741 Back to Gasparilla Island

Mark , Bob and I launched in light wind and played around for an hour.  
Here is the video

   The climb out to 1100 ft was smooth with a 10 mph tailwind.  I was aware but not concerned to be flying downwind of the landing zone.  It might be a long slog back and at worst the wind would pick up and I would have to land out, but I was careful to keep an emergency LZ within reach by following the road instead of overflying the mangrove swamps.  

At the causeway I descended to 500 ft and kept it right under me until I could glide to the island.  

I suppose a wind front could have come through and blown me out of the safe zone but the clouds were offshore and either moving away or stationary and the skies were clear back to weather, it was an acceptable risk.  

As expected, I wasn’t able to fly the beach because of rotor caused by the wind coming across the island.  When I dropped down to 50 ft it was starting to get bumpy and at 30 ft, I called it quits.  Someday,  I will get down in the sand, but not today, on a lee shore.  I did pop up and check out the windward side but it was too thick with houses and palms with no place to land.

  

 So… I turned back and slowly flew back across the sound.  There wasn’t much going on, a few boats were heading out to the gulf and some kayakers were out enjoying the morning cool but no dolphins, rays, manatees or any wildlife, except for the birds that are everywhere.

Since I wasn’t able to follow my original plan and fly the length of Gasparilla, I turned north and did some sightseeing on the mainland.  It’s not Aspen…. too shiny and white, and probably rebuilt after Huricane Charlie but from what I saw its a very well monied place.  Big beautiful mansions and even bigger condominiums populate the verdant shoreline.  

I was especially taken buy an 80 ft sloop, snug in her berth behind a particularly palatial estate and I wondered who owned the private jet port just nort of town.


Pick your own runway fellas!

The wind was picking up back at Placida where Bob was playing on the low and Mike was practicing wing overs above 2000 ft.  His last was spectacular, two robust swings and a high energy dive, culminating in a hard turn 100 ft above tree line.  I was satisfied with a slow floaty landing, the trike had almost zero rollout.
After packing up we headed over to Ryan’s for breakfast.

The Gathering at Monument Valley 2013




I packed the truck with everything except the perishables on Monday.  Tuesday was easy, Dawn and I loaded the coolers and were on our way by noon.  We took old Highway 6 instead of I-70 to enjoy the fall colors and avoid the heavy traffic leaving Denver and arrived in Glenwood Springs around twilight.  It  was abnormally quiet,  there was very little traffic and hardly anyone on the streets.  I thought that there might be a big event that had emptied the town, but it turned out that it was just the slack time between summer tourist season and hunting season.  

Slack is good because I had no trouble finding a parking place right in front of The Historic Colorado Hotel and they kindly gave us a room overlooking the truck. Perfect because I had the paramotor locked but it wouldn’t be hard for someone to help themselves to our gear.
The Colorado is a special place with memories going back 4 generations. I remember photos of my great grandfather standing outside in the garden with my then, teenage grandfather, on one of their piano business trips.  The hotel has seen good times and bad.  At the turn of the Century it was the choice of wealthy Europeans who would take the train up from Denver to soak in the hot springs and enjoy the clear dry air.  It was the favorite of presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft and for awhile became known as the White House of the West.  During WWII it was commissioned by the United States Navy as a convalescent home and served over 6500 patients.  
Not wanting to leave the dog alone  we decided to order room service and hope for the best. Wow! It was the same meal we would have had in the main dining room, beautiful presentation and excellent food.  The new owners are working hard to bring the old place back to it’s glory and I wish them success, because the Hotel Colorado deserves to be preserved for future generations.



The next morning we bathed in the famous Glennwood Hot  Springs.  Usually there are crowds of laughing children but in October the hot springs are populated mostly by visiting octogenarians, many from Europe.  I’m approaching 60 and changing into my swimming suit, I felt like the young buck hanging out with the grown-ups.  
After a good hot soak we went for breakfast at a favorite hangout, the 19th St Diner.   In the 80’s when I was selling bicycle parts  it was a great place to have breakfast with friends before heading up to Aspen or sometimes I just stopped to load up on caffeine before the long drive to Salt Lake City.  
  
After breakfast, we took the dog for a walk and loaded up for the long haul to Monument Valley. The weather was beautiful but predicted to turn bad and… right on schedule, it started to blow. By the time we hit Moab, dark clouds were developing,  the barometer was dropping and the wind was gusting past 30 mph.  Hoping to keep the gear dry, I powered on and we arrived at Gouldings Trading Post at 9:00 pm.   I hurried to unload the truck and just missed getting drenched.  

