six of us meet at Yuba Lake early on Friday morning, where we join up with Steve and Terry – so all eight of us have arrived safely and without any incidents at the border.  Chris has said that he will meet us at "seven-ish." We soon learn that in Utah this means "any time before eight o'clock."
Yuba Lake itself is a good size, and although it sits in the middle of a parched desert landscape, the temperature in the morning is very cold.  There is frost on the vehicles, and the temperature has dropped nearly to zero degrees Celsius.  (By early afternoon the temperature reaches over 30 degrees.)
Chris arrives with the boat and he makes some brief introductory comments.  We review proper tow procedures, and Clint – our fearless coach and official wind dummy – is the first one to launch.  Dan, Trevor, Mathieu, and Steve all get their first experience towing and flying maneuvers next, and we are visibly timid up there.  Chris is patient with each of us, but he is less talkative than I think we expected.  Difficulties with the boat force us to switch to the truck, so Daniel and Tomo have their first experiences towing up behind the vehicle – by which time the wind has started to pick up – so it is a lot more difficult than towing up behind the boat. 
The witching hour arrives after Tomo's flight, so we are done for the day.  Everyone except Terry has had his first tow and flight with basic maneuvers, and we are all kind of shaky.  It has made each of us a bit giddy, and we're still a little freaked out by the whole experience – like nervous and giggling school girls after a wild prom night.  Our flights are strangely difficult for us to remember: all buzzed up and blurred out.
Each of the flights is recorded on video, so we return to the hotel to watch ourselves and make notes for tomorrow.  In the evening we return to Point of the Mountain, and this time we visit the north side.  We have never seen so many gliders in the air at one time – we count 34 just driving up to the launch site.  The flight park itself is unbelievable: it has a paved parking lot with sidewalks, benches, and washrooms with running water.  The launch/landing field is half-way up the ridge – pilots can fly sled-runs to a groomed field at the base, or bench up to the top of the ridge, or simply boat around above the field – which is a sprawling, manicured lawn.  Daniel suggests that Vincene ought to till the field at Cochrane Hill and lay sod so that we can have something similar back home.  Everyone laughs, and all of us helpfully suggest that he be the one to make that recommendation to Vincene when we return.
The wind is smooth and consistent, but too strong for us.  We are content to sit on the grass at the edge of the field and watch the gliders until sunset.  We meet several local pilots, who are just as friendly as Mathieu has said, and we enjoy the evening watching dozens of gliders launch, soar, and land.  We are even treated to some fantastic acrobatics.  Done well, paragliding is a beautiful thing – there is simply nothing that compares to its simple elegance.  However, when it is done poorly… paragliding becomes something else entirely.  We watch one pilot in particular, with great interest, as he struggles on launch for more than fifteen minutes.  We laugh a little to ourselves, because we can all hear Keith in our heads hollering: "No jumping!" and "If you look down once more, I'm going to kick you in the nuts!"
We have dinner at a buffet restaurant in the city, where Mathieu eats a staggering amount of food (we lose count after the fifth or sixth plate), and then we drive back to the thriving metropolis of Scipio (two gas stations, a Dairy Queen, and a Subway).  Mathieu is forced to stand in the parking lot for a while, venting thermals of his own, before he can safely enter the building.
Tomorrow will be Day 2, and although we are more confident now than we were at the start of the day, we are still a little apprehensive about the day to come.

Day 1 Blog from 2009 SIV course by Dan Miller

Here is a blog from Dan Miller who took the intermediate course in
2008 and has no gone to his first SIV course. Great job Guys

Thursday, May 15. We made it!

Clint and Tomo and Daniel (Guillaume) and Dan (Miller) leave Calgary
around 5:30 PM, driving in Clint's truck. The landscape south of the
city is stunning, and we are treated to a magnificent sunset. The
massive wind turbines north of Lethbridge are awe-inspiring, as is the
trestle bridge – which was the longest in the world when the bridge
was built almost a hundred years ago.

We arrive at the United States border shortly before 10:00. The four
of us make an interesting group, and we raise a few eyebrows there.
Tomo is travelling with a Japanese passport, and he has never visited
the United States before. Clint has entries in his passport for Egypt
and Jordan, and Dan has entries for Cuba. Daniel is Korean, visiting
Canada on a temporary work visa, and travelling with a Belgian
passport that was issued in France. To top it all off, we are all
looking a little nervous… (We have heard all about SIV maneuvers and
they sound pretty damn scary.) However, it takes only 40 minutes to
do the paperwork, which is a lot less than it might have been.
Surprisingly, the folks at US customs are great, and we don't
experience any hassles or major delays. Nobody has to endure a strip
search or (much worse) watch uniformed neanderthals with handguns
unpack his glider and spread it all over the pavement at the border.

