Friday, 30 October 2015

Hello Loreto!

Ahhhh, it's so good to be back in Loreto. One of our favourite dive spots on the Baja Peninsula. It's a relatively quiet little town located on the Sea of Cortez. Just busy enough to have some nice restaurants and coffee shops but small enough that it's not too touristy.

Having said that, we stopped by Dolphin Dive to get set up for our first diving tomorrow and chatted with dive masters Raphael and Joel. (Joel is also a kayak guide we have been on two trips with.)

We wondered why there were so many staff around and Joel advised they had 42 (yes, 42!!) divers the past couple days! Some big international group. Yikes! So glad we missed that! Thankfully it will be back to the usual 4-6 divers tomorrow.
At the marina, watching the brown pelicans diving for fish.
There are a couple new statues along the malecon since we were here.

Hibiscus popsicles. Yum!
Pedestrian street, heading away from the water toward the town square. The place we're staying, Santo Nino, is the white building in the centre of the photo.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Santa Barbara Zoo

On Monday, we took a rest day from paragliding and went to the Santa Barbara Zoo, which is regularly ranked as one of the best small zoos in North America. Andrew posted his fabulous photos and provided some tips about taking photos at the zoo. 

In addition to seeing all the animals, one of the things I love about zoos and aquariums is their focus on education about the the health and safety of all living creatures and sustainability of our environment.

Here's just a few things the zoo is doing, along with similar suggestions about what we all can do. 

Each of the displays have a sign with information about the animals as well as information on what you can do to help protect those animals in their natural environments. Here are just a few examples. 

"Jeans for Giraffes" is an interesting initiative where you can donate your old denim jeans. The denim is recycled (turned into insulation) and the money received goes to support giraffe research and protection in Africa.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Santa Barbara Sunrises

We've gotten up early and gone running or walking along the waterfront almost every morning since arriving in Santa Barbara. I can't stop taking photos of the gorgeous sunrises! 

Sand City

Another early morning message from Craig that it might be soarable at Sand City. No guarantees but he put the offer out. We hummed and hawed for a bit. Did we want to drive four hours on a gamble? We checked with Chris and Lorenzo and it looked like the only other thing on the agenda was the Elings training hill. Too overcast for Pine Mountain which is one of the places we really want to fly this trip! Sand City it was.

The trip there was humorous! All along the way, Craig was looking at the direction of the flags, how fast the wind turbines were moving, and getting Andrew to call the "wind talker" at the top of every hour for updates. He was like a little kid in his excitement to get there and potentially flyyyyy! It was a roller coaster ride of emotions thinking things were "on," "off," "on," "off." We really didn't know if we'd be able to fly until we got there.

At first, winds were light. Once Craig figured it was strong enough to soar, he took off and Andrew and I got launched shortly thereafter. We both got a couple short but reasonable flights. Andrew, the star student, even managed to get high enough to "cross the gap" in the dunes.

However, as the winds got stronger (and the soaring got better) it was more and more difficult for us  (especially me) to launch and land. As Craig said, we "paid a few dues" but at the same time learned a lot by getting dragged around a bit. Thankfully, getting dragged through sand is relatively low risk. Also thankfully, scuba diving is on the agenda next week so that by the time we get home I should have all the sand out of my ears!

Sand City dunes
Craig and Andrew waiting for the winds to pick up to soaring speed.
Craig waiting patiently and kiting up and down the hill.

Craig soaring!
On a positive note, it really was a great learning experience. Most of the time that I got dragged, I immediately knew what I did wrong and hopefully can correct it next time. Craig also taught us a few new tricks that will be of benefit the next time.

Such a great, humbling, experience!

Saturday, 24 October 2015

VOR and More Mesa

We were having coffee Thursday morning when we got a message from Craig that things were looking good for flying VOR. Yessss!!!

We met him at "The T", left his car behind and gathered into our rental SUV for the drive up to launch. (Yes, I know! Strange for Andrew and I to be driving anything but a Prius.) This is where we had our first mountain flight back in March so we were familiar with the area. On that occasion, winds were light and we just got a sled ride to the landing zone. We were hoping for something a bit longer this time.

Craig made sure Andrew and I got launched ok and then he joined us in the air. It was a bit bumpy but I managed to find a few little thermals along the ridge and started getting some height. I could see Andrew lower and further along the ridge. Despite the bumpy ride, I was feeling good about getting higher.

But .... there's that saying .... "Confidence is that feeling you get just before you fully understand the situation." Yep. Five minutes into the flight I made a turn and one side of my wing collapsed (at least I think that's what happened) and I was falling out of the sky. I managed to recover, my wing re-inflated and suddenly I was being flung upwards with my wing behind me. I remembered "hands up!!" and managed to recover a second time.

After that heart-racing experience (to put it mildly) I headed straight for the landing zone which was still quite some distance away. A few minutes later I was calm enough to get my camera out and take a couple photos but still felt just fine with my decision to run away and head in for landing. I ended with a 20 minute flight.
Checking the wind speed.

Heading to the landing zone. That nice big flat open area on the left.
Andrew had a flight of 55 minutes and managed to catch some really good thermals that got him up high. He could have stayed up longer but was starting to get a bit nauseous from the bumpy ride.

The next day we met Craig at a coastal flying site about a 15-minute drive from Santa Barbara called More Mesa. He was already flying when we got there and, after coming in to land, said it was quite strong. Probably stronger than we were experienced for. But he gave us lots of advice on what to do and what to watch for if we did decide to try it.

