Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Paragliding Porterville

You guessed it. This post is about paragliding. So if you aren't into flying, my apologies. Still you find some things in this post that you can relate to... Like finding yourself doing something new because you're in a new place. At least that's part of my story. Well, this post. Anyway, here goes.

We are in the small town of Porterville, host to the Paragliding World Cup in 2013 and home to some 9,000 people and countless cows and sheep. Just east of the town there is a lovely mountain range which is great for paragliding in west, southwest and maybe even northwest (we didn't get any days like that) winds.

We arrived here last Wednesday after an all-day drive from Wilderness, a little town on the southern coast of South Africa where we'd been enjoying easy coastal flying for several days. Thursday morning we got to see just what Porterville had to offer! We got a brilliant site intro from local Bradley and then met our driver for the day, Kobus, who drove us in our little car up the mountain to launch.

On launch at Pampoenfontein, the southern launch for Porterville. The blue carpet is anchovy fishing net!

After quite a bit of parawaiting, several Swedes launched, then Joshua and finally it was my turn. I was nervous to be the only lady pilot, and the only uni-lingual person, left on launch. My first attempt resulted in a frontal collapse, following by some brief dragging along the netted launch site. But I was fine, nothing more than a bruised ego and a little nerves. After a few others launched, I tried again and had a lovely launch.

As most everyone else was miles ahead of me or headed back up the mountain to relaunch, I essentially flew solo along the ridge, making the best of every thermal, for 10km until I hit "teenage," a pointy little mountain marking the beginning of the safe-to-go-over-the-back zone for crossing into the Citrusdal Valley to the east.

Heading north down the ridge.

I got as high as I could (about 1500m), told Josh I was making a go for it and then turned my glider to the east heading for the valley beyond. I didn't make it very far, but I was super excited to have crossed the mountains and made the valley, landing 22km from where I started.

View out over Citrusdal Valley. Beautiful flatlands!

Josh, of course, flew over me and beyond -- all the way to Clan William, the top destination for XC pilots launching from Porterville. Some 80km: past the town of Citrusdal, the crux move of Constriction where there is no safe place to land for 4km, and then the long stretch up to Clan William. I was both so proud and so jealous of him, especially after the grueling hour-long car ride along a dirt road to retrieve him.

Friday turned out to be a no fly day for us. The winds weren't quite right and I was afflicted by a bad case of travelers crap, so it all worked out for the best.

Saturday was another lovely day of paragliding, with me outflying all the boys on our first flight and then making it to Citrusdal on my second flight, again finding the thermals on my own with only the help of a few eagles here and there. This 37km flight helped me see the skills that I've been developing and realize that even when I fly alone, I hear the voices of my mentors in my mind reminding to me to look for wind-blown trees that might indicate lift, hug the mountain slopes facing directly into the wind, fly with the birds, spot the clouds as they are forming, be careful not to get blown back, use my speed bar to glide faster in sink, feel the thermals and visualize their shape and where they are tracking, and to shake out my shoulders and legs when I'm getting I'm too tense.

The boys who were excited to see me land and helped me fold and pack up my glider in Citrusdal.

With all this new-found appreciation for how far I've come, I took the leap on Sunday and was the first to launch. As the only girl, and the pilot on the lowest-performance glider, it felt a little silly to launch first. But I was ready, eager and the winds were fine. The boys were just being slow and everyone was trying to avoid being first. So I put on my big girl pants, as my sister would say, and went for it. And I had a beautiful launch, followed by a 2 1/2 hour flight north along the ridge, ultimately landing side by side with my hubby who launched after me. :)

Today again I launched first. And while I didn't have the most epic flight of the day -- I'll reserve that for hubby who flew south along the ridge and landed at the lodge -- I did get to see even more of my new skills in action. After getting tired of being bumped around in the trashy ridge thermals, I headed out to the flatlands, thinking I would land... Only to find a buoyant thermal in the valley with soft edges and good lift. I took that thermal back up to mountain height and continued my trek downwind for another couple kilometers, before eventually landing a ranch field, strategically devoid of any cattle.

Feeling good, flying alone.

Although I miss my girls -- those from college who shared our annual girls weekend without me, those who fly with me in Pacific Northwestern skies, and those who have just been there for me forever -- I am delighted to know that I can find a respected place amongst the boys when flying XC in South Africa.



  1. Awesome flying, Michelle! You sound as if you are having SO much fun! I am totally enjoying and appreciating your posts, as we start getting organized for our trip to Africa.

  2. I love the mid-flight shots! More more more!

  3. Having so much fun! Good for you.