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Author: Jeff Shapiro Created: 5/13/2009 2:59 PM
Jeff Shapiro is a renaissance man who's spent quite a bit of his existence at height. Jeff learned to fly hang gliders at 17 and he's been flying for 17. He's a falconer who trains raptors to hunt the mountains near his Montana home. He's climbed at or near the hardest ratings on rock, ice, and mixed terrain with many first ascents and repeats of routes in the Alaska Range, Glacier Park, and Yosemite.



Been working hard to get this batch of harnesses out the door to psyched pilots and also working hard to continually refine and do my best to make improvements. Design is a process that keeps ideas and creativity a focus. Gotta keep up the fun factor, yea?



Apparently, wearing Matt Barkers "inner shell" on my head helps the process.


Took an afternoon off to go pull in one of the Bitteroot canyons. One of my friends from Alaska showed up with his wife, Anna, and their two kiddos, Alder and Oden. Alder came to the crag with us to keep the pup warm and scream out beta to her dad while he was climbing one of the cave routes. Snow is just starting to fall here. Ice is forming;-)




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What a mission! Yesterday, I had a great time taking a stiff look in the mirror of perspective. I love the combination of loosing time in thought while exercising. Running in the mountains is a form of meditation where I can formulate design solutions, introspect, visualize flying strategy or just try to have "no mind" and allow thoughts to free flow and come and go as time does.



One of my best and oldest friends, Jim Chase, has been distance running on and off most of his life. Over the years we have worked together, climbed together, hunted Elk with long bows in the mountains of Montana together, flown together (tandem) and ended up lucky enough that our kids now play together. He is soft spoken but has the fitness and toughness to make him one of the "hardest" dudes I know. He started running 50 milers in the mountains and inspired me to give it a go. Turns out that I loved training for a long event and felt the need to satisfy a curiosity so once again, it's off for an adventure with Jimmy Chase.


Just crossed the finish line after 9 hrs of running. Jimmy beat me in by about 30 mins. He's a beast

The course this year was different than the past 29 years of the Le Griz Ultrathon. Normally, it takes the Western shore which makes it mellow for a 50 because of the lack of elevation gain. Road construction on the Western shore caused this to be the first year that entrants would run the Eastern shore. That side of the lake turned out to be quite hilly with an ass kicker up into the woods at mile 40. I felt great until mile 22, felt like shit from 25-35 and then thought I was getting a second wind, finding a good rhythm. At mile 40, we turned a switchback and started up hill for what seemed like forever. I was able to recover on the way back down the pass but when I got to the finish at mile 43, I was pretty worked. We ran past the finish, down through the traditional "bushwhack" (a 100 yrd push through the woods) to a paved road. From there, we had a little more than 3 miles to climb up pavement to the Hungry Horse Dam which we ran across and back to the finish. The concrete seemed to jar every muscle and bone in my tired body but in the end, I survived, no dramas.


Got to bring home a souvenir for my kiddo

It was a great experience and although I am hobbling around the house today, am already looking forward to another adventure in the mountains. There is still a lot to learn......always


The 50 mile mountain run pedicure. Wouldn't know the light without the dark;-)

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I returned from AZ ready to spend some time in the shop. First task was to finish up a batch of Covert comp harnesses for some good pilots and friends. Always cool for me to work on gear that, sooner than later, I will get to see in the air.


Here are a couple of shots of Katie O'Riordan launching and flying in her new Covert while at the British Nationals in Laragne, France.


One is going to Italy for my friend, Franco, 3 are going down under to the Aussie boys, Dave, Nick and Flocky and 2 to pilots Jonathan Deitch and Davis Straub here in the States.


We spent some late nights and had some shipping challenges to work through but all are on their way and look SWEET!!



Can't wait to hear how they feel about flying in them. Jonathan and Franco both got 1 chute versions and I put an O2 sheath in Jonathan's for those high, Owens and King Mountain adventures.



Started sewing on the next batch of harnesses which will include a couple of unique color combos that should look super sharp. I will post when they are cut.