We watched him and another pilot (an Instructor from Eagle Paragliding) fly for a while and eventually Andrew gave it a go. After a couple false starts (with me close by to help grab lines in case things really went south) he launched no problem. The flying itself was great. They all went quite fast in one direction but very slowly in the other direction. The wind was strong enough that they got quite a bit of lift. Definitely didn't have to worry about sinking out.

In addition to the launch, the difficult part was trying to top land. And even Craig, very experienced at coastal flying, didn't make it look easy! There was always the option to land on the beach and hike back up (about a 100 ft cliff) but after the previous day's "excitement" I wasn't feeling confident enough to give it a try.

There were a few tricks to top landing: slowly come in quite low, below the top of the cliff; then let the wind lift you up and over the ground; and then quickly land and immediately bring the glider down before the wind could take you up and out again.

Andrew very patiently made several tries before successfully landing under Craig's guidance over the radio. He'll tell you it wasn't the most graceful landing but I was impressed with his perseverance.

Hopefully we'll have another opportunity to get there and I'll join them in the air!

Craig just after take off. 
From left to right: the instructor from Eagle Paragliding, Andrew, Craig

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Flying at Bates

Coming in to Santa Barbara on the train yesterday we were a bit worried about flying weather. We'd heard reports of torrential rain north of Los Angeles, flash floods and mud slides causing the I-5 to be shut down. We could see that traffic on Hwy 101 was moving at a snail's pace.

But after settling in to our home for the next couple weeks we emailed Chris (our instructor from Fly Above All) and learned things should turn around in the next day or two and planned to meet him and Lorenzo at the Elings Park training hill.

Kiting here was amazing!!! What a difference consistent winds can make! Unlike the wacky wild wind gusts we usually try to kite in at home. Seriously, it was the best either Andrew and I have ever kited.

We also got a few runs off the training hill while hoping that the clouds to the east clear off soon.
There are mountains there somewhere!
After lunch (tacos and smoothies, of course!) a couple other newer pilots and students of Chris' figured that Bates might be soarable so we decided to join them and headed about 20 minutes south to Carpinteria.

And sure enough, it was! We both had fun flights of about 20 - 30 minutes.
Andrew getting ready to launch at Bates.
Words of wisdom from Chris about flying this site:

1) Don't land on the highway.
2) Don't land on the railway tracks.
3) Don't land in the water.
4) Don't land on the people on the beach (fortunately, not too many of them there today.)

Andrew in flight.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Klamath Falls

To break up the train trip a little bit, we stopped for a couple days in Klamath Falls, Oregon. We rented a car and, the first day, headed to Crater Lake. It was absolutely stunning! The day was calm, warm and the water on the lake was like glass, making for very clear reflections.

Being off season, it was fairly quiet. Some short uphill hikes away from the vehicles meant we were usually on our own.

We didn't see a whole lot for birds and animals but a small black bear ran across the road in front of us as we were leaving the park.
Panorama . . . no way to get it all in one regular photo!

Klamath Falls is a well known migration route so we were hoping to see lots of birds. There are various locations but, on our second day, we headed south about 25 miles to the Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. And we did see lots of birds! Blue herons, pelicans, snowy geese, Canada geese, kestrel hawks, red tailed hawks, grebes, various ducks, seagulls, red-winged blackbirds and no doubt several others that I've missed. As well as a few deer and a muskrat. I didn't even try to take any photos with my little camera but Andrew took lots!

We also took a short hike near Lake Ewauna just on the edge of Klamath Falls.
Panorama view

Lots of beautiful fall colours.
 Next stop: Santa Barbara and paragliding!

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Portland - Favourite Places

Portland, Oregon, has always been one of our favourite cities. It’s changed a bit in the five years since we were last here. Known for leading the way in environmental and social initiatives, it’s definitely a walking, biking and transit-friendly place. Unfortunately the free transit zone in the downtown area is no longer in effect and, despite the social programs, homelessness seems much more prevalent.

The morning bike and walking commute and rapid transit train crossing the bridge.
I don’t think we’ve ever been to Portland without visiting the Oregon Zoo located in beautiful Washington Park. There is great use of the natural features of the landscape and, while there are many animals the enclosures are very large and spread out so it doesn’t feel like the animals are so “trapped.” There’s lots of construction going on in the area and I find it amazing that “In 2008, voters supported a $125 million zoo bond to advance animal welfare, increase sustainability and create opportunities for people to take action for wildlife.” * The first facility to be built was a new veterinary medical center equipped to meet the needs of all zoo animals and is a LEED Gold-certified building.
One of the zoo trails.
We did lots of walking along the Willamette River and had coffee and drinks/early supper at places with great views along the river. 

The following evening, although it was a Monday night, we were glad we made reservations for our favourite restaurant, the Veritable Quandary. The brie and squash ravioli was so delicious! Not to mention the chocolate soufflé.  :-) 

In the morning before we headed out again we made a quick trip to Powell's book store (largest book store ever!!) and the beautiful Chinese Gardens.

Mahjong tiles at the Chinese Gardens. They had people there that could teach you how to play.

The rapid transit stop was right beside our hotel and, at the other end, about a block from Union Station so, when leaving Portland, we decided to forego trying to fit all our bags in a taxi.
Too many bags! Will we ever learn not to do two gear-intensive sports in one trip???
* From a sign on the zoo grounds.