Travel

Who does not love exploring?

German autobahn fun

So last weekend I had some friends stay for the weekend. Brett and Laura are from Tasmania and wanted to see the ‘real’ Denmark. We did the obligatory visit to Legoland on Friday, cafes and bars on friday night but were a bit stuck for ideas for saturday. Brett asked how far Germany is and when I replied “Only a few hours” said “Why don’t we rent a fast car and just have some German autobahn fun. This is how I found myself last saturday piloting a near new Audi A4 at felony speeds on the ‘wrong’ side of the road. Brett was egging me on in the front whilst Laura hid in the back and tried to remember to breathe…here is the video.

(Sorry for the protracted car elevator bit, it was a novelty for us Tasmanians!)

Brain eating, adrenaline zombies – BASE jumping switzerland

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

From my extensive youtube experience I had formed the impression that all BASE* jumpers and wing suit flyers were completely crazy demi-gods without any regard for personal safety, I mean they don’t even carry a reserve chute, no time to deploy one anyway. Standing ten feet tall with icy blue eyes they are devoid of fear and spend their days thirsting for the next adrenaline hit like a zombie thirsts for brains. Well, I have now had the pleasure of chatting with three BASE jumpers, they definitely don’t all have icy blue eyes, they were friendly people who were BASE jumping Switzerland style.

My friend who I came to Switzerland to paraglide with sadly has to work the rest of the week due to a colleague hurting his back. The weather around St Gallen was not looking good for flying anyway so I have made my way to Interlaken, the spiritual home of BASE jumping and one of the closest towns to the famous Eiger north face. Fabio set me right with some local knowledge

“Don’t go to Interlaken, it is full of American and Korean tourists. Go to Lauterbrunnen instead, stay at the Hotel Horner. This is where all the BASE jumpers stay, cool guys, cheap rooms and they usually have space.”

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

So after a very relaxing four hours commuting on the ridiculously efficient Swiss railway system, watching cuckoo clock and chocolate factories slide by I lobbed into the Hotel Horner. Making my way to my room I had my first, and least successful, conversation with a real life BASE jumper. She was a tall, but not quite ten feet tall, French lady with blue eyes, not icy cold however, more like glacial runoff cold. She was packing a chute in the hallway. Thinking to myself;

“You are about to meet your first BASE jumper, try to seem a bit hardcore…” I tried an offhanded Hi.

She looked up and inspected my paraglider bag which, by the way, looks like an unwieldy snail’s carapace. I was somewhat intimidated under this silent gaze and started to babble.

“Have you just done a jump? About to go again then? Looks like fun hey…”

“Hello. Oooh a paraglider pilot, do you do tandems?”

“Hi, yeah, no, not yet. I am just learning and don’t have the experience to take passengers yet.”

 

This ended her interest in conversation!

Once is was clear that I would not be able to help her jump from a paraglider the French sounding lady summarily dismissed me by going back to packing her chute.

Okay, so now all the BASe jumpers I have personally met are single minded adrenaline junkies.
grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

I settled into my room before going for a walk.

Strolling down the valley towards Trachsellauenen, which is flanked by 500 meter high cliffs, I had the sun on my back, a smile on my face and my mind was wandering. I heard a weird sound and looked up.

A silhouetted super-bat thing came screaming over the cliff top. Before I could get my camera out, the chute opened and he floated down to a nearby paddock. It is hard to describe just how incredibly fast the man was going. It seemed like he materialised out of thin air, the suit made a buzzing sound like a kite being flown in a hurricane. I sat drinking tea for the next two hours with my eyes scanning the cliffs. Even from my safe perch on the bench I got a buzz of adrenaline whenever a whooshing silhouette would materialise. I can only imagine the kind of adrenaline thrill these guys on top getting.

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerlandOn the bus back I got chatting to Dillon and Andrew, two very mellow Aussie jumpers. Both seemed like ordinary chaps they were wearing the obligatory Aussie-abroad uniform of board shorts, peaked cap and blue singlet. Asking them about their experience Dillon explained how he got into the sport;

“It is a weird thing mate. I started skydiving, loved it. Went into BASE jumping with a few goals and the definite promise to get in/get out, you know. Once I had ticked off my list, however, my mates and I started trying wing suits and currently my get in/get out mission is out the door. I want to go closer to the wall…you know.”

Exchange ‘BASE jumping’, ‘wingsuiting’ and ‘closer to the wall’ with ‘Marijuana’, ‘amphetamine’ and ‘heroin’ and you have the image which was in my mind. Top guys though and not completely insane, just passionate about a sport which is getting increasingly safe as the technology improves.

