15 November 2011


Day Whatever

The Great R11
Magical Lakes
XC Bliss

No more records. No more radical air. We are in Carmo do Rio Claro, just briefly, for some XC flying. 0% radical, 100% chilled. Above is an image of me climbing in a steady 3 m/s thermal after a low lake crossing from launch- the hill in the background. A 70 km out-and-return flight over small hills, turquoise lakes, and farmland. If this was tea, it would be good cup of tea.

Day 14

This would be our last attempt. The forecast changed dramatically and the next good day after today will be in 7 days. We will be long gone by then.

I launched at 8:09 am, felt the first cohesive thermal at 8:24 am, and committed at 8:30 am.. at base at 900 m above the valley, 25 min ahead of previous days.

Konrad was with me and we made the first valley and plateau crossing together. Descending the far side of the plateau we lingered in light lift desperate to avoid an early landing. Konrad was just a little lower than me and I thought he was still turning but then his glider came to a stop. He had landed. It was then that I realized how low I was. 'Chill, Brett.', I thought, 'You're not even awake yet, you're still dreaming.'

The fragment of light air stayed with me until I had passed over a green lake. Then I found a few vultures to play with and eventually connect with base again.

The thermal and wind intensity were much lower than during the first few flights. This was forecasted accurately. Today could not be a huge flight but it could be memorable.

I felt relaxed, despite the low base and drifting over large areas of unlandable terrain. There was only one tense situation when I could not quite clear the far side of the biggest plateau at 110 km. I setup to land and was searching for a wire that had to be somewhere, harness unzipped, when I hit something that felt good enough to commit to, over 2 km of forest at the edge of the plateau. But the thing disappeared when I had lost my field so I dove with the wind, over the plateau edge, but it lead me into a long valley, filled with trees. I stretched myself across the valley, to ride the ridge at the far windward side, enough to fall over to the other side.

A downwind lee side shaded dive for a few minutes into uninhabited bushland later and I was circling back to base. The wind had weakened further to only 15 km/h cross tail. Base was now at 1800 m AGL.

The most remote part of the flight was just beginning. I ate my Powerbar and drank some water during the long glide into never-never-land. My anxiety was overcome by the immense beauty of what was in front of me.


There had been some rain while we were at the beach and now large areas of the desert had changed to a brilliant dark green. A few monoliths and a green fingered lake past underneath me and I found myself in lake effect. The wind had lessened to 10 km/h and it was difficult to stay in the air.

I limped along, patiently, scanning the horizon for vultures and landable patches in the roadless landscape. Landing here would be the beginning of another adventure; an adventure that I did not want. I decided to leave the worrying for once I was on the ground.

At 200 km I passed over a large farm at the edge of a large forest and decided to pull the plug on the flight at 1:30 pm. Once again I was invited into the house to shower and have dinner. The family kept me company until retrieve arrived.

I feel more looked after here than in my own country.

Today went well in that I had that earliest start so far, avoided landing early, and managed the safety angle a little better than during my other flights. I just need to fly a flight like this on a classic Tacima day with double the base, double the climb rate, and double the wind.

That will have to wait until next time.

My birthday passed while I was here, flying in pure beauty and remoteness. I think of what I have experienced as the World's gift to me.

Obrigado Brasil

Day 13

Kite surfing at Barra do Cunhau. We rested in hammocks tied to coconut palms and watched the sun set. My friend, Fuba, said to me, 'Estamos ricos.' Yes, we were rich.

Day 12

The flying here is physically and mentally exhausting. We decided to take a break over the weekend and spent today at the beach.

Day 11

We continued our return from yesterday's flights and setup up camp at Praia da Pipa. That night we went out for drinks and enjoyed the vibrant night life. A pilot told us that it had rained at launch today and the flying was not very good.

Day 10

I got away a full 15 minutes earlier today; at base and leaving on course at 8:42 am. But then I lost that time ridge soaring a rock wall 20 km later. When base is only 800 m above the ground and you have plateaus that give you only 600 m clearance at base, and it's 9 am in the morning, you must move delicately. Better in the air waiting for a thermal, then on the ground waiting for a truck. A dead cloud had sprawled across the sky and shaded my ridge. Even the vultures waited beside me, pointing into the wind, all at the same height. Then came some sun and within minutes I was circling up to cloud base, which was now 1000 m above ground.

Araruna street
Later I aborted my flight when I got stuck for a while ridge soaring another 200 m ridge at 100 km in a place that I couldn't escape. No where to land, I couldn't climb away, but I wasn't sinking either. The small hill upwind threw vortices at me that banked my glider 80 degrees in either direction and all I could do was go with it and complete the 360. I was maintaining my position in this small closed valley covered in trees that were too dense to land between and too sparse to crash into. Dry, crispy, angry looking trees.

In my first year of flying my good friend Martin Henry said, 'Somewhere there is a tree with your name on it.' It took a few years to arrive but today there was a sea of trees below me and each one had my name carved in the bark, initials included.