Meanwhile, as the title of this post points out, even though I love what I do for a living, sometimes it's good to go kick my own arse just to remind me how good I really have it. I love to trail run into the mountains and sometimes loose all sense of time spending hours day dreaming about flying, climbing or design while ticking off the miles and getting far above Missoula. I have been quietly training for a long one that happens to be coming up. Next weekend, on the 9th, I am going to run the LeGriz Ultrathon close to Glacier park. The course is pretty mellow in relation to other 50 milers in the mountains and will take us along the scenic shoreline of Hungry Horse Reservoir through bear and goat country. Should be a good stress release, should be a good chance to learn more about myself but one thing is certain....it should be an ass kicker.


31 mile mark. Photo taken by Le Griz staff in 2002

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Day 5- It was even hotter in the paddock on the 5th day but the forecast was for that additional heat to help create stronger lift. I had a decent start with Zippy, Jonny and Craig. Carl and Ben were above and only sightly behind as we headed out on course. When we got to the first mountain about half way to the t-point, we found one of the sweetest climbs of the comp. It was a smooth 500 that felt coastal. Literally like butter. After climbing as high as we felt we needed to and gliding off, my feelings were confirmed by Dustin on the radio saying " that climb was UNBELIEVABLE!".


Task Committee hard at work- photo by Dave Aldrich

As we pushed through the t-point, Zippy, Dustin and I lead out but weren't finding anything. Dustin went one way and Zipp and I went another as we continued to get lower. Luckily, out in front we saw a field break off several small dust devils that soon turned into a house sized pipe of spinning dirt. I was a little worried because we were low enough that we would intersect it just at the top of the dust. I griped the bar tight and flew just down wind of it. I was a bit surprised to not only not feel turbulence but I didn't feel anything....no lift, not a bump. Zipp went one way and I went the other and fortunately found 500 that we both climbed in as the gaggle caught us from behind coming in much higher above us. It was a fight for position for the rest of the day and I was not where I wanted to be at the end of the task. Getting close to what should be final glide and I was lower and behind but I felt that my numbers were acceptable and snuck under and away from Jonny, Robin and Dustin as they were taking their last climb. I was definitely sweating it a bit as my numbers got worse for a portion of my final but in the end, I squeaked into goal and won the day.


On glide- photo by Dave Aldrich

Day 6- We had some big dustys roll through the launch line adding a bit of spice to the first part of the day.




Dustin coming out of the cart- photo by Dave Aldrich

Once in the air, it seemed to be a repeat of the conditions we had the previous day. It's funny, during a task it seems like so much can happen and this task was no let down. I got low at the first t-point and HAD to take a climb without getting the t-point. Even though I was less that 2ks from it, I was so low that I was worried I would land if I didn't climb. Unfortunately, the entire gaggle had already tagged it and to make matters worse, the thermal drifted us away from the t-point. I had to leave the climb early to tag the cylinder and drive on course to find some lift. I hear on the radio that Zipp had gone down and I knew it was going to be a little sporty on this leg.


Zippy getting a pull from Greg and his trike- photo by Dave Aldrich

I climbed with Davis for a while and then dove down course line when I saw dust devils busting out of a field out ahead. It was a repeat of the day before and again I was rewarded with a good climb, this time 700fpm, which got me back in the game catching up with the lead gaggle. We turned the next t-point and while on our way back over the resort, it became painfully obvious a gear switch was necessary. Lift went from 4-500fpm to 50fpm and we all struggled to stay in the air. Dustin called that he was getting a stellar line toward the last t-point and I left with less than marginal numbers. I was hoping to get one more climb. Turns out, I didn't hit a bump and with most of the group, landed just inside a couple of miles from goal. Joe Bostik won the day on his T2C with Dustin getting in 2nd. Craig, Carl and Robin were the only others to make it in.