Now with the sun setting and dinner done I have just finished a beer with Andrew. He told me that nowadays he sets a limit of 3 jumps a day, just like his big wave surfing that has become more controlled. Andrew went on to explain that the last time he was here on holidays he had a 3 week jumping bender, 6-8 jumps a day. The whole time his hands were shaking uncontrollably and he was getting all kinds of weird nerve tinglings across his face and twitches. Maybe an overload of Adrenaline and cortisol? Who knows. Having met few jumpers, seen many jumps and looking around the pub right now I have a new theory.

I think that the only mad BASE jumper is the one doing it for the first time. After that you know what to expect and can set more realistic goal for the sport. The people around me are normal people with a love for a different kind of sport not brain eating adrenaline Zombies…well mostly, I am still unsure about that French girl.

*BASE jumping is written in capitals as it is an acronym standing for Buildings, Aerial (as in radio aerials), Structure and Earth, the stuff they like to jump from. Hence a BASE from a paraglider is not actually a base jump but technically a skydive from an aircraft…yup, I am a nerd.

grey Brain eating, adrenaline zombies   BASE jumping switzerland

Three very cool statements

grey Three very cool statementsThis week I have heard three of the most cool statements I have ever heard:

Number 1: “Yes”

This is what Jette my brilliant girlfriend of two years said even before I finished a nervously delivered spiel which ended with “Will you marry me?” However, I will not expand on this snippet here. Despite being over the moon about the situation I believe that some moments are best left etched on the soul rather than recorded in a blog. In a word I am thrilled!

 

 

 

Number 2: “So, if the wind picks up and you get blown over the ridge just fly across the border to Austria and land by the river…do you have your passport with you?”

Fabio and I on top of Hoher Kasten preparing to launch in rather high wind. I asked what to do if I get too high and end up blown behind the ridge, this was his reply. It really tickled my fancy that I could quite possibly fly into a whole other country with my 12 kilogram paragliding kit.

We waited for about half an hour for the wind to drop but decided instead to go halfway down the 1794 meter high mountain for launch. This was a great choice as I felt far more comfortable launching lower in these gusty conditions. Conditions were at the upper level of comfortable given my experience. Lower down we enjoyed a half hour cruise in very buoyant air. Most of the way I had my big ears in but despite this it still took some time to descend. Big ears is when you tuck the outer wing tips in to reduce the lifty surface of the wing. This changes the flight characteristics of the wing and increases sink rate, it also looks cool! Sadly my Go-pro camera died before we launched so I have no videos of this amazing area, maybe tomorrow…

Number 3 : “Yeah I know the Eiger North face, I climbed it last year then BASE jumped off it…2 days up, 40 seconds down, it was nice”

Today the wind was far too strong to consider flying so we went out for lunch with one of Fabio’s friends. He dropped this bombshell when I told him my plans to visit the Eiger later in the week. I told him I wanted to go and simply gawk at this iconic climbing route and maybe drink a beer while imagining the climb and doing some projected, mental climbing.

The Eiger north face is a furious climb. Described time and again as a true rite of passage for ‘proper’ hard core climbers it rises 3000 meters above Grindelward, has claimed over sixty four lives and holds a fearsome reputation. The Germans call it Mordwand (Murder wall) which is a play on the German word for North Wall (Nordwand).

Here I was sitting across from a chap who has not only climbed it but BASE jumped from the top! My new idol then went on to casually describe the whole experience (without a hint of irony) as ‘Nice’.

Clearly I spent the rest of our lunch interrogating him about his experience climbing this face. He witnessed two roped up climbers tumble right past him to their deaths and slept on the knife edge top so that he could BASE jump early the following day in calm conditions. The ridge is the width of your average dinner table and has 2km sheer drop on one side and 3km on the other.

Truly you meet some cool people when traveling.

It was nice…Seriously.

 

grey Three very cool statements

 

People on a plane

 

grey People on a plane

During my various flights and waits in airports on this journey, as is bound to happen, I have met a few interesting People on a plane. This got me thinking about the types of people you bump into on a commute:

The fretter

Whilst waiting to check in at Melbourne international I met my first fretter. He was a balding chap wearing a safari shirt and a bumbag (the international fretter’s uniform). we were at the back of the queue but I was not concerned, we still had

over two hours until takeoff. Fretter scurried up with his eyes darting from clicking departure board to board. With beading forehead and frown working overtime he turned to me;

 

“Is this the check in queue for Bangkok?”