We alternate drivers through the night, and we arrive in Salt Lake
City at 8:00 in the morning. The first place we visit is (of course)
Point of the Mountain. If there is any possibility of a flight at the
south side, then we want to be there for it. Conditions are too
strong, though, and only the hang gliders are setting up. The hill is
impressive – and we are all feeling a little jealous. (Only Clint has
seen the north slope, so the rest of us have no idea how jealous we
will become.)

We drive to Sandy, just south of Salt Lake City, to say hello to the
guys at Super Fly. Chris is out towing, so we decide to continue
south to Yuba Lake and check out the site for tomorrow's course. At
Yuba Lake we find four other pilots on the beach. They have been
doing maneuvers over the water all morning, and they don't look any
worse for the wear. The "witching hour" at Yuba Lake starts at noon,
and the wind changes while we're chatting. When Chris returns to
shore with the boat, he suggests they switch to towing behind the
truck, so we head over to the road and wait for him there.

When the truck arrives, it looks like something out of a Mad Max
movie. It's a large vehicle, painted jet black, with tinted windows
and black hubs on huge knobby tires. The box has been replaced with a
flat-bed dominated by tow equipment: a huge spool of tow line, a gas
engine, and an enormous tool box. We are standing at the side of the
road in the blasting heat when the truck pulls up in a cloud of dust,
and for a moment it reminds me of one of the horsemen of the apocalypse.

With the exception of Clint, we have never met Chris Santacroce
before. The truck stops and Chris climbs out. He is tanned and dusty
and grinning like a Chesire cat. "Welcome to the desert!" he says,
with all the grace and charm of a host welcoming guests to paradise.
It takes no more than three seconds to get a very clear impression of
Chris, and time only reinforces that first impression: he is equal
parts boyish enthusiasm, impish mischief, grandfatherly wisdom, and
Zen master – like a genie who has escaped his lamp.

One at a time, he tows the other four pilots to an impressive height,
and we stay to watch their flights for a while. Afterward we drive to
a small town called Scipio, about ten miles south of Yuba Lake, where
we meet up with Mathieu and Trevor, and we check in to the hotel for a
few hours of sleep.

(Mathieu arrived a day earlier, and conditions were ideal last night
for ridge soaring. He is still euphoric over his first soaring
flight, more than 20 minutes in the air. Mathieu has also had time
for some sight-seeing in Salt Lake City, and several times he comments
on how clean the city is, and how friendly the people there. One
couple handed him the keys to their vehicle when he offered to drive
it down to the landing zone for them. Just imagine how remarkable
that is: an American giving his car keys to a complete stranger with a
strong French accent!)

After dinner we drive out to the lake and we practice a few
inflations. The wind is too light for anything except forwards. It
is good to practice though. The weather in and around Calgary has
been dismal the past several months, so most of us have not even
inflated our gliders this year. We return to the hotel early, anxious
and jittery over tomorrow's first SIV flights.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Great Mornings Lately

Well as you can see from the title the long weekend gave us what we
have been looking for. We had 10 students with all different levels
out fr some flying and ground handling on Saturday morning. Some had
as many as 5 flights but most had at least 3. After the wind picked up
a bit they all did a bunch of ground handling in order to perfect
those higher wind launches. The rest of day was blown out but after
hiking up the hill 5 times I am sure some of them did not care
( Kevin.....grin. Congrats on being a Dad again ). Sunday was again
perfect for student flights in the morning. Ross had 5-6 students out
with Ladde and Candace getting their Maiden flights off the big
hill...congrats. So nice work to all those that came out and the
forecast sure does look nice for the rest of the week so call in.

Monday, May 18, 2009


Hey Vincene and Keith (Vincene, could you please forward this to Keith as
I do not have his email address),

could you please TEXT Trevors cell phone number to me, as he has my
harness to pass on to Santa and I need to get it back from him if he picks
it up from santa.

We had a great towing yesterday after Chris got a couple of injectors
replaced in his boats engine - everyone did really well and got at least 1
tow in each.  Tomo had a little excitement on his second flight, and his
360 turned into a sprial dive, which Chris managed to get him out of in

Epic day today... we towed up until late afternoon, and everyone got in at
least 2 more tows today, so some had 4 maneuver flights total, others had
5 or 6, and all finished the course with a smile on their face!  Tomo was
a little more hesitant today after his spiral dive yeasterday, but still
managed couple of good flights.