I had the feeling it was only a 300+ day and I had lost my early start already. Plus I was disturbed by my mismanagement of the flight. I told myself that if I managed to extract myself from this prison in the narrow valley that I would find a big, safe, open, and flat place to land and call it a day. It took a while, but I did just this.

My retrieve vehicle

This place has potential but it has been the most extreme flying that I have done in 18 years of flying everywhere and every level of competition. I almost never get into difficult situations while racing and here it happens around twice per day. And being completely trapped like yesterday was the first time ever for me.

We are going the beach for two days and then going for 3 more attempts.

Day 9

We were a little dehydrated from the long retrieves yesterday so we rested today. The flights were not very long but all of us landed in difficult to reach areas. Despite landing at 10:40 am, I wasn't back at the hotel until after dark.

Today's agenda includes doing laundry, going to the gym, and a long afternoon nap.

Day 8

Today the first cohesive thermal took me to base at 8:53 am, a minute earlier than the first flight. There was a lot of moisture in the air, base at 800 m above ground, and thick closely spaced cumuli. The wind was as strong but unlike the first flight, held the ideal direction.

As I progressed, base began to rise, making the unlandable and unretrievable areas more manageable. Still, in the first hour of the flight I went through two forceful breathing situations.

From base I went on a long glide into a wide valley with a lot of green, swamps, and small lakes. I had my eyes on a cloud but it began to subside before I could reach it. Soon I was desperate for any kind of lift in an area that I would prefer not to land. There were vultures around but they were searching, as I.

One last option appeared.. a 50 m high tree covered ridge. But the wind was a little too cross and I slowly descended into a fated landing in demanding conditions. It was everything I could do to keep my glider level in the 40 km/h wind as I aimed for a grassy patch in the lee of of another 50 m hill. I did not like the situation but I was in it.. when my feet finally touched ground and stayed there for a few seconds, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was over, at least for today.

I had flown 104 km and it was only 10:40 am.


Day 7

We spent the day at Barra do Cunhau kitesurfing to recover from yesterday's flight.. recovery successful.

Day 6

Rather rudely, my iPhone woke me up at 5 am. After a quick breakfast we were in the truck and driving to launch. The wind was raging up the rounded rock that we would launch from, just 150 m above the valley floor.

We watched the clouds scream past over head and urubus turning in the first thermals of the morning. By 8 am I was at the edge of the rock, hooked into my hangglider, and searching for a moment to commit. When the moment came, the wind blew me backwards for a few moments while I went prone in my harness.

Five minutes into the flight my harness zipper blew open and left my legs blowing in the breeze. Most of my weight was left supported by a single buckled strap across my hips. This was uncomfortable. I've never had a zipper blow out on me, never. Today I would spend nearly 8 hours in the air.

At 8:54 am I held on tightly to a cohesive thermal and committed to leaving. A valley crossing later I was low with a groundspeed of 90 km/h, speeding into the rolling tree covered hills of a plateau. Landing options were difficult to manage. How do you manage something that does not exist? My grip on the bar began to tighten. When the moment came that I really didn't care anymore, I flew into a light and rough thermal deep in the hills, 100 m above the ground. While banking steeply into the core I watched the trees sway submissively in the 40 km/h wind. It was a little too much intensity this early in the morning. The rough air suddenly began to make me nauseous. I haven't been airsick since my first year of flying and today, having to fly for 8 hours, I was beginning to feel sick.

The plateau gave way to an expansive valley and then more mountains, rivers, plantations, and lakes. The landscapes past by so quickly that there was not even time to become familiar. Each time I climbed to base and looked for where my low save was, I couldn't. It was too far down and too far gone to find.

After two hours on course I had completed 100 km. This was acceptable progess. I was looking forward to the strong wind, light lift, and low base to develop into strong wind, strong lift, and high base. But the wind veered from SE to S and despite base eventually rising to 2500 m, with climbs of 4 m/s, I was getting ground speeds of only 65 km/h, compared to 90 km/h earlier in the morning. Surprisingly, I made faster progress earlier in the day.

With the light tailwind component I began to realize that only the FAI National (Canada, out-of-country) straight distance record was available to me this day.

Another deep glide into a beautiful, remote, tree covered, mountain system left me sweating on my forehead until the bar was nearly pulled from my hands as I banked into another 4 m/s. I was enjoying life and flying and yet still questioning if all this was a little too extreme.

Isolation redefined

More plateaus, coconut tree forests, and inaccessible bushland.. I had long given up worrying about places to land. Every nice landing area would come into sight and disappear again so quickly that there seemed to be no point in even thinking about the whole situation. Just fly, just go. My nausea was worsening, the strap across my hip was now painful, my toes were numb from pushing on the end of the open harness, and my legs were freezing. Finally, soon after finding a low save over an expansive forest, I looked the wrong way and immediately began throwing up for the next few minutes, until I had nothing left to give. Only 4 more hours to go, I thought.

At 200 km the wind was straight cross to my course line. My progress slowed. It would be difficult to get past 300 km like this. If I went with the wind I would be pushed off the continent and have to land on the beach.. but I would likely cross the 300 km mark.