“Yeah mate”

(there were no less the eight screens in front of us displaying all the flight numbers and code sharing numbers)

“Do you reckon we will have time, it’s a big queue?”

“Yup easy, customs is really quick in the morning”

 

 

“Good, good, my travel agent assured me I will have time but it is a big line…are you sure?”

“She’ll be fine mate, don’t worry. Where are you going? What have you got planned?”

I find that most fretters are impossible to console, distraction is a safer option; ‘I am stressed’ is best replied with ‘Oh look, something shiny’

I turned to the guy in front who was busily ‘hhmhping’ in a freakishly bovine manner and commenting on the slowness of the line. Immediately upon asking “where are you going?” I realised that this tall, lanky guy was different to my animated friend behind….

grey People on a plane

The mistrusting guy

This type of commuter is suspicious of everyone. When I finished my question he shifted his bags away from my feet and placed himself between me and his bags…well the flight was to Bangkok and I was wearing my weird hippy pants… Never, never waste time or energy on the mistrusting guy, they spend their entire commute staring down coloured children or obsessively checking their itineraries for errors. If you ever meet a mistrusting guy at a hostel or bar, just walk away, trust me!

I find my seat on the plane next a friendly, well dressed indian chap leaning forward to tuck my book into the seat pocket I suddenly realise that I had been seated next to,

The farter

There is not much to say here. If, like me, you don’t wear your Sunday best on a plane a snappily dressed Indian farter beside you will seem innocent of any smells wafting around the vicinity. Despite him wolfing down Hindu vegetarian curries continuously for the entire ten hour flight everyone within four rows was looking suspiciously at me. Slumped against the window seat I noted was a

Sleeping girl

I have only seen a few true examples of this retiring creature on commutes, their talent is rare and much envied on extended flights. Once their seatbelt goes clicks and before the safety spiel finishes they will tilt their head to one side, close their eyes peacefully and not stir for the entire flight. While watching her slumber enviously I decide that there had to be drugs involved. Looking around the sleeping cabin I spotted a faint glow coming from the middle of a row and realise that; Ladies and Gentlemen we have a

grey People on a plane

Gaming-man

The flight attendants will have to wrench his iPad or Gameboy out of his hands on final approach. I suspect that airlines position gamers on every flight and they are the ones really flying the plane, the guys in front are just terrorist decoys.

A thirteen hour ‘Angry Birds’ bender is just a warm up for the gaming man. I imagine they scuttle to their hotel in exotic lands to “Just finish this level…” They ignore any offer of food or water and sit bolt upright for the entire flight, gleefully tapping away and chuckling to themselves. Small ‘pings’ and clicks come from their earphones as they sit stock still, unaware of any clot which may be forming lower down in their legs. Having never seen one move for the toilet I can only assume that they are blessed with freakishly large bladders along with their ninja thumbs. While looking at the Gamer for signs of life my knee is bumped by

The Wanderer 

Getting up every ten minutes or so, the wanderer will never risk DVT or cramp. They have an uncanny knack of finding knees in the dark to bump, they facilitate their movement by pulling hard on the back of each headrest en route. They melt into the darkness before registering a wake of annoyed grunts being produced.

Now, I pre-booked my seats like any good commuter thinking I would be set for a decent slumber on the last leg (Bangkok to Copenhagen). I arrived at seat 29B full of promise to find seat 29A occupied by

The single mum

Yup, a nervous looking Thai lady watched me stow my bags before apologetically introducing herself…and the 10 month infant on her lap.

The long haul

I decided to do what I would if it were my niece (no, not tip Phenergan down her throat) I was polite and tried to make friends with this ticking bomb and her mother.

No success, tough crowd.

I got chatting to mum and found out that not only was she ‘The single mum‘ she was also

The exploited

I last met a group of exploited when I flew from Kathmandu to Doha in 2010. A large group of excited Nepalese men were flying to Doha for work. Little did they know they would spend upwards of 12 hours a day in forty degree (celcius!) heat building opulent mansions for rich oil barons.

The lady sitting next to me told me she was flying to the Faroe Islands (A small archipelago north of England, closer to the North pole). She looked at her daughter lovingly and told me she was moving there to marry a man who she has neither met nor knows, her eyes betrayed the story. I spend the next ten hours helping mum to keep baby happy and at the airport explaining customs procedure to her.  By the way the child turned out to be a little ‘sleeping girl’ angel and hardly made a peep, maybe she picked up on her mother’s inner turmoil.