I had a bit of a blip on my last attempt.  It was starting to pick up and
get quite switchy with thermals on the beach.  I was hooked in, and there
wwas zero wind.  The instant I started my inflation, a thermal kicked off,
and the wind was straight down beach - my glider weather vained away from
the water, i got picked up and tossed down.  I caught mh hand in a rut,
and when I looked at it, my finger was going 90 degrees in the wrong
direction.  I thought it was broke, so I tried to abort the flight - Chris
thought I was trying to correct, and unfortunatley I got pulled into the
water and did a face plant in knee deep water, so my glider and reserve
got soaked so I couldnt fly any more.  We looked at my finger and thought
it was broke cause of the direction, or severely disolcated.  He gave me
800 mg of ibuprofen, and I chased that with a can of redbull.  After about
10 minutes, he mnade the comment "I just want to pull that finger
stright...just give it a yank!"  Not sure if he was serious or not, but
with a bit of hestiation i gritted my teeth, and pulled.  It made a
horrific asound just like in the movies with about 4 bone pops, I groaned,
and it was back in place (all the guys kinda had a horrific look on their
faces when it cracked like that),  but my glider and reserve were still
wet so that ended up my last short flight of the day.  That is about all
that happened this weekend in terms of injuries (lol, at least this time
it didnt cost TIC another $30000, lol).  If chris can do a repack for me
tomorrow, I will try and fly at the point with the rest of the crew
tomorrow night if conditions allow.  Everyone is flying with a lot more
confidence than they came down with, so they might fly the point under
Chris instruction.

Was awesome down here, especially the weather, and Mathieu tells me he is
still a fabulous great guy.  He even managed his first thermals over the
beach and gained a bit of alitutude!"

Believe it or not, Trevor was probably the rockstar of this group of guys
doing their first SIVs, nailing most of his maneuvers and then towing up
for some thermals on his last flight which lasted 20 - 30 minutes..

ANywas, that is all for now.

See you in a few days.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Fwd: SIV update

>> Hey Vincene and Keith,
>> weather down here is awesome! 20-30C sunshine....
>> just give you a quick update...
>> I towed up first thing this morning, did a few basic manuevers, was a
>> blast.. came in to land... I know I have put weight on but man that
>> is the
>> hottest that I have ever come in (no wind to help slow my fat ass
>> down),
>> and the flare didnt do much to slow me down, but managed to stay on
>> my
>> feet
>> Dan towed up next... was a little dicey (he said he had his break
>> handle
>> caught thru his risers and couldnt turn while on tow... never
>> occurred to
>> him to avoid the handle and just go for the actual break line...
>> but, with
>> a little anxious moments Chris got him back on track and he did a tow
>> (close to lockout a couple of times)... did his manuevers really well
>> Trevor went next... awesome first SIV flight
>> Then the Frenchy-left-backward edmontonian with a fake accent
>> towed...
>> awesome first SIV flight
>> Then Steve... awesome first SIV flight
>> then the boat broke down... Chris not sure if it is an engine
>> problem or
>> what, but we had to stop... so he gave the guys who hadnt towed the
>> option
>> of doing a first tow off the truck down the road
>> was starting to thermal slightly
>> Daniel went first... dicey tow but chris again got him up (again
>> almost
>> lock out a couple of times)... he did some of the over the land
>> manuevers
>> (the best was... do a right 90... alright, that was a left 90 but
>> it will
>> have to do cause it's done now)
>> Tomo went next.. was thermalling a bit more.. he did a good job
>> reversing
>> (first attempt got pulled off his feet), but second time got up...
>> bit of
>> a dicey tow again, almost lock out).. he released and hit nothing
>> but sink
>> cause he was down in about 2 minutes and didnt do any maneuvers
>> Chris said it was too dicey for any of the newbies to continue
>> today... I
>> think he might have been a little miffed with people not doing what
>> they
>> were supposed to while on tow, even after explaining, but whatever
>> I did a final tow, thermalled around for 25 minutes or so and then
>> decided
>> to land cause the thermals were getting a bit strong for my comfort
>> level
>> in the desert and the wind was picking up (starting to get parked,
>> and not
>> too familiar with the how strong they get here, so chose to get
>> down while
>> i could still move forward!)
>> Chris has taken the boat back to his buddy, so hopefully he will
>> have it
>> repaired in the next couple of days. We are gonna head into SLC in
>> an
>> hour, and maybe try the Point if the wind cooperates. As it
>> stands, we
>> have had 6 people tow and manuever; Tomo towed but did not
>> manuever, and
>> Terry has yet to tow.
>> Cheers, and i'll see you on Wednesday or Thursday.
>> Clint
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