It was a privilege to have a crew of pro's out to film the comp. Zippy's a super star

Last day- I knew I needed a good finish for the day to have any hope of moving up in the standings. It turned into a really good race day which is a good thing because Zippy, Craig and I all found ourselves in a horrible position, leaving the start cylinder almost 12 minutes after the last start. The saving grace was that the first leg was slow and difficult, causing some to land and allowing us to catch up pretty quickly. We ended up catching the lead gaggle when, in the latter half of the course, we all climbed to almost 11,000'. I saw Jonny and a couple others go on final but I was still lower than the gaggle and thought I needed a bit more height. As I climbed, I watched their line and saw that they were getting a killer glide so I left early, taking a risk, sneaking off onto final. The air was indeed buoyant and I got between a 12 and 20:1 most of the way. It was super fun standing on it as fast as I could fly for the last couple of miles, finishing with a strafe of the folks hanging out on top of the resort roof. Turned out that Larry and Robin had both landed short (which was a shame because both had flown consistently well during the comp). This made my 4th place finish for the day just enough to move into 4th overall. Now all that was left was to clean up and party down.
Overall, we flew 7 out of 7 days and had racy conditions for all but 2 of the days. Santa Cruz Flats was run with professionalism and efficiency and I highly recommend it as one not to miss, whether your open class or sport class. Thanks to all who made it possible.

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Unfortunately, neither Zippy, Dustin nor I have taken any photos but I wanted to give a quick update of the first 3 days of the comp. We've been either flying, sweating or sweating while flying in the 100+ degree heat. Other than the hot sun, this place is once again about as easy going a venue for a hang gliding contest as I have ever been to and we are loving it.

Day one was a mix of surviving the shade cycles and occasionally running into a decent climb, although slow, in the sun. Dustin and I hooked up and worked well together with Glen Volk, Davis and Eduardo Olivera (sp?) and a few others on the way to the second t-point but through the mix of soft conditions and a blue sky we slowly became a smaller and smaller group. My day ended when I failed to recognize that I shouldn't dive into the t-point low in the shade, imagine that. Dustin knows the area and stopped behind me while Glen and I rounded the cylinder only to glide our last 1200' to the ground. Disappointing but it was a tough day and as we say, "it is what it is".

Day two was another stable blue day and was quite "social" at the start. Everyone was obviously wanting to stay together as the lift was far from strong and spaced far apart. We took a few long glides and finally found a climb that turned into 400 fpm. I thought that the day was finally turning on a bit and when we topped out, Dustin came over the radio and asked if I wanted to push out. There was nothing left to do and it felt like the right call so we went, along with Eduardo and a couple of others. Zippy was out in front and was low looking for a way to stay off the ground. When we were passing him, he still had not found anything and was flying back up wind to look so we pressed on over a very green area through the t-point. The air felt so smooth and I got that pit in my stomach, feeling that we were starting a death glide. All three of us spread out, looking hard for birds or any sign of lift until one by one, we made a single turn up wind and landed.

Later, about half the field landed with or around us while the other half flew over our heads (including Zippy who had found a good climb from low). Again, pretty frustrating but I'm really not sure what I would have done differently.

Day 3, we staged out at the tow paddock in hot sun and stable looking conditions. No one was rushing to get in the tow line to say the least. We all watched a few pilots circle for over an hour at a height anywhere from 300 to 1200' which further delayed an already skeptical group. Finally it seemed like Dustin (who had been one of the guys up the longest) was getting up and I laid down in the cart to launch just as the first start clock was ticking over. When I got off tow and started to climb, it was better than I thought and the day just got better and better.

We had a good start and traveled together as a group for a few glides until the field started to stretch out. Zippy and I were with a good group of pilots that included Jonny, Craig, Robin Hamilton, Glen, Larry Bunner (who has been flying his WW T2C in outstanding form) and a few others. We made a pretty good run to the first t-point and continued on a long glide over some small mountains/hills with a lot of tiger country below. It looked easy enough to be able to land but it seemed it would have been a nightmare retrieve making us extra motivated to not go down. We found a few good climbs luckily and as we got closer to goal, started to jockey for position, all looking for that last good climb to get us in quick. Craig found a climb on the way to a dust devil and I joined him a little lower. It was a good find as Larry and the others had shaded into the mountains and were climbing already. If Craig wouldn't have found it when he did, they probably would have beat us in. It turned into a race with Craig in front being chased by Zippy and me. We got closer to him but he was able to blaze across the goal line first with us right behind him. There was about 12 or so guys in goal. All that was left to do was to party for Russel Browns birthday.
Happy birthday Russel.