Now on the final leg of my commute I am pleased to have avoided the worst kind of commuter:

The Guru

This guy has been to most places, he is not scared to share his philosophy with all and sundry;

“My wife and I saved for years to go to London last summer”

“Oh no…not in summer! London is faaar better in spring”

The Guru generally wears those loose cotton pants favoured by hippies (but he looks natural in them…not like other posers). Guru watches other commuters with their bumbags, safety belts and printed itineraries. He strides around airports and through immigration confident in his ability to handle anything the commute may throw at him. More often than not he will have his own blog site…

 

I have not met a Guru for a long time….but I do just love Denmark in the summer, you must go in the summer….

 

My paragliding buy and a visitor

grey My paragliding buy and a visitor

Busy times over here in Woolongong people. Since my last update I have collected Dad from the airport (he is going to beta test my Surprise Bucket list idea. Not that he knows yet) and I finally received my very first paragliding buy, my brand new rig. Because I do not have a proper Paragliding cool-word vocabulary yet I will go with ‘rig’.

Things up here in the ‘Gong have been very quiet and a bit lonely of late so it is very refreshing to see a familiar face waiting for me at arrivals. I have not seen the old boy for a few months, however thanks to Skype and email we run out of news before diving into the melee of Friday afternoon Sydney traffic. It comes as no surprise that Dad has not changed one bit since we last spent time. He is still tall, brimming with Dad jokes, possessing a crushing handshake and I still need to run to keep up with his stride. Despite two recent prosthetic hips and an even more recent prosthetic shoulder the man is unstoppable. It is great to see his recovery and rehabilitation from almost 2 years of surgical insult going well. Dad, or ‘The Dave-A-tron’ is finally pain free.

My paragliding teacher Mitsi had sent me a text earlier in the day to announce that my long awaited wing is here so I take Dad straight from the airport to Mitsi’s house. Mitsi’s place is something of an airport itself being filled with wings, harnesses, posters, flying magazines, motors and all kinds of wonderful paragliding paraphernalia. Mitsi rips open the box and we fill one very content afternoon adjusting straps, hanging the harness from the beams and discovering secret pockets. At one point I find myself distractedly rubbing the squeaky, fresh-smelling wing material a little too sensuously…but moving right on.

Friday night. Dad patiently pretends to be interested as I shove endless videos with technical details under his nose before running off to grab the harness and display a previously undiscovered loop or feature.

In true Westy form Dad and I pass Saturday morning by spending up big at a camping store sale before Mitsi calls with some welcome news;

“Ben, get up here mate, it is on”

*Queue roadrunner speed montage*

Thirty minutes later Dad and I are on the hill counting wings in the air. Fifteen people are making the most of these perfect winds. I grab my harness pack from the car then with a magician’s flourish reverse it into a flying harness. That’s right boys and girls, this harness reverses into a very comfy backpack for climb/fly missions (and you know I will). The whole ‘rig’ weighs a mere 11 kilograms complete with wing, helmet and reserve parachute.

Mitsi wants to test the wing before letting me loose so he straps in, takes two steps and is flying. I am amazed at how lifty the whole thing is. He seems to go straight up. He flies for about ten minutes before top landing nearby. I go over to where he has landed;

“How’d you go mate?”

“Bloody hell, that is one stable wing Ben”

“Yeah I saw you did some steep turns, felt okay?”

“Brilliant, I also flew behind a tandem to trial it in wake turbulence and it hardly moved, you are going to love it”

“Okay then, my turn”

“Yup, will just duck home to get the radios, you get ready, won’t be long”

“No drama”

Now this is where my poor luck with the weather continues, guess what happens next… Yup, A big squall sneaks over the water bringing with it rain and wind too strong for me to fly. “That is flying ladies and gentlemen” We pack up the gear and adjourn for a coffee and a gossip.

The rain is predicted to last until Friday…A whole week of waiting is sadly in store for this keen student. At least this will give me time to hang out with Dad and to choose a good name for my new toy. I am leaning towards ‘Sky snail’, ‘Red Rocket‘ or ‘The Benphis Belle’

While Googling name ideas I found this which gave me a chuckle:

Paragliders vs. Women :

paragliders can kill you quickly; a woman takes her time
paragliders don’t object to a preflight inspection
paragliders come with manuals to explain their operation
paragliders have defined weight limitations
paragliders don’t care about how many other paragliders you have flown
paragliders don’t mind if you buy magazines about them
paragliders don’t comment on your piloting skills, and
paragliders don’t make annoying whining noises unless you are spiraling towards the earth at an alarming rate.

Oh, surprise Bucketlist; I want to get Dad to either do a tandem Paraglide or a skydive with me…this last sentence will also unveil if my Mum reads my blogs properly or not!

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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