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Sorry it's been a few days since I have updated. I have been fighting off a head cold that has been going around camp but thanks to a friend (and Kiwi Pilot), Conrad, I started a run of antibiotics to combat the sinus infection that has resulted and I am feeling worlds better. We have had two days of called tasks because of high winds and storms (although both days people flew;-). The first called day I broke down and rode down the hill in a car which was a good opportunity to get healthy.

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit better so when the day was called early, I spent the morning enjoying the free flight festival that was going on in Laragne. It was cool to see everything from sail planes to RC air craft and there was even a scooter tow rigged to yank up paraglider and speed kite pilots into the air (even in the high winds). A few sky divers (some in wing suits) jumped in and landed there too. The organizers asked if we were willing to fly for a bit of a demo and because the launch conditions seemed totally reasonable, Jonny Durrand, Jeff, Zippy and I went up the hill with the current aerobatic champion (Sam) to have a fly. It was blowing around 20 and the thermals provided a nice combo of ridge and thermal lift. We took turns strafing launch and interacting with the folks standing on top for around 30 mins. At the beginning of my flight, Jonny got on the radio and said that Sam had just blown a loop over town and tumbled. He threw both chutes and by the time I looked towards where he was, they were both out and looked beautiful. He had a nice, soft landing in a good field. Apparently, it was really turbulent and in the climb out for his loop, he flew through a lumpy patch and lost a bunch of energy, stopping up side down. He took out an upright, his keel and his sail tore from the chute bridle. It was his 7th time under canopy. When the rest of us flew to town and over the LZ, it was indeed turbulent and none of us felt like looping. We did some mild spins and wingovers into our approaches. I was a little taken back when I heard my name being announced mixed with a bunch of excited french over the loud speaker while landing. There were people lined up to watch and after landing, I turned around to join them in watching the others land. We had some photos taken and broke down with smiles after a good flight with good friends.

Today, we finally had another task day. It was forecast to be light wind and strong lift so most of us were really excited. They called a barn burner of a 100 mile box that had us flying deep into the mountains. Today, timing was everything and I kind of blew it. Some days I am really upset at myself for not doing well because I feel like I made bad decisions and flew poorly. Today, I feel OK even though my flight was short. I will explain.

We started out with conditions that any mountain pilot dreams of. We climbed out quickly and easily and spent 40 minutes driving around cloud base, sometimes taking lift up the sides of clouds to much higher than base. It was a beautiful site to see over 100 gliders high among big, white cumulous congestous clouds. I wasn't in a great position for the first start and, although almost the entire field left on the first start, OB and I decided to stick around for another 20 minutes for the second. I was climbing back up with OB about 1000' over head when he came over the radio telling me to look over at a glider that had just dropped out of a cloud up side down with the pilot laying on the sail. I watch nervously as he spun with a broken outboard leading edge, up side down for a couple of thousand feet. I was yelling out loud for him to pull his chute (like he could hear me;-) and was relieved when I saw it finally come out clean only around 350 feet over the trees. I started to concentrate on my climbing again when I realized that there was only 2 more minutes until the second start and again I was in poor position. I found strong lift and made up some altitude quickly and was able to leave with Jeff. I was around 600' lower than him and when I stopped for a climb on the way to the first turn point, I reached base just under 4 ks out of the circle and there was only 6 or 7 minutes to the last start. The lift was strong and the clouds were working so I went back to get the last start. This turned out to be a MAJOR mistake. At first I felt good and was going fast. I quickly caught up to some pilots from the second start including Swiss Nick. We worked well together for a while until we started to notice the sky filling in and looking very dark. I was getting reports from Zippy that the climbs were still good and where he was in the course indicated that they were going very fast. Nick and I were finding totally different conditions. It was very soft with light lift, hardly any of the clouds seem to be working well and the ground was very shaded. We pushed hard and did our best but by the time we got close to the second turn point deep in the mountains, it was shaded out and we had a head wind from a cu nimb in front of us pulling up the valley. We were low and landed a couple of fields apart. I got sprinkled on while breaking down.