Today (Day 4), the forecast called for better conditions and it proved to be correct. The task committee sent us on a 51 mile "box" that would bring us back to a goal at the resort. After finding good lift around the tow paddock and in the start circle, we took the 3rd clock in decent position. After a long glide and a few slow, weak climbs, it seemed that the day wasn't as good as we thought. We were all low about a 3rd of the way to the second t-point. I watched several pilots land while we were working broken lift trying to stay off the ground. After finally climbing out, Robin Hamilton, Jonny, Craig and a few others caught us from the last start clock. I knew we were screwed and could only try to minimize the damage as there was little to no chance that we would make up the 20 minutes that they had gained by catching us. The slow leg hurt but the day was turning on in a huge way and the flying was really fun. Dustin and I flew as fast as we could toward a dust devil that was the size of our hotel. As Zippy and others came in above us, we all climbed out at 800 fpm to over 9000'.

We continued on to the next t-point and took another strong climb to around 10,000' before our numbers showed we could most likely make it to goal which was still over 20k's away. Some took the climb higher and, I must say, it was really nice being slightly cold for the first time this comp. We glided for a long way, through the next t-point and, with a cross wind component into goal, went for it. Zippy was the only glider in front of me but I was so focused on trying to pick a line that would get me in that I lost track of him. My numbers got slightly better only to get dramatically worse as I flew through massive sink. Luckily, I saw a long, stretched out gaggle of birds ahead and dolphin flew threw the lift they were in which made the L/D required become more encouraging. I ended up making goal a minute, give or take, behind Zach with Robin (who won the day), Jonny and Craig right behind. About 10 or 12 made it in and the benefit of goal being at the resort was in full effect. Get out of the harness, grab a beer and go jump in the pool. Got to love it here in Casa Grande.

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Launching on the last flight of the trip


What an amazing trip. Flying at a comp like the Pre Worlds is a much different animal than most other comps we get to attend each season. The number and overall skill level of the competing pilots are both extremely high.

hooking up with Zippy for an expression session






The flying from Monte Cucco proved to be a venue for some of the best racing I have ever done. The lift and terrain are perfectly suited for technical tasks with a bit of everything from flying peaks, to crossing valleys and working lift in the flats, to "full on" ridge racing in the compression. It's a place where many different skill sets contribute to scoring well on any given task.

Cucco is like a big South Side




Day one saw us running a bit of a basket weave. The last leg involved dodging airspace while jumping across the valley in front of Monte Cucco to the ancient town of Gubbio. I had a good run with Jeff and Zippy, flying together almost the entire day, and made goal with a time I was reasonably satisfied with. Unfortunately, I wasn't aware of an Entry cylinder rule that ended up costing me an entire start interval of 20 minutes. I was bummed to lose this time to my actual course time and to be scored a lot lower on the list than I should have been but thankful for the lesson that will be hard to forget.

setting up to top land for lunch



Day two was another great task that had the shape of a "sort of" out and return. The last way point was high on a peak, fairly deep in a canyon that was lean on the landing options to say the least. Again, I flew with Jeff and Zippy all day, taking turns leading out. As we flew toward the last way point, I was around 300' lower than the boys and didn't feel like I could make it out of the canyon if I didn't find lift. I fell out of the sky in the rotor on my way to the front of the range before finding a climb from low that got me high enough to get the t-point and glide to goal. It cost me time but I was OK with my decision. It was a good example of how it would have been a huge help to have known the area well enough to have held on the the climb a little longer before gliding toward that last way point. Of course, that's what the Pre-Worlds is all about.

hooking up with Dustin and others for a run to the wind mills


The third day was one of those days for me. A true character builder. When my entire team was blazing off on course during the first start, I was counting blades of grass below launch. Encouragement from OB helped keep me off the ground as I climbed back out while drifting further and further out of the start cylinder. Gliding back to the start, I lost almost all I had gained and after another long climb, I took the 2nd start about a minute late. Feeling good about not landing was short lived.



When I flew toward the first turn point, my GPS went blank. My back up shows the direction of the point but not the cylinder size so although I had a good idea of where it was, I didn't know where the edges of the cylinder were. Memories of hearing about pilots following others around a course and doing well gave me hope so when the group I was with left on glide, I followed. About 10 k's later, my GPS re-acquired and pointed backward. My heart sank realizing I was screwed.