Thursday it was cold and rainy. Dawn lounged in the condo while I made the rounds and checked with the campground, restaurant and lodge making sure everybody was ready for us. The big disappointment of the day was that the restaurant had double booked our banquet with a wedding.  There was nothing to do, there were no other restaurants within 20 miles so the plan was changed to have a pot luck up at the campground.

 Late in the afternoon, we were treated to a tremendous hail storm.  It came down hard and heavy for about 20 minutes and for about the same time afterward the mesas were coated with a sheen of ice.   I was on the IPad checking the weather forecast every 20 minutes. The low pressure cold front was suppose to pass through that evening,  with high pressure and light breezes for the next  5 days.  I hoped so, because looking across the flats at Sentinel Mesa all I could see was a huge ice covered rock.  The last 5 years had been lucky,  occasionally  the wind came up and spoiled a session, but for the most part, every gathering had been warm and flyable. 

Rain and Hail the day before The Gathering

This year the, “Officers Quarters” were in a different condo.  It wasn’t as easy to see from the road so I put out the wind sock out at the turn off and by 6:30 guys started showing up for the Kick-off spaghetti  dinner.    Dawn was great, she made 8 batches of Pasta and sauce and served it up cheerfully as the different groups arrived. First came the Salt Lake contingent with Russ Bateman and his family, then Paul Anthem showed up with the Indy Airhogs followed by Bob Hannah and the Seattle gang. About 8 o’clock Jeff Goin showed up to claim his room and Chad and Lee Anne arrived in time for a special plate of gluten Free pasta.  By 9 the place was full of pilots swapping stories and sharing food and drink.  We broke up at 11:00 to prepare for the next morning flights.

Kick off Dinner


Friday….Beautiful morning.  A bit chilly…. 
The briefing was well attended and the message was short.  Respect the Terran … Respect the Residents … Use your head and know where the wind is coming from.   
Once again Dawn was a trooper overseeing omelets in a bag.   We went through 90 eggs and thanks to Donna at the restaurant, buckets of coffee, while the guys flew and wandered up and down the flight line.   The Moment was saved by Byron who flew his quad copter all over the flight line.  



About 10 o’clock, Scott Laws, the new manager of Gouldings came down to welcome us.  He started at Gouldings shortly after last years event and has done a great job upgrading the property, they have remodeled  the lodge and shops and upgraded the campground.  The whole attitude of the place has improved along with the accommodations.  This year we were welcomed rather than tolerated and it made a huge difference. 

When it was time to fly the wind was  nil from the South.   I set up at the very top of the runway and did a down wind launch taking advantage of the smooth asphalt and the downhill grade. It was smooth but chilly.   It felt good to be heading east across the flats.  I stayed up for about 40 minutes and only landed to visit with my friends.   Later that morning, Tom Spears, an instructor from from Glenwood Springs, took me up in his delta wst. It was a little bumpy and without a flight suit, damn cold but it was a great flight and I enjoyed every minute.  Thanks Tom! 


The View Hotel at Navajo Tribal Park


That afternoon while Dawn was sleeping, Jeff and I hung in the officers quarters and chatted about the USPPA, Obama Care and his new Air Space Video.  He and Tim are moving away from the cold of Chicago and relocating somewhere in Florida.  They have made an offer on a house in an air-park with room for the business and all the toys.  It’s an exciting time and I wish him well. Around 4:00pm we headed down to the airstrip for the afternoon flights. 

 It was my best flight of the trip.  90 minutes with great sunset colors. Here is the video…



Late in the day Ryan Southwell and his friend Scot launched to camp on the top of Eagle Rock. As far as I know, this was a first.  Several years ago John Fetz did a top landing but he only stayed a few minutes.  These guys landed and camped out.  I await the video and photos from Shane and the Team Halo crew.

Ryan Southwell on top og Eagle Rock

Dinner was in the condo followed by a session of paramotor troubleshooting with Jeff, Chad and Lance Marzec,  who was rousted out of bed someplace many time zones away.Before it was over we had a brand new mini plane apart and Jeff was polishing a piston with a pot scrubber, nail file and  toothbrush.


