Sunday, 18 March 2018

Accidents Happen - But It's All Fine!

Day 5 was going to be an amazing day! The skies were the clearest they'd been yet and we had spectacular views of the Annapurna range and Machapuchare. I was looking forward to getting in the air. Although also a bit nervous as Claudio had another short XC challenge for us if conditions allowed. 

We headed up a little bit later than usual to let the first wave of tandem pilots get launched. Starting later meant we would hopefully have better conditions for our first flight. 
Lots of wings (mostly tandem) already in the air as we drove past the Sarangkot launch.

But despite arriving later, there was still a big crowd of tandems at the Toripani launch site. We patiently waited until they cleared the area.

In our group, Ronald (an experienced acro pilot and instructor) always launched first so that he could be in the LZ when Dima, a brand new pilot, was ready to land and talk him in over the radio. This day was no different. Claudio helped Dima launch and was talking him through some turns as he headed out to the LZ. Andrew launched right after and was soon getting some good lift along the ridge. I was hurrying to get ready to take off as well. While some of the launch area is fairly smooth, there are some rough patches including about a 2-foot drop off before it levels off again. In my rush, I managed to trip over a rough patch and fall face first into the ground.

I knew right away that something wasn't right but I figured that, as per usual, I'd just take a couple minutes to shake it off and be good to go again. Claudio immediately rushed over and despite my, "I'm okay. I'm okay." told me not to get up, to just take it easy for a few minutes. To his credit, he never asked if I thought I might be able to walk off because I probably would have tried it!

Meanwhile, Andrew was in the air so I asked Claudio to let him know I was okay so that he wasn't looking down at me laying on the ground and wondering what the heck was going on.

As I laid on my back, I moved my ankle up and down and could feel it sort of "click". Then I moved it side to side and it "clicked" . . . and stayed there. Ohhhh, that's not good! I managed to "click" it back into normal position and just left it there. At that point I figured it might be broken. And even admitted out loud that this was my thought.

The end of the road is about 300m from the actual launch location. At this point there's a building with a spine board hooked on the side. (As noted, it's a very busy launch site and accidents do happen!) Claudio sent someone to get the board. He asked if I wanted something under my knee to support it. "No, I'm fine," I said. Claudio ignored me and put something under my knee. This made it feel much better.

Once the spine board arrived, they carried me over to the side. Again Claudio asked if I wanted something under my knee to support it. "No, I'm fine," I said. Claudio ignored me and put something under my knee. This made it feel much better.

Our driver, Kem, had already headed down to the LZ to pick everyone up. Andrew kept his flight short, landed, and they all came back up to launch. But it's a long drive of an hour or more. And, of course, by this time, there was a whole new wave of tandems going so we waited for them to get out of the way.

To get into the shade, I was on one of the many side paths that people use to walk behind the bushes and go pee before they launch. It smelled vaguely of urine. Claudio's wife, Elena, turned many people away and sent them on another path. (And thank you to Elena for the next two photos.)

As I lay there, a fellow pilot and doctor, Tom, who we'd met the day before, came over to have a look. He asked me a few questions and felt at the side and over top of my boot (ouch!). He said, "Oh, you did quite the number there. At the very least, you've pulled some ligaments quite badly." Of course, I latched onto that and figured maybe it wasn't as bad as I first thought. I was already planning how Andrew could still fly, I'd tag along and watch and so on. I knew I wouldn't be going on the planned two-week hike but we could do other things!
Waiting on the pee path.
Once our whole group was back at launch and the tandems were out of the way, they carried me back to the vehicle on the spine board. Ronald tied the laces of my boots together to secure my foot and keep it from moving. I wasn't thrilled with this idea. In fact, in a slightly panicked voice I said, "No, no, no! Don't tie my feet together!" He ignored me. (Are you sensing a pattern here?) Despite the rough terrain and a bit of up and down, they did a great job carrying me. I was surprised that something as quick and easy as tying my boot laces together really did secure my foot well enough that it didn't hurt to be moved. 

Once back at the vehicle, I managed to hop up on one leg and into the back seat. Again, Claudio asked if I wanted something under my knee to support it. "No, I'm fine," I said. Claudio ignored me and put something under my knee. This made it feel much better.

We first went to a private clinic. Which was on the second floor of a building with no elevator so I was carried up the stairs in a wheelchair. I got x-rays done and they confirmed I broke a bone but we had to go to the local hospital to see a doctor. (All the doctors at the clinic were away at a conference.) I figured, okay, they'll put a cast on, Andrew can still fly and I'll tag along. It will all be fine!

I often live in denial like this so you can imagine how shocked I was when the doctor at the hospital (an orthopaedic surgeon), within about 30 seconds of meeting him, advised I had not one, but two!! broken bones, would require surgery and a 5-day stay in hospital. Ummmm, let me think. No!

