Frolic in France
2015-09-11 Fun, Flying and being slightly useful in beautiful
Tim and I are going to Europe. Finally.
There's purpose in our travel since we're covering the 2015 Coupe
Icare, a huge festival of flight, be there will, if all goes well, be
plenty of flight on our part.
Tim is armed with a new wing (the Ozone Sirocco) for flying the dunes
and Alps, and I'll be on the trusty Spice. We'll have write ups
and photos here. More if the weather is bad.
First stop is the appetizer at Dune de Pyla, a famous soaring site
that thrives in a westish breeze. St. Hilare serves up a delicious
combination of soaring, festivities, demonstrations, paramotoring and
the costume flights for a main course. Desert comes in two parts: first
is chasing soaring weather in the Alps and then a tourist visit to
Weather obviously plays a huge part so fingers are crossed. We're
leaving the resort (home in FL) where warmth is all but guaranteed for
potentially chilly France.
We will be doing some filming and photography for our next project: a
paramotor buyers guide. It's not about brands but rather about what the
different styles offer, what's possible, what's safer, and other related
subjects. There's no date set and it may be years but, like the PPG
Bible, it's something that I feel needs to be done.
09/11 Planes, Trains and Automobiles.
Getting there was surprisingly easy albeit long. It was fun sitting
there, at 35,000 feet, going 500+ mph, eating dinner. Just amazing,
really. I went as a real passenger (not jumpseating) because we were
meeting people, had reservations, and didn't want to risk getting
International travel is different in that flights have amenities.
There was more room on the plane and we actually had meals. More
importantly, each seat had an outlet. Amazing. I could (and did) use my
computer without battery anxiety.
Charles De Gaul airport is well laid out and it was painless getting
to baggage and then through the border point. Oh how thankful it was
that our bags made it. That's our flying stuff.
Not speaking the language sucks. Let's face it, me knowing how to say
"Bon Jour" and "Merci" is pretty worthless. Thankfully, a friendly tone
and warm smile are universal and we're able to figure most things out.
Most things. More on that in a moment.
Michael O'Daniel flew on the same Paris flight and we met Phil & Kim
at the Paris Train Station.
The TGV train is comfy, and fast with plugs for outlets. While
boarding, we had soooo much baggage, it was tough getting it all on. But
trains are different. The moment that door closes the train starts
moving. We were still piling luggage on top of luggage as the train
accelerated through probably 80 mph. They don't care. There aren't even
seat belts at you seat.
It's clean, quiet, you can walk around, go to the meal car, buy booze
and food, wander through the rest of the cars and generally relax. Even
as an airline guy I'd love to see this service come to some high density
U.S. markets. Once away from populated areas they put the pedal down and
soon got us cruising at 185 mph. Weirdly it didn't look that scary
except when meeting a train going the opposite direction doing the same
speed; do the math.
By 3 pm we were in Bordeaux, walked to AVIS and got our vehicles. It
wasn't a short walk but at least we were each carrying 100 pounds of
goodies. by 430pm we arrived at our respective hotels then regrouped to
head for the Dune. It was too light to fly but we hiked up anyway. What
a cool place even without the prospect of airtime.
Schlepping paraglider gear is a pain but we made it work. Right now
we're in two vans.
09/12 & 13 Dune De Pyla
Traveling with this bunch is fascinating: sometimes stressful, always
amusing, and immensely enjoyable.
Poor Michael is doing most of the driving. Tim shares the duty but
Michael gets us there quicker. There's a bit more fear involved,
admittedly. Michael's greatest skill is balancing the dueling directions
coming at him from behind, usually Phil and Kim. I must commend him for
having only one minor blow up.
In France, it seems, being careful is called parking. If movement is
desired, you must be, shall we say, more assertive. Then there's the
rule of the rights. The person on the right has the right of way. That's
even true in roundabouts. Unless they're marked with a roundabout sign.
Normally in a roundabout, the person already circling has the right of
way. And that's true for most here but not all. Very confusing. The game
of Chicken seems to be a national pastime.
Today we waited out bad winds in Arcachon--a quaint coastal gathering
of hotels, shops, and restaurants. Lots of restaurants, mostly expensive
ones. A dollar buys about 1.24 Euros which is historically pretty good
for dollar holders.
There was a high-end Bazaar of sorts just outside the balcony where
trinkets were sold and very fresh food was prepared, and I do mean
prepared. I know fish has to go through that process to end up on a
plate but I don't want to watch. Sorry.
After lunch we headed for the Dune, checked out some spots, and found
the west wind we needed was instead a strong south wind curling over
perturbations in the ridge. So we waited. Thankfully that paid off and a
couple hours before sunset the wind was still strong and mostly south
but still flyable for anyone into the high wind thing.
The most fun, and the biggest reason I wanted to come here, was that
it's a magical dune for sliding around under wing. Get the wing up, lean
it over in one direction, then let it pull you though the sand. It's
Phil kited around the corner of the south edge and into a really good
lift band, climbing up to several hundred feet above the ridge. Hmmm, I
thought, I hope I can do that tomorrow. Unfortunately the weather
tellers were painting bleakly on the morrow's canvas. It wasn't looking
good, and there was some pressure from the other guys to leave a day
early in search of Alpine air. Thankfully, it didn't go that way.