Jeremy Langejans right side down


Saturday …  The winds were blowing  steadily from the direction of the Tribal Park .  It was a little too strong to attempt flying close to the monuments, so we stayed close to the patch and were treated to an air show out in the flats, East of the airstrip.   The highlight for me was when Ryan Shaw, fresh from the international Slalom competition in Europe, flew his new comp wing the Dudek snake.  Going at least 40 mph he caught and passed a Cessna as it rolled in from landing.
By 11:00 it was getting cold and windy so a bunch of us retreated to the condo for a pot luck lunch.  Spirits were high and it was hard to get a word in edgewise while everybody shared the mornings events.   John and Mary invited several of us to go up in their Cessna after lunch..   Dawn and I were on the second flight with Jeff Goin.  It was wonderful to be back in the park and it was the first time Dawn and I had flown it together.  I expect that one of these days we will own a PPC and fly together all the time but until that day it was a rare treat.

 Dawn’s photos from the Cessna




When we landed the French group were packing for the next leg of their tour.  The group leader, Dieter Debaque, had discovered us a few years earlier and put The Gathering into this years tour.  They added 17 pilots and an international touch that was fun. It looked like the altitude was a bit higher than they were accustomed to.  There were a lot of aborted launches and some extremely long runs, but the did just fine and since they bought a lot of t-shirts I think a good time was had by all.  

The French Connection

The afternoon was too windy for most of us but several did get up and found it very flyable..  I stayed on the field and enjoyed the show while Dawn hung in the officer’s quarters and rested.  There were several aborts and more than a few exciting launches.  Russ Bateman took his son for a tandem flight and not to be outdone, Mo Sheldon took his dog Rosa up in his specially modified and “dog legal” , trike.  The evenings flights were capped off when Paul Anthem did a wonderfully benign turtle on landing.


Paul Anthem joins the “Order of the Desert Turtle”
The Banquet was less than ideal.  Instead of fancy food and speeches in a private dinning room, we had a Pot Luck BBQ  at the campground.   Plan B was a poor substitute but we made the best of it and enjoyed the company. Jeff Goin was planning to leave early and drive to Phoenix but opted to stay for the campfire and I cannot thank him enough for being so generous with his time.  Thanks Jeff, you serve the USPPA well.


Sunday is was blowing 5 and gusting to 10.   Those foot launching were reporting steady winds with moderate bumps.  It was chilly and less than perfect but it was also the last opportunity to fly for perhaps several months so I decided to go for it.  
I timed the cycles and launched when the breeze had dropped.  Once up, I enjoyed the clear cold air and when I’d had enough of the bumps, I turned back and approached the LZ from the North West for landing.   About 200 yards out I flew into sinking air and dropped 100 feet quickly.  I stayed on the power to maintain my glide so that I would clear the trailers. and spectators.  The wind started picking up but I adjusted and knew that I would still able land safely. The approach was a little bumpy but the landing was going fine, right up until I tried to killl the engine.   Stupidly, my gloves were too thick to reach the recessed  kill switch and I had to let go of one of the the toggles to shut down the motor.  I Iost control of the wing and the trike was pulled and threatened to roll. By the time I was back in control, the trike had been spun180 degrees back toward the direction of the landing.  By putting down a boot and sliding while turning the nose wheel against  the direction of the tip I kept the trike from rolling but it was very close. The wing fell in front of the trike and I slid right up to it’s tip, wrapping lines in the front wheel.   Facing the spectators, I made the cross hands sweep signal that baseball umps use to signify, “runner is safe”.  I don’t know if anybody else got it,…. but, … I enjoyed the moment.   Kurt  Mozer got the whole thing on video and I can’t wait to combine it with the video from my helmet cam to see exactly what happened..  No harm no foul.

Rodeo

The wind continued to rise and everybody began packing up for the ride home.  No injuries … plenty of airtime and good company.  I can hardly wait for next year.

If you cannot see yourself… You are probably flying

Flood of 2013 #682 -685

Flight 682 and 683
Last week we received 12 inches of rain in 3 days.  Boulder Longmont and Loveland got hammered.   The Sylvandale was devastated.
The first day after the flood I went out to the field but it was still too wet to launch.
Yesterday I got in a sunset flight with no drama and this morning, the same except for some bumps.

//player.vimeo.com/video/75102121 Flight To Lyons … Flood of Sept 2012 from Joe Onofrio on Vimeo.

684
This was a good one.  I launched at 6:00 and flew for an hour.  There was plenty of gas so I followed the St Vrain River upstream to Lyons which has been evacuated due to contaminated water and flooded roads.

685
Calm clear morning.  I flew up the south St Vrain Creek and saw the flood damage.  The only notable moment was a long long taxi before the wing had inflated and stabilized overhead