Back to my point about being disappointed. Some days, I feel like I fly poorly and my decisions are weak. These are the days that I spend a few moments in my LZ cursing and kicking the dirt (hang glider pilots version of a tantrum;-). Today, I made a decision to take a start that turned out to be a poor choice because I should have recognized the onset of overdevelopment. It was a decision that I committed to. That's hang gliding. After the decision was made, I felt like I flew the best I could and landed when conditions deteriorated. Both are examples of failure but both are a earned opportunity to learn valuable knowledge about how to be a better competitor. I am feeling humbled in these mountains and yet feel overwhelmingly lucky to experience this. We learn from our success but I have learned from years of climbing, failure happens far more often and is a necessary step towards learning the lessons that are required for success. Tomorrow is another day.

On a good note, Zippy smoked the course and placed in the top 5 for the day (I think). Nice work Zach! Dustin is also in and Jeff is still in the air, hopefully on his way.

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The social community dinners continue. Belinda cooked us up a sweet authentic french dish the other night.

The stars have been epic - now the new moon is visiting.

The town also has done a great job with festivities. The bon fire this year was just as fun as last. The town square is packed, they light a festive fire, and play music until late. We were all a bit slow the next morning.

Saturday was blown out, but the wind abated later in the afternoon. There's a free flight "convention" in the LZ this weekend. Vendors have come out to exhibit their gear and have an all day airshow. Everything from RC aircraft to an actual hang gliding carnival ride are out. A few of us were asked if we wanted to put on an impromptu exhibition.

checking out french HG harnesses.

Jeff, Zippy, Jonny, and I went up the hill and set up in reasonable winds. We actually could have had a task, the conditions seemed good.

HG simulator.

The french aerobatic champion launched first for his exhibition. Twenty minutes later as we launched, Jonny got on the radio to point out the french aero pilot had tumbled and was coming down under two parachute canopies.

I watched as the two canopies stayed perfectly inflated and the glider waffled down slowly to land in a open field. The pilot was fine.

The pilot's heart bolt.

This event put our perspective in check, and the air was heavily textured as we played in front of launch for each other. Great fun racing around with ubiquitous ridge lift. Everyone threw wingovers over launch and around each other.

torn sail from the parachute bridal.

Indeed the air was too heavily textured over the LZ for steep aerobatics, so everyone did wingovers down. Zippy went ahead and threw some steep stuff. The announcer had a bit of info for each of us and was excitedly calling out our landing approaches. It's nice landing in front of a cheering crowd. :)

I dropped in over the wheat field next to the LZ and dragged my foot through the crop. A bee flew in and stung me on the neck. Continued my skim and landed fine. Gotta pay attention regardless.

Airtime:45. Flights:1.

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some landings from today.

Pilot's meeting.

Day 5 started blowing up before we ever got in the air. They called the day before launch opened.

They allowed free flying, and I took a thirty minute flight, landing at camping. Rain squalls have been coming through all afternoon. At least we got some airtime.

Tonight is the bonfire in town. It was a drunken fest last year, we'll see what transpires.

Airtime:30. Flights:1.

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We went to Aspres' launch up north about 25km. An amazing launch with room for a thousand gliders and a "sound of music" rolling yodeling feel.

They called a 125 km task cross/tail down to the south well past Sisterone, and then back to camping.

Last year on Aspres, I stuck some flowers in my wires and made goal. I employed the same tactic yesterday.

I got off reasonably early, found great lift out in the middle of the valley and pressed way upwind with Balaz in an effort to get in prime position for the start.

Things worked out well. Everyone on the US team took the first start and I hung back for the second. There were about thirty of us milling around cloud base and it seemed the race was on. Lift was quite strong and the first couple of thermals took nerve to go for it in the crowd. I chose to not battle in the death gaggle and tried to find strong cores off to the side. I just wasn't gaining ground on pilots.

After the first turnpoint, I pressed ahead in an effort to catch up. I hit the strongest "wire slap" I've ever experienced. For two full seconds I was in free fall. The harness main went slack and I clamped down on the basetube. I had time to look over and see the vario hovering at a 45 degree angle at the mount hinge. I came down with a jolt to the main and a thwang. It frazzled me.

The flowers after an afternoon in the sky.

