Monday, May 25, 2009

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.

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