At some point I decided to go with the wind. A strange convergence line became visible with two condensation levels about 500 m apart. The ocean side cloud base was lower and formed fragmented clouds that were being pulled apart by wind shear. It was unique to me and beautiful. I connected with it and enjoyed the buoyant glides and soft climbs, although my tailwind component was almost zero. To my left the classical cumuli were beginning to fall apart and fade in the evening sky. To my right was the Atlantic and a cloudless sky as far as I could see.

The convergence line came to an end and I descended into the sea breeze, drifting low over forests of coconut trees and swamps. I glanced at my instruments.. 300. Now all I needed to do was to enjoy the rest of my last light thermal in the smooth evening air and truly take in where I was and what I was doing. A slideshow of intense and beautiful moments of the last eight hours flashed through my mind as I smiled and turned contently for a few more kilometres before touching down among some coconut trees on a farm.

I have spent many eight-hour days in an office, with my right hand moving a mouse around on a Neoprene pad while my eyes fixate on a computer screen. When I compare today's eight-hour day to one of those miscellaneous days, I am left speechless and near tears. I have lived so many useless days, without appreciation.

A moment from today

The farmer invited me to his house in the city, which was a few kilometres away, to have a shower and dinner. When I came out of the shower I saw a text from my team saying they had found my glider and were coming to the mansion in the city. My host invited them in as well and we all ate well and laughed about the adventures of the day. We all have stories that we'll be re-telling for some time to come.

The great Ype
This was the furthest I have flown a hangglider and is sufficient to break the FAI National (Canada) straight distance record.

Day 5

This day was spent at the internationally famous Praia da Pipa. It will be our last comfortably spent day for some time so we enjoyed it fully. Later we had some kite surfing at a beach further to the south and finally the 100 km drive inland to position for tomorrow's first attempt.

We drove by the 150 m above ground launch at 9 pm and confirmed that the wind was blowing hard from the southeast. Perfect. I set my alarm for 5 am and we'll leave for launch by 6 am. The time has come to stop preparing and start flying.

Beach south of Pipa

Day 4

We slept in, had a late and long breakfast, and tested our SPOT to tablet retrieve system. The wind began to veer more to the south, as we had hoped.

From the most eastern point of south america I swam in the warm Atlantic waters and felt the exhaustion of three days of traveling fade away. Holding my breath and floating underwater, I smiled to myself thinking about where I was, and what I would be doing for the next two weeks. I felt grateful.

Then I remembered how density populated these waters are with sharks and decided to go drink coconut water under a coconut tree. Much safer.

Cashew fruit

Day 3

At 8 am I awaken to the familiar sounds and motions of this never ending ride, punctuated by federal police roadblocks and suicidal overtaking maneuvers. It's still raining.

At the 25th hour of our drive we finally hit the anticipated edge of the gigantic blob of rain covering most of Brazil. We turn the music up, start cheering, and speed up until the truck, loaded with hang gliders, begins to float on the road.

At midnight we arrive at our destination, Joao Pessoa, after a 2500 km nonstop drive. We check into a hotel along the beach, shower, and have a long meal along the water. The wind isn't quite right for us at the moment (too east and not enough south) but it looks like we have a nice day on Sunday so there is an extra day to recuperate and prepare. We'll spend tomorrow at Pipa beach and on Saturday we'll relocate inland to the nearest town to our launch site.

I haven't slept in a bed for 3 days and it's 3 am so it's time to sleep. Goodnight.

Day 2

My eyes opened as the plane touched down in Galeao airport, in Rio de Janeiro. Outside the tropical air felt great. But it was raining. I waited in the arrivals hall for four hours to be picked up. While guarding my baggage, I watched the rain fall, and wondered what I was doing here.

The first part of our trip was ascending the Serra do Mar mountains. The smell of jungle in the misty rain was invigorating. I put my window down to let the rain fall on my face. 'You can't get this freshness in a can.', I thought.

We drove all day and night.. at 3 am when I was finally able to sleep a little, it was still raining.

Galeao airport

Day 1

As I wait at a miscellaneous departure gate in Houston, my body tingling with the opposing sensations of anticipation and fear, I realize that my little project, is now in motion. By morning I will be in Rio de Janeiro to begin a thirty-hour drive in a turbo diesel 4x4 pickup truck into the remote deserts of the northeast of Brazil.


To break the FAI world records in straight distance in hang gliding and paragliding (Class 1 and 3).

Well, that's not really the 'why' of this expedition into the great 'sertao'. Those are my objectives but my purpose is something entirely different. At the moment I don't have the words to describe my purpose but, perhaps, somewhere in the desert I will find them and bring them back.


  1. "perhaps, somewhere in the desert I will find them and bring them back" You are not looking for peyote mate, are you?

    Good flights and best of luck for the record, although I am not sure about the last one; it has been very wet in Brazil this year.

  2. Day 5 - so windy at 8am? Come to think of it, if you're near the equator I guess sun-up is 6am, right? or is there more to it than just thermal generated wind?

    Good luck! Phil A


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