There were gliders climbing above, but I couldn't find a core. I took my lumps and ran way off courseline to the mountains. I knew there'd be lift over there despite being way off course.

The wind wasn't hitting the peaks perpendicularly, and I had to battle in the bowls. FINALLY 1000fpm broke off the highest peak, but it petered out earlier than I'd hoped. I kept moving around the range working windward faces. I was alone.

It stayed junky for a long time. I was getting dejected and just couldn't stay in the altitude power band. I tried to focus on just staying in the air and going how ever far off courseline it took to stay in the mountains. Eventually I got high again 12km before the second turnpoint and got round and back to the peaks.

I noticed I was now catching up. Our final leg into the wind would be a carbon copy of our last leg yesterday. I was intent on following the path I'd run the day before. The climbs were mostly in the same places. There was a gaggle of a dozen or more working junky lift over my head and I pressed in deeper where I'd hit a ripper yesterday and was rewarded with 1000fpm for a few turns. All the others dove in just above me.

This contraption showed up at camping last night. I'll take it.

It wasn't enough to overtake the gaggle, but I was making up ground. The headwind was a bit more today and the lift was a bit lighter, so we hung on and milked 300fpm over the last "shark fin" hill before the final valley crossing to goal.

I had 6.2 to 1 to goal and hit 1000fpm down. I wasn't going to make it! Hung on and arrived over the line in ground effect.

Airtime: 4:30. Miles: 75. Flights: 1.

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Today the forecast was for a west/ northwest wind that was to turn to southwest late in the day. The winds were supposed to be stronger on the ground than up high and there was to be the applicable valley flow which would turn out to be true and would make things quite difficult on the final glide. Because Chabre doesn't have a launch that works in a predominantly west wind, we went to the beautiful set up area of Aspres (about 10ks north of us). The launch is a stress free affair with green grass and wild flowers which was a welcome change from the rocky ground on top of Chabre. We set up and went through the task briefing and learned that we were to fly a long, slight dog leg with the first turn point on a feature we all refer to as the volcano located just to the north of the camping area and would continue on to a turn point in a gorge south, south east of Sisterone. After getting that turn point we would try to come back pretty much the same course line back to Laragne. It would be a long day and with the winds forecast to be strong on the ground, I wasn't sure if it would be easy with the Southwest that was supposed to roll in or if we would struggle in the 10-15 knot North west that was blowing while on launch.
No one on launch was extra keen to get off as the few guys who did launch early weren't making it look too easy to get high. Soaring was not an issue but the prospect of 130 guys fighting for position 1-200 feet over the ridge didn't seem too appealing. In the end we all piled off and the climbs were actually very good. Soon we had jumped across the valley and the gaggle began driving around cloud base waiting for the start times to turn over, all fighting for a good position. I thought about the weather briefing and the talk of potential over development and was keen for the first start. I was in good position and felt like I was in good company so went 2 or 3 seconds after the first gate rolled over. Jonny was off to my right, Atilla was with us and Blay was right next to me with Zippy just behind. We made a couple of fast glides to the first turn point and the gaggle went left toward the mountains and the clouds. Blay, Zippy and I went off into the blue and across the valley just to the east of the camp ground. It was a risk but if we found a good climb or two in the flats, we stood a chance to beat the gaggle to the second turn point. Zippy went off for a cloud that started to pop but didn't end up finding much. Blay and I had a good climb and made really good time across the flats although by the time we got to the mountains the gaggle was a little behind but higher so it wasn't long before they caught us. We worked well together across the mountains to and past Sisterone until our decisions divided and we split up. I ended up making a significant mistake at this point, passing up a climb just before the turn point with hopes that I could glide the 3 ks to tag it and turn around to get the climb on the way back. Several faster pilots had already snagged the turn point and passed me going the other way so I thought I would have company. As I dove in to get the turn point, I encountered a lot of sink and lost significant altitude which forced me to climb out from low on the ridge that I passed up costing me a lot of time. I went on glide feeling a bit discouraged but hooked back up with Thomas from Austria and we found a strong 5-6 mps climb to base. I was stoked to hear OB on the radio saying that he was under the same cloud just off to my left. We left together with him gliding into the mountains while telling me on the radio that it was the fastest line the previous day and that he thought the climbs would be stronger. For some reason, I slowly drifted away from him (at first only with the intention of spreading out) and felt like I was getting a better line although in hind site, it would have been much smarter to stay with him. He is flying exceptionally well and we would have been stronger as a team of two but after a certain point, I was committed to my decision. This was the second and MOST costly mistake I made today. I got really low in front of the ridge to the east of Sisterone and had to literally claw my way in ridge lift and thermals back to peak height to where I could properly climb out. It took almost an hour, I think (at least it felt like it was that long;-( but I managed to climb to a 9.6-1 into goal. I left with 16ks to go at slightly faster than best glide. My numbers were good and got better while I was high but as I descended into the valley flow and the west turned to a dreaded north west (headwind) my glide angle quickly became 4-1 or less. It felt like I was flying a standard as opposed to my race wing. I HAD to stop for a few turns in weak lift with less than 3 ks to go because I was not going to make it by 500 m. I ended up crossing the goal line with 10 feet and landed 30 feet past it. I wasn't the last into goal but there weren't too many after me. Ha ha. Once again, tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to learn and do better. Zippy, OB and Dustin all made it in as well and Davis landed 16 ks short on the west side of the river in Sisterone (as I think many did).
My impression of this place is that although it is by far the most beautiful place I have ever raced in, it is absolutely unforgiving of bad decisions and will make you pay for them like no place I have ever flown. The valleys orient in every direction and the mountains are random in a way that it's sometimes hard to keep track of the side that is wind ward because the valley flow is often a different direction than the predominant wind direction. This keeps you making decisions not only based on the sky and terrain but also in regards to your altitude. It's extremely technical and challenging. I really like it but still have a lot to learn about this beautiful place.

