Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

February 17, 2014

Longest duration solo flight of 93k in Colombia!

I've been down here in La Union, Colombia for a month on a paragliding tour.  Yup, that's Colombia, South America.  It's warm here while most of the USA is in the deep freeze covered in the white stuff.  Here, we fly in the mountains.  We fly in the flat valleys.  We fly when a few raindrops fall, and when the sun shines, and when the clouds dot the landscape like icebergs in the north sea.  And mostly, we fly in gaggles.  It's safer.  We sink out less.  We go further, and fly longer, and land together in places where we can pack up and head to the center of the nearest town for fresh juice, rotisserie chicken and plates of french fries.  

Sometimes, I like to fly by myself.   It's challenging.  In the flats, it becomes much easier to sink out and land in the middle of nowhere, sweating while packing up in the hot sun wondering why I left the safety of the group.  But I do it anyway.  I have set some pretty audacious goals for myself, and learning to fly alone is pretty mandatory.  Plus, secretly or not so secretly, I just love pointing my paraglider in a direction and heading out there solo to see what adventures I can find.  
The packed ride up to launch in the yellow bus
Our main launch down here in Colombia is just above the small town of Roldanillo.  From there it is possible to fly north or south in the mountains, or east into the flats and across to another low ridge.   Our flight plan every day usually includes some or all of these moves, and the traverse across the valley and back to land near our hotel in La Union is flown so often it could be called a milk run.   In other words, it's almost easy.   In a gaggle.  

I'm flying a new wing this winter, and I absolutely love it.   It's an Ozone Delta 2 with some sweet colors....I just wish I could see the top of my own wing when I'm flying!   But I've gotten a few people to take some pictures of it so I know what I look like out there in the sky.

With almost 25 pilots in our tour this week, it takes a while to launch everyone off the takeoff, and the house thermal in front of launch gets a little crowded.  One day I just set off heading south while waiting for everyone to get higher, and then instead of waiting, I just kept flying.  One ridge became 3, and then I couldn't see them any more.  Yet the lift was good and the mountains were working great.  On the radio I could hear the group heading out in the valley, and I just kept flying down the ridges to see how far I could go.  

We had flown some of this before so the moves were easy, then into new territory I slowed up to keep myself in the air.  Finally I felt I could go no further south and turned into the valley near the town of Tulua.   The glide over the valley almost put me into the sugar cane fields, but a fire thermal from a burning field kept me in the game and got me across.  They burn the sugar cane fields here before they are harvested to get rid of the  extra leaves...there are always fires burning in the valley at midday.  Perhaps I should call this one a campfire thermal, though…it wasn't a huge field of cane burning, really just a small smoking saving grace.  

Once into the foothills across the valley, I was sky high and then trying to catch back up to the gaggle flying far to the north.  I surfed the cloud streets, pushing a lot of speed bar, making minimal turns and covering a lot of distance.  Soon enough I passed our normal crossing at the village of Zarzal and made it up to La Victoria.   In the meantime, though, the group had landed in La Union and the west wind had kicked up. The west wind from the ocean comes every day in the afternoon, making landings near the mountains too dangerous.  I needed to land in the flats where the winds didn't penetrate as far.  So for the last part of the flight, I climbed up to 8500 feet (above the valley floor at 3100 feet) and then just pointed my wing north to see how far I could go.   I landed somewhere past the small town of Obando, where I declined to catch another fire thermal and set it down in a pasture instead.   
Photos courtesy of Marty DeVietti

A group of kids came running my way, and I just had time to take off my wet diaper (hey, 5 hours of airtime is too long to hold it!) before they arrived.   I packed up quickly before my eager audience, and then about 10 kids helped me navigate the fields back to the highway.   Instead of calling for a ride, I decided to find my own way back home, and immediately caught a ride with a truck driver through Obando back to the turnoff for La Victoria.  We had a spirited conversation before he dropped me off, and then I tried to flag down a bus while walking into the center of town.  For some reason the buses wouldn't stop, and I walked a couple of miles before a sympathetic woman on a scooter gave me a short ride to the bus station.  

There was a bus waiting to go to La Union, but it was empty and waiting for passengers, so I had time to drink a soda and cool off a little.   No passengers ever seemed to come, so some time later the bus driver asked me if I wanted to hire the whole bus to go now instead of waiting longer.  It would cost me about 8,000 pesos, the equivalent of $4, so I said yes!   In La Union, I met a friend for pizza at the only decent restaurant in town, and then caught my last ride of the day, a tricycle taxi back to the hotel.  

5:20 of airtime is officially my longest flight (duration) for a total of 93 kilometers.   Too bad I didn't catch that fire thermal to make it an even 100k….

Here's a flight validation from XCSKies....I suspect the nearness of the ocean is why I didn't get up to the predicted  lift altitude as XCSkies can't account for the ocean influence.   8500 feet is about the highest we ever get in this valley.

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