Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aerial Exploring: Vernon East

From here to There?

After two weeks of frustrating delays due to bad weather I'm off at one tomorrow morning on a Greyhound bus to Vernon, BC, along with my glider. The basic idea is to ride the dog 350k west to Vernon and then try to fly and walk back home or to the eastern edge of the Rockies somewhere. I should be walking from the bus station toward the Vernon paragliding launch by about 8:00 in the morning. Beyond that I don't know much other than there's a lot of mountain terrain (all of the Columbia and Rocky Mountains) between Vernon and here. There aren't any "rules," but I want to do it all under my own walking power or by flying thermals, and do it self-supported meaning no chase crew.

The inspiration for this trip comes from a few places: The incredibly cool Red Bull X Alps that just concluded, and the uber-suffering Tour Divide/CTR bike races. I raced the Red Bull X Alps almost ten years ago, and loved covering terrain by foot and in the air, it's a magic combination. The Tour Divide bike race is a self-supported monster-length backcountry bike race from Banff, Alberta, to the Mexican border. The Colorado Trail Race is similar but more on trails and less on dirt roads, and crosses Colorado by mostly burly single track. My brother, Toby, starts that race tomorrow, so there will be some suffering Gadds by eleven or so tomorrow morning. What I like about both bike races is that racers bivouac wherever they can; in a hotel if they are near one, but mostly just by stopping beside the trail and sleeping. The rules in both races are "no non-commercial support," meaning hotels and gas station food is OK, but you can't have yer mom bring you a sandwich because that's not there for all racers.

All three events are races, and each is about taking a cool line across the terrain than just the fastest line. The Tour Divide follows the continental divide as closely as possible, the CTR takes the proud mountain biking line across Colorado, and the X Alps traverses most of the chain from the mountains to the sea. All of these events are races, but the on the X Alps each athlete has a "supporter" driving a van loaded with happy little presents like clean socks and food. This is good, as the vast majority of the walking in the X Alps is on paved roads. I hate walking on paved roads (every athlete in the X Alps is far tougher mentally than me, I would shoot myself in the foot before I'd walk like that again on paved roads), and in the Alps it's nearly impossible to be more than 10K from a paved road. I also like the self-reliance concept of the long bike races, that suits my individualistic style more. And I'm not going to race anyone; if I land high on evening I intend to enjoy the place.

One of my paragliding heroes, Pierre Boulliux of Sup'Air (one of the sport's originals, along with my friend Gin Seok Song, who runs Gin gliders) also did a lot of what he called "Vol Bivouac" flying in the alps. The point of this flying was to fly and stay high in the mountains, and what I want to do probably most closely follows this ideal. Some of the Pemberton monkeys are also on this program.

So my idea is to walk on paved roads as little as possible, ditch the "supporter" concept, and fly far while camping high. The forecast is pretty good, there's a lot of interesting terrain between Vernon and east side of the Rockies, let's see what happens! Ideally I'll fly during the peak hours of the day, then land high in the alpine, go for a bit of a walk around the landscape I love being in so much, and then take off in the morning from a happy little high alpine meadow (unfortunately our mountains lack the cows of the alps, so there are far fewer perfect little meadows, but there's the idea). If I land low in a valley I'll beat my way through the BC brush back up to the alpine or a logging cut block and take off again. If I can walk on a trail or even logging road I'll do that, but I flat-out refuse to walk on paved roads just to make distance.

Another huge chunk of inspiration is really the biggest source of motivation for me: Flying in remote areas. I've flown all over the world, but the mountains here in Canada are relatively unique because of their low population densities. I've done two or three forays into remote areas in the Rockies, but by approaching the Columbia and Rocky Mountains with a sleeping bag, tent, food, and expecting to land in remote areas I'll be totally mentally free to fly the coolest lines, not just the lines near roads. In paragliding we often talk about "Tiger Country," or places with no retrieve. I'm aiming for those places on purpose. I want to get high over Vernon, look east and take the best possible line even if there are no roads there to get retrieved on. I think that's going to be a tremendous feeling of freedom, of throwing off one of the most basic ideas of paragliding, to land somewhere where you can get back to where you took off...

My good friend Othar and the Red Bull X Alps team is also planning to run a race somewhere in Western North America next year, which I've been helping a bit with. Othar and I talked about doing a long hike and walk trip in Canada (we also did one in that involved hiking completely across the Andes with our gliders but not flying once!), so maybe my trip will help out a bit with understanding the unique challenges of an X Alps style race in North America's much more rugged mountains. Years ago my friend Jim Grossman and I flew our motorized paragliders across the US too, so there's some history in this idea.

I figure it will take about a week; I wanted to do more, but I have another time commitment coming up, and with the delayed start due to weather I want to do something I think I can get done in a week. This is gonna be fun!


Part of the fun of this was to do it with the gear I have lying around. So I have an old light harness, Gin GTO paraglider, BD First Light tent, ancient but still solid Feathered Friends sleeping bag, some food (no stove, weighs too much), bear spray, bug spray, vario, sat phone, and a Spot for safety and so friends and family can watch the game unfold. All told it weights about 20Kg, not too bad. I'll put the Spot tracking URL up later in case anyone wants to watch the silliness that will ensue. I hope to blog a bit from my phone if I can get cell service, which is increasingly likely from up high even in the mountains here...


Dane said...

Awesome adventure Will, good luck!

Griz instead of cowbells has got to add something right? Looking forward to the read when you get home.

Evann Gentry said...

Absolutely amazing concept Will. I hope you have a great time and look fwd to catching your progress. I just bought a 3m trainer kite and have been playing a couple times a week. Im already hooked and can't wait to get a bigger one and experience the rockies from the air. Your exploits are quite inspirational, keep it up!

Toby Gadd said...

Wow, that sounds like a great adventure, Will. Great idea to combine flying with CTR/TD-style self-sufficiency. Maybe we'll see this turn into a race in the future? Canada's on X-Alps, but totally self-supported!

Tim said...

Great adventure indeed, Will. I'll be tuning into your SPOT page for updates. I've used the X-Alps inspiration to get me working towards a similar adventure.
Have fun & say Hi to god for me ;-)

Anonymous said...

Good luck Will. We will watch with interest as allways. Keep safe. Regards Dave @ Lee (Rivergums)

Alan said...

Cool idea Will. If your line takes you this far north, I hope to see you in the air. Almost all the pieces have been done, but to put them all together is really cool! Good luck, I'll be sure to follow your track.

Dark Green said...

sounds fun.

fly on down south and join me in idaho for some bike / kayak / run action like this:

Anonymous said...

OK, so your mom can't bring either one of you a sandwich. What I want to know is which one of you would get the sandwich if she could.

Ric Hunt said...

storsvarTotally rad Will, best of luck on the next personal best. The rest of us will B following with anticipation to see your spots movements, maybe you should a dr. or Healer 'bout that thing. LOL !!
Congrats on your efforts, I wish I was in 1/4 of your shape,but us old fatty Hang Glider guys only dream of hike + fly .

Fly High, Fly Far but always Fly Safely

Ric Hunt
AirBorne Okanagan

Scott.M said...

Inspiring. I think that about sums this up.