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A 100 mile out and return tour around valleys was called. Launch time was 12:45. I was #2 in the ordered launch. At the last minute, I realized I'd left my phone in the van more than a mile away. I sprinted down to the van, and thankfully flagged down a car for a ride back up the hill. I would have never made it in time otherwise.

Was frazzled as I got up to launch and balked for a couple of minutes before I punched off. Climbed up fine. It was cold aloft and I just boated around low not wanting to freeze prematurely. It would be almost two hours before I'd take the start.

As the start approached, I was with Dustin and Gerolf among others. Gerolf pushed out to the west as a bunch of gliders came in from the east. I let him go and hooked up with Jonny and 900fpm with a ton of other pilots. We left when things went to 400fpm.

Zippy and I worked a couple of climbs hitting strong ones near the first turnpoint. We'd leave when the lift went below 400fpm. The race was on. Cloud base was just over 9000ft. The valley heights around here are 2000ft.

I took a more direct line over smaller mountains on the long 40+km leg to the second turnpoint out in the valley near Gap. After the turnpoint, we were lower for the blue lake crossing. It was particularly rough in this area. I was trying to climb efficiently and not collide with other pilots.

The run to the third turnpoint in the valley was buoyant, and we hit a good one at the third turn. Jonny and Andre Wolf were there. Jonny headed off two minutes early, but our thermal was still 500fpm+ so I stayed. I took a left line under a small street of cu's and it was buoyant. I could see Jonny and Andre getting lower as we neared the big bare mountain with no LZ's on the other side. I played it a bit conservative as I didn't want to get stuck like last year, so I milked a lifting line directly over the peak.

The lifting line continued and despite the headwind, I was able to take a direct line to the last turnpoint while others had to deviate way around to ridge soar their way to the last turn.

I could see no one out in front of me, and was beginning to think I had a good flight going. It was at this point I started being very deliberate about my decisions and paying attention to the terrain and windward faces, sun angle, etc.

Familiarity with the terrain and lay of the land also helped a lot. I put myself deeper in the mountains with reliable looking faces rather than working the lesser hills nearer to the valley. I could see sailplanes working deep, so I knew there was likely lift there.

I'd thermal up on each windward rock ridge or face, then scoot to the next one. The last 15 km to goal was out in the flats. My instrument was saying 10-15mph direct headwind. I left the last rock fin with 9.9 into goal. there was a wispy cu out in the valley and thankfully I found a lifting line on the way into goal. I played my final conservative which was what I needed to do as many pilots landed just short.