The wind was way too strong to get back. Demoralized, I hoped and pushed the "next way point" button on the 6030, pointing it down range. Another 5 k's and it went blank again. I flew frustrated down the range until it came back, this time pointing almost 90 degrees to my left, out in the valley. After confirming with Davis that the t-point was indeed in the valley, I tagged it and turned back toward the next. I ended up fighting hard, thermalling backward in strong wind until landing with 14 other pilots in a nice LZ. It was an easy retrieve as Jeff, Davis and Dustin were all within 8-15 k's and we were all stoked to hear that Zippy had won the day! My stoke was short lived though as my fears were confirmed after downloading my backup at headquarters and learning that I was around 100meters out of the first t-point and would be scored almost all of the way back to the beginning of the course. Bummer.

starting to get high


The last day was one of the race days that are hard to forget. We were all worried about over development, even getting rained on 3/4 of the way through the course but it was one of the best race days of the comp. I hooked up with Dustin for a few climbs before he got the jump on the entire field. Even though he landed going for the cheese, it was impressive that at the latter half of the course, he was miles ahead of everyone. It was inspiring to see him going for it.

setting up to land at the main LZ for Monte Cucco


I was racing toward the last t-point with the lead gaggle of about 10 guys when I saw the 4 front runners gliding the other way, just in front of us toward goal. In the lead was the familiar KAVU sticker and I knew that OB had it and would win the day. I was so stoked for him and even laughed out loud knowing that my bro was finishing the comp with class.



Altogether, the comp was another amazing learning experience. Just thinking about each day spent in Segillo makes me excited to go back next year. We will be better prepared, more experienced and a more cohesive team while trying to represent the US and Wills Wing in the best way we can. Personally, I can't wait.

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This place has fantastic flying. The comp is well organized and the task of getting 150 pilots off the hill safely has gone so smooth, sometimes, it's baffling how well they pull it off. Of course, having unlimited set up space and the ability to launch from just about anywhere helps.
There has, however, been some interesting issues to overcome. Some can be categorized as lessons to learn about flying big comps in Europe but others make for a challenging parameter compiled on top of trying to fly a challenging task.
We were warned that there are a few airspace considerations close to the area we are racing in. During the first day, the task would fly us right through this airspace on the way to the last t-point and all the way to goal. We were told that within a limited oversight, we would get one warning and then, the next infraction would result in a zero for the day. At the end of the day, I was on the warning list and Dustin, unfortunately, was zeroed.

Food in Italy has been amazing.


On top of that, I was unaware of a start rule in "Section 7" that says, if you fly into the actual waypoint of the entry cylinder, even if you fly out of the start circle and reenter, your start would have already commenced. I am still confused as to how it happened but this might have been my problem as I left with Jeff and Zipp for the 3rd start but was scored for the 2nd, causing me to lose 20 minutes and more than 20 places in the results for the first day. It stung a little but, it's all about learning and I will try not to make that mistake again. I doubt it will be hard to remember;-) I need to practice my "entry" starts as we most often race "exit" starts in the States. My confusion ended up biting me in the ass. Still, great day and amazing flying. Climbing up under cloud base over the ancient village of Gubbio was memorable, to say the least.



Today, another amazing task. We flew a 100+ k route that had us jumping deep into mountains and occasionally, taking climbs coming out into the flats. The start gaggles were intense and the swarm of pilots were all aggressively attempting to gain position and altitude. At the start, I think it was one of the most intense gaggle days I can remember. It's funny, at home, it can feel like 10-12 pilots in the air is a good group but to fly with 80-100 guys all in the same thermal is a fairly epic experience. It can be madness but engaging and fun at the same time. Maybe others didn't have that experience but I felt it was an "on your toes" kind of start. We had a good run for most of the task and it was great flying all day with Zipp and Jeff after Dustin got the jump on us about half way through. He got a strong climb we missed and was able to skip climbs while we could not, gaining k's quickly. The last t-point was deep on a big face but because of airspace, we weren't able to get high before flying toward it. Jeff and Zippy (and others) went for it but I was a bit lower and pushed a bit too hard. I had to fly through a rotor to clear the front ridge and got extremely low, thinking that I would have to land. Luckily, I found a bullet and climbed out, ran into the turn point and got another solid climb allowing the time loss to be at least controlled. It was the slow point of the day but I must admit, I thought I might have to land so to make it in was satisfying regardless. It's always the same. You spend the entire task making decisions that hopefully gain you little bits of time, but, one mistake can lose it all and more SO QUICKLY!! Fun game we get to play. Enjoying every minute of it.

