Sunday, 23 August 2015

Visiting Victoria

Family, good food, wine tastings and beautiful scenery!

Since we hadn't seen Andrew's sister, Clare, for almost two years, we decided to take a slight detour from our U.S. vacation and head up to Victoria for a couple days. We took the Victoria Clipper, a passenger ferry, and left the car in Seattle.

With Andrew's other sister, Penny, also in Victoria right now, it was a family reunion. Yes, a very small family compared to the Ballard clan!
I always love the colourful houseboats in Victoria Harbour.
Along the harbour walkway.
At Muse Winery . . . before.
Family photo!
Before . . .
Gorgeous sunset views, along the Songhees walkway.
Trees along the Songhees walkway.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Discovery Park - Seattle

Discovery Park is a little slice of quiet in the hustle and bustle of Seattle. Just a 30-minute bus ride from downtown, the park has several miles of trails. After a day of shopping I was ready for something a little more peaceful. Andrew is at a computer conference for three days so I've got some time to myself.

I spent the better part of the day hiking the trails, meandering along the rocky beach and playing with the attachable iPhone camera lenses that Andrew had gotten as a freebie from one of the vendors at the conference.

Lots of different kinds of birds and great views.
A snake on the trail (I was a bit too slow with the camera to get his whole body.)
A variety of terrain . . . meadows, forest, beaches.
The lenses were a bit finicky to deal with but definitely provided for some different photos than what I normally take. 

Wide angle lens helped to get more of the tall trees into the photo.

The fisheye lens provides a unique perspective.
Fisheye plus "noir" filter.

Fisheye vs regular photo -- definitely a different perspective. 

I found the macro lens the hardest to use. You have to get really close, hold the camera very steady and have a non-moving subject. The photos I tried to take of plants didn't turn out very well due to the slight breeze. 
Tree bark
A nail in wooden step.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Paragliding Jackson Hole

We spent the past three days paragliding in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Unknown to us, it’s a tandem paragliding hotspot. There’s about 15 tandem pilots working each day and, on an average day, they’ll each get three to five (or more) flights with clients. With the launch and landing sites both within view of Teton Village and, in particular, the tram that goes up Rendezvous Mountain, there’s definitely a captive audience. The first couple rounds of the day fill up quickly and, once the rush is over, the pilots wait at the top and try to round up business. Although it often seemed like organized chaos as the office staff got clients to sign waivers and pair them up with the tandem pilots, it was a well-run operation.
The tram used to get up to the launch site.
The first tram of the day always has very large pile of gliders in the middle!
As new (and relatively inexperienced) pilots in the area, the first day we were assigned a guide, Stephan, to give us a site briefing and make sure we got launched ok. Despite being nervous (as always!), I did ok with both launches and landings. Andrew wasn’t quite so happy with his.

There isn’t much for thermals in this area in the mornings so all of our flights were about 15-18 minute sled rides. Which suited me just fine. Normally, the winds pick up after the first flight of the day and are then too strong for pilots of our experience. Or the winds are coming from the wrong direction for novice pilots (which happened this morning on what we were hoping would be our fourth day of flying here). The locals told us many times how lucky we were getting in as many flights as we did.

Launch area for the solo pilots.
Amazing views. Can you spot the other paragliders? 
The Grand Teton. Andrew and I climbed it many years ago!
Mostly what I remember is the very difficult route finding on the way down. 
On the second day, they didn’t have any spare tandem pilots to be our “guide” so they let us go on our own. Stephan still kept an eye on us for the first flight and had us launch before him as he prepared to fly with his client.

After three flights going quite well and thinking I had the landings cased, I totally screwed up!
So true!!!!!
I’d come in a bit high each of the first three times but still managed to hit the landing zone fairly well. The fourth time I was trying to lose some altitude before coming in . . . and lost height way too fast. I landed on a road in the middle of the construction area beside the landing zone. Fortunately, the truck that I was sure I was going to collide with stopped and let me land before he kept going. I thought he was going to stop and say something but he passed by without even looking my way.

I meekly gathered up my wing and tromped past construction workers (who also didn’t even glance my way) and found a place to hop some rocks to cross the stream that separated the new condo development from the landing area. One of the local solo pilots who was very friendly and talkative assured me this was not an unusual occurrence for novice pilots and told me about the various places he’d landed while learning. Hence, no one really paying much attention to the odd place I’d ended up. Having said that, both Andrew and I got some stern advice on landings from one of the tandem pilots.

On our third day it was very grey, cloudy and rainy. But the rain showers came and went. . . and came and went. We all went to the top of the tram and waited things out. A couple tandem pilots launched between each of the rain showers until they were eventually all gone. 

More rain coming!
Tandem pilots launching and getting ready to launch between rain showers.
Andrew and I and few other solo pilots waited until the weather was a bit more stable.  Our first flights went well. On the second round, I managed to get launched and had a good flight but unfortunately the wind changed direction before Andrew could get launched. He waited quite a while but ended up having to come down on the tram.

Despite not getting in a fourth day of flying and only getting relatively short flights in, I quite enjoyed our time in Jackson.

- Andrew's second blog post on paragliding at Jackson.

Places we liked to eat and drink:
- Teton Thai
- Lotus Cafe
- The Kitchen
- Jackson Hole Coffee Roasters
- Bin 22 Wine Bar


Sunday, 9 August 2015

High Season in Yellowstone

In the short time that Andrew and I have been paragliding, we've found that one of the biggest obstacles is finding a way to get to the launch point and still have our vehicle at the landing zone. You either have to know people, get to know people, find a shuttle or figure "something" out at each new destination. And it's always good to get a site briefing from someone local who knows the site to get beta on any particular hazards.

We've had mixed luck on how welcoming people are when we contact them by email so, in an effort to simplify things a bit, we were looking for places that had systems already in place. Jackson, Wyoming, was one of them. A gondola to the launch site and guides available to go up with you, provide site briefing, etc. It's a bit more expensive but, to us, the ease of organizing is worth a few extra dollars.

Normally, we tend not to travel too much in high summer season but with Andrew having a conference in Seattle in mid-August, we decided a road trip should be done. Unfortunately, our "let's just wing it" travel style doesn't translate well during high summer season.

After the first long day of driving, we arrived in Livingston, Montana, in the pouring rain and there was not a hotel room to be had for many miles around. We checked a few campgrounds and finally found one with a group site. $10 later we had a place to rest our heads.

Driving through Yellowstone National Park was yet another reminder of why we don't travel high season. Too many people, too many vehicles, too much road construction. Ugh!

But the landscape is beautiful despite the frustrations.

Yellowstone River
Gorgeous shades of red.
Who owns the road? This big guy does! 
Hello there. I think I'm just going to close the window now so your big horn doesn't get me!

(Andrew, able to lean out the car window, got a better photo of the bison walking down the road. 

In addition to lack of or minimal vacancy, the other high season frustration is cost. We paid an absolutely ridiculous amount of money to guarantee us a mediocre hotel room for tonight but luckily have managed to find a campground for the next few. 

The past couple days have been a bit windy and rainy but we're hoping for calm skies tomorrow for our first day of paragliding in Jackson!