Sorry, I'm just not seeing it. The warning I've got is that French
people tend to a bit more direct. Maybe so but I'm still finding that,
with a smile and friendly demeanor, they're no different than people
anywhere. Everyone has been very gracious with an ass-hole percentage no
worse than anywhere. And I'm certainly not speaking French.
I did have one entire conversation in French while buying junk food
during a parawait (see next). It was kind of cool. I walked in said "Bon
jour" (good day), picked my goodies, paid for them, said Merci (thank
you) and "au revoir" (good bye); feeling more French already.
Today was the day.
got a cold and this morning it was kicking my butt. Enough that, after
breakfast I just laid on the couch. It wasn't going to be soarable until
2pm or later anyway, which was good because I had no interest in being
out there feeling this way.
The rest of the crew went out for lunch and some shopping while I
rested. It worked. I got some sleep and by the time they got back I was
at full strength. Yeaaay!
Unfortunately, the demon that left me found Phil, who wound up with
some stomach thing and had to lay down, begging off the day's dune trip
so the remaining 4 of us drove out there.
We arrived to a still windy, still south and gray sky dune. Still we
schlepped our gear out there into the gale, looked southwest, where
everything was coming from, and immediately saw the wall of water.
If we turned around and started walking back RIGHT NOW, we would get
lightly rained on. We weren't that smart and watched it for a while,
maybe thinking our laser eyes of disappointment would dry it out or
Not surprisingly we got good and rained on before reaching the car.
Exercise: think of how good all this sand walking is for the body.
That became an opportunity to fetch some junk food. Michael and Kim
don't do junk food which left more for Tim & I. Soon the clouds parted,
probably from those earlier laser eyes, and we headed back. We
texted Phil, still back at the room, to check the radar and he confirmed
that it looked good from here on out.
The rains were gone, the wind blew, and indeed it was good. Very
cross, very strong, but doable. Phil soon joined us.
Locals have this strong wind thing figured out. Go to the bottom
where bushes can protect your glider from the wind, when ready, inflate
slightly beyond the bushes, kite up the hill and play in the sand.
That's where we went.
Yesterday Phil had figured out the best way to kite around the big
Dune's south end into a lift band and ride that into even better air--a
slightly more south facing part of the ridge. I wanted to do that today.
The first time I did it by kiting up reversed and flying off
backwards--my usual shtick which works well most of the time. But in the
process of turning around I moved away from the hill by a few feet and
sunk out. I kited back up again but it wasn't elegant. So I tried his
technique which worked much better. I LOVE learning new things!
It was actually the same thing I was doing when sliding around but,
for whatever reason didn't apply it here. It's easier, really.
The Technique That Worked So Well
dune faces west but it's a south-southwest wind. So when kiting forward,
you've got rising sand to your left and ocean to your right.
Picture yourself kiting forward. Bring the wing left. It's now
pulling you up the hill. Awkwardly. Turn 90° left so you're now running
up the hill towards the wing which you control so as to keep next to the
sand. It pulls you up. By keeping the wing close to the sand like that,
your feet stay weighted so you don't get lifted off the hill too early.
And it's pulling you up, doing most of the work. You need to get height,
if the wing comes overhead it will want to lift you and pull you forward
(southwest in this case) and down. Down is bad right now, you need to
get up the hill.
If you do get lifted, carefully turn towards the hill again and start
running up when you land on it. Keep that left wingtip close to the
It gets trickier when you get into the scrub. You've now got to watch
the wingtip to keep it from getting snagged, and watch your step. But
dang, when you pull it off, the reward is smooth, high soaring.
One nice thing about it being so strong is that, at first, and for a
while there very few wings in the air. For a time I had the entire
soarable ridge to myself. I can only imagine that it gets really crowded
When it's this strong a major concern is blowback as it should be.
But when it's cross like this you can always just turn towards the
ocean. You'll be drifting backwards along the beach, of course, but you
can simply fly out over the water slightly, out of the lift band, and
come down on the dune. In this condition there is *NO* risk of blowback
to anyone who simply keeps this in mind.
Plus, Phil and I started off taking turns on Tim's new wing, the
Sirocco, which is a reflex. I did hook up the speedbar but it wasn't
necessary--just let out the trims and it would penetrate nicely.
When Tim started playing with that glider, I went and got the Spice
22. It was near its wind limit but still workable and I did several
soaring fights, practicing kiting it up into the lift band using Phil's
technique which indeed worked splendidly.
Eating It Up
After a while it settled down and the rest of our crew joined the
flew and frolicked until sunset. Lots of sand entered many orifices
Acro pilots favor this spot to learn things like helicopter landings.
It was fun watching them work on it, and I thought about it but figured
I'd just make a mess of my glider. I wish I would have thought about
more types of practice because this was the place to do it. Like "how
slow can you fly?" Try it here. When you stall, you fall 3 feet into
soft sand. Dang. Hopefully there will be a next time.
Today, Tue 09/15, is a travel day. Rain threatens the next couple
days or more so Phil, Kim and Michael may go south to Italy while Tim
and I press on to Coupe Icare. We'll see. Either way, we're headed for
the mountains, probably Chamonix, with a stop in Bordeaux to visit one
of the planet's most famous wineries. Even for a teetotaler this ought
to be interesting. I'll even take a sip maybe just to say I drank in