The X-Alps / Day Six

Just after six o’clock, the earliest the teams are allowed to fly in the race, Dave took off on a nice sledder that took him to the bottom of the valley before the road rises up towards passo Tonale. We knew from the preparation that it can get a little tricky in these parts, with the pass funnelling the wind through with high speed. In the preparation Dave had a hairy moment, landing backwards below the pass. Like the other teams in the area we decided to go up to the same spot as we did a month before.

Driving up to the parking lot, I met Gavin McClurg on the road. He looked like he was hurting, we all knew he had bad knees. But he seemed in good spirits, he’s definitely a good soldier, always pushing hard with a smile on his face.

When me and Dave walked up to our proposed launch, we realised that winds were a little high for launching. A quick phone call with Honza, who sat higher up with Gavin also wanted to wait to let things calm down a little before launching. So we went a couple of hills further, as long as the wind was blowing anyway. And as soon as we arrived where we wanted to be, we saw Gavin just to our right battling some considerable headwind. I got into my gear quickly and launched to windtech for Dave. My pre-flight check should have been a little more thorough though. I somehow managed a weird thing with my harness setup that left me in an extremely reclined position with thin wires cutting painfully into my leg. Toplanding next to Dave was not really an option, so after a couple of turns I went on to glide towards the next trigger. If you read my preparation story, this trigger is the home of the notorious eagle, that ripped apart Eric’s wing. But it was summer now and I wasn’t worried about the bird anymore, since bird attacks are usually only an issue in spring.
But in order to be a good dummy for Dave I had to resolve the harness issue. I practically landed in one of the many first world war trenches, a reminder of the alpine battles between the Italians and Austrian a hundred years ago. I relaunched only two minutes later, since Dave was getting ready to launch. I knew there was a thermal, because I had just flown trough, but I also knew it was one the ugliest lee siders I’ve ever been in. Dave ordered me on the radio to show him the thermal and I reluctantly flew towards that rodeo beast. I didn’t want to spend much time in it, just show Dave where it was. Watching me, he realised what sort of thing waited for him there and also took a couple of buckling turns in it, before moving on to calmer waters.
After a while, when Honza, Gavin and Ferdy joined in on the fun, I knew things were sorted and I tried to fly back to our car. I hoped that the winds hadn’t already gone ballistic on the pass, so I could land close to the parking. I could tell by the flags that it was safe to land and was soon ready to drive after Dave.

Now when I said before I had to neglect road rules and drive like a maniac, it wasn’t until now that things got really serious. I remember flying this part to the border of Switzerland as a rather shortish flight, but on the ground it took Eric a couple of hours driving up to the Bernina pass to meet us. I definitely pissed of a couple of Italians driving down from Tonale and whoever drove in Italy before, knows about the interesting italian driving style.

Driving past the lake of Poschiavo, the lake where swiss athlete Michael Witschi had landed in the day before, after tossing his reserve while battling the north föhn, I had caught up with Dave again. Their group got very low after attempting the crossing above Tirano and had to do some punishment soaring to get out. Which at least would allowe me to catch them. Dave landed close to the pass of Bernina, the physical border into Switzerland and I was right there to greet him.

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Switzerland. Where your money has a life of its own and runs away as soon as you turn your back on it.

Above the pass we went to look for another launch than the one where Dave got famously yanked skywards in the preparation. Conditions still allowed him to fly into the Engadin, but this time he couldn’t fly around the airspace of St. Moritz and had to land short. A big bummer. So for motivational purposes I bought an overpriced swiss pizza out of my own pocket.

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