The doctor put a half cast on (to allow for swelling) and we had time to make some decisions.

Luckily, Andrew has two radiology doctor friends and they were a tremendous asset. He emailed the x-rays to them and both confirmed the type of break and that surgery was required. One of them, who lives in B.C. even consulted with one of his orthopaedic surgeon friends and we were able to make well informed decisions about what to do. (Keep foot elevated, drink lots of water, and get back to Saskatoon. Surgery within a week or so would still be fine.)

Meanwhile, our travel agent, Faces of the Sea (because we'd also booked a couple weeks of scuba diving), was absolutely amazing!! Thank goodness we didn't book our own flights online! Over the course of about 6 hours as Andrew emailed back and forth with his doctor friends and we kept increasing the distance we wanted to travel to get surgery . . . Kathmandu? Hong Kong? Vancouver? Or can we get all the way back to Saskatoon? They just went with the flow, adding each leg of the flights home as we made decisions and getting us upgrades to business and first class. (We didn't know the incredible deals they got for us on these upgrades until long after we got home. Hundreds of dollars vs the thousands of dollars it would/should have cost!)

The accident happened on a Thursday; we arrived back in Saskatoon at midnight on Saturday; Royal University Hospital emergency on Sunday; surgery on Friday where there were lots of metal things involved.

At my first follow up appointment two weeks later, the surgeon was very pleased with how things were progressing. Five additional weeks of non weight bearing until I get the latest cast removed and I can start regaining some mobility . . . I'll be fine just in time for summer!

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Thermals, XC and Flying in the Rain

Andrew calls it "tandemonium" -- the launch craziness of busy tandem businesses!
Another mostly cloudy and overcast day meant that Day 2 of paragliding in Nepal was a fairly mellow day. Three flights, mostly sled rides but still such amazing scenery from the air.
A fairly common traffic jam on the road up to Sarangkot where the launches around Pokhara are located. It takes patience and lots of help from friends to organize the almost inch-by-inch move to get vehicles around the corners. Amazingly, no one has road rage!

After an overnight rain, Day 3 dawned mostly clear and bright. We got to launch just before four van-loads of tandem pilots and their passengers. We knew conditions would only get better as the day went on so we just sat back while they launched and then we had the place to ourselves for a short time.

I didn't get much lift right off launch and as I headed out where other people had seemed to catch some thermals, I wasn't getting much there either. I was annoyed! But then I managed to find a reasonably nice one and worked it, worked it, worked it, with Claudio's guidance on the radio.

Andrew had launched before me and didn't get anything at first either. It looked like he was heading out to land already. It would have been one of the few times I actually got something to work and he didn't! But he did a great job scratching and scratching along a ridge lower down and by the time I was heading out, he was managing to get higher and higher! He ended up landing just a minute after I did.

It doesn't seem like paragliding should be hard work. You're just sitting there after all. But when you're new to it, holding your arms up and tensing shoulders for that amount of time meant that I was tired after just the first flight, not to mention the exhausting mental part of the game.

As we headed back up for a second flight, I debated what I wanted to do. It finally came down to some self-talk: "Getting thermal practice and trying some cross country is what you came for, Shelley, so don't be a wimp! Just do it!"

The idea was for Andrew and I to launch first and then Claudio would launch on his tandem wing with a new paragliding pilot/student, Dima, that he's been instructing this week. Andrew and I both silently wondered how the heck this was going to work with so many other wings in the air but it actually went fairly well, at least to start. Andrew launched first and immediately got up high along the main ridge. It took me a while longer but we managed to sort of keep an eye on each other until I got high enough and Claudio and Dima launched. We all got over Sarangkot (further along the ridge) but then I thought it was Andrew and Claudio I saw back over closer to launch. I headed that way but Claudio kept telling me to  go back to Sarangkot. It wasn't until after we landed that I figured out they had moved yet further east along the ridge and it was totally different people on similar wings that I saw by launch. Oh well! We all landed at a new-to-us LZ and I celebrated one of the few little XC (cross country) flights I've done. I even managed to hold my own for a short time in the big gaggle of pilots above the more popular Sarangkot launch.
Lots of wings above Sarangkot.
I think that's Andrew's wing between the lines of mine.
Water buffalo in the LZ. Take care on landing! Don't get your wing caught in one of those horns!
Today (Day 4) dawned clear and bright and we figured we'd be in for a good day. On the first flight I again wasn't having much luck (or more accurately, skill!) with the thermals and every time I turned I was getting closer to terrain than I was comfortable with so tried some figure 8 turns until I was able to get a bit higher. It was another fun flight! 
Claudio and his wife, Elena, on the tandem wing on the left; Andrew on the right, coming in above the LZ.
That's one way to keep the leading edge from blowing away!
(Packing up in the LZ.)
As the day progressed, things quickly became over-developed. Andrew had a good launch on the second flight but then it started blowing over the back for a brief time and started spitting rain. It stopped, the wind changed and I managed to get launched only to have it start raining a bit harder. But the thermals were amazing! I was up, up, up in no time. But it was also a bit scary. It wasn't long before Claudio told both of us to head out to the valley and to the LZ. He and Elena and Dima waited a long time at the top but it never did calm down enough for them to fly. 

