To get to launch first I had 5 km of gentle downhill along a high mountain meadow. It looked very Andean and everyone couldn't get over how beautiful it was up here. I walked slowly, enjoyed the scenery, and knew I didn't need to hurry. Launch was only a few hundred meters above me on the western side.
After meeting up with Jim for breakfast, it was time to climb up to launch. Vitek the photographer came up with me, and Jarek followed a few minutes behind. It was steep but short, and I had multiple opportunities for a launch. With time to spare, Jarek advised getting as high as possible. Gentle breezes drifted by and I went with an east facing launch to take advantage of the full morning sunshine, even if I needed to fly west. Once again, my first move in the air was to make the longest, hardest valley crossing of the whole race. And I'm not even kidding. It was almost 10 km from peak to peak across the valley. When I had flown this in training, I had lost almost 1500 meters vertically. So I needed to be well above 3000 meters to make this first move.
But first, I needed a nap. I had arrived early, it was warm, and I was really tired. I wadded up my thick down sweater and rested for a while.
About midday, it looked better. Jarek and Ludvik had been waiting patiently, and got to see me pegged out in lift as soon as I was airborne. Conditions were better than I could have hoped, and I was soon passing 3000 meters to max out the lift. Even with the extra height on the crossing, a slight headwind put me down on the hill about where I had arrived in training. So I knew I just need to be patient and work my way back up the sunny face.
From there it was a piece of cake all the way to Bernina Pass. Switzerland! Conditions were really nice with the wind blowing me up the valley. After the pass, I got up to 4000 meters and felt 8 m/s of lift. That sort of feels like an elevator jumping up 10 floors without any warning!
I couldn't know it then but the fun was about to come to an end. The winds pushed me across the ridge to St. Moritz, still high but descending quickly. As I passed over the ridge and felt no lift at all. I had time to think "Uh-oh!?!" before I was sucked into the rotor and caught between the hillside and some airspace I was trying to avoid over the town. It quickly disintegrated into the most dangerous flying conditions of the whole race. I fought to keep the wing over my head, I fought to stay out of the trees, out of the power lines, and find somewhere to land. Anywhere. Even a tree started to look good. One small pasture far below me looked like my only option, if I could get there. I'm not sure how I did, but in the rollarcoaster ride I was now on, I managed to put it down safely. In a tiny stream. My harness landed in the water, but my feet on either side stayed dry. Since it helped cushion my quick descent I wasn't going to complain.
I had outflown my support vehicles, so in the meantime I took some time to get the shaky feeling out of my body from the landing. With very high winds, I knew I would spend the rest of the day walking down this valley, which would lead me past Turnpoint 6 and continued west back into Italy. Chuck arrived with lots of snacks, a welcome sight after missing lunch!
It turned out to be quite a scenic valley to walk in, mostly along lakes on a nice trail. The kiteboarders were out on the lake en force, which drove home the fact that it was too windy to think of flying. Boga whipped up a nice pasta dinner halfway into my evening walk, and then we stopped in a campground right on my route for the night. Hot shower #2 was a pleasant surprise, for everyone else too as they had had to smell me!
|Still fascinated with my own shadow|
|Launch was close to here|
|This was my first valley crossing of the day, and it's a doozy|
|Looking back on the beautiful, Andean-looking plateau|
|My LZ near St. Moritz|
|Evening walk along the lake with lots of windsurfers out to play|