Leaving Hawaii two years ago was one of the hardest things LeeAnn and I have had to do. We still tell people that our hearts are with our ohana in the Aloha State. Nevertheless, we have tried to make the most of our stay in Washington State and paragliding has been a big part of it. Even though we don't get to fly every weekend, not a day or two goes by without a quick glance at Wind Lines to catch up on the adventures, excitement and antics relayed to us in articles, pictures and on the chatterbox.
Of course, any attempt to encapsulate the last 24 months in a single article would not only be pointless, it would also be pretty boring. You see, Ellensburg, Washington, is simply a little college town about 90 miles East of Seattle, nestled in the Yakima Valley between a few little known flying sites, the likes of Chelan, Tiger Mountain, Baldy Butte and the Saddle. The only constant is the wind — and believe me, "it blows!" For the most part, thermal flying is a required skill, and for someone who clipped his wings amidst the coastal soaring sites of Kahana and Makapu'u, it has proven more difficult than predicted in getting as much airtime as one might desire. For that reason, LeeAnn and I have worked ourselves back into running marathons, triathlons and foreign travel. But hold on … before you close this article, let me explain how all three of these pursuits led us to Europe a few weeks ago, and to some of the best flying I've experienced in my short four years as a pilot.
It started as two simple wishes. I wanted to complete another Ironman triathlon, and LeeAnn wanted to go to France. Put those two wishes together and you get "Ironman-France." So back in September 2012, I registered for the race and LeeAnn and I started training again. By the time June rolled around, our plans had grown into a family vacation that would cover 2 races, 16 days and 4 countries.
We flew out of Seattle on June 19 only to learn that our flight delay caused us to miss our connecting flight to Paris. A night in NYC and multiple rebookings finally netted a run-down-the-concourse connection that eventually landed us in Nice, France … sans two pieces of luggage … one being a much-needed bike for the Ironman. The lost day put us in Nice on Friday with no bike and no one that could tell us where it was. After seven hours in the airport, Air France found it sitting in NYC with no one intending to do a thing with it. Long story short … it arrived on Saturday morning, the day before the race. No problem … all I had to do was pick it up, assemble it, check in for the race, buy needed nutritional supplies, check the bike in to the transition area and keep the family from going crazy. Done. At least my paraglider was accounted for and ready to fly, but flying would have to wait until after the race.
Ironman-France was incredibly hard … maybe twice as hard as Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2005. The 2.4 mile swim was great, but the 112 mile bike course was simply brutal! After 3 1/2 hours of climbing on the same route they rode this year on Day Four of the Tour de France, I was only 44 miles into the ride. As grateful as I was to get on the descent, I found that part of the race even harder. Imagine screaming down the French Alps at 35 mph only to be met with hair-pin turns as heart-pounding as any major collapse I've experienced. There was one fatality in the race and it happened on the bike. An athlete took a turn too wide, slammed into a retaining wall and broke his neck. I decided that slow and steady was the recipe for success. The marathon course, all 26.2 miles, was flat but after the killer climbs, I was just happy to finish the race in 13 hours and get my finisher's medal. LeeAnn ran the 5K Iron Girl race the same day and then waited patiently to catch a glimpse of me every few hours along the course. She deserves a medal for that!
Our "European Vacation" really started when we checked out of our apartment in Nice and headed to the airport to get our rental car. Aside from getting my wallet stolen on the way (containing military ID card, driver license, credit card, etc.), things were going well. We drove east into Italy and then north into Switzerland. All was going well until we hit the last mountain pass before Interlaken, Switzerland, and ran into a snowstorm. Seriously? It was June! Stuck on the mountain without chains, the four of us spent the night in our rental car on the side of a mountain in the Swiss Alps and awaited better weather to get back down the mountain the following morning.
Arriving in Murren, Switzerland the following day, we finally found the peace and tranquility we sought. And I was finally able to fly! The two videos I posted on the chatterbox earlier, Paragliding in Murren, Switzerland and A Day in Murren, capture two of those flights. The scenery was simply indescribable and we took it all in on hikes and gondola rides all throughout the Jungfrau mountain range.
From Switzerland, we drove to Germany and toured castles, Hitler's summer retreat and the Bavarian Alps. We stayed in the military recreation hotel in Garmisch, Germany and experienced beautiful weather, sights and food. However, my favorite part was flying from the Alpspix on our last day.
We ended our "European Vacation" in Italy where we stayed at Aviano Air Base and spent a leisurely day in Venice. We needed that after all of the unpredictable events surrounding our start. We flew back out of Nice and arrived home in Washington on the 4th of July, grateful for the experience and much closer as a family. All said, it was the perfect vacation and I would not have changed a thing.
Thanks for sharing our experience with us and all our best to those headed to Annecy next week. As for our friends and family in Hawaii … keep the lights on for us … we'll be visiting again soon!