My view along the ridge down to the LZ with Fewa Lake and Pokhara in the distance.
The rainy, cloudy afternoon view from our hotel room.
A photo of the two of us in honour of Valentine's Day! :-)

Sunday, 11 February 2018

First Flights in Nepal

We got our first paragliding flights in Nepal yesterday!

In the morning, we had to wait for our paragliding permits to be issued and with not having flown since October, our bags having been packed for a week, and not wanting to try to sort everything out with a bazillion other pilots on launch, we spent a couple hours by the lake getting organized and kiting. It felt good to do a some inflations and turns on the ground to get rid of the nerves. Ok, some of the nerves!

We were humbled by the ~10 yr old Nepali kid, who was kiting like the wing was just an extension of his arms, who asked if we wanted paragliding lessons. "I can help you out, brother," he said to Andrew. :-)
Andrew just after launching
From where we were by the lake, we saw the mass of mostly tandem pilots in the air and can't say we were too excited about trying to fly in that! Yikes! Claudio (our guide/instructor from Air Adventure in Drayton Valley) assured us that we could launch in between the peak times for the tandems. 

But we actually launched from a place a bit further along the ridge (Toripani) and thankfully there weren't too many pilots flying in that area. It was a bit cloudy and hazy and I didn't have much luck with the light thermals but, fighting a headache most of the day, I was happy with a ~20 minute flight. As always, Andrew was up longer and managed to do quite well, getting high enough to go back and forth along the main ridge.
I love the look of all the terraced slopes.
Looking back toward the ridge where the launch areas are.
The end of the ridge down to the landing zone. You can see wings in the LZ, far right, middle of photo.

Andrew coming in to land.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

The Garden of Dreams and the Monkey Temple

We are back in Nepal! My 6th time and Andrew's 7th.

We only had a couple days in Kathmandu before heading to Pokhara, where we will be paragliding for two weeks, so we went to our favourite places . . . the Garden of Dreams and the Monkey Temple (more formally known as Swayambhunath). And the monkeys are considered holy because "Manjushri, the bodhisattva of wisdom and learning ... was supposed to leave his hair short but he made it grow long and head lice grew. It is said that the head lice transformed into these monkeys."

Other favourite things . . . fresh lemon soda, banana lassi, prayer flags, and very friendly people that make Nepal what it is.

Fresh lemon soda at the Garden of Dreams

This sign outside a restaurant gave us a laugh! Anyone who's had to choke down dal bhat for weeks on end on a climbing expedition can relate! 
Any electricians in the crowd that would like to tackle this mess?
It's like this on every street corner! 
Just a couple of the many monkeys on the long flight of steps leading up to the entrance of the temple.
Only half way there!

Prayer wheels
Construction work

Waiting to business to pick up

Climbing up to string a new line of prayer flags.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Victoria Peak and Nan Lian Gardens

It's amazing that, in a city filled with masses of people, in just a few minutes you can get to a place where you all you can hear are the birds singing and the leaves rustling amongst the trees. This place is Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. Sure, it only lasts for a short time but it's peaceful and the views are amazing.

We went through the peak gardens and to the highest point of the peak where where is a lookout and then found a side trail to get us back to the main trail that goes around the peak.

A quiet side trail on Victoria Peak.
View from the highest lookout. A cloudy, hazy day.
Looking down on some of the Central Hong Kong high-rises and over to Kowloon.
Details on a high-rise building
Reflections in a mirrored wall of Central high-rise.
We were leaving Hong Kong in the evening so we took all our luggage to the Airport Express Station in Central Hong Kong in the morning (Which is awesome! Drop bags off early and don't have to deal with them at the airport.) and then took the subway over to Kowloon where we went to the Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery

On the way to Kowloon, Andrew and I had one of those classic movie moments where one person (Andrew) gets on the subway at the last moment and the doors close with the other person (me) still standing on the platform! Luckily, we'd just discussed where we needed to switch lines; I mouthed the words "Mong Kok" to confirm with Andrew which station we would meet at and only a few minutes later we were reunited! 

At Nan Lian Gardens -- again such a contrast between old and new, peace and chaos.
Transplanting at the gardens.

A spotted dove
Intricate designs on the roof of the nunnery.