Sunday, July 25, 2010

Silver Linings

Following the Europeans in Àger, the plan had been to jump up to Basel Switzerland on my way to Sigillo, Italy (site of the next adventure) for a unique 25/50/75 birthday party for Ashanta, Dolores, and Dolores' mother. A puzzling oil leak developing with my car, however (purchased for this and next summer's extensive plans in Europe) dimmed my confidence in its ability to make the high speed all-night drive this would require to arrive on time.

So instead, once it was fixed, I opted take the time to slowly limp to Laragne, France ("B" below), gauging the car's health at every gas stop.

Laragne is a place I'd thought I'd said goodbye to last July, after the 2009 World Championships (part of last summers string of adventures so full that I've never gotten around to writing about them). After what felt like so much time spent there over the last two summers, it seemed I'd never have a reason to return. The coincidence of it being very close to the geographical midpoint of long journey gave me a reason. At midnight, I drove into the hang gliding campground (a landing field is half of the facility) and fell asleep in the back of my station wagon. I felt very much like I'd come home.

In the morning, the proprietor greeted me like an old friend.

I was actually particularly exhausted. Driving for the Dutch team, in addition to being as much fun as I'd known it would be, had also been surprisingly hard work. Most days I'd spent six-eight hours in my car climbing up and down mountain roads full of switchbacks, extracting my half of the Dutch team out of very hard to reach places. Sometimes I wouldn't get back to headquarters until 10:30 p.m.

For that first day, I was content to do nothing but sit and read, raising my head to stare at the mountains now and then.

High winds were pummeling the region, keeping the local pilots down. The result was a show for us cloud connoisseurs that would rival the double rainbow internet meme (if you don't get it, you won't get it). Lenticulars were building in layers above us during the day and, most spectacularly, during the moonlight night. While I could capture the daylight show, I could not capture the night's.

Lenticulars (if you don't know about them, read more about them here) are stationary, forming on their leading edge as fast as they dissipate on their trailing edge...and yet they are dynamic, too. They change shapes and forms subtly so that a glance back at a clould you saw ten minutes before will be, as they say in Thailand, "same same but different."

Many times that first night (when the winds were the strongest and the moonlight the brightest), I would see people outside with their heads craned skyward, stopped in their tracks and mesmerized by the moonlight phenomena.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Àger, Spain

The European Hang Gliding Championships were in Spain this year and, after spending a week here last year, I planned to return. I really had no reason to be there beyond the desire to return to a place where I knew many of my friends would be and that I'd felt I really hadn't had enough of a chance to explore the last time around.

Also, the two owners of the Port d' Àger, a newly renovated hotel I'd randomly found on the internet last year became such good friends that I wanted to come back simply to stay with them once more. Jordi and David, two brothers from Barcelona, had taken a huge chance on their belief in the beauty of their region and, ignoring the world economic downturn, had gone heavily into debt to buy and renovate an old farmhouse into a beautiful hotel and restaurant. Their bank tells them that they are among the small percentage of clients who makes their payments on time. I admire that kind of courage and success and, in addition to all the other reasons, I wanted to return to Àger if for no other reason than to make my small contribution to their solvency.

Last May, just after arriving in Germany, it only then occurred to me I had no real job at the competition in Àger. I was sipping coffee with Dutch friend Daphne when this thought came to me, so I turned to her and asked if the Dutch team needed a driver.

This was how I came to be one of the two drivers for the Dutch team.

Like any hang gliding meet, it's always a great time for me to be around great friends; Slovenes, Russians, Dutch, Germans, Austrians, Aussies and Colombians (even at the European championships), and more.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Davos, Switzerland

Working my way down south from Finland to Spain, I stopped in Basel to stay with the Swiss to help with a construction project. I worked just long enough to realize how unaccustomed my body and bones had become to real work (the sledgehammer-swinging, dust-snorting, bricks-falling-on-feet kind) when they called a break to go fly at Davos (photos above and below).

One just has to marvel at not only the rarity of a mother-daughter hang gliding team but of the unending beauty of Switzerland.

A few more days of dusty sledgehammer-swinging and I was off to to Spain.