Since learning to fly two years ago, I have been particularly fascinated with Cross-Country flight!
Climbing to a height that would enable me to leave the safety of the ridge was the first challenge. This came about at last year's Natal Open Paragliding Championships. What a lovely learning curve that was - seven days of flying with some of the most experienced pilots in the country! The exciting thing for me was the possibility that existed each day in the potential that awaits the competitors. I was fortunate enough to have left the mountain each day in order to clock up decent distances that would later fuel the desire to have me set my sights on a more ambitious goal.
The next stage now was height gain (altitude above take off). I had often heard that pilots were making height-gains of 1200m or so on a good day above Bulwer. I wondered what it would be like to experience such an altitude gain. The most I had made was 700m, which had seemed awesome at the time.
I set myself a goal that during the year I would have gained 1200m and flown 30kms - an ambitious goal it seemed.
The day dawned bright and the met report seemed full of promise as Charlene and I headed up to Loskop where we anticipated meeting some other DPC pilots. Having gotten there a little before anyone else I decided to climb to the top of this hill, during which time I renamed it a mountain!
By this time friends and fellow pilots were arriving; Andre and Miranda, Alan, Steve, Tristam, Arthur, Rob, Brett Powell, Stephan Els and a few others - all in anticipation of a great Cross-Country flight! The very topic gets these guys "jags"! Wasting no time I suited up and prepared my wing for flight. The first thermals were starting to breathe up the front. I could clearly see the small Cumes starting to develop above the range to the north of me. It was time to launch. I stepped back, gave a sharp pull on my risers and my Saber climbed cleanly up above me. After a swift check from my brakes, I spun around and in an instant was airborne; climbing in a strong little thermal that soon had me circling in tight turns above the mountain. Not wanting to go over the back too low, I pushed speed bar to leave this thermal and look for something a little stronger in front of the mountain again. The sky was active and I did not have to wait long to find the thermal that would facilitate my ride to cloud base. By now my friends, encouraged by my easy climb, were following suit and the shoulder take-off was busy with inflating gliders.
Before long I had climbed to well over 1500m ATO, realizing part of a dream achievement in the past 18 months as a paraglider pilot.
The excitement had to be contained, for now I needed to make a decision - where was I flying to??? I checked for wind indicators - I saw a large plume of smoke, which seemed to be drifting in the direction of Midmar Dam. I figured, if I head out that way, I could easily be recovered should I drop out along the way. However, there was to be no dropping out for this novice, not yet anyway. The sky was far too active today. There was lift everywhere. I was making big, lazy turns in lift that kept me well above 1000m ATO and soon found myself at the edge of the Midmar Dam resort - how stunning was this! Obviously those guys in their yachts had not heard a Cross-Country paragliding story!
Quickly calling Tristam, I was advised to turn west to locate Dargle road and go in that direction which I later learnt was where more experienced pilots were headed - and on a mission to Bulwer. Tristam, Rob, Alan and Steve had climbed to over 2000 m ATO and were cruising in my direction. At this stage I was really enjoying myself, and was more than satisfied with the flight so far, and more than content with the magnificent views whilst thermalling above farm houses, hotels and freeways, totally oblivious to any sounds other than those of wind and glider.
I was starting to get tired and cold and possibly even secretly willed the end of my flight. I found myself sinking out over a farm in the Dargle area. I was happy to land and leisurely pack up my Saber, flanked by seven Umfaans. I sat contented, savoring the fresh memories of my first real Cross-Country.
I was later to learn that I had flown 35 km and had indeed reached my goal.
That same day my friends flew the following distances;
Tristam - 63 km
Rob - 53 km
Steve - 52 km
Alan - 40 km
Brett Powell - 15 km
Stefan - 15 km
To all you other pilots out there; Thank you for a great sport. God bless you as you enjoy His creation.