"To fly is to touch the wind, smell the clouds, hear the sun, see beyond the horizon." Anonymous
Thirty six hours of buses, aeroplanes, and taxis brought me back to Canada, with Araxa clouds still dancing in my head.
Was I really there?
As I close my eyes to sleep, I can still feel the motions of my EnZo at full speed, G-loading fluctuating, risers losing tension, my wrists twitching as fast as Bruce Lee jacked on Red Bull to keep the wing open.
Yes, I was.
The final task and one that would allow a second task discard. Imagine flying the last day of competition knowing that if you bomb, it will not count. It will be as if it never happened, just a bad dream. We did not imagine it, we lived it.
It was last day discard mania as EnZos, IP6s, and Core2s raced pulley-to-pulley with nothing to lose. We would be on full bar even before leaving each thermal and would hold full bar through thermals that were not good enough. Speed-to-fly had no meaning today, neither did height-above-ground.
Everything fell apart, though, when the final glide along the Horizonte Perdido ridge did not produce the booming lift that it 'always' does in the mid afternoon. We found ourselves scratching our heads as we struggled to stay aloft deep in the low hills, among high tension power lines, coffee, and eucalyptus.
The moment we were back in the game, it was game on without hesitation. Full bar, no fear, and this time below reserve height along the 200 m high rocky ridge to goal. A moment came when I realized that I was between rocks and a single power line that went along the ridge, at which point I called time out, dropped bar, and narrowly crossed the power line, into the last landable field, which was inside the end-of-speed section but 1 km of forest from the goal line. A key player was 50 m in front of me and kept gliding at full bar and just a little further ahead hit a small patch of lift, dropped bar into it, and this gave him enough height to still cross the power line and also the crest of the forested hill into goal.
Such is the game and I accept it, as it is. But I play it as I chose.
Eight days of flying, 600 km flown, 30 h of airtime, 40 km/h average speeds, 3-5 m/s climbs, 3000-3800m cloudbases. Seven reserves. This was the most racey paragliding competition I have experienced.
It was the essence of racing paragliders, distilled into its purest form, and then delivered in overdoses day after day until we begged for the goodness to end.
Frank Brown became Brazilian Champion for the 10th time.
We had another glorious 80 km task, won in 1h 40 min by Washington. With shuddering risers, creaking pulleys, and tense grips, we navigated the course at full speed, blowing straight through any thermal that was not Grade A lift. Goal was at an airstrip at the edge of Rio Grande, which divides the state of Minas Gerais with that of Sao Paulo. Dry leaves flew past us on final glide, warning us of turbulence and lift ahead. Most arrived at goal more than 1000 m above the ground. After reaching goal I decided to take a few pictures above the lake. When I was done I had gained another 600 m. It took forever to land.
|Rio Grande is the liquid boundary between Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo|
Eighty kilometres in under two hours. Pulleys binding, risers wobbling, and lines screaming, the top Brazilian pilots felt no pain as they ambushed the task with 'faca nos dentes' (knife in teeth). There was no time to look around, every km/h was critical, and complete attention was required to keep your glider open. Bruno crossed the end-of-speed section with a time of 1:56:33.
|The Lost Horizon ridge|
One hundred and twenty five kilometres of impossibility. We did our best but after 5.5 hours in the air, the headwind and lighter than predicted climbs left us 20 km short of goal. The flight took us over some dramatic terrain, a wide river with cloud reflections, and a hidden valley that was so beautiful that I was tempted to land there, instead of continuing the task. Frank and I landed in a coffee plantation. I learned two things today: 1. How to land in a coffee plantation 2. How coffee is made. Alfio killed the task, landing 20 km short of goal.
|Junior, Vincenzo, myself|
Photo credit: Zenilson Rocha
Only nine pilots made the 110 km task today, which was won by Frank. With lots of ballast and lots of bar pushing I finished 11 s behind Frank and 15 min ahead the next group.
|The goal bus waits for the sun to set before the trip back to headquarters|
A 90 km task took us into the flatlands to the northeast. Another classic Araxa day with EnZos and IP6s everywhere, whipping through the sky at 60 km/h. Felipe won in 2 h. Four reserves were thrown.
|Tree, smoke, cloud|
We had an exciting full speed 80 km out-and-return in classic Araxa conditions. Climbing to 3800 m in 4 m/s steady climbs, Donizete won the task in 2 h. Tomorrow I will fly with more ballast.
|A peaceful sunset in goal|
I have wanted, for years, to fly the Lost Horizon in Araxa, Minas Gerais, Brasil. Today, I did. During a 60 km out-and-return practice flight I climbed to 3200 m in the smoke of this bush fire. I will be filming during then next ten days, in an attempt to capture the magic of this place.