Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

November 30, 2013

Iquique Chile Paragliding Tour Participants Break XC Records

We were nearing the end of our three week paragliding tour to Iquique, Chile.  The beginners had come and gone the first week, making great strides in their learning and confidence.   Those of us staying the whole time were almost sated with flying, having gotten as much airtime everyday as anyone could have wished for.

But we were still hungry.  For some distance.  Several times we had made an attempt to fly our way up the coast.  Each time we were grounded, due to circumstances and cross winds, rotor over the difficult sections.

It was our last day to do some cross country flying.  It looked good as we drove up to launch.  Higher cloudbase than previous days, light SW winds, and a feeling in the air that this would be a good day.

Eleven of us launched together, sending the drivers down the long road back to the ocean.  It was a struggle and a wait for everyone to thermal up to cloudbase, but for a short time all of us were moving down the ridge together.

The vans made it back down the sand roads to the ocean as a pilot here or there began to call it a day.  The rest of us carried on, letting the air currents pull us up and over and around the never-ending sandy hills that are northern Chile.  The red, orange and white ridge was monotonous and beautiful at the same time, offering up dunes and dry river beds; mining holes and stray cactus; soaring buzzards and an endless supply of sand.

I was flying a new wing this tour, having virtually worn out my sturdy orange and blue wing.   This one was green and blue, looking like eagles eyes, making me happy when I looked up at it.

I started ticking off distance on my GPS.  20 kilometers, then 40, then 60.   Dare we hope to make that elusive 100?  At midday the thermals got stronger.  We paused to let the vans check a difficult crossing...the winds were our friend and we flew around the point without issue.

Then I was into new territory.   Our guides were above, behind, below, and ahead of us, checking for lift and ensuring a safe line through tricky sections.   The ridge got lower, making a loss of altitude more likely to put us on the deck.  The wind got stronger, forcing us to stay further away from the venturi winds on the ridgetops.  We didn't care...we got high, higher than we had been all day, and carried on at three thousand feet above the ocean.  By then we were just five small wings in a big sky.  I tried to keep everyone in sight, and stay high.

A couple last tricky sections.  By then I knew nothing was going to stop me from reaching the goal...a beach landing in front of my hotel, and the longest XC flight of my life.   But the graveyard still beckoned...a section that has put so many pilots on the ground it has a name, a life of its own.   I start over it high, plenty of altitude.  Or so I thought.  Sink, then more sink.   Crap.  Time for full speed bar, the sand dunes which can save me still a long ways away.

I hit the dunes with barely seven hundred feet of altitude.   The winds are changeable, ripping up the slope and bouncing me all over.  At one point I have my feet out ready to land, I'm that close to the ground.  I don't dare go away from the hill or I'll sink out completely.   Slowly, slowly, I start working my way back up the hillside.   The others wait for me, confident that I'll make it back up or perhaps waiting to give my landing coordinates to the drivers!

Jim and I are the only tour participants left flying.   Our three guides flying with us have gotten us this far, and the end is almost in sight.   We get a ripping thermal together and climb thousands of feet higher in a minute or two.  Then we are over our normal afternoon soaring site, as I call out on the radio  that we have made it 100 kilometers!

The vans race ahead of us to check for whitecaps on the ocean around the last point before the town comes into view.   I don't care what they see, nothing is going to stop me from making the last turn and heading to the beach.   We fly over the golf course, which in this parched land is nothing more than white lines painted around more blankets of endless sand.  I think each fairway looks like dirty socks laid out to dry in the sun.  But I'm not concerned with that now.

The ripping thermals quiet all of a sudden as we see the town.  The lift softens and we make gentle turns up into the blue sky.   No longer do we need to hug the hillsides, and from three thousand feet we head straight for our beach over the open ocean.  The air is soft now, and we can shout, laugh, and take photos of our wings bright over the blue water.   Ken and I carefully bring our wings close together and bump wingtips.   We look down and see seals playing in the water below us.

The beach comes closer and I wiggle stiff legs and fingers, get ready to touch the earth again.    I'm not ready, but the earth is ready for me.  My legs wobble, my head bobs like I'm flying a spaceship, and I'm grinning from ear to ear.  We've been in the air for 5 hours, and suddenly I'm thirsty.  

Left to Right: Luis Rosenkjer, Jim Sorensen, Ken Hudonjorgensen,
Dawn Westrum, and Todd Weigand
Congratulations are in order from the whole crew, hugs all around.  I'm delirious, and I'm happy.

See our whole route here at XContest

Thanks to Ken, Luis and Todd for giving Jim and Dawn the chance to do the longest XC of our life!

Thanks to Todd for coming through with the great photos...of course my camera picked this day to have a dead battery!

Tracklog from a part of the flight.  Green lower elevation, red is higher. 

Our whole 121 Kilometer route as seen on XContest.org

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic achievement, amazing country and incredible pictures. Enjoyed reading that.... Thanks Dawn.