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After an epic day of strong lift and attempting to learn the area a bit yesterday, Jeff and I woke up early this morning (knowing that it was supposed to blow 26 knots) with hopes that we might sneak up for an South Side esque session from Monte Cucco. We recorded some video on the HD Hero cam and will try to compile a short for a post soon.



After the flight, we hooked up with Belinda and drove across the country side to the historical village of Gubbio.



The hills above town were already occupied in the bronze age. It was the place where the Eugubine bronze tablets were found that constitute the largest surviving text of ancient Umbrian. After it's Roman conquest in the 2nd century BC, it remained important, evident by it's large Roman theater (apparently the 2nd largest surviving today). It was an amazing experience to walk through it's alleys and streets (for lack of a better term) where people walked previously for thousands of years.



There are images of St. Francis and the Wolf throughout the village. The story goes that the Wolf was causing problems by eating the town's people and their animals at it's gates until St. Francis came and walked to the gate. As he approached, the wolf charged. He put out his hands and made the sign of the cross and the wolf slowed and laid his head in his hands. St. Francis told the wolf that if he stopped eating the town's people and their animals, they would feed him and a truce was solidified as was the story within the area's history.



Deep history and the beauty of the country side made for a ambient place to have lunch and cappucino while listening to the bells ring and the wind blow. We are so lucky to have the privilege to do what we do.


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We have been cranking on harnesses and the last two days (and nights) have been especially productive so when I took a coffee break at noon today and saw cu's popping high over Mt Sentinel, I couldn't resist heading up the hill for a bit of a fly.

Met up with Karl, Chris and Brian encouraged by a sky that was looking organized. Wind direction and velocity was on to possibly allow for an adventure up one of the canyons over the back.



I launched first and scratched around the hill trying to survive the shade cycles until it turned on. I don't think I was encouraging to the other guys as I was above and below launch for the first 30 mins or so.




Karl and Chris launched and it snapped on pretty quick. Chris and I hooked into one that took us over the peak behind Sentinel just over 13,000'. We had a decision to make. Clark Fork or Patomic? In the end, we chose the Clark Fork and Karl (with Brian behind) went up the Patomic Valley. The clouds looked good ether way and with no driver (planned to hitch back to town), it didn't really matter at this point. I must have saved a kitten in a past life or something because karma kicked in as two local pilots showed up on the radio and offered to chase us. Thanks guys!!



Chris and I ended up flying together until out of the mountains and into the flats but the clouds dried up with the end of the range and I knew flying out into the blue was the beginning of the end. We ended up landing about 10 miles apart for a memorable 80k flight. Not huge distance but miles in Western Montana are hard fought and I enjoyed the going with Chris. Turned out to be a nice coffee break.



Now, back to work.

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It's been a crazy month. After losing a good friend in a back country skiing accident (more later), I've been trying to appreciate and to be present for every moment of every day. I've been flying as much as possible, running daily to train for an ultrathon that I signed up to do in the Fall and sewing like a mad man to get as many customer harnesses done before I leave for Italy as is possible. The balance has been complete by being able to work at home where quiet family time happens throughout portions of every day.

I took a short break to run down for a flight at King where Seth Warren stopped to collect footage for his sequel to his award winning KAVU, KEEN, Cliffbar film "Nature Propelled". Unfortunately, although it was looking good at 9am, by 11 the sky turned black and we drove through rain and lightning all the way back to Montana. Either way, it was just nice to be back down there. The Lost River Range is a special place.






I arrived home just in time to take advantage of some scratchy local conditions and was able to squeak out a couple of fun XC flights. A visiting pilot from AZ "Andy" was cool enough to drive for me one day and picked me up in the early evening in this beautiful field. Thanks Andy!



Been sewing ever since. The new harnesses are coming together really clean. I feel like the process of building them (although still very custom) has become refined and the results are tangibly improved. I'm really proud of how they're turning out and look forward to seeing the pilots I'm bringing them to (in Italy) flying in the mountains in their new Coverts.


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