New Gear, New Passion – Rila mountains, Bulgaria – 27.11.2020

For days now, I have found a new passion in paragliding, and, like Shakespeare’s hero, I will exalt her virtues and my dedication in this new affair.  And when she, as Juliet, will ask me:

“By whose direction found’st thou out this place?”*

I, inspired just as Romeo, will answer:

“By love, who first did prompt me to inquire;

He lent me counsel and I lent him eyes.

I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far

As that vast shore wash’d with the farthest sea,

I would adventure for such merchandise.”*

*William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliette, Act 2, Scene 2

Romeo may have not been one, but I am a pilot, so this new love of mine is not with a woman, but with this “merchandise” and the adventures into which it allows me to “inquire”.

Poetry aside – to be clear, in the world of paragliding, this is nothing new or newsworthy: X-Alps athletes have been using gear like this for years; but it is new to me, and I can’t get enough! 

Until a few days ago, I’d known two ways to solo fly: either lugging my 28-kilo cross country bag near and flying far, or hiking with my 8-kg hike-and-fly bag far and flying near (down).  Since a few days, though, a dream of mine has materialised into the hybrid of the two, and this is how it’s shaping up my week days: 

Monday: hiked and flew a new peak on my home mountain.

Wednesday: another new one.

Thursday: got a call from the mechanic that my broken car is ready, so I hiked up again and flew directly there.  

And Friday, with Veso, who got a similar X-Alps-style kit, we hiked high up in the Rila mountain, then fly-toured the heart of it almost as easily as if it were summer, and finally crossed over to the flatlands, landing at the local hot springs, in which we soaked like the monkeys in Baraka.  These photos are from that day.

(I’m on the pink Zeolite GT and Ozium 2; Veso on the white Zeolite and F-Race.)

 

Low Save, High Focus

Low saves are fun!

So why am I shouting “ne!” (“no!” in Bulgarian) over and over in this video? Because I’m in the middle of one of four FAI triangle record attempts I did last week, it’s the middle of the day, and I’m refusing to obey this stupid law of gravity, which appears to be at such odds with my ambitions. Continue reading

The Step – 6000m at Lalibela, Ethiopia

After a week of driving and flying over giant canyons and plateaus, we had reached the end of the Ethiopian highlands.  Now, 2000m above that last 4000m ridge, we were riding the better side of a giant step in the atmosphere.  To the east, the terrain was dropping towards the lowlands of east Ethiopia and the sub-sea-level volcanoes in the Danakil depression, then the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.  So we were flying at the meeting point of two great air masses – the dry one of the highlands and the moist one of the Indian Ocean – and our cloud base was 2000m higher than the sea of cumulus in our feet; we were at 6000m!   Continue reading

How races start, hopefully again this summer

And as the start approaches, each of 150 pilots focuses on all the others, that’s how our minds get super powers, connecting into that web, that super body, a collective organism naturally staying high and optimally placed, we all swirling on and on and on, and fighting for position but as gentlemen and friends, and when we hear the beep from our cockpits that means “GO NOW!” we all together turn like sunflowers, all facing in the same direction now and diving into our first glide and into the day’s adventure Continue reading

6000 meters in Ethiopia

The axis of desire rotated to 90 degrees, this XC flight was not about distance, but height.  From the takeoff at 2800m, up to the 6000m cloud base, down to the 3600m village where we stopped to say hi to the locals, and finally off again at sunset to the 2000m valley floor, which even with the sun gone was sending 3m/s thermals in the near-darkness – we sliced through that day like knives through layered cake. Continue reading

Ode to the Crowd

A crowd is a force of nature.  And in Ethiopia, it’s a mighty one!  

So (assuming you’re white like me) try dropping down from the sky under a colorful piece of fabric in any rural Ethiopian area, where the locals have rarely, or never, seen a white person, never mind a paraglider(!), and watch what happens! Continue reading

Mother Goose (A Day of XC Guiding in Lalibela, Ethiopia)

Talk about a glass ceiling.  There’s an inversion at the level of the high plateau (3500m) and we keep bobbing in the turbulence below it, hitting our heads at the lid while trying different escape routes up, and it takes some time but finally three of us pierce through and suddenly we are at four thousand meters, then five, and then some more, while the air magically turns to butter and the sky opens to our wishes. Continue reading

Into the Savana

Longonot volcano. Photo: Niki Yotov

Fun fact about the African male buffalo (told to me by a local ranger): when they are a part of a pack, they have female mates, so for understandable reasons their testosterone levels are regulated and therefore they behave as calmly and safely to humans as cows; however, when a stronger male kicks another male out of the pack, this latter outcast can no longer copulate, so his testosterone (and therefore aggression) reaches such critical levels that he would attack and try to gore any human in sight for no reason other than his sexual frustration.   Continue reading