In goal there were heartbreaks, crashes, and at least three pilots who literally landed on the goal line.

I had the good fortune to win the day. Team USA is in second place by a few points.

Airtime: 5:03. Flights: 1. Miles: 100.

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After a couple of Mistral days we had beautiful weather for a task yesterday. Light winds out of the South west and good lift forecast allowed the task committee to call a 164k course (around 100 miles) in a huge square like shape around the area. The winds were light on launch and as often happens on Chabre, the wind started comng in from the west which cause for "over the back" conditions occasionally and dust devils to roll through launch which made it a bit sporty to get 130 pilots off safely. In the end there was only 1 blown launch which resulted in a damaged glider but the pilot was ok.
We (the US team) got off and climbed to cloud base trying to find each other and to be in good position. We all ended up taking the second start and seemed to be making good time to the first turn point. I lost most of the team but was with Alex Ploner (from Italy) and Andre Wolf which felt comfortable and fast. I climbed in a screamer (the strongest for the day for me) that took me back to 3000m in 12-15mps and that's when I made my first poor decision. Most of the fast guys went straight across the town of Gap to the turn point which was a very direct line. I thought that the clouds (the only clouds) over the mountains looked faster so I swung wide and got on top of the peaks. I found good lift and ended up on the same course line that I took on a task last year over Peak de Bure. It worked but I was now 3-4 glides behind the leading group. After crossing the same turquoise lake that we crossed last year (OB took really nice photos of us crossing it for a pre worlds blog post) I got the turn point and had to take a couple of slower climbs to get over the mountains to make it past a largely non land able area on the way to the last turn point. I climbed with a russian and about 3 other pilots over a sail plane port and managed to pick a decent line to the turn point which was on the low side of a ridge line made up of several scallops. Unfortunately, I didn't clear the ridge and got a bit stuck between two ridge scallops and had a bit of a scary time trying to beat the rotor to the front of the mountain. The Russian woman, Julia, and a Kiwi, Warren both apparently landed in the trees in this same place later. I made it to the front of the mountain very low and tagged the turn point with just enough height to work ridge lift and thermals back to the peaks top and saw that I had to make a pretty long jump across a high plateau to make it into goal. I worked hard but never got above 1900m and decided to try to make it with hopes that I would find lift on the plateau and or the peak on it's flanks. After an hour and a bit of cursing I landed 13ks short up on that plateau.
It turned out that the road I landed on was a bit hard to find and it took around 4 hours to find me which made for a long night. It's hard starting a comp off way down the results list as many pilots either made goal or barely didn't but today is another day. That's the beauty of this sport. It's exciting, self reflective and humbling all taking place in some of the most beautiful places on this planet.
I apologize for not posting photos. My SD card is somehow not working so I will have to replace it.

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We eventually broke down and headed down the mountain.

The ozzie house is next door, and we've created a dinner roster. On days we don't have functions, we take turns preparing meals. It's good food and festive. Usually the dinner turns into a wine or tea fest as the sun wanes.

It's been colder than normal here, and we're not prepared with clothing warm enough for getting high. I hope I'm not doing a full body shiver in my harness today.

Filippo rented a sailplane with Klaus (a renowned sailplane pilot who's a local) Without a GPS, he followed Klaus on a 500km - 310 mile flight into Italy two days ago and back to Laragne. Klaus did 700km on that day. The sailplane-ing is EPIC around here. It would be a life experience to show your mate the alps over Italy, Austria, and France via sailplane. Put it on the bucket list.

We will fly today. Supposed to get high and be cold. They might call a barn burner.

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They installed zip lines over the past year which made the way down much faster and doubled the enjoyment. On the last zip line, Jeff and I jumped on together. The cable was plenty strong, however we hadn't thought about how much more the cable would drop due to the extra weight. We picked up our legs and avoided broken backs on the boulders. Still crashed on the ramp at the end. We went to the neighboring farm for unpasteurized fruit juice again. This time it didn't wreak havoc with our insides.

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