Monday, August 9, 2010


I think it was about a year ago (just after getting back to the States last fall) that Jamie excitedly told me that Monte Cucco had been selected as the site for the 2011 World Hang Gliding Championship. Monte Cucco is a hill above the small town of Sigillo in the Umbria region of Italy, a place we both knew well and loved. As the competition would be in August of 2011, the "pre-Worlds" (the dress rehearsal of the competition to iron out problems) would be in August of 2010.

Furthermore, Jamie eagerly added, the Italian meet director had asked her to come over and be a staff member for both the pre-Worlds in 2010 and the Worlds in 2011. "Soooo...." she concluded, "why don't you and I just make of full summer of hang gliding around Europe in 2010 and 2011?!"

You'd think Jamie was my girlfriend, seeing how much influence she seemingly has over my plans each year. It's just that we travel well together and she comes up with some really great ideas all the time (like our adventure in Peru in November of 2008). It's hard to say no.

This, then, is how I ended up buying a used car in Europe last May to provide me with both cost-effective transportation and a home of sorts for this and next summer (half the time I'm sleeping in the back). I now own a high-mileage car on three continents.

These trips are centered around this and next year's competitions in Italy but, hey, while I'm here, I'm going to enjoy the whole continent. Everything of these last three months, then, has basically been just a prelude to being here in Italy

I think it was sometime last January in Australia that I was standing with Jonny (from Australia) and Corinna (from Germany) when it occurred to me I hadn't really given myself a job for the pre-worlds in Italy. Both of them would be there and so I offered to drive for them, something I often do for both.

Jonny had found a B&B to house the entire Australian contingency (six) and there was room for me as well, so I chose to forgo roughing it in my car. It was well I did. This farmhouse was unbelievably beautiful and our husband-and-wife hosts became great friends. The farmhouse had just finished a ten year period of renovation (we seemed to be their first guests ever) after it had been damaged and condemned in an earthquake just over a decade ago. It was spectacular, full of ancient oak beams and stone walls (photo at the top and below).

On the two days when conditions weren't conducive to competition and no tasks had been called, Jonny switched our roles and drove me up the hill to fly while he drove my car back down to meet me at the landing field.

The beauty of Monte Cucco is that it is one of easiest and safest hills from which to launch. It has huge, smooth, and gently sloping grass fields, so big that if you could run 200 meters before actually being required to take off (a rare luxury). You could even change your mind altogether after ten seconds of running and abort the launch and end up with nothing worse than grass stains on your pants. In some extreme cases (Mt. Buffalo, Australia or San Cassiano, Italy; two places I have seen but did not fly), the consequence of not committing to a launch the moment it's started can be death.

On the Sunday after the competition ended and before I'd left for my next destination, the conditions were perfect for top-landing. I went up and had a blast! You could launch, fly around, then land exactly where you'd just taken off, and either move off the launch to the side to set the glider down for a rest or merely take a few steps forward and lift off again. Zhenya was there and, having already top landed, took a photograph of one of my numerous relaunches.

Jonny is known for his dedication to producing daily videos during competitions (such as this one from the first day of the pre-worlds Italy). On one of the non-competing days when Jonny took me up the hill to fly, he attached his camera to my glider and, later down at a cafe, trimmed the footage on his laptop down to a three minute video in the time it took me to sip a coffee as I sat next to him.

What I love about this film (below) is that it shows two of my favorite aspects of hang gliding. First, when you launch, you just run a bit, then the glider lifts off your shoulders, then it plucks you off the earth as the ground falls away and, there you are. You're flying. The simple and natural aspect of this appeals to some side of me. Then, after drifting around in the sky for as long as you wish (or, if the lift is weak, for as long as you can), you simply come down and take your feet out of the harness and step back onto the ground.

In truth, it can be more complicated than that. Of all serious accidents, I'd estimate that 70% occur on take off and 25% occur on landing while only 5% or even less occur in flight.

Then again, most often it really can be that uncomplicated. We fly simply because we choose to and, most importantly, we can.